The only time I've ever received a marriage proposal was in the middle of a working day at a small lawyer’s office in the peak of the summer.
The gentleman, a lawyer well past 40, balding and bespectacled, had been pestering me to meet him for several days, every time I bumped into him while covering the high court for a daily paper in Mumbai. Each time I'd agreed, but failed to show up.
He had given me stories in the past – minor court matters in which he had appeared for one of the parties. This time I assumed he had a blockbuster of a story to offer me, given his persistence. (Turns out he did – except it was the kind you can laugh about with your friends, not the kind you can print in the papers.)
The first few times I ran into him in the corridors of the court complex after not keeping our vague appointment, he played the mock-angry card. “I’m not inviting you again,” he said, semi-churlish. “You never come.”
On a muggy April day, four failed assurances later, I showed up at his legal chamber at 2 pm, the start of the court’s lunch hour. It was a short 10-minute walk from the high court in the heart of the city’s business district, right beside the new Starbucks and tucked away in a corner of a heritage building. His assistant ushered me in to his first floor office and asked me to wait outside in the reception area as he finished his lunch.
Fifteen minutes later, he let me in, asked his assistant to shut the window, turned on the air conditioning and then locked the door behind her.
If this wasn't the beginning of a sleazy personal horror movie, that's only because it turned it to be a comedy. And not a romantic one.
"Actually, I have been wanting to talk to you for a while," he began, crossing his legs. "I think you are a wonderful person. I see how you conduct yourself.”
Wait, what? An unsolicited character certificate in the middle of the lunch hour?
“We don’t know each other very well, but I feel like we've become good friends in this short time," he continued.
We'd met each other four times, in court, when the conversation had been purely professional, connected with some civil matters he was dealing with as a lawyer. Still, he soldiered on, not waiting, or even expecting any reply.
"I want to ask you something personal,” he said, clasping his hands together and leaning back in his swiveling chair. “I hope you don't mind?"
I had little choice. I nodded. He continued.
"Are you engaged?"
Indeed, I was not.
“Then would you be interested in getting married?” he asked.
Would I what?
He adjusted his spectacles. A half-smile played at the corners of his mouth. He leaned forward eagerly, folding his collar in place. “Actually, I had some boys in mind for you. Would you be interested in any of those matches?"
I don't remember very clearly what I said. Or indeed, if I uttered words at all or just garbled sounds expressing a mixture of shock and hysterical amusement.
When I had pulled myself together, I managed to sputter out something along the lines of "Thanks but no thanks."
He was unhappy, clearly. And disapproving of what was evidently the wrong answer. A single woman in possession of what he described as “good conduct,” no doubt must be in want of a husband.
"So you don't plan to marry now?" he persisted. "Have your parents found you someone to marry?"
It looked like a proposal and smelt like a proposal, but what was this thing, this proposal-by-proxy? Who were these stacks of boys he was hoarding like grain in go-downs nearby? I was dying to ask. But at that point, I knew better than to speak, in case my curiosity was mistaken for genuine interest.
I tried to keep the rest of that afternoon short and breezy and professional. Or what was left of it anyway.
As I stood up to leave, he gave me one more chance. “I’m serious,” he said. “Think about it.”
With the door handle within reach, it was easy to be cavalier.
"I'll definitely come back to you on this one," I said. "Don't worry."
I picked up my bag, turned, opened the door and fled down the steps. The sun was still blazing when I stepped outside and started to make my way back to the high court, as the clock approached 3 pm and the lunch break wound down.
It was one of those afternoons when you go looking for a story and come back with a story – and a proposal. Must be an occupational hazard.