PROLOGUE.

An arranged bride-viewing can be a lot like a blind date, except that you have half-a-dozen family members from both sides to keep you company. Unless you have seen a picture of the girl (or boy) beforehand, that is. Obviously, if you're in the 70's, in suburban Mumbai, that really won't happen.

The man shifts uncomfortably in his seat, wondering what the girl will look like, how she'll act, how she'll be. Will she like tea or coffee? Sweet or spice? Cooking or stitching?

And the question he wouldn't dare to spell out to anyone: would she probably indulge in a bit of fun? At least, the only type of fun he can imagine between a boy and girl who aren't relatives (which, due to a prudish upbringing, only extends to several pecks on cheek and forehead). At this he has to laugh.

That's part of this arrangement: the two are relatives. Distant cousins, in fact, and childhood acquaintances besides. Not that he really remembers her very much – maybe a faraway recollection of how she used to whimper at spiders, gape at women when they were knitting, maybe even sulkily reading books nearby the tea plantation that his grandfather owned. Nothing more.

The girl who enters with tea looks nothing like any of his earlier girlfriends. She doesn't walk with the overt sexuality of Peggy D'Costa (the thought itself, of her little feet sliding a little underneath his pants, makes him blush violently to this day), or with the gracefulness of a Bali dancer, like Meera Krishnan. She walks slowly, cautiously, fearfully. The noise of the tea tray emanates from her quivering hands. Her mouth is soft and slightly open, her eyes seem to be big and encased with thick lashes, but he thinks that they are enlarged more by her fear than by some natural consequence.

The same fear starts to strike him. What if…

Nonsense, another voice whispers, Papa agreed to let you decide. Relax.

The people in the room leave, giggling. This is where the true date begins. A man in a shirt that shows only a bit of his chest hair, a woman in a salwar-khameez that seems to have accumulated sweat around the neck. He drinks the tea and thanks God for a good tea-maker. The girl darts her eyes here and there like a deer in headlights. Suddenly sick of the silence, he decides to make a start.

"You're nervous about this, aren't you?" He's proven right by a quick nod, and even wider eyes.

"Alright. It's not wrong to be nervous – because frankly speaking, so am I. But we have to talk."

She nods again, her hands fiddling with the ends of her dupatta.

"Looks like I'll have to do most of the talking here, then," he mumbles, then clears his throat, "Alright. Listen to me very carefully and repeat, is that clear?" This leaves her smiling.

"You already know me. I'm Matthew Goldsmith. I'm twenty-seven, and I have an engineering degree in agricultural studies. I will be acquiring a job soon. I have a brother and a sister. I like reading, especially with a good cup of tea by the side. I expect my wife to be respectful to my parents, and to be open with me," he lets out a relieved breath, "Your turn."

She follows the pattern. He knows her too, well enough. She's Eve Gardiner. She's twenty-five years old, with an M.A in Literature. She tutors the little children in her colony sometimes. She likes reading and knitting. She doesn't expect anything from her husband, except that he should be a good man. And she's still shivering, even after the goddamn interview is over.

The conversation ends at that, and both find that they'd probably be better off with somebody else. Not that they'll tell each other, of course. They can already sense how bland and uninteresting their relationship will be, how the years will yawn away and stretch to eternity. They wait patiently until the parents arrive, and then they all go back. He's surprised that his father doesn't ask anything, even after they've reached home.

He waits. Two hours. Then six. Twelve. Twenty-four.

When the wait is over, he finds that the match has been fixed, and so has everything else – the food, the clothes, the church timings…even the bloody best man. He wants to punch himself, no less than he wants to strangle the girl who brought him into this.

Even after the marriage, it never occurs to him (or her) that they couldn't help what happened to them. What they could help, is completely ignored. Slowly and surely, the people that they once were fade away. The man is no more outspoken, and the girl cultivates her husband's newly acquired habit of not wanting to talk. They may have slept as one, even tried to have a child, but somehow that alone doesn't make a relationship strong. Not when you don't even try.

One. Then two. Then five. Then eight. Then twenty-seven.

The years yawn on.

Sorry about bringing in the prologue so late, but – well – I forgot to add it!

Salwar khameez is a dress worn usually by young girls, which consists of a fairly long tunic (khameez), a shawl usually wrapped around the neck (dupatta), and loose pants (salwar or churidar).