Protected by the Divine
Lalit Modi narrates an amusing account of the events leading up to his marriage, which was blessed by none other than the Divine Mother from Pondicherry
Ours was an arranged marriage, arranged by our families, arranged by the society, and prearranged by the Divine. I went ‘bride hunting’ from Pondicherry to Porbandar, with stopovers at Chennai, Bombay, Ahmedabad and Rajkot. I finally descended on Kirti’s house like a head hunter from Borneo. Kith and kin arranged the meet.
All eyes on the bridegroom
I sat on a sofa which was a shade too low for my six-foot height. I almost felt that I was sitting on the floor with folded legs! With one glance, I observed that the family was honourable, cultured, disciplined, hospitable, and conservative. The head of the family was the oak-like grandpa, a strongly built six-footer with a Gandhi topi adorning his head. Beside him sat Kirti’s puny little grandma, hyperactive and enthusiastic. Kirti, the coy and compact bride-to-be, sat beside the protective grandma, her vocal ally. The gentle parents and her colourful aunts with heads covered with their psychedelic saris, and the obese middle-aged uncles of various sizes and shapes, arrayed around me as in a battlefield. All the elders looked serious and curious like a jury but were infallibly polite. More than half a dozen tiny tots sat before me, gaping at me as if I were from a zoo.
On that day, I gathered a large share of inquisitive eyeballs from all sides. But the most powerful ones were the searchlight-like ones of her brother Raju. I felt nervous and shook like an autumn leaf. He opened the proceedings of the summit by asking me where I was from. When I offered that I was from Pondicherry, most of the assemblage betrayed disoriented expressions. A smart kid got up and ran into a nearby room and came back in a jiffy with an atlas. Many heads pored over the map to locate Pondicherry. Another child pointing out to Cherrapunji in Meghalaya declared that he had learnt in Geography that it was a hilly region having rainfall throughout the year. Calmly and patiently, I pointed to the southern peninsula and showed them Pondicherry’s location.
Big brother is apprehensive
The bespectacled brother looked hard at me as though I was an alien from Mars. It seemed his spectacles would crack any minute. But behind the tough look, there appeared to be a deep concern accompanied by deeper furrows on his forehead. Breaking traditions, the brother did not allow his sister to carry the traditional tray of tea and cookies for this ‘prospective bridegroom’ and his entourage. Instead, he did the honours himself. Like a courageous knight in shining armour, I accepted the cup of tea from him with the comment: “Raju, you seem to be an all-rounder like Kapil Dev,” to break the ice. The wisecrack did not amuse Raju. I noticed that all the while, he was trying to assess this ‘stranger’ in his confused mind.
After exchanging pleasantries, I directed a few questions at the demure Kirti. Her grandma answered these queries with clarity, and I wondered who I was going to marry! The rest of the family gently asked grandma to allow Kirti to respond, but the ancient septuagenarian did not yield and protected Kirti from the barrage of enquiries like a goalie protecting the goal post. To the granny, her every answer seemed like a goal saved, and the delight and glee elicited with every ‘save’ was palpable. In the meantime, Raju took a seat five feet away from me like a centre forward attempting a penalty stroke and trying to place me in proper perspective, sweat running down his brow and jowls. Everybody threw names of common friends and relatives around like a football. An extensive discussion and dissection about our family trees took place thereafter. In the meantime, when somebody offered the popular paan-beeda (betel leaf) and the traditional betel nut powder, I declined. This seemed to impress the grandfather. In due course, the grandpa threw the million-dollar ‘what is your occupation’ question at me. To that, I replied casually that I was a chartered accountant and had started practice about six months ago in a 10’ x 10’ room. I briefed him that apart from my qualification, my freehold assets comprised a table and three chairs shifted from home to my new office. I told him I had very few accounting assignments and a future to carve out and look forward to, nothing more, nothing less.
The grandpa seemed surprised and impressed by my honesty, but Raju remained unconvinced and shattered. He could not place this Clint Eastwood from Pondicherry either under the category of the good, or the bad, or the ugly! How could he, after learning that I was a novice in my profession, give his sister’s hand in marriage to an alien-like me from the south and of whose character he knew nothing? Mentally, it was an emphatic ‘no’ from him. For a gentle girl like his sister who had grown up on a diet of Chandamama (magazine), Enid Blyton, and Ramayana, a probable diet of Alfred Hitchcock, Perry Mason, and Jeffrey Archer would not match, he presumed.
The match is made
I left with my small entourage after a great brunch, and immediately Kirti’s family went into a huddle to decide the destiny of their loved one. Raju expressed his reservations while his parents and assembled relatives had nothing negative to share and left the decision to the wisdom and maturity of the seasoned grandpa. Without obtaining Kirti’s opinion, the vintage senior exercised his discretion and voted for the espousal. A day later, when I conveyed my assent, he was overjoyed. He explained to Raju that he should appreciate my frankness and honesty and affirmed that one day, I would prove my worth and mettle in life. He firmly believed that I was the right counterpart for his granddaughter. Not that the rest, including Raju, were unhappy. Raju apprehended that none knew much about me and that the daughter of the house had to go nearly 2000 km away down south, that too with a ‘toddler’ who had just taken the first step towards his career. Raju was aghast that the other members of the family did not share his concern despite his host of reasons.
