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November 21, 2016

The Donald Duck Bride

Text by Meghna Pant. Illustration by Surasti Puri

In an exclusive story for Verve, the award-winning author Meghna Pant pens a humorous account of her online encounters with prospective grooms

I am 30, single, and bored.

The worst part is that I have no one to blame for my plight. In the good old days the onus would lie on the domineering husband, the psychotic mother-in-law, ungrateful children or the rainbow brigade, but being ‘liberated’ leaves me pointing fingers only at my righteous Kafkaesque bosom.

I’ve been on the dating market for over 12 years, but never before have I been desperate. I decide to follow the abysmally stupid ‘7 Days, 7 Dates, 7 Ways Plan’ to find the ‘right date’. In 278 hours I try seven dating schemes: group dating, speed dating, millionaire dating, travel dating, arranged dating, pick-up-a-random-guy-at-Social dating, and the ubiquitous online dating. In the end, all I get for my troubles is a badam-sized ego and a rash on my face, which Wikipedia claims might be syphilis (from being licked on the face by the Social guy). Now all I have to keep me warm at night is gulab jamun!

With each passing day, visions of my obituary become stronger and stronger: ‘Miss Da Bus’ died alone in her apartment due to a saccharine overdose that overcompensated for her lack of love in Mumbai, the city of love. She is survived by a solitary gulab jamun. The service will be held at the dumpster outside Sukh Sagar, the same spot where her love life is buried.

But, just as every sweetmeat has a fattening silver lining (that much I know), these persistent reflections help to improve my hearing. I finally pick up my calling for serious commitment. The time has come to show the world that I am capable of being more than just a hot date; I can also be a virtuous bharatiya nari. All I need is to find a desirable desi husband.

Having exhausted my rather large networks of family and friends, in my quest to find a date mate, the only option I have left is to join an Indian matrimonial website. It seems, that in these modern times, even the Marital God has warded off the cliche of ‘marriages made in heaven’ and is now this moneymaking businessman in dorky glasses who controls a matrimonial server. Women all over the world also seem to have dispelled the myth of ‘He will come riding on a shining white horse’ and replaced it with a more practical ‘He will see my profile and soon we will sit around the warm glow of the laptop, reciting our cyber love story to our grandchildren’.

But, this time around I cannot take chances. So before posting my online profile I consult several matchmaking counselors. It’s then, that for a princely sum of 10,000 rupees, I become privy to the secret club of Des PIGs: Desperately Seeking Prospective Indian Grooms. All its members swear by an underground manual that by virtue of being passed on by word of mouth is considered highly exclusive. The manual states several rules and codes to follow while filling out a good application and snagging the ‘right husband’.

The key is to appear domesticated. So one of the most important steps is to strip your profile of all individuality and steep it with generalisations. There is a category of ‘Unmentionables’ such as ‘ambitious’, ‘outgoing’ and ‘independent’ which, by way of being my innate qualities, are obviously traits that men don’t find endearing. Consequently, words like ‘caring’ and ‘homely’ pretty much clinch the deal. I am also instructed not to mention my real name to prevent interference by the likes of nosy aunts and jilted ex-lovers.

The manual also warns of ‘Closet Codes’. A girl is to describe herself as ‘fair and very beautiful’ if she is ugly, ‘fair and beautiful’ if she is passable, and ‘beautiful’ if she is pretty. ‘Well-educated’ is a serious offence since it translates into ‘ambitious’. ‘Convent-educated’ translates into virgin, which is seemingly a highly-valued possession. Admitting to eating meat is equivalent to confessing to drinking or smoking or cannibalism. To sound moral, a woman is to preferably claim that she is a ‘vegetarian’ who ‘fasts every Monday’, and of course pretends to love cooking. It is imperative to throw in a line about family background so a man will know whether he is marrying up, down or safely. It’s best to be categorised in the last group. Sounding rich labels you a spoilt princess who warrants a fat dowry and the opposite makes you sound like you have a hidden agenda.

