The ladies in our club always make fun of her behind her back. “She is loud”, some say. “She is brash”, say others. Some go to the extent of saying “She lacks all feminine qualities.”

‘She’ is Sagarika, my childhood friend. I always felt bad when such negative things were mentioned about her, but I could never find it in me to go against the tide to defend her.

Once we had organized a party at our place for around 25 people, mostly from our friend’s circle. Sagarika was attending with her husband Bibhudatta, who in stark contrast, is very reserved. At a certain point at the party, I saw Sagarika was in an intense conversation with Mr. Mohanty, a friend of Bibhudatta. When I went closer to them, to offer them drinks, I heard part of the conversation.

“Mohanty”, she addressed him by his last name just as a man would, “do you know why I was named Sagarika? It is because the house where I was born is by the beach”“Ha haha”, she started and shook the room with her thundering laughter, finding her own explanation very funny.

Everyone’s eyes followed the loud laughter.Some people were staring at her with a look of contempt, as if they were condemning bad behavior . Some were joking about her and giggling amongst themselves. I could see the embarrassment in Bibhudatta’s face.To manage the awkward situation, I took Sagarika with me to the kitchen.

Sagarika could be notoriously verbose when she was with a group of men. I understood why.When she was only ten years old her mother died. She was brought up by her father and two older brothers. As a young girl, she followed her brothers around. She would play cricket with her brothers’ friends. She would hang around with them after the game for long hours. She acquired their sense of humor and was always more comfortable around men.

With no female presence in the family, she wasn’t conditioned to adhere to the qualities and virtues that are deemed ‘feminine’ by society. Like most men, she wasn’t good at displaying her empathy for others although she was very considerate.She would always help others.

She was a loving mother to Prem, who was now34 years old. For over four years now, Sagarika and Bibhu had been trying to find him a good match. But nothing seemed to materialize.That kept them both worried. They wanted him to settle down quickly, like most parents do. I had an inkling of the reason behind the problem.

In our club, someone had mentioned that she knew of a couple of cases where Prem’s wedding discussion didn’t proceed after his parents met the girls’ parents.The lady who was telling us blamed this on Sagarika’s personality, “After all, who would want to give their daughter’s hand to this family with two fathers in law”. The ladies in the club found this very funny and burst out laughing. Like before,I wanted to defend Sagarika, but couldn’t muster courage for it.

I felt very bad for Sagarika. She loved Prem and wanted the best for him but her personality, which didn’t fit into society’s expectations, seemed to be the problem. Prem was well educated, well behaved, very handsome and had a good job in an advertising company. He belonged to a cultured, financially sound family.He was a catch!

I didn’t want to blindly believe the gossip. I went over to Sagarika’s place to find out more. After the initial pleasantries, I approached the point. “Will we be fortunate enough to attend a wedding feast this year?”, I joked. Sagarika got my hint and turned pensive.

“I’m not sure what’s going on”, she answered in a dejected tone.

“Is he in love with any girl?”, I asked.

“Arrey na”, Sagarika dismissed the idea very quickly, “I’m sure he’s not in a relationship. We have spoken to a lot of girls’ families, but nothing seems to materialize. Sometimes things stop after Prem speaks to the girl and sometimes things stop right after Bibhu and I speak to the girls’ parents.”

It occurred to me, “The club gossip probably wasn’t just gossip, after all. I had to jump in and help my friend get her son married.” From that moment on, something changed. I took it up as a personal mission to get Prem married. I wanted to make up for all times that I couldn’t stand up for Sagarika. I looked up profiles on matrimonial sites. I spread the word among friends and family. I did everything I could.

Soon proposals started flowing in. Numerous discussions started. I made sure I was always around when Sagarika was meeting the girls’ families so that I could cover her gaffes or diminish their impact. I would avoid all kinds of topics or situations which would trigger the ‘uniqueness’ in Sagarika’s personality which society didn’t accept. I felt like a diplomat skilled at managing perceptions.

My efforts bore fruit. We found a very good match for Prem. Ritu, she was called. She was bubbly, cheerful and intelligent. I thought she was a very good match for Prem. “What do you think of him?”, I teased Ritu.

“He’s doesn’t talk much auntie. He’s shy”, said Ritu holding her giggles back. She seemed to like him a lot.

The following day, I asked Sagarika, “What does Prem think?”.

Sagarika quoted Prem’s words, “It has to happen one day. The sooner the better!”. “Let’s fix the engagement date”, she suggested.

Success at last! I was so happy. The engagement was fixed on Janmashtami. All the preparations were on in full swing. It was the night before Jamashtami. It was raining heavily, and my cellphone rang.

It was Sagarika on the other side of the line. “We have to cancel the engagement. Prem just gave us the news.”

“What news?”, I blurted out.

“He loves a man”, she said. The line went dead.


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