One Indian Girl(3)

by Chetan Bhagat

I went to my room. Four huge suitcases were crammed into the walking space in the corridor. Two giant bags belonged to my sister, who had essentially packed a retail store’s worth of dresses for herself.

I opened one of my suitcases, took out a yellow silk salwar-kameez with a slim zari border. My mother had told me, no cottons this week. I undressed. I looked at myself in the mirror. My wavy hair had grown, and now reached my shoulders. I looked slim—the two-month diet before the wedding had helped. The black La Perla lingerie I had purchased in Hong Kong also gave a little lift here and a little tuck there. Expensive underwear can make any woman look sexy, a little voice in my head said. Some men in the past had called me sexy, but they could have been biased. Why am I always so hard on myself? Why couldn’t they have genuinely found me sexy? Well, it didn’t matter now. I would be undressing in front of a new man soon. The thought made me shudder.

I walked closer to the mirror. I saw my face up-close. ‘It’s all happening, Radhika,’ I said out loud.

Hi, I am Radhika Mehta and I am getting married this week. I am twenty-seven years old. I grew up in Delhi. I now work in London, at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank. I am a vice president in the Distressed Debt Group. Thank you for reading my story. However, let me warn you. You may not like me too much. One, I make a lot of money. Two, I have an opinion on everything. Three, I’ve had sex. Now if I was a guy you would be okay with all of this. But since I am a girl these three things don’t really make me too likeable, do they?

I am also a bit of a nerd. My sister, Aditi, and I went to school together in Delhi at Springdales, Pusa Road. She is just a year older than me. My parents wanted a son for their firstborn. When Aditi came, they had to undo the damage as soon as possible. Hence, my father, SBI Naraina Vihar Branch Manager Sudarshan Mehta, decided to have another child with his homemaker wife, Aparna Mehta. Sadly for them, the second was also a girl, which was me. It is rumoured that they tried again twice; both times my mother had an abortion because it was a girl. I confronted her on this topic years ago, but she brushed it off.

‘I don’t remember, actually,’ she said, ‘but I am happy with my two daughters.’

‘You don’t remember two abortions?’

‘You will judge me, so no point telling you. You don’t know what it is like to be without a son.’

I had stopped asking her after that.

In school, Aditi didi was a hundred times more popular than me. She was the girl boys had crushes on. I was the girl who started to wear spectacles in class six. Aditi didi is fair-complexioned. I am what they call wheatish in matrimonial ads (why don’t they call white-skinned people rice-ish?). We look like the before–after pictures in a fairness cream ad; I’m the before picture, of course. Aditi didi started dieting from age twelve, and waxed her legs from age thirteen. I topped my class at age twelve, and won the Maths Olympiad at age thirteen. Clearly, she was the cooler one. In school, people either didn’t notice me or made fun of me. I preferred the former. Hence, I stayed in the background, with my books. Once, in class ten, a boy asked me out in front of the whole class. He gave me a red rose along with an Archies greeting card. Overwhelmed, I cried tears of joy. Turned out it was a prank. The entire class laughed as he squeezed the rose and ink sprayed across my face. My spectacles protected my eyes, thankfully.

That day I realized I had only one thing going for me—academics. In class twelve I was the school topper. I ranked among the top five in Delhi, which, come to think of it, was a major loser-like thing to do. Unlike me, Aditi didi had barely passed class twelve a year ago. However, she did win the unofficial title of Miss Hotness at her farewell. In some ways, oh well, in every way, that was a bigger achievement than topping CBSE.

Have you heard about the insane cut-offs at Delhi University? I am the kind of student that causes them. I scored a 98 per cent aggregate in class twelve. Then I joined Shri Ram College of Commerce, or SRCC. People say it is one of the best colleges for nerds. At SRCC, I realized that I was nerdier than even the regular nerds. I topped there too. I never bunked a class. I hardly spoke to any boys, I made few friends. With bad school memories, I wanted to survive college with as little human contact as possible.

I finished college and took the CAT for MBA entrance. As you can guess, nerdy me hit a 99.7 percentile. I made it to IIM Ahmedabad. In contrast, Aditi didi had finished her graduation from Amity University the year before and wanted to get married. She had two criteria for her groom. One, the boy had to be rich. Second, well, there was no second criterion really. She said something like she wanted to be a housewife and look after her husband. Fortunately, rich Punjabi men in Delhi who can’t woo women on their own are only too happy to oblige girls like her. Aditi didi married Anil, owner of three sanitaryware shops in Paharganj and two Honda CR-Vs. They had their wedding the same year I joined IIMA.

‘You should also get married soon,’ didi had told me. ‘There’s a right time for a girl to marry. Don’t delay it.’

‘I am twenty-one,’ I said. ‘I haven’t even done my master’s yet.’

‘The younger the better. Especially for someone like you,’ she said.

‘What do you mean especially for someone like me?’

She never explained. I guess she meant for someone as nerdy as me or as wheatish as me or someone whose breasts weren’t the size of footballs, as Punjabi men prefer.

I joined IIMA. I finally found nerd heaven. Everyone studied, and just when you thought you had studied enough, the institute gave you more assignments. My mother called on a regular basis, primarily to discuss her favourite topic. ‘Start looking at boys at least. Anil’s circle has many good, rich guys.’

‘I am not going to marry a man from the circle of sanitaryware shop owners, mom.’

‘Why?’ my mother said, genuinely confused.

‘You know what, I am not getting married for several years anyway. Forget it. I have class now. Bye.’

I finished with IIMA. Overachiever me had a job offer on Day Zero, the prime slot for recruiters. I got an offer to be an associate at Goldman Sachs, New York. The job paid an annual compensation of 120,000 dollars.

‘Forty-eight lakh rupees a year, four lakhs a month, mom,’ I told her on the phone.

I heard nothing in response. Most likely she had fainted. My father had never crossed a third of this amount in his twenty-five-year career with the State Bank of India.