With all this information I feel adequately prepared and log on to a popular portal. The registration looks innocuous enough; of course by this time I know better. So I write:

Name: Pavitra Devi (my real name is Tanya Chopra)

Age: 28 years (not counting the cumulative years spent sleeping)

Weight: 55 kgs (at some point in the distant glorious past)

Height: 5’ 4” (a two-inch reduction to avoid scaring the insecure vertically-challenged Indian male)

Profession: Marketing Executive (voluntary demotion for the Indian male who inherently fears a VP of Marketing like myself)

Education: Convent-educated (getting your knuckles cracked by Sister Matardo is great training for an Indian marriage)

Religious Preference: Hindu Brahmin (when in doubt aim for the largest spectrum of Indian males)

Dietary Demands: Prefer vegetarian (but want tandoori chicken)

Social Background: My father is a retired businessman and my mother is a housewife (my father is a gynaecologist and my mother is in the police)

Hobbies: I am fond of travelling, reading, writing and cooking (I eternally mistake jeera for haldi and think okra is frog’s legs)

Description: I am homely, educated, sensitive, caring, easy-going and trustworthy (lies, all lies)

The next step is to fill out ‘Partner Expectations’ for which Des PIGs rules apply in reverse. For instance, I mention ‘independent’ to ward off 40-year-olds who live with their mothers. At the same time, I have to continue the ‘I’m-ready-to-pop-your-baby’ routine so it is essential to mention ‘family values’.

For the last step, keeping in mind my incognito dilemma, I upload the photograph of a woman who has that perfect ‘You-can-introduce-me-to-your-mother-or-your-rival’ look.

The next day I open my mailbox to find 15 requests.  How very flattering!

My first knight in byte-ing amour is one P. P. Patel. He writes, “Life is a gift of God. My life is given not in years but one day at a time. The Lord has made Today as the day for me. He planned today to be the most important day of my Life so I could meet you. Tomorrow is God’s secret. So I leave our future in the hands of God. We will not worry about what will happen, but you and I should leave it in the hands of God.” My eyes glaze over the 1,000 more words…penance…sacrifice…prayer. The delete button beckons like an angel. I have never been a very religious person and it’s too late to start now. But what is one man in a list of many?

The next admirer is Fred Flintstone who has put together an endless list of meaningless adjectives in his profile: ‘Leader, Driven, Motivated, Good, Dependable, Team Player, Creative, Sincere, Organised, Perfectionist’. All that is missing in this pseudo job application is the expected remuneration package.

I move on to the next profile, which notes, “M an Indian working in Manhattan, M very liberal, M very open-minded person and M love M&M.” M a fool, I think!

The next guy is a lawyer from Seattle. How promising! I open his profile and read, “I am basicall an outgoing person. I am very sensative. I hang out with many firands. I wanting to make intermost friendship with my to-be.” Mever Nind — oh God!

Then comes allluvtou and he starts with, “I am a very emotional person.” (Great — a caring guy!) “I am so emotional that my ex-wife left me. I became an innocent divorcee because I was too emotional. I feel very bad and cry every night and therefore I need an understanding new wife who is as emotional as I am. But she should not leave me. I will kill anyone who leaves me again.” Hmmm…maybe not!

The profile of the next guy takes forever to download. I realise why when I see his first chin, then his second chin and then his third. One must not be superficial, I chide myself. Then I watch as the pixels convert into a gigantic nose that covers most, actually all, of his face. I close his profile window not wanting my computer to overload.

Another eligible bachelor inscribes, “He may not be the life of every party but he has life.” I don’t know who this guy’s alter ego is, but I don’t feel compelled to meet either of them.

Confused writes in bold inscription, “I am not looking for a partner anymore but I may come back later.”

Glittering gold writes, “My parents are the gems of the person.”

Handsomest dude writes, “I look fairly well.”

+ve4U writes, “I am a + person with a + attitude looking for a +vely beautiful wife.”

Deshkarocky writes, “Dowry is a prohibited word in my dictionary but I want generous in-laws.”

