It was a Thursday, one of the busiest days at the office. With a rumbling stomach, Mohan walked towards the dining hall during his lunch break when his phone buzzed.
Kanupriya’s picture flashed on the screen.
“Mohan, please come to Café Nook by five this evening. It is urgent.” She sounded flurried and hung up before he could reply.
Mohan concluded that the situation must be serious, for her to summon him on a working day.
The two usually met on weekends at Café Nook, ensconced among educational institutes, a little away from Nagapattinam central city, where they lived.
It was in Café Nook, that their acquaintance had blossomed into a relationship, Mohan reminisced on his way there.
One evening, about a year ago, after a grueling study session, Mohan stopped for a refreshing cup of coffee before resuming his last moment revisions for the final M Pharm exams.
While Mohan sipped the hot beverage, he sensed someone standing right behind him. He turned, to find himself staring at a beautiful girl. A blue, flowing raiment enhanced the brightness of her smooth fair skin.
Entranced, his eyes followed her, as she drew up the chair across the table, sat down, and delicately picked up the book in front of him. Turning its pages, she softly murmured, her naturally red lips twitching with sadness.
“My mother was down with dengue and I had to make frequent trips to the hospital. I wasn’t able to procure this book. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have found enough time to study,” she lamented.
Mohan was dazzled by her charming face. He gazed intently at her, as if he was reading her lips.
Soon, he learned that she was a third-year Pharmacy student at the girl’s college, and she desperately needed the book on the table, to study for an upcoming exam.
“You can keep the book.” He offered, wondering how he was going to manage without it.
The prospect of meeting her again when she returned the book, had motivated his act of generosity.
The days that followed saw them meeting regularly, discussing their exam papers and homework assignments, whilst being whisked away by the breeze of love.
They tried to savor the carefree joys of newfound love, deliberately ignoring the elephant in the room. They knew their relationship had to be a secret, for once it was out in the open, all hell would break lose.
Kanupriya belonged to a typical orthodox Iyengar family, while Mohan was an Iyer boy. Although marriages did happen between these two communities, they were quite rare, and usually involved a long and difficult struggle, in which the couple persuaded their families to accept them.
The Iyers nurtured a stubborn sense of superiority towards all other South Indian communities, and were much resented by the equally egotistic Iyengars.
There were bound to be differences of opinion, and both families would grab every opportunity to belittle the other.
One day, while sipping coffee at their usual hangout, unable to suppress her worries any longer, Kanupriya asked, “What if your parents object to our relationship? I mean, I am not an Iyer girl,” she ventured, for the first time mentioning the dreaded subject. “For that matter, I am not sure how my parents are going to respond.” Her lips pouted involuntarily.
“I will somehow inveigle my parents if they object to our relationship. But what about convincing your parents?” Mohan’s voice failed to conceal his anxiety.
“As of now, my parents are busy arranging my sister’s marriage. The prospective groom is pursuing his Ph.D. in the US. Their wedding is supposed to take place a year from now.” Pushing a stray curl behind her ear, Kanupriya continued, “Only after that will my parents broach the subject of my wedding. Until then, they have allowed me to pursue a post-graduate degree. Yipeee!…” She exclaimed attracting the curious glances of some of the other patrons at the café.
“Then it is settled.” Mohan heaved a sigh of relief. “For another couple of years, till you finish your post-grad, we shall continue secretly meeting here. After that, we shall confront our parents.” Mohan declared, blowing a kiss at Kanupriya, whilst suppressing the urge to sweep her off her feet and kiss her cheek. He breathed easier knowing they could avoid the ‘controversial’ subject of marriage for a little while.
Their plan seemed to be working. Mohan and Kanupriya eagerly looked forward to the weekends, when they spent hours together at Café Nook. The owner valued their patronage, for they often gulped as many as five cups of coffee, and devoured three to four plates of sandwiches between them.
Mohan had still not devised a foolproof plan for telling his parents about Kanupriya. He knew that his mother would be distraught and outraged once she learned that the girl he wanted to marry belonged to the Iyengar community. At least he could count on his liberal minded dad for support, Mohan consoled himself.
“‘We will cross the bridge when we come to it.'” With these philosophical words, Mohan swore fealty to Kanupriya.
When Mohan walked into the Café Nook at five that evening, Kanupriya was already there, anxiety written across her countenance. “Mohan, I don’t know what to do?” She began without preamble. A rangy fellow had accompanied my sister’s fiancé during his visit. He took a liking to me and proposed. Dad and mom are over the moon, because he is a US citizen, and an investment banker.” She blurted out in panic.
Befuddled, by the sudden turn of events, Mohan struggled to digest the information, but Kanupriya wasn’t done bombarding him with shocking news.
“So I put my foot down,” she announced decisively. “I told my parents that I am in love with an Iyer boy.”
The revelation left Mohan numb. He sat with his eyes fixed on her, but his mind was hovering in the drawing-room of his house. He visualized his dad seated in his rocking chair, and his mother sobbing into her pallu after hearing that her son was going to marry an Iyengar girl.
