Tara took off her jacket and hung it on the peg behind the main door of the apartment. It was slightly cold this time of the year in Bangalore. She rubbed her hands together for warmth and took out her wallet. This went into the first drawer of the wooden chest of drawers she had in the sitting room. To the right of that, went the keys to her beloved three year old car. Next on her agenda was a shower, dinner and the midnight re-runs of FRIENDS and then she would settle down with her laptop. This last, was the most important activity of the day. It was all about her search for her soul mate.
Tara Narayan was thirty-six, a successful TV producer who owned her own apartment and car in Bangalore. And she was single. And ready to do more, than mingle. She had broken up with her long time boyfriend more than eight years ago. He had wanted to settle down and she had not. She had just started making her mark as an assistant producer in a children’s network. Tara had barely had time for meeting him at dinner those days. Edits, props, production schedules, auditions with precocious kids, these were the only things on her mind back then. She could not bear to think of taking time out for a wedding. The idea of shopping for a trousseau or getting through the very many ceremonies involved with a wedding filled her with dread. She was in love, but she had no time or the inclination to get into something that would mean making changes in her work life. She had ended up having a long talk with her boyfriend. He had understood. They had parted amicably and remained friends. Over the years, he had gotten married and was now settled in Sydney with his family.
Tara had moved on too. She had grown from an assistant producer to a producer to a senior producer and now an executive producer of two shows for the Kids Only Network. She had bought a mid-sized apartment in sub-urban Bangalore and fallen into a comfortable routine of work, life and mostly laid-back weekends. She was successful. She was happy. But these days she was also lonely.
It wasn’t as if Tara had renounced her love life completely after her break-up. She had gone on the occasional date, some set up by friends, once even by her brother-in law egged on by her sister and even on a few with people she had met at industry parties. But she had always felt the stark lack of connection. There had even been a fling with an office colleague. However, that had ended in a couple of months in awkward silences and a hurried shuffling away when they had run into each other at work. After that, Tara had made a mental note to never get involved with her colleagues.
She had been happy enough with her single existence as long as her friends had been around flaunting their single status with her. But the number of their tribe had dwindled by the time, Tara had hit thirty-four. Now all she got when she called them for an impromptu dinner or a drinking session at her house was excuses.
Sorry Tara! Rajat is out on a business trip and his mum’s over for a visit.
Oh I wish I could make it sweets, but Pinku is teething.
Can I take a rain check? Too exhausted to get dolled up to face loud music and twenty-somethings gyrating away!
It was weird how the years had transformed her friends into the very people they had once vowed they would never be. And just like that, Tara’s social life had changed from hip and happening to staid and stagnant. Saturday nights had once been synonymous with a night round town at Purple Haze or Pecos. Now Saturday nights had become the nights Tara curled up on her couch, watching a DVD, as she munched on Chinese takeaway and gulped down a drink or two. In her words, “Pathetic!”
And adding to her misery, were her relatives who seemed worried about her single status, as if, the future of the world depended on her marital status. They had sent across photographs of eligible bachelors, proposals from suitable families and even arranged the odd, innocuous meeting in a coffee shop. “Just go see him Tara, you will see why he is the one,” they had said.
The only thing the meetings had been though, were stilted and strained. Tara had returned home, annoyed at having been bullied into meeting strangers.
“That’s it, we’re doing this my way now!” she declared.
If she was the one who was putting her self out there, then it was only fair that she would screen and select the people she was going to meet. What she needed to decide on though, was a method.
The traditional methods had failed her. And she had to admit that she was tired of asking for a table for one or having to order two meals to hit the minimum home delivery limit. She was also certainly done with the meaningless, random dates that meant she would be making fake excuses half way through to escape from turning into sleeping beauty at the restaurant. It was time to get a digital fairy godmother in her quest for Prince Charming. That meant only one thing in India, online matrimonial sites.
One click and Tara found herself in a parallel universe filled with people like her. People who were waiting to meet, their perfect other half. There were sites for singles, divorced men and women, widows and widowers and so on and so forth. The sites were further organized according to caste, age, height, personal preferences and so on. There was no dearth of choice. There was an ocean of information out there. Reviews, testimonials from happy couples, blogs from disgruntled users. Tara was hooked. Before she knew it, she was signing on madeinheaven.com.
Though the title was a tad too cheesy for her, it claimed to be the best site for men and women in her age group. But even as Tara uploaded her profile, it was the site’s logo that worried her. It was a clock titled ‘The Matrimonial clock’. As the page loaded, the clock would start ticking from the first point that was a stick figure of an unhappy single to the last point which was two stick figures holding hands. And it was called a match made in heaven.
Though the corniness made her cringe, she ignored it and continued to key in her vital statistics.
Height? Hmmm, that one’s simple. She typed in 5’6.
Age? Thirty-six. Should I add and four months? Maybe I’ll just leave it at that.
Onto the next, complexion. What sort of a racist question is that? I am not answering that one. Next.
She went on and on, filling up the blanks in her profile and keying in her personal preferences. “Tall, age above thirty-six, employed in Bangalore and…”
The registration process completed, Tara had received her new identity. F1734. She could now browse through other profiles and send them enquiries or even chat with them online. She did not want to seem like a desperate woman though. She was far from that, anyway.
Today, it had been three months and few days to her first step in the online matchmaking world. Tara settled down for her nightly search.
“So, lets see what’s been happening in the heavenly inbox” she muttered to herself as she waited for the mails to load.