Always already has a proposal, “Will you marry me?”

I have almost given up when the last profile pops up. And there he is! A handsome Punjabi munda wearing rimless Gucci glasses, a white Armani shirt and tailor-fitted khaki trousers. Just as I’ve always imagined! His name is Rishi Oberoi; he works at a hedge fund, owns his own apartment in the city, and his parents live in Timbuktu. My heart melts! I mail him my phone number and tell him to call at his convenience.

At sometime around noon the next day my phone rings. The screen flashes Unknown Number.  With a beating heart I answer, knowing it has to be him.

A deep husky voice asks, “Hi! Am I speaking to Pavitra?”

Who, I’m about to blurt out, when I recall my screen name! I take a deep breath to compose my thoughts and softly say, “This is she.”

“This is Rishi Oberoi calling.” I know. I’ve been waiting for you to call all my life. He continues, “You know I really like your profile Pavitra and thought it would be great if we could get to know each other.”

His voice. It sounds familiar, almost too familiar. I push the thought out of mind, rationalising that my sub-conscience obviously knows the voice of my soulmate.

“I’d like that Rishi. Since you live in Manhattan it would be lovely to catch up over some…wine…tea.”

“You know Pavitra, this sounds strange but you sound really familiar.”

So his sub-conscience has also sung to him in my voice.

I say sexily, “As a matter of fact, so do you Rishi.”

“Your voice…you know…sounds like someone I knew a couple of years back. She was this crazy girl desperate for attention.”

It comes back to me. The constant ‘you know’ in his speech and that mocking tone when he says ‘crazy girl’. I have spent the last three years trying to forget the most embarrassing moment of my life. And now it’s back, along with him. I yell out loudly, “It’s you. PK? Palay Ranganathan?”

He answers, sounding incredulous, “Yes it is! Tanya? Is that you? You know, Tanya Chopra? The Donald Duck Bride?”

PK is a guy I dated for a year. We were drawn together by one commonality: we both vehemently hated the idea of marriage. One day, we were out shopping at a mall. I went into the changing room to try on some jeans when I spotted a beautiful wedding gown, made of soft lace and velvet. It was so stunning that I just had to try it on. Unfortunately, it was a tad tight. As I struggled to zip up the back, I accidentally fell against the curtain (which incidentally served as the door) and went flying out. The dress crawled up over my head exposing my Donald Duck panties! When I looked up, I was met with a hushed silence. Everyone in the store had frozen in their position and was staring at me. PK had of course seen it all. In spite of my genuine explanations about the dress (it was just a fun try-out) and the underwear (it was a gift I wore for the first time in my life because I was out of fresh undies), he left me. To add salt to the wound, PK repeated the incident to our common friends, and I became known as the Donald Duck Bride.

“What the hell are you calling me for?” I ask.

“I didn’t know it was you. What are you doing, you know, calling yourself De-vi?” he says mockingly.

I have to change the subject. “What are you doing calling yourself Rishi Oberoi?”

“Well, how attractive would I sound if I posted my real name: Palayamkottai Karalingam Ranganathan?”

“That’s your real name?” The acronym PK now makes sense. “And whose photo have you posted? It doesn’t look anything like you.”

He pauses, “That’s my colleague Harsh’s photo. I am not very photogenic. Anyway, what difference does it make? Harsh and I, you know, we have the same face cut and nose.”

“No you don’t! And you lied about your job…your apartment…and where you live?” I’ve heard that PK has moved to Patna to become a tele-marketer and blows up all his money going to dance bars.

“So did you. You described yourself as homely and pretended you could cook!” he starts laughing hysterically. I visualise his stomach, juggling up and down, for he is one of those people who laugh with their body.

“Whatever PK…” I pause. “…look, you cannot tell anyone about this, okay?”

“Are you kidding? This story is even better than the one before!” he continues laughing and disconnects the phone.

I know he will live up to his word. It’s safe to say that my groom hunt is officially over. For now I’m happy with my gulab jamun. After all, it is hot, juicy and sweet.

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