“Mohan!” Kanupriya shook him out of his reverie.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Then what happened?” Mohan asked, steeling himself for worse.
Kanupriya waved her hands in the air, “Then what? My parents were upset. Mom created a scene, insisting that my refusing the American investment banker’s proposal might damage my sister’s prospects. Fortunately, my sister stood by me and said she would talk to her fiancé if the need arose.”
“So things are working out at your end then?” Mohan asked, looking at Kanupriya, but his hopes were crushed by the panic in her eyes.
“My father says that he will agree to us getting married, only if our horoscopes match.” Her voice became shrill with anxiety.
Mohan wondered if Kanupriya was speaking an alien language. Everything she said went right over his head.
Then the walls began to close in, as he heard her say, “Listen, my parents are planning my engagement in a fortnight, to squeeze it in before that chap leaves for the US. They are even considering conducting my wedding ceremony at the same time as my sister’s. You have to act fast.” She thrust a vermillion smeared yellow paper into his hands. Mohan accepted it in a stupor.
“This is my horoscope. Dad wants you to consult your astrologer and tally it with your horoscope. He has asked you to get back to him with your horoscope, only if they match.” He noticed that she was muttering a fervent prayer, as she handed over her horoscope.
“Otherwise?” Mohan asked, but regretted his question for she started weeping. People at the Café began glaring at him for upsetting a pretty girl.
“I am worried that if our horoscopes do not match, my parents will force me to marry that guy.” She said between sobs.
Mohan’s head began to swirl and the entire café started spinning. “Does that rangy fellow’s horoscope tally with yours? I mean, surely your dad cannot have different horoscope matching requirements of different prospective grooms. Or is this an excuse to throttle our relationship?” He had the presence of mind to ask.
Kanupriya broke into fresh tears, as she nodded. “Yes, he has already checked that they match.”
Mohan was struggling to breathe. His heart raced as it tried to cope with fate’s repeated and merciless blows. It was all happening too fast. He couldn’t keep up. Yet he had to, or he would lose Kanupriya. The thought steadied him.
Wiping her eyes, Kanupriya added, “Suppose our horoscopes do not match, we may have to either try and convince my dad or… or,” she hesitated, setting Mohan’s heart racing. “Or, we may have to register our marriage without informing our parents.”
‘Oh my gosh! She is ready to elope with me,’ Mohan thought. He was touched by her bravery, her trust, and her willingness to sacrifice everything for him. “I sincerely hope it does not come to that.” He said patting her shoulder.
Mohan and Kanurpriya were too overwhelmed to continue their discussion. Besides there was no time to lose. They had to act fast. So Mohan bid Kanupriya goodbye with a heavy heart, promising to get back to her in a couple of days. The bizarre discussion gave him a severe headache, forcing him to gulp down an analgesic. One thought kept niggling him, ‘What if the horoscopes do not match?’
Mohan reached home in a trance.
He hardly noticed what his mom had served for dinner or what political news his dad was discussing. Mohan was physically present, but his distraught mind was in a faraway place contemplating the cruelties of astrology.
After dinner, when his mom was engrossed watching her melodramatic TV serial, Mohan approached his dad and explained his predicament.
His father was surprisingly calm as he took Kanupriya’s horoscope from Mohan’s hand and glanced at it, leaving Mohan wondering if he had ever dabbled in astrology. But then his father folded up the horoscope and set it down.
“Dad, what if the horoscopes don’t match?” Mohan asked, his voice trembling with anxiety. He couldn’t bring himself to tell his father of Kanupriya’s plan to elope, if all else failed.
“You love this girl from the bottom of your heart, right?” His father looked intently at him, and Mohan nodded, blushing like a young girl.
“Son, true love has to pass many tests. God will bless you by matching your horoscopes. I am sure.” He patted Mohan on his shoulder with a reassuring smile.
“Let me first convince your mother tonight. That will be our first obstacle, but you needn’t worry about it. In these thirty years of married life, I have mastered the art of persuasion.” Mohan’s father winked.
“And then tomorrow, I will take the horoscope to Divakaran, my friend who is a professor, and also an astrologer. I am sure everything will be fine.”
His dad’s optimism calmed him, and Mohan slept like a baby.
Though Mohan sensed his mom’s annoyance the next morning, he refrained from broaching the subject. He trusted his dad to convince her.
Mohan’s father had a spring in his step, when he returned from work late that evening.
“I told you, my boy, true love always triumphs!!!” He declared, waving the two horoscopes in front of Mohan.
“The horoscopes match like heart and pump,” he laughed, amused by his own wit.
Did Mohan spot a dimple on his mom’s cheeks too? The first hurdle had been crossed.
Mohan informed Kanupriya, and she was relieved. In a few minutes, she called back to ask if Mohan’s family could visit them the following Sunday. She added, that her parents had asked him to bring his horoscope along for their perusal.
“As per our community tradition, the girl’s parents come to the boy’s house, first, seeking his proposal.” Mohan’s mother complained.
