He was sitting awkwardly inside the cafe when I first met him. I could see from the counter itself that he was fidgeting with his phone and then with his hair again. Well, it wasn’t the most pleasant day to be outside anyway, especially since it had been raining cats and dogs since the early dawn. And you know how the monsoons in Kathmandu are, right? Puddles of mud, soggy clothes, umbrellas poking at each other’s heads when passing by, so yes, I hated monsoons. And there he was, a nervous wreck. He looked decent, I mean I didn’t expect him to have a chiseled jawline and dreamy eyes with a pinch of mischief, but hey, like I said, he looked decent. Oh and before I forget to tell you, this was a ‘date’ arranged by our parents and I had every plan of ruining it.
I’d like to share a little background as to why I’m here and meeting this totally random stranger. I come from a typical Nepali middle-class family and am the eldest child to my parents and most importantly, the only daughter. And like a typical Nepali daughter, I learnt cooking, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, cleaning the house and taking care of my little brother. And I could do all of these at once. Multitasking, you see. And while I’d do all these chores, it was my brother who’d be showered with pampering and care by my parents. The idiot literally never gets off the couch when he’s at home and the only time that I see him not on his phone is when he slept. These Nepali parents treat their sons like they’re some sort of a prince, and these poor souls start behaving like one. Oh well, but I digress. So yes, my mom is a housewife and my dad a simple banker. All was going well, life was flowing like it was supposed to. I’d already done my BBA and had been working as a Marketing Officer in a college. The job was good. I was learning new things, making new friends, chasing my dreams. But then one day, I turned 27.
A week ago, my mom was talking over the phone and her tone was quite cheerful. She was so much involved in the gossip, that she completely forgot that she’d put a kettle of milk over the gas. Soon, the milk spilled over and now the kitchen carried the sweet fragrance of burnt milk. I flashed to the kitchen and turned the gas off.
I looked at mom with my hands on my hips and said –
“Mommy! Half the milk just spilled over. Now, I’ve to clean it up. I’m already late for work.”
Putting the phone down, she said,
“Nanu, it was your aunt Sudha on the phone. And she was talking about this young boy. He has completed his Masters, he’s an engineer in a big U.S. based company. Here, she’s even forwarded me his FB link. Why don’t you…”
“No, no, no. Not again. Please not again. Why does aunt Sudha always bring up these marriage proposals to you? Is she running a matrimonial service? And how many times have I said that I don’t want to get married?” – I retorted.
“You are 27 already. I didn’t say a thing when you were 25. Not even when you were 26.” – Mom said.
“Oh really? And what’s so special about 27 then? I don’t want to get married now and that’s the end of discussion!” – I snapped.
I tossed her phone on the sofa and hurried towards my room. As I was going, I saw mom slump down on the couch covering her face with the edge of her saree. She was sobbing.
Oh moms, what can you say? They just know which buttons to push to have it their way. And she knew I just could not see her cry. It was her secret weapon which she highly abused.
I tried consoling her and said – “C’mon maa. Don’t do this now.”
“No, no. It’s our fault. You’ve grown up to be an independent and quite a modern girl now. You don’t need us anymore. It’s we, who are being selfish.” Her sobs were getting louder now.
“Ah! Mom, when did I ever say that? All I said was, why are you and baba so obsessed with my marriage?” – I sighed.
“I’m not asking you to marry the boy tomorrow. I’m just asking you to meet him. You know your aunt Sudha is a smart and a practical lady. She’d never give a wrong suggestion.” She was handing out her phone to me.
I knew there was no escape from this. Tears were my mom’s artillery and logic mine. And tears always win.
So, I said – “Fine. Do whatever you guys want to. Just don’t bother me with his FB link. I’m not checking it out. Tell me where and when I should go, and I’ll meet your fellow. Just don’t bring it up again.”
Mom’s eyes gleamed with joy on hearing this.
She said – “Really chhori ? Oh thank you so much. I knew my chhori would understand. Oh thank you so much Pashupatinath, Manakamana maai. You don’t need to stress over this subject. You just have to meet the boy. There’s no pressure. Relax.”
But I knew my dad and mom were hell-bent on getting me hitched. This is how naïve children are trapped into getting married. But like I said, I had already started to formulate my plans to botch this meeting/date.
I was intentionally late. I even thought of going out for a movie instead. That’d have settled it there and then. Unable to swallow down the agony and shame of being stood up by a girl, the guy would have ran to his parents and would have downright rejected me. But I’m not THAT evil.
As I neared the table where he was sitting, he cast his glance away from his phone and then to me. In a blink of an eye, he stood up, shaking up the table and the glasses too, and one fell to the floor and shattered with a sharp noise.
“Oh, is he that clumsy?” I thought.
As he was trying to pick up the broken glasses, another one toppled over and wet his shirt.
This was just too much. I was already trying to hold back my laughter at his initial clumsiness and now this. So naturally, I let out a faint giggle.
He looked around sheepishly and thanked the waiter for cleaning up the shards of the broken glass.
Looking up, he said – “Hi. I’m Suyog. Sorry for the mess.”
“It’s okay. I’m Preeti.”
We shook hands. And I must say, he had a sweaty palm.
“Ya. I checked your FB.” – He blurted out and looked embarrassed immediately.
“Clumsy AND a creep.” – I thought to myself.
He cleared up his throat and said – “Please have a seat”.
After 30 seconds of an intense and awkward silence, he said – “So, no office today?”
“It’s Saturday.” – I smiled.
“Oh. Oh… I’m sorry. I forgot the day today” – He lamented.
