ANOTHER PLACE TO CALL HOME

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Chapter 5 – Goku had questions she was not prepared to answer

They sat there in silence for a while when there was no answer forthcoming from Aruna. She knew that it was because she was not answering any of his questions that Goku was at a loss at what to do and he looked it. Aruna then calmed down for a bit. She decided to participate in the conversation when she noticed a look of resignation on his face. Suddenly she felt sorry for him. Maybe he was going through the same turmoil as she was. Do you have to make it hard for him? A small voice questioned within her.

She was quite sure that even in Goku’s case, after listening to his version of how he agreed to marry her, Amma would have coerced him into it. The only difference was that he was quite receptive to the idea of getting married and she was not. As an afterthought and in answer to his question, Aruna told him quite blankly that she was not ready to get married as she had wanted to continue her studies and get a degree first. She didn’t get to see a photo of him before embarking on her journey to Malaysia because no one showed it to her or to her family back home in India. She believed that her sister and brother-in law would have seen it and had spoken to her elder brother in India about the proposal. As she said it, Aruna knew that her voice was tinged with a little bit of sarcasm.

Goku stared hard into Aruna’s face as she was talking; now comprehending why she was not responding to anything he was saying. He stood up without saying another word to her, and then turned his eyes towards the garden area. Aruna felt a little fearsome when she saw him stand up and turn away from her. Did she say the wrong thing to him? Was he in anyway angry with what she said to him? Well she was just being downright honest, she thought, put off with the whole conversing and getting to know each other thing.

Goku walked a little further away from her and stood looking outside of their compound area. The road was lonely at that time of the night. People were all inside their houses, most probably having their dinner or relaxing after a long day at work. The houses lined at the opposite side of Goku’s house were dimly lit and it made the road in front of them look dark and deserted. Occasionally a car would pass by lighting up the dim lit road.

The housing estate was in a secluded area. It was perfect for a residence as there was no noise coming from traffic or populated by people who sold just about anything they wanted along the roadsides in front of their houses, like they did outside her house in India. But then, that is what India stood for – all the noise and population. India always portrayed a busy atmosphere at any given time of the day.

Life had an interesting perspective to it in India through all the commotion that it was famed for. It was a colorful life that people lived there. Everyone knew each other’s business and in a way everyone surrounding their house in India could be trusted to look out for each other’s welfare.

Aruna didn’t for a minute think that this neighborhood had such camaraderie like it did in India. People here seemed detached and minded their own business. Maybe they were just busy with their upper syndrome lifestyle unlike in India where people were more laid back? Aruna missed the colors of India and all it stood for. It was home to her and Malaysia was just another place for her to make and call home.

Then just as suddenly as Goku walked away, he turned and walked back to where Aruna was seated and told her quite abruptly that if she wasn’t ready to be married, he would not like to force it upon her in any way. He then asked her bluntly if her sister and brother in law knew how she felt about not being ready to get married yet. He wouldn’t like to feel that he stood in the way of her obtaining her degree and spoiling her chances of finishing her studies.

Aruna felt really afraid when Goku spoke to her like that. She quickly replied that she did not tell them how she really felt but knew that they believed she would follow whatever they asked her to do. She didn’t want to hurt their feelings in any way because they told her that Goku was a good person and from a good family background too. Then Goku directed a cynical smile at her. He looked at in a way that implied that he thought her naïve and unable to come to terms with her feelings and be downright honest to her family about her plans.

He then spoke to her in a voice laced with vexed irritation.

“So, you would rather hurt me with your indifference than be honest with your sister and brother in law?” he asked, his irritation evident in the way he said it. Aruna kept quiet, her heart thudding loudly in her chest. She knew that she had to answer him quickly otherwise he just might decide not to speak to her anymore, and that would be disastrous for her. What if he called off the wedding altogether? What would her sister and brother-in law do or say? Would they be able to face Amma again after agreeing to the proposal, and making all the plans like they were doing right now in the living room?