“Why should we complain, if they want to take on the trouble of hosting us, dear?” His dad argued. A short debate followed, but as Mohan had expected, his dad won.
The following Sunday, Mohan drove his parents to Kanupriya’s house. Mohan’s mother had also asked her sister to tag along, because she said it was inauspicious for three people to go, though Mohan suspected that his mom wanted her for moral support.
Kanupriya’s parents looked unhappy, but then they could think of no legitimate objection. The horoscopes had matched and Kanupriya liked Mohan. He was not bad looking, and neither was he uneducated or jobless. In short, Mohan had all the qualifications of an eligible bachelor.
Kanupriya’s father insisted that his family astrologer would have to confirm the compatibility of the horoscopes.
‘What if their astrologer digs into the horoscopes with the sole motive of finding some mismatch?’ Mohan panicked, and was miffed to see his father more interested in the badam halwa. He relished it, unperturbed by the thought of Kanupriya’s dad wanting to tally the horoscopes again.
Mohan spent the next day fretting.
‘Marriages are made in heaven,’ they say. The horoscopes passed the litmus test, leaving no room for apprehensions.
Now nothing could stop the young lovers from uniting in wedlock.
They could meet without worrying about wagging tongues or prying eyes. The owner of Café Nook congratulated them, but lamented their diminished patronage. The couple had started exploring other cafes and food joints in the city, and sometimes even walked hand in hand in gardens and parks, euphoric about their future, but nostalgia prompted them to visit Café Nook at least once a month.
Their wedding took place soon after Kanupriya obtained her Master’s degree in pharmacy. Around the same time, Mohan had been offered a lucrative job in Germany.
Kanupriya’s dad wanted to attribute their good luck to his daughter’s auspicious horoscope, while Mohan’s mother insisted her son’s horoscope was responsible for the good fortune.
Mohan did not care whose horoscope was good or better. All that mattered, was he had got his dream job, and was taking Kanupriya with him to Germany. She too would apply for a job once they had settled down.
Both the families gathered at the airport to bid farewell to the couple.
“All this could materialize because their horoscopes matched well. That is why my husband was keen on matching the horoscopes,” Kanupriya’s mother was heard bragging to Mohan’s mother.
Mohan’s dad smiled, recalling his visit to his friend Divakaran almost two and a half years ago.
“Hi Moorthy, how have you been? Long time since we last met.” Divakaran had ushered him in.
“Divakaran, this is my son Mohan’s horoscope, and this is the horoscope of Kanupriya, the girl he is in love with. Can you take a look at them now, and tell me if they match?”
Moorthy had watched in awe as Divakaran’s forehead creased, the wrinkles steadily meandering through his face, as he keenly studied the horoscopes. Finally, placing both the horoscopes on the table, Divakaran had sighed.
“Sorry, Moorthy, these horoscopes don’t match.”
Divakaran had been ready to plunge into the intricacies, when Moorthy had cut him short.
“Will you help me out, and manipulate my son’s horoscope, so it matches the other one?”
Divakaran had stared agog as if Moorthy had asked him to donate both his kidneys.
“No, I cannot do that. It is against my professional ethics.”
“Divakaran, please try to understand; these two youngsters love each other. Do you think they will be happy if we wrench them apart and force them to marry others more astrologically compatible?”
Divakaran had shifted uneasily in his seat, as Moorthy had continued.
“I respect astrology and astrologers, and I am in no way disparaging the subject. But tell me, do all marriages where the horoscopes match turn out to be successful? Let us consider my sister Sugandha’s marriage for example. You know that her husband perished in a car accident within one month of their wedding. Hadn’t we tallied their horoscopes?” Moorthy had sighed wistfully.
“I know instances where weddings performed by matching horoscopes have ended in divorce. In contrast, some love marriages where horoscopes were not matched have thrived.” Moorthy had pointed out. “Of course, I do not deny that some of them have failed too.” He had admitted.
Divakaran had bitten his lips and shifted around in his chair. “There can be mistakes in the horoscopes when the time of birth is not accurate. Stars change their positions continuously. Some horoscopes may not be correctly calculated.” He had explained. “These could be a few reasons as to why marriages fail, despite the horoscopes matching well.” Divakaran had brooded.
“Exactly,” Moorthy had nodded.
“There can be mistakes. Besides, all these observations must be subordinate to the transcendental happiness experienced by the marital union of two people in love.”
Moorthy vividly remembered having held Divakaran’s hands and pleaded. “I saw the true and intense feeling of love in my son’s eyes for Kanupriya, and I know that she loves him deeply. I do not wish to rake a controversy over the mismatch of their horoscopes. My friend, please help me. Believe me; it is venial, even if it is an offense. The future happiness of two young lovers lies in your hand.”
This strong appeal had left Divakaran with no option, but to oblige.
Mohan’s father knew only too well from personal experience, that life would be a dissatisfying compromise if one settled down with one person while yearning for another.
He exited the airport, imploring God to shower His benevolence on the young couple, Mohan and Kanupriya.
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