Raju’s loses rhythm
Marriage was celebrated within two weeks, and by the middle of the third week, my parents, siblings, Kirti, and I left for Pondicherry. Raju was tense, worried, and nervous. His stress, despair, and anguish reached a vertigo level. As soon as our family reached Pondicherry, he called up his sister to find out if everything was okay. His sister assured him that all was fine. But that did not give him much solace. He knew his affectionate sister would never complain even if she were not happy in her new home. He lost sleep and would often get up in the middle of the night with a sweaty brow and a galloping heart. He, however, saw a silver lining in his proposed visit to Pondicherry for the marriage reception slated ten days later. At least he could assess the position of Kirti’s extended family personally. He began counting the restless days ahead, before the countdown, constantly lost in thought. When the rhythm of our thoughts is lost, it reflects in our actions; this, in turn, throws off the very rhythm of life. Raju’s rhythm of thought and life went for a toss!
A few days before his journey to Pondicherry, the beleaguered Raju went to bed with a heavy heart. He was worried and concerned about his sister’s situation, living in an alien land with unknown people. That night, he saw an elderly lady in his dream. She held her hand up in blessing, as if consoling him and saying, “Don’t worry, I am there.” He got up abruptly, hearing some gentle scraping against the window and wondering what was happening. It was 5.00 a.m., and being summer, the soft light of dawn had already made inroads into his room through the window. He moved towards the scratching sound from outside the half-closed window of his room. Arming himself with his spectacles, he peeped out of the opening to survey the source of the gentle sound of scraping. Outside, he saw the bougainvillea plant gently swaying in the breeze and softly caressing the window. Neither the appearance of the kindly old lady in his dream nor the bougainvillea’s ‘ballet’ made any sense to him. Once again, he got engulfed by the anxiety about his sister’s circumstances and went for a walk. A band played solemn music in his mind’s ears, while gloom covered his eyes. On the way, he whispered a teeny-weeny prayer and took consolation from the fact that he would be in Pondicherry in a week to appraise the situation.
A sigh of relief
48 hours of a combination of bus, train, and taxi journey finally brought Raju and his parents to Pondicherry. Noticing his sister’s gentle demeanour with the familiar sweet smile and twinkling eyes, the typical Gujju (Gujarati) atmosphere of the household, and the way she mingled with her adopted family, Raju’s strong confrontational opinions and apprehensions evaporated. He could never imagine that Kirti could kick start her marital life so gracefully and be such a gracious hostess. Sighing in relief, bidding farewell to his frown, he disarmed himself and inwardly felt a wee bit apologetic too. He looked at his parents with a satisfied smile. They acknowledged his conclusion with knowing looks. Sitting in the living room and stretching his tired muscles, Raju’s eyes fell on the photograph of an elderly lady hanging on the wall. Instantly and spontaneously, he sprang out of the sofa.
Going close to the photograph and after scrutinising the picture intensely, he became ecstatic and charged with emotional voltage. Turning around, he asked me who the lady in the photograph was. The high decibel of his voice surprised me, but patiently I explained to Raju that she was the Divine Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Like Sai Baba of Shirdi, Meerabai, Ramana Maharshi, Mahaprabhuji, and other sages and gurus, she left an indelible mark in the world of spirituality. She was a spiritual master and people thronged Pondicherry to visit the Ashram to find solace and strength. I explained to Raju about her divinity and that many people regarded her as an incarnation of the goddesses of the Hindu pantheon and possessed mystic powers. She did not profess or advocate any religion but was an apostle and crusader of spirituality. Spirituality, according to her, was the core of all religions. Devotees meditated upon her and experienced Divine Presence. Since her grace was infinite and presence eternal, everybody addresses her as the Supreme Mother.
All this, I said in one breath. Raju was by then shaking like jelly and practically in tears. “What happened, Raju,” enquired Kirti with deep concern. All that Raju could do was exclaim, marvel, and wonder. Slowly, he walked towards me, sat down beside me and expressed his desire to confess something. Slightly perturbed, I asked Raju to calm down and allow his feelings to flow without fear or inhibitions. Ecstatic Raju spoke about his apprehensions of marrying off Kirti to an unknown individual like me and that too in an unfamiliar place. He spoke about the old lady in his dream and the scraping of the bougainvillea that woke him up. He then concluded that the noble lady who came and consoled him in his dream had the same likeness of the Divine Mother in the photograph. “I am sorry I felt uneasy about your marriage to Kirti, but this divine intervention has shown me my place and proved me wrong,” he conceded. “Don’t worry, Raju. Your predicament and anxiety about your sister were justified, and I too would have felt the same way if I were in your shoes. You are lucky to have darshan (holy vision) of the Divine Mother in your dreams, and it only shows the purity of your heart and soul. Further, do you know that the sound of the bougainvillea scraping gently against your window was an even bigger mystic signal of the Divine? The Mother had, by establishing an inner contact with each flower, given spiritual significance and meaning to every flower. According to her, the bougainvillea is a personification and representation of protection, and the scraping of the bougainvillea against your window was a clear signal that your sister was under Her care and protection,” I clarified.
All’s well that ends well
The Divine conclusion of the episode overwhelmed Raju. He withdrew into a meditative stillness and felt himself enveloped with Divine love, so sublime, so soothing, and so concrete. He thanked the Divine for the protective care conferred on his sister. He left for Porbandar a day later, fully satisfied with the environment and grace in which his sister was basking. His grandpa’s words keep ringing in his ears even today as he finds me doing well in my profession and seeing his sister happy with her better half and well settled with her extended family. I too am grateful to Kirti’s family for having permitted her to move to Pondicherry. She too did not resist their decision. Today, most girls want to marry boys from their area or state and are reluctant to be too far away from their parents. Boys too prefer to marry girls who don’t live far away. Finally, I thank the Lord for this fairy-tale ending.
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