My Father Didn’t Know My Mother Was Allergic to Garlic

The heartwarming story of an Indian Arranged Marriage

My Father Didn’t Know My Mother Was Allergic to Garlic
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

The heartwarming story of an Indian Arranged Marriage

The year was 1990. It was a bright, sunny Sunday in the month of August.

There were butterflies in my father’s stomach. Of course, he wasn’t my father then. He was just Deeptarka (“Deep”, to his friends). The young engineer, with high hopes of making a difference to society.

Today was the day he had to go to my mother’s home to ask for her hand in marriage formally. However, she wasn’t my mother then. Just Karabi.

Karabi was the lady Deep’s father (my grandfather) had chosen to be his wife. She was an engineer who worked with the state government. Deep had seen her pictures before and talked to her once on the phone. She was beautiful and well-spoken. The way he could hear laughter in her voice when he cracked a joke made his heart flutter.

Deep liked her.

He had spent the last night tossing and turning in bed, obsessing over how to greet her for the first time in person, hoping she would like him as much as he liked her.

It was around ten in the morning when he started getting ready. He looked through the shirts in his closet, but not one of them appeared dressy enough for the occasion. He stood for hours in front of the mirror, putting on one shirt after another, never quite liking the result.

Finally, his younger brother helped him settle on a brand new shirt their father had gifted him. It was red with black checks and fitted him well. He wore it over his favourite pair of brown trousers and stared at himself in the mirror for a long time. His younger brother patted his hair down and handed him a bottle of scent to spray on himself.

Today was going to be a big day.

When Deep’s family arrived at the girl’s home, they were greeted by the girl’s brother on the doorstep. He gave Deep a hug and ushered them in. While the rest of the family entered the living room, he held Deep back a moment to tell him that he had forgotten to remove the price tag on his collar.

Already a bundle of nerves by then, Deep gave an edgy laugh and thanked his (hopefully if things went well) would-be brother-in-law.

As it turns out, things went remarkably well.

Both the families liked each other, and a date for the wedding was fixed for early next year. As for Deep, he was smitten by the beauty of his bride-to-be. Aside from being heart-stoppingly beautiful, Karabi was intelligent too, among the toppers in her batch of engineering. His job was in a village far away from her home, but she had agreed to look for a transfer to stay with him.

Throughout the meeting, she kept her head down, a red blush on her cheeks, letting the elders do the talking. But when they were allowed to spend a few moments in the company of each other, she looked up at him and smiled at him.

It had been tough for Deep to not put a hand to his chest and swoon.

Everything was going on better than he had dared to hope.

When they returned home in the evening, Deep whooped the air and pulled his younger brother in a hug. He was going to get married. Life was going to change. He was so happy!

With their wedding fixed, Deep was excited to take his fiancée out on dates.

But the trouble was — he had never been out alone with a woman. He had no clue how to go about that.

The only mode of transport his family owned was a rickety old scooter. Deep had ridden it several times, but never with a woman seated behind. He made his younger brother sit sideways and ride with him — so he could get used to the shift in weight and not topple the scooter in his excitement. His poor brother was so afraid someone might see him sitting like a woman, that he covered his face up in a shawl on their clandestine scooter rides through the city.

With his riding skills perfected, Deep finally gathered the guts to ask his fiancée out on a date. He called her home number. When her mother (his future mother-in-law and my maternal grandmother) picked up the call, she assumed he had called to speak to her. They talked for more than ten minutes, discussing her health, the weather, their future plans, and the country’s politics. When she was about to hang up, Deep said in a tiny voice, “Can I please speak to Karabi?”

His mother-in-law laughed and said, of course.

Karabi’s voice came almost immediately on the speaker — as if she had been just around the corner, listening to her mother speak with her future husband. This thought made Deep smile — a grin that got wider when she agreed to go out with him for lunch.

Two days later, on their first date, Karabi looked resplendent in a green saree that showed off her slender figure. There was a string of pearls around her neck that complemented her dusky complexion perfectly. Her shoulder-length hair looked sleek and shiny. Her eyes were rimmed in kajal, and her lips had a faint hint of pink lipstick.

Deep had to remind himself to close his mouth. She looked so beautiful.

He gripped the handle of his scooter tighter as she sat on the backseat and placed a dainty hand on his shoulder. She was surprisingly light, and after bearing the weight of his younger brother on so many practice rides, Deep found it easy to drive her around.

He took her to a posh restaurant in the hopes of impressing her. The interiors were furnished in a classy taste, with high-backed chairs and tables made of glass. Karabi looked around, her eyes shining, but didn’t say much. Probably she was shy too, Deep thought, hoping the butterflies in his stomach would stop flying around so vigorously.

They sat on a small table overlooking the city below. Karabi sat opposite him, a smile curling her lips, her eyes resolutely on the table, refusing to meet his. Deep asked her what she wanted to eat. She gave a small shake of her head and said that she was okay with whatever he ordered.

Deep didn’t have much experience of eating in restaurants, so, he ordered the dishes her had heard the names of — garlic chicken and butter naan. The food was delicious. But, to his surprise, Karabi didn’t touch the chicken at all. She ate her naan with some curd and insisted she wasn’t hungry.

It was only five months later when they finally got married did he learn that she was allergic to garlic.

That was one of the many little things about her he was yet to discover.

Now, twenty-eight years down the line, he still says there are infinitely many mysteries about her he yet hasn’t unravelled.

He looks forward to a lifetime of doing just that.

And, as my father says, he looks forward to a lifetime of doing just that — understanding the idiosyncrasies that make up my mother — and to fall deeper in love with her while on it.

Deeptarka and Karabi — my parents: then and now (1991 vs 2020)

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