When I was in the second year of college, Femina, a women’s magazine, carried a write-up about me in their teenager’s column. A few weeks after this, I got a letter from Sri. S K Maloo from Delhi. He was impressed with the report in the magazine; he said and wanted to ‘adopt’ me as his granddaughter. I laughed it away as many guys wrote weird letters proposing marriage and here was a winner. The letters kept coming and I showed them to dad who thought the gentleman was genuinely grandfather material. I wrote back and we started corresponding. Grandpa had died and he seemed like a good alternative as the sentiments he expressed were touching. This went on for months and I developed affection for the old man. I wrote inviting him to the play in CFTRI I was to act in. I forgot about it as I was busy with the rehearsals. After the play, when I was changing, my friend came and whispered, “He has come”. Not knowing who she was talking about, I took my own time to join my parents who were waiting out. With them was this tall gentleman in a suit and a bright pink turban. He handed a small silver trophy to me and said “from a fond grandfather”. I could not \believe it. He had brought a box of sweets and he turned out to be a real nice person. It seems he had to visit his relatives in Bangalore and decided to time it so he could come for the play! A couple of years later, when we moved to Bangalore, he came again and we met. But this time, I got a few strange anonymous letters asking me to keep away from him and I decided not to ignore them. I never heard from him after that and may his soul rest in peace (unless he is still alive!)
An unfamiliar car was parked in front of our house as I came back from college one evening. Dad was standing in the garden and with him was a good looking young man. As I walked in, dad introduced me to the stranger, saying he had something to say to me and left for his evening rummy session at the Club. I learnt that the young man, Suresh, had seen me at a wedding and wanted to marry me. He had gone to meet my father in his office and he invited Suresh home to check it out with me himself. Cool! I was just sixteen going on seventeenth, with no intention of getting married. Of course, it appeared as a good alternative just before exams but not as a permanent solution! We had a long chat under the jack fruit tree when I made him understand that being a rich coffee planter’s wife was not on my agenda as I had plans to become someone in my own right. Frankly, besides wanting to be a teacher, I had no clear blueprint but I was sure I did not want to end up as a rich man’s wife. The prospect did not pump up my adrenaline. The guy thought I was out of my mind and I must have been too, to throw out a bag of gold which had fallen into my lap! That’s what I call destiny. It makes you do and say things which you don’t even know exist in your mind. We parted friends and I’ve never regretted that decision, even when my maid took three months off and I had to sweep and mop the floors! Dad came back from the Club and asked me what I told Suresh. “Good”, he said and dropped the subject. He never ever pressurized me about marriage. My aunts often suggested eligible, matches but dad was cool about it. He said he was not in a great hurry to get rid of his girls. I wish more fathers have this attitude.
All too soon it was time to graduate. I managed to get a second class which was commendable, according to my friends who had only seen me dancing, acting or debating. I was declared an all-round student (I promise, I was very slim) and got the Best Dressed Cadet award from NCC. My dhobi too shares the honours for starching my uniform enough to crackle as I marched. I was proud of my uniform and respect any profession which prescribes it. It gives sanctity to the job, whether it is sweeping the streets or leading a Nation in battle. When my husband retired from the Indian Navy, I missed seeing him in his uniform more than the perks that went with it.