Romi looked in the side view mirror of her car. It was her fiance’ Arhaan with her best friend Samyukta. They were laughing and walking towards a jewellery store.
Romi had parked her car behind a row of shops so that she won’t be seen in the plain eye. She pulled out her phone and dialed Arhaan’s number. He did not pick up. She dialed again. This time, he picked up but ended the call hurriedly.
“Hey. I am in an urgent meeting. Let me call you back.”
He had lied to her. This was it. She was going to call off the wedding. She anyway knew something was wrong. The way he treated her with so much respect and care, had to have a catch 22. Bullshit!
“I may be sweet, but I am not stupid.”
She thought to herself.
As she sat there, she felt a little hot and shaken. She rubbed her eyes and felt they were too dry. While she waited for them to come outside of the store, she looked at the shopping bags on the passenger seat. She opened one of the bags and saw the outfit she bought for her mehndi function, She touched the fabric of the green georgette Anarkali dress with intricate zari work. Mom had said she wanted her to look like Kareena Kapoor.
Me! Kareena Kapoor!
“There will be no wedding, Mom. May be Arhaan will marry Samyukta. But no wedding in our house.”
For somebody whose wedding was going to be over, Romi looked too calm and collected. There was strange peace on her face. As if she finally got her answers. But her eyes were tell-all. She was hurt.
Romi was sure Arhaan was cheating on her since the day they got engaged. She knew she should not have said yes to this wedding. There was something not right with Arhaan. He was decent, not bad looking, worked in a great company, volunteered at an NGO and, he was fit. He was really fit.
This bothered her a lot, because, Romi was fat.
Yes Romi was big, huge, above average, plus size.
Not just pleasantly curvy or blessed in certain areas.
Not even like the item song girls in Bhojpuri films trying to seduce political goons with her carefully placed jhatke.
She was fat of the kind, which makes people laugh about but secretly fear about becoming one. The kind that makes shopkeeper turn you away from the door.
Aap ke size ka nahi milega yahaan.
She was fat like those female film side-artists who run with bananas in their mouth trying to woo the hero with their comically romantic gestures. The hero runs away from her like one does from a mad bull.
When Romi went to movies with her friends and a similar scene came on the screen, she’d stop eating her popcorn and feel sad for that female side-artist. In the darkness of that theatre, she would look around to see couples snuggled together and tried to see if any of the couples was chubbier than that female side-artist. Or herself.
But just like the hero, nobody wants their woman to be fat.
It was not always like this. Up until high school, Romi was slender, tall and had a healthy body weight. She was one of the most popular girls in school. She played volleyball, designed the school newsletter and headed the school assembly. When half of your beauty is your brain, you gain respect more than you gain attention. Boys crushed on her but they didn’t think they deserved her so they kept quiet. The girls envied, admired her, but kept their distance. Romi always felt she was enough for herself. She had so much to do the entire day and then so much to talk at home about it, she never missed friends.
But when her Dad died in an accident the following year, she suddenly felt all alone. Her mother, now a single parent and working two jobs, wasn’t around that much to notice the sadness that had engulfed Romi.
The grief is a hungry thing. It often finds comfort in food. For Romi, food became her friend. Just like her father, food too imparted wisdom lessons.
Be in shape. Round is a shape.
Life is cold. Pizza is warm.
When life is bitter, have some butter.
Chips are innocent potatoes that got fried. Just like you.
The only people who talked to her at college were her professors and the librarian. Other than that her life was devoid of any conversation. Food worked for her. And films. Films were conversations she had with outer life.
Eight years had passed since her dad’s passed away. In these years she had gained a post-graduate honours degree, a well-paying job as a copy writer in a big firm and 35 kgs weight. Along came Samyukta but that was completely incidental.
Samyukta and she met about four years ago at their local gym, which she had joined upon her mother’s incessant lectures about losing weight. They both had the adjoining treadmills and while Romi showed no apparent sign of willingness to make a conversation, Samyukta had told her all about her college life, her not so well going fashion degree and boyfriend troubles.
“He called me Sam coz he thought Sam is a cool nick. I even got a bob to match the name and now everybody calls me Sam. Do you like Sam or Samyukta? Sam, right?”
Irritating! Romi had thought but did not know how to shut her up.
Like a love sick puppy, Sam had followed her into the locker room and kept on blabbering about what her boyfriend said and what she thought he actually meant. She suddenly stopped talking and apologized for being so talkative. And then burst out crying.
Romi looked around and there was no one in the locker room. Another human being was crying and she did not know how to proceed.
“Baaaaaah!!! He … He dumped me for being too talkative and .. burr baa aaa aah!!! Grr Braah Bruu!”
She sounded like the old booting dial-up modem. Romi thought and kept looking at her.
“I have no boobs, he told me. I don’t even know how to grow them. Wheeeee.. Gagaa Baaah!! Baa!”
The first thing Romi thought was the irony of the breast thing.
Mere kam nahi ho rahe. Isko bade chahiye.
