We often go ga ga today over the numerous educational choices available today. We admire folks who breeze through degrees after degrees, and have a bunch of jobs, simply waiting for them to join. And for those who revel in the acquisitions of showy prestige, the props available are limitless and mind boggling.
Those not so fortunate, and those not so monetarily well off, often struggle along the path longer, but emerge more sensible and tough , in the bargain. A lot of it has to do with how you are brought up, with what values. Whether you have the guts to refuse something, regardless of how attractive it is, because it had dicey human values. Whether you can turn your eyes away from blinding illusions. Whether you see and participate in meaningful communication, within your family, and later around you.
And this often involves, parents giving you a lot of their time in your growing years. Making little plus-minus corrections, to teach you stand up strong in a giddy world. It doesn't always mean folks giving up jobs to be with you. But a thoughtful prioritising . And sharing. And if that doesn't happen, all that education shows up for naught. Money has never been able to substitute for basic common sense and courtesy.
Like in this story.
Somewhere in the 70's , many young girls in their twenties, sensed an opening up of opportunities for them, in Mumbai, in education as well as careers. That was also a time when parents were keen on getting their daughters married, and the age old bride-groom-seeing sessions had given way to informal meetings of families, where the girl and boy actually chatted, and/ or even kind of went out to talk and walk around.
We stayed in an apartment complex where everyone was a government person; either the civil service, police or judiciary at various levels. Everyone kind of knew everyone, though you knew some folks better. I had just returned a year ago after grad school in the US, had a job, and was scheduled to get married within the year. So for various ladies in the building with daughters of marriageable age, my mother was a safe person to consult regarding information about prospective grooms and so on, since she wasn't now looking out for any "rishtas(=proposals)" for me.
The K's lived 2 floors above, and had 2 daughters. The older one was my friend. The younger one, M., was considered super smart, beautiful in a very traditional sense, and was just about to graduate with some really outstanding grades. The girl wanted to take the Civil Service exams, which was fine and OK. But. There was this concern about timely marriage. K's were very conservative folks, and were concerned about being very proper when figuring out proposals suitable for their daughter M., and approaching parents of prospective grooms.
One evening , getting home from work, I saw Mrs K, deep in conversation with my mother, and she left after a lot of nodding and searching looks. A growing number of fellows were going abroad to study; some stayed there, and some returned, and all of them were considered excellent catches then. Apparently, some one's son had just returned from abroad, with a very prestigious degree, and a job with an even more prestigious firm in Mumbai, in a very high post. A chauffeur driven car came for him every morning. The boy's folks were also in the same buildings complex. My folks knew these people through some kind of old family connection, and M's mother wanted us to help forward their daughters proposal for this guy.
(I'd heard about this person earlier, had met him at some function, and found him to be slightly pompous. He also wore a wig, which was really no one else's business, but his ma would go blue in the face denying that. I also thought there was something fake about him. Word had it that his arrival from abroad suddenly seemingly enhanced the families stature, and this had resulted in the family refusing to travel in the elevator with others, who had to wait.)
There were entire sets of girls' parents going ga-ga over this person, and I did mention my observation to my mother after listening to what the K's wanted her to help with. I was told to strictly keep my so called opinions to myself, that our role was restricted to facilitating a meeting as we knew both parties, and for all I knew, maybe the girl would have a different opinion about the fellow . Who knew ?
The proposal was duly sent, the girl's father made a respectful trip to the boy's parents , and invited them. In a sudden spurt of broad mindedness, the boy's family suggested that he would come over by himself, and maybe later ,the parents could meet, if required. Mrs K kept us appraised of these details.
Finally the D-day dawned. Since the girl's sister would be at work, and I was available that day, Mrs K . requested me to come help with the preparations, but more so, because she knew I knew the chap, and she felt I was a harmless useful bridge between the old-style-seeing-sessions and this new-fangled-girl-boy-meeting. Sort of to smooth things around and fill in the blanks so to speak.