Aruna looked up from staring at the water in the pond and averted her glance from Goku, looking where the swing was and said in a truthful manner that everything that was happening around her at that moment was intimidating and that she was having a hard time trying to cope with what is expected of her. Suddenly she felt a need to apologize to him. She had been totally indifferent to his feelings like he mentioned and felt guilty about it. She owed him an explanation. Aruna explained to Goku, feeling a little ashamed with her attitude, that she had no intention to hurt his feelings at all or anyone else for that matter. She told Goku in the way of seeking his understanding for her insolence that her move to Malaysia was hard enough for her to get used to and that she needed a bit of time before she could accept what was happening to her. She heard her voice crack up after saying her piece and she knew that Goku noticed that she was on the verge of tears.

But her being on the verge of tears or her explanation, didn’t affect him in any way. He looked at her with an exasperated look on his face. He continued speaking to her in a vexed manner, “Why did you not tell the older people who are in there talking about making the wedding preparations for us, that you needed time to think about this then? Why did you make the trip to Malaysia if you were not ready for the move? Didn’t you know that this was a life changing matter for you and let me tell you that you are also putting me at a disadvantage here? You should have thought that I had a right to have a bride who was willing and not one who is forced to marry me.”

He paced a short distance on the driveway and then he came back to stand in front of her. Aruna felt a sinking feeling within her that she had not known before and started shivering. “How old are you?” he asked her. Sixteen, she replied. He just stared at her then. “So, what do you want to do now? You don’t really speak to me or even look at me. Do you find me that loathsome to even direct a proper glance at me?”

There were a few instances in her life that shame coupled with guilt overcame her entire being with such profound intensity and this was one of those moments. Aruna felt herself blush and her body go hot and cold over his words and the look he directed at her. She tried to give an appropriate answer to his question but her words caught in her throat again. She had totally misjudged this man and had only considered her feelings in this whole proposal of marriage. She had never thought about it the way Goku had managed to lay it out to her.

Aruna suddenly realized that Goku was not simply going to marry someone even for his mother’s sake, if that person was not interested in him as a person. He didn’t care how old she was and what her explanation for her rude and arrogant thoughts of him or his family were. Or what her plans had been before she came to Malaysia. What he wanted more than anything was an honest woman who was interested to share his life with!

“No, of course I don’t find you loathsome,” she stammered. “I am sorry…,” but as she was about to apologize and explain again, he waved her explanation away with his hand and walked away from her. Aruna kept quiet and maintained her silence after that pathetic attempt of hers to explain things again to him.

She watched him standing at a distance and he had a thoughtful look on his face. She wondered if he regretted agreeing to marry her. She sat there trying to recollect her thoughts and mixed up emotions but somehow her heart felt heavy in her chest. She was suddenly overcome with such sadness that it consumed her whole heart and mind.

Aruna knew she had hurt Goku’s feelings really badly by behaving so childishly and saying things that were not appropriate. He spoke to her very tactfully at the beginning, didn’t he? He had virtually relayed important personal information pertaining to his life. He was willing to share what was happening to him on a personal level with her. Aruna began to feel afraid and wondered what would become of Goku and her. She was scared of the outcome of the conversation that took place between them. She started shivering a little. It felt cold all of a sudden and Aruna, guilt ridden didn’t know how to handle what had transpired between Goku and her anymore. Would he tell his parents to call off the wedding? She started sobbing quietly. Goku heard her crying and quickly walked up to her. “Please don’t cry,” he said with concern, a direct turnaround from his angry self-earlier. Goku seemed to have calmed down a bit. “I understand what you are going through at this moment. I am sure that everything is so nerve wrecking for you. Maybe you should go back to the hotel early and rest. Didn’t you just arrive this morning?”

She nodded in agreement and took that moment to apologize to him. “I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings in any way tonight. I am just tired after the long journey and I think I need a good rest. My thoughts and feelings are all jumbled up at this moment.” Aruna hoped that what she said would make up for her lack of tact in talking to Goku earlier.

Goku managed a weak smile at her and running his fingers through his hair and pushing a few strands away from his forehead, he told her that he was tired after a long day at work himself. He suggested that they continue their conversation at another time and that they should just go inside the house and join the rest.

