Thursday, September 16, 2010

Will You Marry Me?

In the summer of 1985, a girl asked me that question for the first time. To be fair, the question was, “Will you marry girls like us?” I was accompanying four girls 3-5 years older than me. It was more precarious than that. I was in a cable car on its way to Sentosa (an island and a tourist attraction in Singapore). The question was posed by a beautiful and voluptuous Sri Lankan girl. I stared at her intensely and thought about two other facts of life. One, I suffer from vertigo. Two, the 1983 cable car disaster when two cable cars on its way to Sentosa plunged 55 metres into the sea and seven were killed, about which I had read in the Reader’s Digest. I managed a polite and succinct reply, “No.”

The trauma caused by that reply lasted more than fifteen years. My recovery was partly helped by a ‘get-tough’ education. I was taught Socrates by priests and I learned that ‘As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take which course he will, he will be sure to repent.’ Coming from a family with the wrong background, I had only one course to avoid the other. In that same school, I was taught logic in primary school. I learned about the 3 questions to get a “Yes.”

- Q1: Will you answer the three questions with a Yes or a No?
- Student: Teacher, if she does not agree?
- Teacher: Boy, do you really want to marry such a girl?
- Q2: Will you give the same answer to this question and the next?
- Q3: Will you marry me?

Due to unforeseen circumstances, my first date was an arranged affair and it coincided with the ceremony called ‘viewing-the-prospective-bride’ (pennu kaanal). The elders agreed that we were suitable material. Even the stars and the bank accounts agreed. We were allowed to go to the only park in town. In the sun, she reminded me of Smita Patil. In the shade, she looked like Ingrid Bergman. I asked her my well-compiled 19 questions and realized that she is my soul-mate. I asked the 20th question, “Will you marry me?” She gave the polite and succinct reply, “No.”

Before long, I was involved in my second such ceremony. I did not raise any question this time. It is unnecessary, I had been warned. And therefore, everything went smoothly and almost successfully. That night, I happened to talk to an old and dear attractive friend who had just returned that evening from New York. We spoke over the phone late into the night. When the clock was about to strike one, she told me, “I always thought we would be an item.” I was sleepy and replied, “Me too.” Then, this friend asked me, “Will you marry me?”

We slept on that question. That morning, I got up early and tried to resume the conversation with my friend. Her strict and unhelpful mother told me to try much later in the day. I thought very carefully. I called up the ‘prospective-nearly-fixed-bride’ and told her that I am otherwise engaged. I did admire her sang-froid. Much later that day, I got through to my friend and gave her a resounding, “Yes.” She asked, with sang-froid still in the air, “Yes what?” I jogged her memory, “Yes to your question about marriage, you fool.” She replied, “We talked a lot of nonsense, didn’t we?”

Lesser men would have drowned themselves in a vat of alcohol. I tried to reason with my family that I was ready for the next ceremony. They told me that they were not. They also advised me to have a change of scene. It might be good for my health if not theirs, they suggested. I left for Berlin.

There, I led a lonely life till I was spooked by a lady with a Celtic butterfly tattoo on the lower back. On a rare sunny blue day on which the cactus flower bloom was a bright yellow, we were walking in a park by a lake. The scene would have made Van Gogh cut off his right ear or Wordsworth prance on the vale like a senile seven year old. Such a setting is fine when you enjoy solitude or soporific matrimony. Many brave men before me have fallen from grace on such a scene, I knew.

My head was tilting to the right and hers to the right too, ready for a long and tender kiss (philematologists have studied why we did that the right way, read this 2003 article in the famous scientific journal Nature [click here]). Without going on my knees, I crooned to that amazing lady, “Will you marry me?” She replied, “Enschuldigung, ich verstehe nicht (Sorry, I don’t understand).” I knew enough German to translate but I did not.

By the time I returned from Berlin, unattached and free, my family had recovered and they arranged the next ceremony. For some unknown reason, I convinced my folks that I should go alone; and surprisingly, they acquiesced.

There are certain homes which resonate with your inner spirits and you can even hear banshees wailing and in that girl’s house, they seemed to be lamenting my protracted bachelorhood. The prayer (puja) room was next to the living room and I was made to bow to a wide assortment of Gods of various faiths. I sat next to a seat on which was placed the photo of a famous swami with a funny hairdo. I prefer the bearded variety in orange robes that refer to every woman as Ma.

For the first half-hour, I met the uncles and aunties. They quizzed me about my physical activities and academic qualifications. Then, the eatables came along with the older generation. I fielded every question very well and also, consumed well. At the end of the first hour, the younger generation came in along with the prospective-bride. She sat on a seat opposite to mine, maintained a chaste silence accompanied by a beatific smile.

Next to me sat an intelligent girl, a cousin probably. She and I got along famously and discussed the poetry of Housman and e.e.cummings; then, we shifted to movies covering the psychosexual in The Silence of the Lambs to the courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird. We went on for more than fifteen minutes. I nearly asked that girl, “Will you marry me?” I then noticed that my prospective-bride had left the room.

I did marry another using illogical means but to avoid copyright infringement, I will not write about that.

Now, I request humbly and sincerely for an honest poll.

Though my experiences do not provide an adequate sample for a proper statistical inference, I am certain that I preferred it when the woman did the asking.

What is your preference? Should the man or the woman ask the question “Will you marry me?”

Try to forget your better half (if any). If your preference contradicts experience, you can always try it out once again your way.

The future of your kids and the institution of marriage depend on your answer.

Author’s note:

- I am still waiting for my first original thought. Till then: I plagiarize, therefore I am (Latin - effingo ergo sum).
- My better half tells me that this would have been better ghost-written rather than being written by a ghost.

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