By this time, I had dropped all my plans to roast this guy. I mean I almost started to feel pity for him.
“It’s ok. Even I forget the days while I’m at work. Except for Fridays. Fridays are special. They only come once a week.” – I said, trying to lighten up the situation.
“Haha. Yes” – replied Suyog, rather hesitantly.
After yet another bout of silence, I decided to break the ice.
“So where do you work?” – I asked.
“I’m a lead developer at Redson Technologies. You know the tall blue building near Nagpokhari? I’ve been working there for about 6 years now. I did my B.E. from Kathmandu University, and my Masters from T.U. I did my SLC from Gyanodaya School…”
For a minute, I thought he was reciting his CV to me. Did he confuse this with a job interview? I pondered. Maybe he felt the same. He stopped half way through his biodata and said – “I must confess. This is the first time I’m sitting with a girl in a café. I’m a bit nervous to be honest. And I’m sorry if I’m making things awkward for you”.
“Believe me. It’s my first arranged date too. Don’t worry. Relax. I might look terrifying at first but I’m not that bad. At least that’s what my mom says.” – I said.
“Haha. Arranged date huh?” – he inquired.
“Well yes, isn’t it? I mean just look at us. We are two adults who have agreed to meet each other on our parent’s wishes. This definitely is an arranged date.” – I replied.
“I agree. And let me be honest with you. All this talk of arranged marriage, I really don’t believe in it either. How can someone commit to spending an entire life with someone who they met just an hour ago? I mean, I could be a stalker, you’d never know, right?” – He said all this in a breath.
“You wouldn’t believe me. I was thinking the same. I mean, not about you being a stalker.” – I paused briefly and we both smiled.
“But seriously, I don’t understand what happens to our parents when we reach our 30s. They start getting a panic attack.” – I said.
He replied –
“Tell me about it. I just hit 30 recently and my mom started asking me if I had a girlfriend. I’ve completely stopped going to my relatives. All they do is ask me when I’m getting married. They say – ‘Get married now babu. In this life, you are incomplete without marriage. Don’t waste your time. Get married and be settled’.
Firstly, these parents trick you into believing that everything that they say will settle you down. Get distinction in SLC and then you’ll be settled, get a Bachelor’s degree and then you’ll be settled, get a job and then you’ll definitely be settled. But now, now they say, get married and then you’ll be settled. All this talk of settling is quite unsettling.” He chuckled.
“That’s not the end. After you get married, have some kids and THEN you’ll be settled.” – I added.
To this, Suyog added – “My parents are still not settled after 35 years of marriage. Now they want to do a Chaar Dhaam Yatra and hopefully, then they’d be settled. That’s their aim, I guess.”
He slapped the table and started laughing. Clearly, he had completely left his shyness far behind. I joined his laughter with my chuckle.
“Sir, Ma’am, would you like to order something?” asked the waiter as he placed the menu on the table.
“This place serves some of the most amazing momos. Have you tried them here?” – I asked.
“Oho. I’m a momo-fanatic. So, a fried ‘C’ chicken momo for me. And what will you have?”
“One steamed Veg momo. I’m a vegetarian”. I don’t know why I had to tell him this, but I did anyway.
“Well, in that case, make it two Veg momos.” – He said.
“No, you don’t have to. I don’t mind it.”
“Preeti, I said I’m a momo-fanatic. I care more about the package than the content” – He said followed by his highly contagious laughter. But I knew he did that for me.
“I’m sorry. I never asked about your work.” – he asked.
“Oh I’m a Marketing Executive at New Vista College. It’s a fun job. My boss is super-chill. She’s really an inspiration at work. She is more like a teacher to me than a boss. I work with passionate colleagues I get to meet new people, promote the brand to them and pitch my ideas within my team. It’s really my dream job.” – I couldn’t hold back my excitement.
“That’s so cool. I really believe that life is a journey and is too short to be spent doing something that you don’t enjoy. Working with passion ensures success. That’s the lesson I’ve learnt. Our parents unfortunately didn’t have that privilege. They had to slog in 10 to 5 shifts no matter how boring the job was. And they did it just for us, for their family. They lived a hard life and struggled just so that we could have this privilege to be sitting here chatting up in a café.” – He looked thoughtful.
“You know every other day I argue with my mom. I mean she’s so good at emotionally blackmailing me. But it’s always her that I share my secrets with. I guess parents are like that. They are like the giants who want to carry us on their shoulders. Just so that we can see more of the world. Something that they couldn’t. For them, children and family are their life’s biggest achievements. Sometimes, we don’t give them the importance that they deserve.” – I said, thinking of mom.
We chatted for hours when I thought I’d be out of there in no time. Something held me back. He felt less of a stranger every time he laughed and shared his stories. By the time we finished up the momos, we had become good friends. We finished off with some cold coffee. It was still quite a downpour outside and dusk had already set in.
I said – “Listen, it’s getting late. Let’s go now?”
“It’s raining rather heavily. How will you go home?” – He asked.
“I’ll take a taxi. How about you?” – I said.
“Oh, I’ll take the bus”
We both were lost for words. The awkwardness was starting to set in again.
After a brief silence, he mustered up some courage and said – “Please text me once you reach home?”
“Sure”. I smiled.
As we stepped outside the café, the rain started drenching us. Hurriedly, I opened up my umbrella. I turned to look at him and saw him struggling to find a shelter beneath the roof. I pulled him under my umbrella. He looked at me, a chain of rain drops flowing down his forehead, his glasses misted by the rain. He carried his usual smile.
And for the first time ever, I fell in love with the monsoon.