She had received a number of ‘Expressed interest’ mails so far. This meant that these members had wanted to access her personal information and photographs and possibly even meet her in person. However, she had never found anyone interesting enough to take the discussion out of the web realm yet. She had chatted for a couple of weeks with one guy, but had stopped after she figured the guy just seemed to be looking for an online buddy.
Today, there were three ‘Expressed interest’ mails. There was also a direct mail. It was from M5892 who was thirty-eight and was a software engineer based in Bangalore. His name was Vikram Balakrishnan. He had liked her profile and wished to meet her in person, he had mailed. Tara took a closer look at his profile photograph. He looked nice, young looking, tall and casually dressed. She could see the Eiffel tower in the background.
Tara sat back, “Hmmm, either he’s well travelled or he believes in appearances. Won’t hurt to find out.” She replied to him, fixing an early dinner date at Karavalli, one of her favourite seafood restaurants.
She switched off the computer and went to bed with a faint smile on her face. Maybe her matrimonial clock had started ticking after all.
* * *
He was waiting at the table, when Tara walked in a couple of minutes after 7 pm. She patted her hair down, a tad self-consciously. She had picked up a new red Kurta for the occasion. Teamed with her jeans, she thought she looked pretty good, even though she said so herself.
Vikram smiled at her, as she took her seat. “Hi, sorry I’m a bit late. Just got stuck in traffic,” Tara smiled as she started the conversation off.
“That’s fine. Bloody Bangalore infrastructure! I had to leave from home, some two hours in advance to make it on time. This city really sucks sometimes!”
Tara nodded as she listened to him. She was also busy processing the two bits of information that she had not gotten from Vikram’s profile. One, that he had a slightly high-pitched voice with a whiny tone to it. And two, he didn’t seem to like Bangalore a lot. To Tara, the city was home, her security blanket and on some days, her only companion. She could not think of living elsewhere, even for a second.
Vikram broke into her analysis. “So what will you have? Let me call the waiter.” He half- turned to gesture to the waiter, only to proffer yet another bit of information to Tara. He had a bald patch the size of a one-rupee coin in the middle of his head.
Tara did a double take. She was not sure how she felt about it. Though she preferred a full head of hair, no matter what the texture, she was okay with shaven heads and even bald heads. The patch however caught her unawares. She was not sure of what or how to feel. For now, she clamped down on the ambivalent feelings and concentrated on the menu in front of her.
“I’ll have a Vodka with Coke and lots of ice please. And for starters the prawns salad.”
Vikram gave her a strange look and ordered a beer with French fries. He asked the waiter to come back with the main course.
“So tell me a little about you?” Tara asked pleasantly, mentally hoping she hadn’t sounded like a prospective employer at the start of an interview.
“You drink?” Vikram responded.
“Yup. Doesn’t everyone these days?” Tara replied, wondering what he was getting at. Vikram had a disapproving look on his face.
“Hmmm, I don’t think I read that on your profile,” he said in a tone matching his expression.
Tara gave him a disbelieving look. She shook her head. “No Vikram. It’s right there under habits.”
Vikram raised his eyebrows. He opened his mouth to say something and shut it again, as the waiter approached the table with their drinks. He took a swig of his beer, without waiting for Tara to finish mixing her drink.
As soon as the waiter left, he picked up from where he had stopped, “I have gone through your profile Tara. I don’t think I would have set this up, if I knew you drink alcohol. I don’t think its right.”
Tara hotly replied, “Firstly Vikram, its right there under habits. It says ‘Smoking – No! And Drinking – Yes!’ And secondly, you are drinking yourself.”
He shrugged and said, “Ya, but its different for me. I mean, you are someone I was considering getting married to. This is not something, one expects in a wife, na. Its bad enough that you’re over thirty-six and that you work in the TV industry. I mean ok, you can leave your job. But I guess, the drinking is what will have to stop first.”
What shocked Tara the most was his matter of fact delivery. He had spoken as if he was talking about the weather. His little monologue had left no space for discussion or debate. Tara opened her wallet and took out a five hundred-rupee note. She laid it on the table and stood up. Vikram looked at her questioningly.
Tara made a wry face, smiled and said, “Sorry Vikram. This is not working. I just realized I like the M5892 better than the Vikram Balakrishnan. Goodnight and best of luck. This should cover my part of the bill.”
Vikram nodded and nonchalantly pocketed the money. Tara turned, rolled her eyes upwards in a quick gesture and walked back to her car.
A long relaxing shower later, Tara was back in front of her computer. She had time to kill before the Chinese delivery got here.
“What a complete waste of time! What was I thinking! Uff! That’s it! I’m going to delete my stupid profile. I cannot believe I met up with such a typical, chauvinist pig like this imbecile.”
She logged on and waited for her profile to load. As she searched for the delete button, a text box popped up. She had a direct mail from another profile. M3321. She read the short message and leaned back.
Wouldn’t hurt to check out the guy and then delete my profile, na.
As Tara leaned forward and clicked on M3321, the matrimonial clock started ticking again.
About the Author
Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a freelance journalist and Travel Writer currently based in the Philippines. Her travel articles frequently appear in the New Indian Express and the One Philippines and she has been a guest blogger for Pratham Books, an Indian NGO that works to provide children with affordable books. Shweta use to be the Bangalore correspondent for CNN – IBN (CNN’S Indian sister concern), before working as Communications Officer for Greenpeace India.
Shweta has also contributed an article for the latest book from the Chicken Soup for the Soul series (Chicken Soup for the Indian Spiritual Soul, Westland books) and also for the latest Weekend Getaways book being published by Chillifreeze and India Today Travel Plus.
For more information about the author visit her website http://simplyspeaking.blogspot.com/