Shikha was never one with a roving eye on the look out for someone to give her heart to. In her dealings with the opposite sex, she was very friendly, but reserved, as it became a girl of her upbringing. But the minute she set her eyes on Siddharth, she knew she had met her man. It was during the first day of practice for the Christmas Choir at the local Latin church that he caught her eye.
The choir practice was to begin at 4.30 in the evening. Shikha, as usual, was punctual, but she found the church empty. She sat on the bench in the front near the keyboard and waited. Ten minutes later, Siddharth walked in with a guitar. Seeing the church empty, he knelt in the pew behind hers for a minute or two and then sat down.
“Guess you’ve come for choir practice?” Turning around, Shikha asked pointing to the guitar.
“Quite obvious, eh?” he asked with a grin.
Shikha liked him instantly.
“I’ve come for the practice too”, volunteered Shikha.
“Guessed as much”, Siddharth replied.
“Am Shikha Michael”, said Shikha holding out her hand.
He shook her hand briefly and said “Mind stepping out of the Church? Father Dominic doesn’t particularly appreciate people talking in the Church”
So they went out and stood on the church verandah.
“What did you say your name was?” Shikha asked
“I didn’t say anything about my name”, he said and they burst out laughing.
“Siddharth”, he said.
She must have been looking at him with the query written all over her face, because he cut into her thoughts with “Yes, I’m a Christian. My father was rather unconventional about naming his children. My sister is Laxmi and my brother is Arjun and I am Siddharth Cherian”
For some strange reason, Shikha felt relieved that he was a Christian.
He was into the final semester in IIT, doing M. Tech in Computer Engineering. His basic Engineering Degree was from the Trivandrum Engineering College.
“I come to IIT once in a way. I have a friend –Lavanya’s her name- who was my senior in Rosary College. She is doing her research there. She lets me know when there is something interesting happening in economics”.
Shikha and Siddharth became thick friends during the choir practice, which lasted a week. They had a lot in common. They could talk intelligently on many subjects and time flew when they were together. Their tastes for books, movies and food coincided. In politics, both had that left leaning, though they disliked unionism without responsibility that was doing damage to Kerala. They were never at a loss for issues to talk about.
Shikha found herself very much at ease in his company. Her visits to the IIT became more regular. They went for movies or to restaurants, though Shikha took care not to mention to her parents that Siddharth was the “friends” with whom she went out. On her Birthday, Siddharth gave her Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Calcutta Chromosome, which she read and treasured, as it was his first gift. But she was careful not to let her parent’s eyes fall on it, because on the inside of the cover page, he had written “With love, now and forever” followed by his name. She had read it, at college or sitting late into the night after her parents went to sleep, which was nothing unusual as she never went to bed before 1 O’ clock in the morning. I love him, she thought, smiling at the inside cover of Ghosh’s book at midnight one day. She could think of no reason why papa and mama should object to accepting Siddharth as their son-in-law. He was brilliant, ambitious, charming, handsome, refined and an excellent human being. Besides, he never had his foot in the mouth and could easily carry on an intelligent conversation on any topic under the sun, qualities which Papa valued in a person. Besides, in Siddharth, papa would also be pleased to meet his match, thought Shikha happily. It was important to her that her parents approved of her choice, and that her parents enjoyed good rapport with the man she married.
She had decided that she’d tell them about Siddharth once he made his intentions clear to her. Till such day, I’d better keep quiet or papa and mama will start chaperoning me around. She remembered her parents’ anxiety before she left for London. “London is not Chennai, Shikha,” her mother had told her. “It’s a free society and unless a girl knows how to take care of herself, she’ll land up in trouble”.
“Just remember that you are there to study. Minimise socializing”. That was papa.
“Come on both of you, I can take care of myself. For goodness sake, stop worrying. Now that I’ve decided to go, why don’t you guys relax?” asked Shikha, a little annoyed at the never ending instructional sessions on how she should carry herself in London, what company she should keep, what people she should avoid - -
“Girls of your age think they are smart, Shikha, but remember the world is smarter”. Papa seemed genuinely anxious.