Sam was sobbing with hiccups. Romi suddenly remembered what people do in similar situations. She had no handkerchief so she took out a chocolate bar she had kept hidden for bad hunger day from her bag.
“I don’t want it.”
Sam shook her head and cried again. But just as Romi was about to put the chocolate back in her bag, Sam’s hands leapt like X-men Wolverine and grabbed the chocolate and ate it. When Sam smiled in gratitude, her mouth resembled Gollum’s from Lord Of The Rings. It made Romi smile back.
Friendship was a new territory for Romi. She never had friends so she had to learn it.
Step 1 Day 1
First, you hang out with this person at the coffee shop and talk about books and travels.
Step 2 Day 5
You watch a crappy movie and rate the entire film industry one by one like you are Naseeruddin Shah and have the art running in your veins.
Step 3 Day 20
You accidentally watch a bit of news and make strange conversation such as:
Yaar! Ye Kejriwaal bahut draamebaaz hai!
Tujhe kaise pata? Tu news follow karti hai?
Nahi yaar! Twitter pe kehte hain sab! Hoga hi!
Haan hoga hi!
Step 4 Day 35
One day they come over to your house and you show them your clothes, posters, handbags and if they are lucky, your music collection.
Step 5 Day 60
And then comes the sacred level of friendship where you go shopping together. This is the last and most intimate step because this is where you allow the other person to see your clothes size and trial room fashion walk.
One thing leads to another and soon you are on the rooftop at dawn, chugging beers stolen from dad and showing each other your life scars. Romi and Sam had completed all five steps and handed each other the trophies of Best Friends Forever bracelets. Yes, it was Sam’s idea. Romi called it cheesy but wore it anyway.
The thing about best friends is that you never remember to celebrate friendship day. B’coz every day feels like one. Sam and Romi even forgot each other’s birthdays sometimes but they took care of each other like parents do. They never sent each other Diwali and Eid greetings but they bought each other gifts on random no festival days.
And like real best friends, they had seen each other’s flaws too. Romi had seen Sam get drunk at parties and flirt with older men. When those men made lewd calls and indecent proposals to Sam, Romi would pull her out of those parties. Sam had seen Romi on eating binges and self-anger when she could not wear the dresses she wanted to wear. Sam would somehow just say something so cheesy, that they would both end up laughing.
Romi turned 27 last January and like any single parent, Romi’s mother was concerned about getting Romi married. Romi was nervous about marriage but was kind of excited too. Whenever she looked at her dad’s picture, she would reminisce how great of a husband he was to her mother. He read her mother excerpts from books, helped her fix things around the house, talked to kids on the road and always carried a handkerchief just like gentlemen in old movies do. She wanted a husband just like her mom had.
Marriage proposals came and went by without making any noise. Romi got ‘rejected’ by men her age, by men who had much less education or pay scale than her and even by men 10 years older to her. The mothers commented how sweet she was but that may be she should stop eating any. One of the guy’s sisters gave her a gym trainer’s number and another guy’s Bhabi told her about some herbal pills.
Romi felt insulted but more because her mother wouldn’t retort to what they said.
Herbal pills lene mein koi harz nahi hai. Le ke dekh le.
Romi would have no answer, so she took the herbal pills, called the gym trainer, trained for about 75 days and then gave up after realizing that she just lost two pounds. That’s two pounds in 75 days of two-hour gym, healthy diet and herbal pills. If anyone understands finance, you wouldn’t keep making a high investment when the return is so depressingly low.
One guy who was at least as big as her seemed to be fascinated by Romi. The family too seemed to adore Romi so much that they finalized the marriage and even had a mini roka-ceremony that same week. But two weeks later, they called off the wedding citing that the guy wasn’t ready for marriage and kids. Later, Romi’s mom found out that he got married to a less educated but much thinner girl. So that was that; a clear message that even fat men don’t want fat women.
Romi’s mother was livid, first at the guy’s family, and then at her own daughter.
Aisa kyon hai ki tera hi weight lose nahi hota. Gym jaati bhi hai wo bhi bunk karti hai. Office mein kya khaati hai?
Romi was not the crying kind of person, but her mother wept the entire night and refused to eat food. Romi went to the bathroom and looked at her double chin, mounds on her cheeks and small sunken eyes.
“Mom is right. Even I would not want myself.”
She told herself and went to bed. She did not pick Sam’s call for an entire week. Sam kept texting her.
<Don’t worry! There are good guys too.>
<Don’t listen to these nincompoops.>
<Call me or I will kill you.>
A month later, when Arhaan’s family came over to see her, Romi sat like a doll, knowing what their answer would be. But when Arhaan asked to talk to her in private she looked at him in complete astonishment. Why would anyone that good looking even want to talk to her?
They talked generic things girls and boys talk about in an arranged setting. The real shock came after two days when they wanted to meet her again. This time, Arhaan was more vocal about his career and dreams. And in the end, he told her he was going to say yes for the marriage.