Aruna was so relieved when she heard him say that. It was totally upsetting what had transpired between the two of them during their conversation. She was feeling awkward and tongue tied that he had the presence of mind to speak to her kindly after what had been discussed by the both of them. Maybe he was like his father, she thought, a perfect gentleman where women were concerned. He had a bit of his father’s characteristics, Aruna admitted.

Aruna entered the house, following Goku closely behind as he walked ahead of her, and before they joined the rest of the family inside the house, Goku told her to think about the proposal very carefully. If she wasn’t in any way ready or interested to get married to him then she should be brave enough to tell her sister and brother in law. She nodded her head, in a way regretting that she had relayed her feelings of uncertainty to him. She should have just kept quiet about her feelings, she thought angrily. How could she even think of telling him that she was not prepared to get married? She had let her family down badly! What he must think of them now, she wondered disheartened.

In the living room, Amma who was seated next to her sister was laughing at something her sister said while the men were still drinking and enjoying each other’s company. Amma stood up when she saw Goku walk into the room and then directed a quick glance at her. Aruna turned her head away just as quickly, in case Amma noticed her teary face. Aruna had by now learned that Amma had a very observant way of catching on with anything that took place around her.

“Did you two have a good time conversing with each other?” She asked Goku, her enthusiasm evident on her face. “I hope you did because we have finalized all the details of the marriage and have even picked two dates for you to consider for the wedding. Now I have to go the temple to see about the priest giving us an auspicious time for the ceremony. We have two dates in mind so it is up to you Goku since you are working to let me know if you can get leave from your job and voila – get married to our pretty Aruna here!” Amma sounded upbeat and full of gaiety about the whole thing.

Aruna looked at Amma with a little disdain showing on her face, she was always making it seem like it was a small matter and one that the bride and groom had to just accept without any question. It was so evident that Amma was really happy about their match and Aruna wanted to know so badly what she got in return for arranging their union. Did her brother in law promise them a hefty dowry, she wondered. He saw Goku looking a little awkward with his mother’s outburst and apparent happiness.

With a smile on his face and without saying anything in response to what his mother said to him, looking at his watch, he announced that it was getting late and he guessed that Aruna would be tired after her long journey. Maybe they could discuss all the finer details of the marriage at another appointed time. Aruna looked at him hard and wasn’t at all happy that he spoke about her tiredness. Did he have to use her as an excuse at this appropriate moment? She knew that he was feeling just as tired and awkward as she was. Didn’t he tell her that he was tired before walking into the house just now? Oh! The audacity of these people! She just wanted to be left out of being mentioned in any of their conversation without her approval!

Anyway, what Goku said worked, because the whole party got up and agreed that it had been a long day for Aruna. They understood perfectly that she needed a good rest after her tiring and long voyage by sea. Before leaving, her brother in law informed Amma and the rest that they will be leaving for Dungun first thing in the morning and will keep in touch with them by phone once they reached there. Amma of course was excited with what he said and agreed that it was a great idea and she too would inform them about what the temple priest says about an auspicious time and date for the wedding. Then in a sudden dawn of realization, Amma went on to say that Dungun was so far from Kuala Lumpur and so it was not as it they could meet every now and then. Everyone shook their head and agreed with her on that.

Amma, Acha and Goku accompanied them to the car to see them off. As they strode to the car, her sister walked in front with Amma and Acha was walked next to her brother in law. Goku strode next to Aruna, taking slow steps to match hers. Aruna had her head bowed low as they walked beside each other and for a few seconds, there was an awkward silence between them. As they neared the car, Aruna heard Goku say in a soft voice that he will perhaps call her within the next few days to find out if she wanted to go ahead with the union. Aruna didn’t respond immediately but kept quiet and listened to what Goku had to say. Goku repeated that it would be best if she told her sister and brother in law the truth, about whether she was interested to go ahead with the wedding because it was the right thing to do to inform them about her insecurities. Then Goku surprised her by saying that he was in no way objectionable to marrying her and he found her a suitable match to be his wife.

