Growing up, everyone just referred to family friends as "auntie" or "uncle," but I still felt mildly offended on Nani's behalf that he didn't even know her name. I reclined slightly on the couch, and stared straight ahead. Lord Ganesh—eyes, trunk, and all—stared right back.
Upstairs, I could hear Nani bustling around in the kitchen. She would be setting out her favorite teacups on the silver tray Nana had bought her as a wedding present, placing teaspoons equally spaced along the paper napkins—garish, a bold red and gold—that she'd once bought in bulk at a discount store going out of business. Fifty packages for a five-dollar bill.
"Raina, hey, listen," Sachin said after a while.
He played with his rounded fingernails, picking beneath them. "I really hate to ruin your birthday, but—"
"You have to go?" I asked, a little too eagerly.
"No." He flashed me a smile, two rows of square white teeth. "Don't worry. I'll stay for lunch. But I would hate to mislead you on my intentions." He looked up at me quickly, and then back at the floor. "I'm not interested."
"You seem like a really nice girl, Raina. Really nice. And I don't mean to hurt you." He sighed again. "I'm just not in that place, you know? I'm not ready for the kind of commitment that our families— that you—seem to be after."
I bit my tongue. The only thing I was after was for him to leave. "I know, I know." He stood up and paced in front me, his hands partially shoved into his pockets. "I'm a doctor, I get it. The biology of it all just isn't fair. It's harder for women. More pressure after they—uh—reach a certain age?"
I let out a deep, writhing sigh. "It's so hard."
"And your nani finding you a single doctor is—" He paused and looked me dead in the eye. "Well, it's the dream, isn't it?"
A dream? More like a nightmare.
"But really, Raina, you seem like a nice girl." He knelt down in front of me and petted my knee. "'Really' nice. And I'm sure you will find someone—soon."
I resisted the urge to tell him what I really thought of him, and studied him as he crouched at my feet. Sachin was the definition of the man Shay and I had spent so many years avoiding: the Westernized Indian. The one who used to be captain of the chess club or math team, and although brutalized for it in high school, now threw out the stereotypes about his culture as an anecdote to make the C-cups and hair extensions laugh as he chivalrously paid for their drinks. He was the archetype who watched sports and drank beer, had the uncanny ability to mock his father's accent, yet would still want his wife to learn how to make curry the way his mother did. He was the hybrid of east and west; the immigrant mentality distilled and harnessed, his arrogance the forgivable by-product of ambition.
Sachin looked up at me and heaved out a patronizing sigh. "Are you going to be okay?"
He was also the type of man that any nani would want her granddaughter to marry, and as I patted his shoulder reassuringly, I tried to convince myself that Sachin—that his type—wasn't what I was interested in, either.
There seems to be a great deal of misinformation around the modern- day arranged marriage. I am often bombarded with questions by coworkers or middle-aged women sitting next to me on long-haul flights after they've picked up on the fact that I'm half Indian. After explaining to them that I was raised by the Indian side of my family, and that whichever white guy fathered me was never in the picture, they smile and tell me that being Indian is all the rage these days. And in an exertion of worldliness, I am cited anecdotes they've picked up in the frozen food section at Costco while buying paneer, or watching twenty minutes of Dil Chata Hai on the Bollywood channel that comes with their deluxe cable packages. They love the bright colors and gold chains. The eccentric music. The food—oh, how they love the food.
And of course, they are curious about my love life. They want to know more about this whole "arranged marriage" thing, whether soon I, too, might be enlisted.
But the protocol of today's arranged marriage in my community is less glamorous than they might anticipate. It is choosing from a roster of carefully vetted men, men whose family, religion, background, values, and sometimes even astrology match your own. It is having parents who want their children to marry into the "culture," and so they hurl them against a brick wall of blind dates until one finally sticks. It is arranged dating, really; an agreement to decide quickly whether you are in love.
I grew up with dozens of girls who went this route; women fast- tracked down the aisle, business class on a nonstop flight toward happily ever after.
And they seemed happy.