Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What is metaphysics ? :-)

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.


  1. Oh Boy!!...Do I love the way you write or do I love the way you write??? :)
    Eating the Rava laddo with a fork!!!...LOL
    well...Good riddance to M indeed. This chap didn't have even a modicum of courtesy

  2. 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.

    I can see how this guy would find meeting girls under false pretenses fun, but I'm more surprised that his parents allowed it to happen (with/ without them). Surely, word would get around to his fiancee's parents that the guy was looking elsewhere even as his parents were finalizing the wedding details?

  3. Times have changed and perhaps for the better.The girls are calling the shots these days and who can blame them.They've been at the receiving end long enough.Good write up.

  4. AmritaThank you

    LekhniThis was a case of "my son, right-or-wrong, on the part of his mother, who was blinded by their position in society. They didnt have the guts or courtesy to tell M's folks that they needed to wait on a meeting with M, pending some other outcome. A perfect example of all that "education" going waste because of faulty bringing up.Of course the fiancee wasnt a fiancee when the meeting with M happened. I often wonder how this guy must be bringing up his kids today....

    HHG You know, even then , I knew some girls who opposed their own families in such cases. But M's father was a very strict man. And no one in the family dared oppose him.

  5. I think asking such questions were common not just in 7s but even few years back. Just recently on some radio show here in bay area, one guy had called in to tell his friend's story. His friend had asked his wife to be some engineering questions to confirm if she was indeed an engineer.
    But i think things are changing now,just recently I heard instances where bride's side was demanding last two salary slips from the prospective groom if he was working in US. This is equally humiliating but keeping in mind how many cheats are out there, this looks like a perfect step from the bride's side to ensure the well being of their daugther.

  6. My heart goes out to the girl he got married too. I am forcing my mind to believe that she approved of the 'sthal' herself and was not forced into it by her family.

  7. Things have not changed much in India today -- Many are wearing Many wigs ! .

  8. Ha ha! Great story- and superbly told! Your friend was lucky to have escaped a marriage to such a person!

  9. He obviously had no idea that he was not seen the way he thought he was!!

    Imagine the parents behaving in this manner! Sudden, brief and unexpected importance amongst their peer group I guess.

  10. Wonderful..imagining a pompous guy with a wig eating a rava laddoo with a fork.

    Unfortunately I see a trend among ambitious girls who are brilliant at academics but not enough for full scholarships or from families that can afford the cost of a foreign education / looking to work and settle abroad, of getting hitched to guys living abroad they wouldn't otherwise have considered.

    What must we say about the other girl's family which also must have noticed yet ignored the same neon signs?

  11. Great story... I wonder what happened to M later ? Did she find a nice strong authentic husband ?

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  13. That was fascinating. I think the thing I find most interesting is the involvement of families and friends in these matches. So glad this girl managed to get away from this guy and that you were there to reinforce the red flags she saw.

    I saw a documentary over the weekend about a guy from an Indian community in Woolgooga (he was born here) in Australia who placed an ad for a wife in an Indian newspaper. He went over there and met a girl and married her. I was so interested in the involvement of the familes which I am sure can be a good and a bad thing at times. It's wonderful that these young women are so well educated too - its a shame we don't teach people all over the world that conmen with no morals exist too.

  14. Enchanted It is certainly necessary to check things out properly, and I am glad people are asking for proof of stuff from the boys too. One hears of so many fraudulent types...

    G The girl he got married to had a lot of Vitamin M : money. So both sides overlooked many things. Certainly none of my business, but I was just glad for my friend.

    Anrosh LOL "Many are wearing Many wigs ! ." Indeed !

    Manju Thank you. And yes, she was indeed lucky..

    IHM You know , sometimes I think the boy's mind was messed up because his parents had such weird values. A lifetime of learning those, and you are ready to spoil a girls life ?

    AI I too have known the type of folks you write about. In one case the girl always wanted to know the US Visa category of the boy, say, before his name. ....sometimes those neon signs blind you...

    tstchrm1Thank you.

    Helene HM ended up being a bank professional, and married a person of her own choice. No wigs, and nothing to hide.

    Lilly Thank you. I realize that to someone with a western perspective , these things may sound a bit odd. But this was way back in the 70's when society was less permissive . Today things are more free, behaviour wise, but families have a better judgement about fellows in general....particularly if a short period of acquaintance is involved.

  15. I couldn't stop reading this if I tried. I realize it was in the past, but history is colorful.

    Seems that power is just as ugly in the past as it is in the present. Even more so for those who don't truly own the power.

  16. This chap didn't have even a modicum of courtesy

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