Aruna felt her heart drop that instant. So the ball was in her court now, Aruna thought dejectedly. Did Goku insinuate that she was the deciding factor here when he knew very well that she practically had no say in the wedding at all! Wasn’t it up to their elders to decide? Goku had misinterpreted what she told him earlier. She was only pointing out to him that she was not in any way consulted about the proposal beforehand nor was she ready to get married because of her studies and age.

Be brave,” she heard him whisper to her. And then he murmured that she is to tell him exactly what she thought about the whole idea of marrying him honestly when he calls her next. Aruna in her nervousness dropped her purse after Goku had finished his sentence, and it fell open to the ground and spilled all the contents in it on the road. Her lipstick and powder, her Indian currencies that she had rolled and tied with a rubber band and some Malaysian currencies which her brother had given her before she left India, lay scattered on the road. Goku quickly stooped to pick everything up for her. He apologized for it but Aruna wondered later why he had apologized when it wasn’t his fault that the purse fell off accidently from her hand!

When they reached the car, Aruna looked at Goku and promised him that she will have a talk with her sister and when he calls, she will let him know if she wants to go ahead with the wedding. She suddenly felt like being mean to him. He did give her an option, she thought a little surprised and she was going to keep him guessing even though she knew that the wedding between them is certain. Didn’t he tell her that he wanted to marry her and found her a suitable match for a wife? This man was a total stranger to her, as such, except for feeling regret and guilt for making him feel badly during their conversation, she was not in any way obliged to make him think that she had no say whatsoever in marrying him. Let him think when the wedding took place, that she had given her permission for it. It sounded better that way, thought Aruna, her mean streak showing in her thoughts and action.

Though what Goku said had made her look impractical and childish because of her behavior and unreasonable way of thinking, she still wanted him to think that she had an opinion when it came to her marriage. He must know that she was a very opinionated person and that he has to value her rights and way of thinking. Aruna believed that in a way, Goku understood that her feelings were not taken into consideration when the elders agreed to the proposal.

However, Aruna was not about to reveal to Goku that all her pleadings not to accept the proposal and not to send her away to Malaysia, that she leveled unsuccessfully to her brother in India, had simply fallen on deaf ears. She did try to get out of this untimely marriage proposal, she thought again. She did cry for days at end but her tears were all for naught. Well, she was not going to put the blame on her brother and reveal that he had practically forced her into the marriage, even if that was the truth. Her brother listened to her sister and brother-in law before deciding that she wed Goku. But the person Aruna blamed the most was Amma. Aruna knew that Amma played a bigger role in the proposal between her and Goku. Did she not go to India to get a girl for Goku? Didn’t Amma pick her from all the girls she had seen in India as a bride for her son? Aruna was also sure that Amma knew about her brother-in law’s status and wealth in the Country before asking for her hand in marriage.

As she got into the car, Amma kissed her cheeks before wishing them all a safe journey back to Dungun the next day. She told her sister enthusiastically that she will call her once she had consulted the priest about the date and time of the wedding. Amma’s voice rang loud in Aruna’s ears but she kept quiet throughout the conversation Amma had with her sister and so did Goku. He stood silently by Amma listening without showing any outward emotion, taking it all in his stride. She wondered if he would tell Amma what had transpired between them earlier during their conversation. As they left Amma’s residence, Aruna didn’t look at Goku before the car sped off so she didn’t know that Goku had smiled at her and looked at her with a little concern in his eyes. If she had seen the look on Goku’s face, she would have known that he liked her and was ready to marry her no matter how she had portrayed herself to him during the course of their conversation.

As they headed back to the hotel, Aruna noticed how the city had sprung alive with activity. The neon lights looked spectacular and brightened the atmosphere of the lighted town. As they passed the fountain one more time, Aruna was yet again enthralled by the glowing luminosity of it. The waters of the fountain now sprouted in a colorful array, flaming its colorful beauty to anyone who engaged in its beaming display. Blue, green, yellow and red, they rose high in the sky and lent an almost fairy like look to the surrounding. As the waters that rose high, fell in sequence parading the different colors, Aruna thought how resplendent it made Kuala Lumpur appear in the eyes of a newcomer.

