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Vivaldi blared out of the car speakers as I aimlessly drove around the city in my electric blue Volkswagen Beetle. It was one thirty in the morning. People were leaving parties to go home or to go to other parties. Drunks were wandering out of bars utterly inebriated and hookers were on every corner soliciting their goods, themselves. And of course, somewhere out there, someone was getting mugged. Toronto was considered a good, safe city, but it still had its vices.
Me, I had no where to go and energy to burn, energy that was fueled by anger and frustration. Anger at fate, God, other spiritual deities, and of course, my parents. Frustration at my own ineptitude when it came to controlling my life. So why Vivaldi's Four Seasons instead of some of the hard-core rock songs I normally listened to when I was spitting mad? Why, that's just it right there. I wasn't spitting mad. I had been at first. I railed and raved at my parents. I broke down and cried, sobbing inconsolably. Did their resolve weaken? No. They were just, "There, there," pat, pat. It won't be as bad as you think.
You see, they had magnanimously decided to have my marriage arranged. Arranged! No, I'm not a member of the extremely wealthy who see an arranged marriage as a means to a lucrative business merger. I'm not some poor girl in Asia who has no rights or say in this matter, though I am Indian, Sikh to be exact. No, don't give me that oh-if-she's-brown-shouldn't-she-be-resigned-to-the-fact-she'd-be-forced-into-an-arranged-marriage look! I was born in Canada. Believe me, it makes all the difference.
I am just Sonya Kaur. I grew up like a normal Canadian girl, believing that I would fall in love and marry that man. When I was four years old, I used to imagine myself in a pretty, frilly pink gown and the perfect-looking, flaxen-haired, blue-eyed Prince Charming would ride up on a white steed. We'd fall in love, get married and happily ride off in the sunset.
I know, I know, I cringe, too, while admitting this, but hey, I was four years old and obviously watching too many Disney movies. However, note that never in this fantasy of mine did my parents and King and Queen Charming get together over tea and decide their offspring would be perfectly suited for marriage to each other.
This meeting never occurred in grade five while I daydreamed about Brian, from the Backstreet Boys, or Richard, a cute boy in my class who was short, but really funny. It never occurred to me while I mooned over Justin Timberlake (although I do confess I did regress back to the blonde hair and blue eyes bit).
It never entered my thoughts during high school while I was fixated with Jacob Underwood from Otown. However, I had been too busy defending my crush and insisting that his dreadlocks made him look sexier, not less. And when reading a steamy romance novel about some tall, dark, seductively rakish man, I thought, Good Lord, what I would give to have him chained to my bed for just one night… maybe a week. I definitely never thought, Oh please, let Mummy and Daddy meet his parents and set us up!
Arranged marriage just never came into play during my delusions of grandeur. Sure, I wasn't allowed to date, which probably was why at twenty-six years old I was still single and a virgin. Yes, a twenty-six year old virgin! Not that I actually followed that no dating rule. I just went out with my "friends" which was actually just one friend, a male friend.
However, I didn't sleep with anyone. Remember, I am Canadian, but my parents grew up in India, came here and got an arranged marriage to each other. And yes, maybe it worked out for them, but my soon-to-be husband had just moved from India to here. Whereas here, my parents were considered by some of my friends as strict-Nazi-parents, in India, their parenting was considered loose and lenient. That meant my soon-to-be would be even stricter. Not to mention if he ever found out that I had dated… two words: bride burning.
Anyway, the point I was trying to get across earlier that though I was Canadian—mind, body and soul—I still was forced to live by Indian traditions and conventions. One of the foremost would be death before family dishonour. So therefore when my parents told me that I was too old and had taken too long to find a husband for myself, so they had taken the liberty of already arranging my marriage with some nice Indian guy, I did not say, "To Hell with that! I'm not marrying some immigrant stranger!"
No, I simply looked at them dumbfounded, a teacup frozen halfway to my lips and asked them if it was a joke. See twenty-six and single in India is like being eighty-nine unmarried and still a virgin in Canada. Unbelievable and very pathetic. (My sincerest apologies go out all Canadian, eighty-nine year old virginal spinsters.)
So my parents gave me pitying looks. They assured me they weren't kidding and that when I got older, I would thank them for it. They insisted that what they did, they had done with the "best of intentions". Those three words were the most damning in the English language because as soon as those words came out, you know something bad is going to happen.
Their words were overly bright and happy as they rushed to inform me how handsome he was and how smart. He had been married, but it didn't work out (naturally it was the woman who was to blame for the break up of the marriage) and now he was single. He had gone to university and gotten two degrees. One was to practice medicine. An Indian doctor! Instead of caustically commenting on how doctors in India ended up being taxi-drivers here because of Canada's high, rigid standards, I remained mute, still trying to absorb this shocking news.
Oh and his second degree was in business, he had an MBA. He was a business mogul and had businesses in India, all over Europe and was rapidly gaining eminence in North America. Why, a doctor and a businessman! Sonya, you couldn't even dream of ensnaring such a prized catch! Thank you Mum for the vote of confidence. Besides, if he was so great and handsome, why did he need an arranged marriage?
Still I didn't voice this thought. I slowly put my teacup on the table and turned to confront my parent's eager faces. In a calm, firm voice, I said, "No. I don't want an arranged marriage. I'm sorry, but I won't marry a complete stranger."
Their faces fell and the happy chatter died an instant, painful death. Mum gaped at me. I could see her mind reeling. How could I not see what a great catch this was? She probably wondered. I'm sure he was a great catch, but it didn't matter because I wasn't fishing. My father took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses with his shirt. He always did this right before he was about to say something I wasn't going to like.
