It wasn’t a fairy tale or a love story for sure. Jeet* and I met through common friends at a Diwali party, and we both reached for the bottle of wine at the same time. I let him pour me a glass of wine, and later, drop me home. Your typical boy-meets-girl story.
We quickly became a couple that couldn’t be separated. He was kind, caring, successful and probably the only guy who was infinitely patient to my whims. We shared a few hobbies, many television shows (our favourite was Gilmore Girls! Yes, I’d found a guy who liked Gilmore Girls! ) and even more ideals. We were both dog-lovers, disliked children, and had no patience for familial pretenses. In fact, that was one of the first things that interested me about him, that even though he was from a large family, he did not indulge in family politics or idle gossip.
It worked out perfectly for me, because I spoke too much, and generally annoyed all ‘respectable’ Uncles and Aunts by being opinionated. Jeet didn’t mind it at all. He respected my views on all topics. He even solicited my advice on many of his own problems. It made me love him more.
One night, we were on the phone when his brother interrupted our call. I could hear them argue in the background and it must have been awful, because a very annoyed Jeet came back saying, “I’ll call you in ten.”
When he called me back, he still sounded distant, so I gently implored him to share what caused his brother to barge into the room.
“My family wants us to get married,” he confessed.
It was like being hit by a fast moving train. Of course, I had thought about marriage and our families knew we were dating, I never knew that Jeet was under such pressure from his family. “It’s a bit soon, don’t you think?”
When I didn’t hear anything from the other side, I could hear my brain telling me that I have finally met a guy who accepts me for just as I am and things are going great, so I really shouldn’t wreck it.
“Ermm..but I don’t mind exploring the idea,” I said, “especially when your family seems to want it so much.”
“You have no idea what a weight you have lifted off me,” I could hear the exhaustion in his voice, so I asked him to go to bed. And it wasn’t like I couldn’t sleep that night; marriage seemed like a rather logical way to move things forward.
The next day, we met and decided to break the news to our families. When our parents met, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was surprisingly talkative during the meeting, in fact. When I look back, I remember the disdainful looks I got from Jeet’s mum. However, that day, sitting in the lobby of our favourite hotel, I was genuinely happy.
Most plans sorted, we decided to apply for a marriage certificate on the day before the wedding. Jeet and I visited the local magistrate’s office to fill out our paperwork. I was filling in mine, when I noticed his expressions had changed.
“What?” I asked.
“I think you put down your maiden name as a force of habit on the paper,” he pointed out.
“No. It’s no mistake, I want to keep my last name. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Ermm..as in? Like, why?”
“It’s way too much hassle. All that paperwork.”
“All the women in my family have taken on their in-laws’ names after marriage and hasn’t that been the case in your family as well?” he countered.
“I know they have, but they didn’t have as many financial investments and personal detailed accounts all over, besides it feels too much like losing my identity,” I tried to reason.
“Listen, I don’t want to be an asshole, but I would really like it if you to change your name. I mean, I understand everything that you believe and stand for, but this is something I want. Can’t I demand even this much from my future wife?”
“Okay, don’t take that route. Give me one good reason why I should do that, I’ve given you so many.”
“Well, because that’s the way it has been done.”
“That doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. Look how much progress we’ve made with dowry.”
“Don’t be cute. You either do it, or that’s that for us.”
For a second the enormity of what he’d said was difficult to fathom. It felt like the same moment when he had asked me if I want marriage, but that somehow felt right. Why did this feel so wrong?
“You’re kidding me, right? Jeet this is not who you are,” I said.
“No, this is exactly who I am. Now start your feminist spiel about how I am less of a man and how I don’t care about your rights..yak yak yak…”
I left the room and stood outside the office. We had already created enough of a scene there.
“Run away, because this is what you always do. You think our kids would take up your surname too? What about my family name? Will that just disappear?” he came out shouting.
Heads were turning as I was now almost running out of the registrar office. It felt like a bad, bad dream that I just wanted to wake up from. Jeet was the guy who didn’t fret if I hung out with my guy friends; he never stopped me from drinking what I liked; he had no issues with what I wore–he was liberal, period. What was wrong with him suddenly then?
I went back home, crashed into my bed, tears streaming down my face. I kept waiting for him to call me, but I received no call whatsoever. I had now started to panic; there were guests in my living room and I was being called for the mehendi.
I decided to wait until the function was over, hoping he’d call late at night. When I didn’t hear from him till almost two in the morning; I started freaking out.
I called him but realised that he had blocked me. I tried his mum’s number, his brother’s, his dad’s–nothing. His dad’s phone first rang, but then I was blocked there as well. I checked on Facebook, I was no longer in a relationship with Jeet Marwah*. I did not have the guts to tell my parents, but I woke them up and still did so.
We stayed up the whole night; intermittent bouts of crying followed every few minutes. My mum told me I should just listen to him and Dad said our generation is full of cowards. The abruptness and seriousness of the situation was not being grasped by any of us. A part of me even thought that I’d give in and change my name when we went to his place the next morning. There were no relatives at his house, it did not look like there was a wedding about to take place in a few hours over here.
His parents met us; Jeet wasn’t at home.
“We’ve sent him and his brother out for a vacation for a few days. It is not easy to recover from a shock like this, bhaisahab. We understand times are changing, but your daughter’s behaviour has hurt our reputation and my son’s feelings badly,” his mum said.
While my father tried to placate them, they refused to budge. I felt like the worst kind of person alive on the planet for putting my parents through the misery. My mum said I would take up the last name; inside my head I kept thinking if I should or shouldn’t.
After half an hour of humiliation, we left. No one uttered a word during the ride back home. My father eventually sent all the guests back, apologising to them one by one. All this because I wouldn’t abandon the name I was born and had lived 26 years with? The months that followed were weird at best, but strangely brought me closer to my parents. I am now working as a lecturer and my students know me as the ‘coolest’ professor they have had. When they use my last name with ‘Prof’, it makes me feel a renewed sense of pride, every single time.
A common friend recently told me Jeet was getting married again. It honestly didn’t hurt. A part of me said that I could have compromised, but another part said that doing so would take away something from me that would never come back. Also, the way he said ‘that’s how it’s done’ probably served as the deal breaker. The rude shock that I got actually spurred me to become an over-achiever in life and if anything I wish that guy well.
As told to Tanvi Jain