Aruna saw a few people sitting by the side of the fountain and she guessed that it was a lover’s haunt, as they held hands and sat in pairs. The night lit up by the colors of the fountain surely made a beautiful backdrop for all their love stories, she was sure. It was the perfect setting for lovers. An enchantment to fascinate within the enchantment of love a story told by the devoted couples. Aruna looked at the city of Kuala Lumpur admiringly. The people, the city and the fountain all added to the mystic of a dream-like ambience that engulfed the whole place.

There were so many things going on all at the same time in the city of Kuala Lumpur. In a corner there was a hive of activity as the night markets were busy with people stopping to browse and buy anything that caught their interest. Amidst the retail products, there were stalls selling various kinds of foods and Aruna noticed that people were flocking to those stalls to buy the foodstuffs there. The variety of food sold amazed Aruna and she got to know from her sister that Malaysia was famed for the different kinds of food that catered to the different cultures and races that existed in the Country.

There were a couple of stalls selling fashionable clothes and Aruna wanted to buy some of the pretty dresses hanging on the display racks. She pointed the stalls out to her sister and told her how the dresses displayed there looked really pretty and how she admired their lovely colors and that she would like to buy herself a few to wear. Her sister looked at Aruna with a surprised look on her face and told her quite bluntly that she never shopped for clothes or anything for that matter from the night markets. However, her sister promised to take her shopping soon. She told Aruna that they only shopped at exclusive outlets or the retail stores in the malls.

Of course, thought Aruna caustically. What was she thinking? However, shopping at the retail outlets or exclusive outlets excited Aruna quite a bit. But then she had already gathered that her sister and brother-in law had expensive tastes and only wore high end clothing. Anyway, Aruna thought that she would love to go shopping one of these days to one of those exclusive outlets and buy herself something from there. She had of course seen exclusive outlets mainly for the rich and famous in India, but she had never really shopped in one! So that would be another first of the firsts that she told herself that she would accomplish in Malaysia.

While Aruna was busy taking in the vibrant night life of Kuala Lumpur, her sister suddenly asked Aruna what she thought of Goku. She had wanted badly to know Aruna’s thoughts about him from the time they left Amma’s house but it only struck her at that moment to ask Aruna about it. She had been too engrossed in her own thinking about Amma and their plans for the wedding. Aruna didn’t know how to answer her sister. It was such a hard question put forth to her and she didn’t quite know how to begin talking about him. For a while, she was trying to conjure up the right words to say but she couldn’t come up with any and decided to just tell her sister what had transpired between them instead.

“Chechi, I think Goku is a pleasant guy,” she began hesitantly. “But I couldn’t talk constructively on the same level with him and so he was a little affected by it.” Her sister looked troubled by what Aruna said and asked her to explain exactly what happened during the conversation. “Why what did he say for you not to answer him constructively, Aruna.” Then the tears fell unabashedly and in between sobs Aruna told her sister how she had informed him that she wasn’t ready to get married. “What?” her sister asked, her eyes widened in shock and looking a little frustrated with Aruna. “How could you say something like that”, she went on. “Why would you want to say something so hurtful to him?” she asked Aruna, panic strewn all over her face.

Her brother in law who was listening to the conversation between Aruna and her sister, turned around from where he was seated in the front to look at Aruna sitting at the back seat. He then turned his glance to her sister and told her, “As soon as we get back to the hotel, we will talk about this.” It was more of a command than a statement from him. Her sister turned away from Aruna and looked outside the window, not uttering another word till they reached the hotel.

Aruna couldn’t stop her crying and wished that the ground would open up and swallow her at that moment. How she was going to face this issue, she thought helplessly. Seeing that she was still sobbing away, her sister turned back to her and said angrily, “Stop your crying Aruna. I don’t know what you are crying about. Goku is a great guy and you knew you came here to get married. I don’t know how you can tell him something like that. Now stop your crying and we will speak about this later when we get to the hotel. Didn’t I tell you not to open your mouth to say anything unnecessary even if it bothered you?”