"Well, beta," which was the equivalent of sweetheart in English, but the direct translation was child, "we've already agreed on your behalf. Think of thebhasti we would have to endure if we backed out for no good reason." Bhasti pretty much meant shame or dishonour… so you see it all went back to that.
"No good reason!" I spat out. "My wishes for my own future aren't good enough reasons? I can't believe you went ahead with this without even consulting me!"
"Beta, you were in Europe," my mum appealed. "We couldn't discuss something like this over the phone and besides, that phone company is practically stealing money from us when they charge us with such exorbitant prices for simple long-distance calls! Why I could buy a new sari for the amount they charged me for the calls I made to your Auntie Preeti and I don't even like talking to her."
I had been in Europe with a bunch of my girl friends for the past few months. We had had a blast. We went out every night, flirted with plenty of guys, poked fun at the English royal guards and their hats, visited castles and museums and of course, flirted with hundreds of guys. We had returned only yesterday afternoon. I had slept in until late this afternoon and had awoken to realize I was apparently getting married soon to a man I'd never met.
"It doesn't matter now. I can't go through with this," I told them. "I won't marry him."
There was a hard silence and then my father delivered the blow. "You don't have a choice in the matter, beta."
I gawked at him. "No choice? Of course I do and it's no!"
He wiped his glasses some more. "If you want to stay a part of this family, you'll do what you are told."
Stay a part of the family. He was going to disown me if I didn't marry this man. I stared at his severe, unyielding features in silence. This was not right! It was not fair. I glared back at him as my temper threatened to explode. How can a supposedly loving father turn his back on his only daughter and deliver this ultimatum?
Quite obviously he was not the loving father I had assumed him to be for he would not capitulate. I turned to my mother in dire need, but she looked away. She had been raised in India, remember. A good wife does not argue with her husband. Yes, that was completely bullshit. My parents argued over stupid things all the time. My mother was not arguing on my behalf because she agreed with my father.
I was all set to explode when my cousin, Simirin, who had been sitting so quietly in the corner of the room that I had forgotten she was there, intervened. "Okay, everyone, calm down, let's not be unreasonable." Finally an ally, I thought. At least someone else could see how absurd all of this was. Simirin could understand where I was coming from.
She must have realized that had she not married the love of her life at the early age of twenty-two, she also could have been subjected to a doom-laden life married to some drunken foreigner who would probably faint when he realized that his perfect little Indian wife didn't know how to cook, loved dancing at clubs and drank alcohol, to boot. That was another Indian custom: Husbands could be drunkards, but their pure, angelic, little wives didn't dare take a sip.
"Now, listen Sonya, I know you think this is a crazy idea and that we are all off our rockers for even suggesting it, but I really, really think that this will work," Simirin was saying.
I snapped out of my stupor and stared at the girl. She had been my best friend ever since we were in diapers. She was more like a sister to me than a cousin. When I kissed my first boy, she was the first to be told. She was the one who told me about sex. (Indian people don't talk about sex with their children. It is never brought up. It doesn't exist to them, unless in gossip whereby it is permitted to talk about as long as you mention the woman involved is shameless.)
But back to the point, my best friend, cousin, alleged sister had just betrayed me. She might as well have stabbed me in the back. She was one of them! The ramifications struck me like a blow in the heart. It occurred to me that I had no ally. Without Simirin's support, I was doomed before I had even known what was going on.
When all hope is gone… become enraged. It doesn't help the outcome much, but you feel a lot better.
I glowered at everyone, shouted out the depths of my pain as everyone I knew had turned their back to me and, well, railed at fate some more. I didn't care if my words were hurtful for they had become a united front… battling me. I got tired of hearing their excuses, their assurances that they only wanted me happy. Couldn't they see my independence and freedom made me happy?
Abruptly, I stopped shouting and picked up my keys. Everyone in the room tensed and worry flitted in their eyes. Where did I think I was going? They asked and my reply was simply, out. Simirin, who knew me well, sometimes even better than I knew myself, raced after me.
"Sonya, wait!" She cried. "Where are you going? What are you going to do?"
I didn't reply and when I cranked up the speakers to play Vivaldi instead of Linkin Park or Puddle of Mudd, her eyes widened. It didn't occur to me then why she had reacted that way, and I didn't care. She tried to stop me one more time until I fixed her with a melting glare. "Simirin, if you weren't six months pregnant with my niece or nephew, I would throttle you right now or at least tackle you down to the ground and make you eat dirt. As it is, I'm not going to do either. You can thank your unborn child for that. Now, if you will kindly excuse me, I'm leaving."
And that brings us back to where I am. Right now, when I am finally beginning to comprehend her reaction to Vivaldi, because I am beginning to notice now what she noticed then. I was mad, but like I said, not spitting mad. Really, there is a significant difference. I had given up on hope. I knew that I would, in the end, relent and end up marrying an old man who had probably burned all his previous wives (there could be more than one) in haystacks in India and probably felt the number of goats, cows and chickens he owned were signs of his prosperity. He probably expected me to come with a dowry of three cows, a pig and a flock of sheep… all I had were goldfishes and only two.
Okay, even I will admit the previous comment is probably a gross exaggeration… or at least, I hope it is. Alright, so maybe I still retain some hope, but any hope of getting out of this fiasco still single had died. People who had lost hope in a situation were dangerous because now that they had lost hope, they didn't give a damn about the repercussions of their actions. In laymen terms… it made them reckless.