The girl probably didn't like all this brouhaha , but as per the customs then, she had to simply go through them all. She looked wonderful in a lovely silk saree, and there was a flurry of anticipation when the door bell chimed. In walks a guy in a suit , wishes everyone respectfully, is a bit surprised to see me there. I pretend to answer summons from the dining room, and leave, as the girl comes in and is introduced.
Greetings all around, and the elders kind of accidentally preoccupied themselves after a while, and the two got talking. At some point in between a high tea happened. That's where I was helping. You are supposed to move around and offer seconds, and more tea etc, and I could sense that the girl was a bit puzzled at one point, but trying to act civil.
Then I saw the fellow trying to eat a rava ladoo with a fork. To me that was blasphemy. As far as I was concerned , he flunked right there. But everything is fair in a "seeing" session, particularly if you are the boy, and after about 30 minutes , the visit ended with the fellow bidding everyone goodbye, shaking hands with the father, and departing, doubtlessly to travel, once again, in supreme exclusivity in the elevator.
He said they would be in touch. (A loaded statement, that can mean many things)
We sat down for a dissection of the visit, as often happens. The girl looked puzzled. I asked her what happened.
She said she asked him about his hobbies, and his school, and his company where he had just joined. Thinking of finding some common ground. Then in the middle of everything :
"He asked me what subjects I had for my final year. " She gulped some water.
"I told him I was doing philosophy , and then he asked me 'Tell me, what is metaphysics ?'..." .........
My jaw dropped and remained that way. About 25 years earlier, there were cases of asking girls to sing, and walk(to check limb disabilities), and that was bad enough. Times had changed. Girls were doing better than boys in school and college, and other competitive exams.
The guy was the absolute pits. This sounded like the guy was interviewing her for a job appointment.
"And what did you say? " Me. Hoping she told him off.
"I told him it wasn't there in our syllabus. So I couldn't say. "
M's mother, who had tensed up after hearing my question, let out a slow sigh. It didn't matter that this guy was bad news, and had totally undesirable attitudes and hangups and complexes. It didn't matter that he had a weird idea of "interviewing" a possible bride . I could see the girl wasn't impressed at all. She thought he was strange. She herself was very accomplished, in the arts, sciences, elocution, and what have you, had lots of friends, had her own ideas of a life partner, and this guy was bad news. Except her parents thought he was a "catch" ; upmarket family, comfortably placed, good job, education, moved in exalted circles, and you could always ignore the wig. (M was not asked what she thought of it)
The girl confided in me, but dared not say anything in front of her father. She didn't like the boy at all. We even had a huge laugh over the questions he asked. And the possible funny answers she could have given but didn't. She was a very pretty girl, tall and statuesque, and it was possible that the boy's mother would give that more weight. M hoped not.
I reported on all this back home, and after a a few days, after consulting M's parents, my mother casually spoke to the boy's mother about the visit. Apparently the boy was on tour and they would decide on his return. (That turned out to be a fib)
A few days later, the boy's younger brother casually came over to the M.'s house one evening, and smilingly gave them an envelope . And left.
It was the wedding invitation of the boy with another girl.
All through the time the fellow was playing metaphysical games with M, he was in the process of getting hitched up elsewhere. No wonder his parents didn't come. They didn't have the guts to ask M's folks to wait before setting up the meeting. For the boy it was a fun thing. Meeting girls. getting drunk on adoring attitudes from their parents. While his parents were finalizing his life elsewhere.
No amount of education would help this guy, as there was a basic flaw in his bringing up. I was just glad M was out. She deserved better. She herself was immensely relieved. Her father was outraged. But silent .
My mother, equally outraged by this behaviour, spoke to the boy's mother in no uncertain terms. The result was that she was not invited to the wedding.
Which was just fine.
She wouldn't have enjoyed seeing another girl being led to and sacrificed at the altar , doddering under the weight of false prestige, despicable attitude, and a fellow whose wig actually hid something more than his baldness.