Aruna felt so miserable and unsure when her sister spoke to her angrily. It was only the first day of her arrival to Malaysia and already she had made both her sister and brother-in law, not to mention the boy she is to get married to, upset and angry with her. In spite of telling herself that she was not going to hurt anyone’s feelings, she had gone ahead and done just that.

She inferred that it was pointless to disappoint everyone including Goku who told her that he didn’t have any objection to marrying her. It was her word against the rest of them and she knew that in the event she raised any objection to marrying him, her sister and brother in law not to mention her brother in India and their preparation for the wedding, would be in vain.

Not only that, her family would probably be a laughing stock to everyone they knew. It was not often that a girl rejects a good proposal in India, and even that on the basis of the girl not being ready to get married. That excuse would be lame and unacceptable to all and sundry. And to make matters worse, Aruna knew that if she rejected the proposal, word will get around like wildfire especially in India and would she ever get a proposal of marriage again? It would definitely be a black mark to her family name. Aruna was also very sure that she would be sent back to India by her sister and brother in law. They would most probably be ridiculed for their part in the proposal too and what would that do to their reputation in Malaysia? Weren’t Indian girls just told to obey and follow the advice of their elders without question when it came to proposals? The elders usually knew what was best for them and acted in their best interest.

The rest of the journey to the hotel continued in pin drop silence. Aruna was unhappy that both her brother in law and sister were annoyed with her. In a way, she was afraid of what the both of them were going to say to her later. She wondered yet again if Goku had told Amma about their conversation. If he had, then there was more of antagonism and resentment coming from Amma, Aruna thought more afraid than ever. She couldn’t wait to reach the hotel, get the discussion with her brother-in law and sister, over and done with and return to the peace and tranquility her single room accorded her.

The driver dropped them off at the entrance of the hotel. Her brother in law got out first and she heard him slam the car door and go inside the hotel without a glance at her sister or at her. Her sister followed suit while she meekly followed behind.

She wondered where the discussion was going to be held. She found out soon enough when the lift stopped on their floor. They hurried to their room and Aruna followed them, scared out of her wits.

The room was a deluxe room and looked really big and spacious. Her brother in law pointed to a coffee table with two chairs in the corner and asked her to sit down. He then went to the small refrigerator and helped himself to a bottle of mineral sister. He put one in front of Aruna, in case he wanted to have a drink of water and shared his bottle with her sister. Her sister who sat on the edge of the bed right by the side of the table took a sip of the water and returned the bottle to her husband. Aruna was really scared to face the both of them and even though she was thirsty from all that crying and talking in the car, she didn’t dare drink her water. Her brother-in law sat opposite her in the chair and asked Aruna to relate exactly what transpired during her conversation with Goku earlier that evening. Aruna had her face bowed down, looking down at her hands as she dared not look her brother in law in the eye, started stammering a little.

The words got stuck in her throat again. Aruna just couldn’t relate everything to her brother-in law just then. Her brother-in law noticed her state of fear and calmed down a little. “Go on, tell us what transpired Aruna. It is really important for us to know what you told Goku so that we are kept abreast of the situation just in case there is any talk about this between Amma and us the next time round. Tears started rolling down Aruna’s face yet again and she was at a loss for words.

Her brother didn’t look like he would take any nonsense at this point and was getting quite fidgety and noticing that, Aruna started to tell both him and her sister about her discussion with Goku. “Chetan,” she began. “Goku started the conversation by telling me about his job and his new promotion. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him directly and say anything in return. He then told me that his mother told him that it was time for him to get married and showed him a photo of me and asked him if he would like to go ahead with the proposal.” She stopped and took in a deep breath. Her brother in law sat reclining in the chair and listened to her intently. Her sister looked on with a worried frown on her face.