She asked him.
“Simple. Because I like you. If you like me, say yes.”
He smiled and left.
Arhaan was exactly like Romi’s Dad. He was polite, talked about big ideas, had a deeper understanding of things and was so affable. If he was not as fit as he was, Romi would have had no problem trusting him. Was he one of those fraud grooms just like they show in TV serials?
I am sweet but I am not stupid”
Romi had said to herself and decided to do her own investigation. Her mother too did the due diligence of asking about family in their neighborhood. They got raving reviews everywhere.
Itne acche reviews to aajkal movies ko nahi milte.
Romi had thought.
But two weeks later, at their engagement, it was clear what Arhaan’s real intention was. He was dancing there with every girl present. But the late night dance with Sam was a thing apart. They both danced till 2 am in the night, taking selfies and making faces whenever a famous song came up. Later, after the party, Romi caught them unaware in hallways whispering into each other’s ears and laughing in a hushed tone.
At first, she didn’t think Sam would do something of this sort but she remembered how she would get drunk and flirt around.
The other day when Romi was in the car with Arhaan, she saw Sam’s name flash on his phone screen but he quickly pulled it away. And one time she heard Sam laughing on the phone with someone and Arhaan’s name came up.
And now today she saw them walking too close, going inside a jewellery store.
When she saw Arhaan and Sam walking out of the store, she got out of the car and walked right up to them.
“So this is the urgent meeting?”
“Do you think I am stupid? Tum kuch bhi karoge aur mujhe pata nahi chalega? Just tell me why did you say yes to marriage with me if you are interested in her.”
“Arrey, Wait Roms. You are getting it all wrong.”
“Really, Sam? You both made a scene at the party. You call each other behind my back and I am getting it wrong. Tum logon ko mera mazaak udaana tha?”
“Arey suno to!”
“Tell me your future plans, please, I want to know what were you thinking?”
Before she went on, she heard her name and looked in the direction of that voice. It was her mother.
“Romi. Kya bol rahi ho, In dono ko maine bulaya hai yahan. Ye dekho, tumhaare liye diamond pendant lena tha. Socha tumhe surprise karoongi.”
Romi was flabbergasted. Everyone was quiet.
“You both need to talk. Come Sam!”
Romi’s mother looked at Romi and Arhaan and left. Sam quietly followed.
When they both were out of sight and and a few minutes had passed, Arhaan looked at Romi, who looked confused.
“Would you like to go for a walk?”
Romi nodded and they started walking in the shopping arena.
“Sam and I are friends from school. And Sam had told me all about you before we came to see you.”
Arhaan quietly said.
“But you could have told me that. Why would you hide that?”
“Sam’s idea. I told her so many times to tell you. Listen, I can understand your mistrust. I have never told you what I like about you.”
Romi was quiet, so he continued.
“You read books and talk about book characters like they are present in real life. You look at things and find metaphors everywhere. You are interesting, funny , down to earth and cute. Yes, believe me, you are. And in your purple saari with red border, and that small red bindi, you look very pretty and beautiful. And I have something important to show you.”
Arhaan took out his phone and swiped a few screens to look for something and then handed the phone to Romi.
“This was me four years ago.”
Romi took the phone and looked at the photo of a 100 kg man. Romi tried to match Arhaan’s face to the image. It was the same.
“I know what rejection feels like. I have faced it all my life. Girls rejected me, my friends made fun of me and little rascals didn’t even bother to do it behind my back. The teachers punished others in the class by making them sit with me. Even at interviews, I was asked if I can do this job with my weight problem. Ah! But’s that’s all in the past.”
Arhaan looked away for a second, collected himself and continued.
“When I look at you, I see a fighter. You are so much more than the outside built. Sam only told me how beautiful you are and how kind you are to people around you. But I really like you because you are same as me.”
Arhaan was quiet. Hoping Romi would believe him now.
“I am sorry, Arhaan. It’s just that .. I guess.. I was scared. Sorry!”
“Its OK Romi .. I can understand.”
Arhaan smiled and touched Romi’s face, “and where do they say that a sweet girl can’t stress her out being stupid?”
Romi shammed a frown, though it lasted a second or two until they giggled in resonance.
The giggle had given way to a river on Romi’s face. She was crying. It was a cry of relief. Something was washing away in those tears.
Arhaan took out his handkerchief and handed it to her.
Romi took it and smiled. Just like dad, she thought.
She had been wrong. She will have to stop by Sam’s house on her way back. She had a lot to explain to her silly sweet BFF, who had been right all this while.
Ladke acchhe bhi hote hain!
The sunset in the city that day was a deeper shade of henna. The moon wearing the white veil of clouds, said I do.
Wedding day. Chaos in the house.
Romi shouts from inside the washroom.
Sam, blouse fit nahi ho raha. Saamne se tailor aunty ko le aa.!
Oh, my god. I’ll leave right now. Kahaan se tight hai?
Arey, tight nahi loose ho gaya hai.