From the time she landed in Heathrow airport, her parents were tracking her movements. Text messages almost every hour from one of them. A ten minutes delay in replying to a text message would make them call her. Shikha was beginning to get thoroughly irritated with the remote control they were exercising from Chennai and intended to fix a schedule for keeping in touch with them that she hoped would obviate the need to track her movements by the minute. But before she could do that she had returned to Chennai.
No, she thought, it’s be stupid of me to tell them now that I’m in love with Siddharth. They’ll make it difficult for me to meet him. I’ll tell them the minute he proposes to me.
But there was a spring in her steps in those days when he was seeing her. She did not know that the world could suddenly look so different, so beautiful. She woke up in the mornings with a pleasant sensation, sometimes not quite locating the source of that feeling. Soon Siddharth would drift into her thoughts as though wafted in on the breeze that gently stirred the giant gulmohar tree with its golden flowers that she could see from where she lay. At home she was happy and chirpy, and the sessions at the dining table overflowed with lighthearted conversation and laughter. This is the shape of things to come when Siddharth becomes part of this family, she thought, delirious with joy. Shikha did not know that happiness could scale such dizzy heights!
By May that year, Siddharth got selection to the IIM and it was to be Ahmedabad.
“We’ll have to wait for a couple of years till I finish MBA and pick up a job”. That was how he proposed.
Shikha stared at him in sheer joy. “Is that supposed to be a proposal?” she asked incredulous.
“What do you want me to do? Go down on my knees and propose?”
“No. This is good enough”, said an ecstatic Shikha.
They were silent for sometime.
Then Siddharth asked, “Have you spoken to your parents?”
“Not yet. How could I till I knew you were serious?”
He raised his eyes to the sky as though in resignation. “Did you think I was fooling around with you?”
“I wasn’t sure”, she said, mischievously.
Shikha went into her parents’ room that evening. She didn’t want to discuss this at the dining table because Maria cheduthy would be listening.
Michael and Rani looked startled when Shikha told then about Siddharth.
“Not even a Christian?” was Rani’s instant reaction.
“He is a Christian”, said Shikha. “Siddharth Cherian is his name. He hails from Alleppey, but settled in Trivandrum. His father has a job in ISRO.”
“An engineer? Scientist?” That was Michael.
“What’s his family name, do you know?”
“What?” exploded Michael, sitting bolt upright. “Cherian Padickalveedu, the son of Aviranchan? I know him.” Michael had turned red in the face. Shkha’s heart sank. He looked at Rani and said, “Avirachan was a peon in apppachan’s office in Kochin.’
A pregnant silence followed.
Then Shikha asked quietly, “So what?”
“So what? Are you crazy Shikha? Socially they are no match for us. Avirachan doesn’t sit down in appachan’s presence even now”.
“Siddharth is a perfect gentleman, very refined and intelligent. He just completed his masters from IIT and is going to IIM in Ahmedabad. I like him. That’s all that matters”.
“That’s all that matters? It doesn’t matter to you that your mother and I will not be able to face the world if you get married into that family with such an impoverished background?’
“It’s not on account of your merit that you are born into a rich family, papa and it is not Siddharth’s fault that his grand father was poor. They are respectable people and it’s ok with me. What else matters, papa?”
“Listen to her Rani. Why are you keeping quiet?” Shikha saw that Rani was crying.
“See! Your mother is crying. You’ve always been a source of misery to us, Shikha,” said Michael.
Shikha jumped up from the chair screaming, “How dare you!” and stormed towards the door. Before she opened the door, she paused a moment, deliberately got herself under control, turned around and told her parents calmly, quietly. “I am 21 years old, old enough to make my decision according to the law of the land. Don’t forget that”. She opened the door, went out and closed it gently behind her.
She then called Siddharth and told him “All hell has broken loose”.
“I’ll tell you when I see you”. Shikha told him. Siddharth had gone to Trivandrum to tell his people about Shikha. He also sounded subdued. “I know. Appa told me. Wait till I return”.