Aruna continued, “Then he asked me whether I had seen a photo of him and I told him that I hadn’t. He asked me how come and I didn’t reply him.” The brother in law gave an exasperated look and glanced at her sister. “Why in the world didn’t you answer him when he had the courtesy to explain things to you? Would a yes or a no bite you Aruna. By not answering him, did you not think that you were being rude to him?” Sighing loudly he continued, “I mean that is common courtesy! So then what else did he say?”

She started tearing when she heard the displeasure in her brother in law’s voice. “No, no, no, no.” His voice boomed. “I don’t want to see any more of your tears. Why are you crying? This boy is a good boy and he has all the attributes of a responsible boy who can provide you with a good life!” She dried her tears and looked at him. Then Aruna looked down at her hands again. Her brother-in law sat silently waiting for her reply and her sister did the same. She then looked at him, her large eyes filled with unshed tears. Didn’t he see that she was not ready to get married? Didn’t they both see that she was too young and that it made her miserable? Didn’t her happiness matter to any one of them? Why were they so concerned about hurting Goku’s feelings when she was hurting so bad?

Continue,” her brother in law nearly shouted, the dismayed look on his face making Aruna more wounded inside. He was obviously upset and irritated at Aruna’s silence and slow response. Aruna started stammering again. “So then, I told him that I was not ready to get married as I hadn’t finished my studies”, she went on. Her brother in law then put his hands on his head and exclaimed, “Oh God!” Her sister suddenly saw the funny side of things and burst out laughing. Then her brother in law joined her and they both started laughing together. Did they think it funny? Aruna felt a sudden anger surge within her.

She suddenly found courage in both their change of temperament, and stood up shaking with rage, “Well, Chetan, it’s true. I haven’t finished my studies and all of you want me to marry a total stranger. In fact, he asked me how old I was. Didn’t any of you think that a girl of sixteen is much too young to get married? Why, I had to travel all the way from India alone in a ship full of strangers because all of you decided that this boy was a good boy and that he would give me a good life. What about what I want? What about my feelings. I was only being truthful when I told him that I wasn’t ready for marriage and thought myself too young.”

Her brother in law sat looking at her with a calm expression on his face and his sister couldn’t help but laugh at Aruna’s outburst, seeing the earnest look on her face. She did remember a time when she was besieged with the same feelings but she wasn’t as daring as Aruna to voice it to anyone. She had simply got married and adapted to married life as best as she could. And she knew that the Gods were really kind to her because she found the man of her dreams in her proposal.

Both she and her husband knew that Aruna was overwhelmed and afraid by the whole proposal thing and needed to let off some steam. But her husband continued to talk to Aruna. “So then, now that you are here, what do you want to do Aruna? Well, you did have two whole weeks in the ship to get used to the idea of a getting married, didn’t you?” her brother in law asked her in return. “Oh I don’t know Chetan, why don’t you and Chechi get me married!” and she burst into tears once again after saying that veiled with sarcasm.

But her brother-in law and sister just kept quiet when she spoke to them sarcastically. They let her cry for a few minutes and sat watching her, feeling very sorry for her at the same time. They understood her anxiety.

Then her sister interjected in a solemn voice. “Well, Aruna, I will tell you what took place so that you will not feel so badly about the whole thing. Amma went to India and she visited her friend in our housing colony. She saw you walking back home from school on one of the days that she was in her house and inquired about you. You know the friend who told your classmates about the proposal? Well, it was her mother who is a good friend of hers.”

“So then, once she found out everything she needed to know about our family from your friend’s mother, she approached me through our beloved brother. Your friend’s mother gave her all the particulars she needed to contact brother and he in turn contacted us here and told us about the proposal. So now you know how we got to know them in the first place. I thought that you should know how this proposal came to be and Aruna, were only did what we thought was best for your future. Proposals like these don’t come around very often and we wanted you to have a good man for a husband. Your brother-in law found out all there was to know about Goku before we agreed to the proposal.” Her sister then stopped what she was saying and waited for some response from Aruna.

Aruna looked hard at her sister, sobbing uncontrollably at the same time and said in an unhappy tone, “It is likely that Amma also found out how rich the both of you were here and that’s why she was in such a rush to get her son married to me!”

She didn’t trust Amma one bit where this was concerned! She was sure that it was a bonus for her that her son was marrying her quite possibly because of her brother-in law’s status and wealth.

Her brother in law laughed out loud at Aruna’s outburst. “Yes, that may be true,” he said “But she is playing with fire if she thinks she can subject our little Aruna to any intimidation! I did check into their background and Acha is quite a well-known figure here and in India. Amma used to work as a matron in a nursing home. Right now their daughter is studying medicine in Manipal. They only have a son and a daughter. From the little that I had gathered about Amma, she had come across as a very astute woman to me. Otherwise how would she have tracked your sister and I down? Of course I can read into her extra friendliness and her non-stop chatter. She was trying really hard to impress us and especially get you to have a high opinion of her family. But I assure you Aruna, Goku is a very nice person and he is quite a humble young man. He is well-to do and he will go far in life, in my opinion.”

Aruna let out a big sigh of relief that her brother in law was not totally hood winked by Amma and her overly concern for them. Then her sister replied that she felt the same way as her husband did about Amma, but she somehow felt that the boy was a good person and that Amma, though a little shrewd, is only looking out for her son’s best interest. “Mothers are like that Aruna,” her sister told Aruna. “They are over-protective of their sons and would go to any length to make their voice heard especially to their future daughter-in laws. Her sister liked Acha, she said. She found him a charming gentleman just like Goku.

Her sister smiled at her tenderly after saying her piece. There was a few minutes of silence after they had said their piece to each other. It was so good to get all her concerns off her chest and be informed about Goku and his family by her sister and brother-in law. After another long pause, her sister told her husband that she wanted to have a private conversation with Aruna sometime soon but right then, she thought that what Aruna needed was some good rest and sleep after her long tiring journey. It had probably affected her more than they thought. Her brother-in law agreed with his wife and nodded his head in understanding.

Aruna was still standing after her sudden outburst earlier and hadn’t sat down even after her sister and brother-in law spoke at length to her. Her sister got up from sitting on the bed to take her back to her room. Aruna felt a little silly for creating such frenzy that night and she apologized to the both of them for not thinking before telling Goku that she was not ready to get married to him as yet. She realized that it made them all look unconvincing in his sight. She realized also that it did make them look frivolous when it was such a serious matter and should be handled delicately. Aruna ended her apology by saying that she should have directed all her concerns to her them both.

She saw her sister wipe her eyes when she had finished speaking. Aruna quickly said, “Chechi, please don’t cry on my account. It will sadden me so much. The last two people I want to hurt is you and brother-in law. I love you both very much.”

Her brother in law too looked a little visibly shaken and comforted Aruna. He told her that he was doing what he thought was best for her and that he understood she was a little too young to get married, but girls from India did get married at that age, especially good looking and intelligent girls like Aruna who were in demand for suitors like Goku. Then he stood up from his chair and told Aruna not to worry about anything and that he was there if ever she needed any help.

Aruna listened quietly to her brother-in law talking. She was against girls as young as her getting married, and thought her brother-in law’s thinking was a prejudicial way of thinking, however did not dare voice her opinion to him. She just nodded her head in understanding, wished him good night and left the room with her sister. Her sister held on to her hand tightly while they were walking to the lift. She didn’t say anything to her at that point of time. They were both choked with emotion.

When they reached her room, her sister asked her, her concern apparent in her voice, whether she will be alright alone. Aruna who wanted more than anything to be alone at that moment, her sister that she will be fine and they kissed each other on the cheeks before her sister left her to go back to her room.

Aruna suddenly felt drained and tired after all the excitement and anguish of the evening. She took off her Salwa Kamis and all her jewelry and put it carefully into her bag before slipping into her comfortable nightie. She lay on her bed exhausted and weary to the bone and almost immediately drifted off to sleep. It was a deep dreamless sleep and one that refreshed Aruna both mentally and physically because when she got up the next day, she was ready to face anything that came her way. She felt light hearted and uplifted like a heavy burden was off her chest.


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