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THOUGH ADMITTEDLY DRUNK off Kingfisher beer — I lost count of how many — the bathroom interrogation remains remarkably clear.

It began shortly after arriving at the small thatched cabin on the edge of the Arabian Sea. My friend Sholeh and I went down to the restaurant for dinner. A big group was finishing up. The men sat at one table, making merry with many bottles of beer. The women and children sat at another table, drinking sodas. I watched as a man, having left the beer table, tried to climb into a hammock.

Sholeh and I sat at a table and ordered beers.

An Indian couple sat across from us, and I could feel them eyeing us, especially the wife. They both drank rum, and maybe she felt some sort of camaraderie with us since we too were drinking women.

They worked up the courage to walk over to our table. “May we have a picture?” the husband asked.

“Sure,” I said, reaching for his camera. “Do you want the sea in the background?’

“My wife would like a picture with you,” he explained.

I imagined the caption on Facebook: Foreign girls at Arabian Sea.

“Okay. Sure.” Sholeh and I posed with the woman, wrapping our arms around her shoulders. She giggled and smiled.

“Why don’t you sit down and join us?” Sholeh asked.

After drinking the restaurant out of their supply of beer, Padmesh and Badra had become our new best friends. They were on holiday from Mumbai, and they wanted to know as much about our lives as we wanted to know about theirs.

Thinking about my newish boyfriend I’d left back at home, I asked them if their marriage had been arranged. I couldn’t begin to imagine who my parents would have picked for me, though admittedly with my last marriage, they might have done better than I did. I was now with this new man, one I was hoping wanted to marry me.

Padmesh said their marriage had been arranged, through the internet, in fact, which he said had become an increasingly popular way for parents to find spouses for their children.

“How do they choose?” I asked.

“By horoscope,” Badra said. “They find the astrological match.”

“But what if your horoscopes don’t match?” Sholeh asked.

“Then no marriage. Or you must go to the temple and pray to see if you can overcome the bad match,” Padmesh said.

I thought about the arranged marriage and reminded myself that whenever we make judgments about others, we are really trying to figure out ourselves. The net of dusk had fallen over the blackness of the Arabian Sea. We were the only patrons left in the restaurant.

“I do have friends who have love marriages,” Badra said. “It is becoming more common. And they are happy, I think.” She smiled at her husband.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Badra’s comment about “love marriages.”

The result of Padmesh and Badra’s marriage had been two children whom Padmesh and Badra both adored. They showed us picture after picture on their phones.

Badra was a beautiful woman with hair so black it absorbed all colors, the light reflecting off it, like the sheen off metal. Her eyes were the color of walnuts. Padmesh, the typical business entrepreneur, was soft in the belly but quick to laugh. I wanted to believe they’d found happiness in each other, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Badra’s comment about “love marriages.” Maybe it was because I myself had made such bad choices in men, and I wanted to believe that, at 36, I had finally found the right man, which I hoped would soon result in a happy “love marriage.”

Sholeh and I excused ourselves to find the restroom. Badra followed. As soon as we were safely ensconced in the ladies room, Badra began the bathroom interrogation. Because Sholeh was married, she avoided most of the questioning. Badra was most interested in a creature like me, a woman in her mid-thirties who remained unmarried.

I didn’t tell her that I had been previously married; that seemed too complicated, too difficult to explain after drinking four Kingfishers. Plus, I didn’t want to reinforce the American stereotype of divorce, however true that might be.

“Have you had boyfriends before this current one?” Badra asked me.

“Yeah.” I attempted to fix my wild sea-blown hair in the mirror.

“Many?”
“Sure.” I looked at Badra in the mirror.

“How many?”

“I don’t know. 100?”

“What? 100? What are you saying?” Badra turned me around to face her.

“I don’t know. Give or take. It’s different in America.”

“Did you sleep with any?” Badra now had me pushed up against the sink, the fluorescent lights flickering above us. Badra was now so close I could smell her breath, a mix of cardamom and beer.

“Uh-huh.”

“Oh God. Does your boyfriend know about this?”

I began to feel dizzy. And more than a little worried.

“Yes. I mean, I guess so.”

“How many?” She demanded.

“How many what?”

“How many previous boyfriends did you sleep with?” she said this between hiccups.

“Not sure. Less than 100,” but Badra didn’t find this funny.

“Oh my God. Will he ever marry you? How could he?” She slapped her forehead, leaving her hand there.

“I’m not sure. Things are different, but maybe you’re right, Maybe he can’t.”

“He knows?”

“Well, I suppose he assumes.”

“Have you told him? I mean, you haven’t, have you?”

“Not explicitly.”

“You have?”

“No. I’m not sure.” I began to feel dizzy. And more than a little worried.

“Don’t tell him,” she advised, looking serious with her hand still on her forehead. “Is he a virgin?”

“What? God no.”

“And you don’t care?”

“I’ve never thought about it that way.”

“Never thought about it. What is this? I don’t understand.” She looked to Sholeh for help. Sholeh was looking in the mirror, putting on lip gloss. “Did you have boyfriends before you were married?” Badra asked her.

More private than I am, therefore less likely to discuss her sex life with a stranger in the ladies room, Sholeh said, “I was very young when I was married.”

This seemed to satisfy Badra.

Padmesh called into the ladies room, “Are you all right in there? What are you doing? Didn’t fall in, did you?” He laughed, as if he didn’t really want to know, but it was his duty to get his wife out of the bathroom.

Badra called back, “Everything’s fine.” She then turned to Sholeh and asked, “Can I borrow your lipstick?”

Sholeh handed it over, and Badra applied it to her lips, as if that would be reason enough for spending twenty minutes in the ladies with two Americans.

We all left the bathroom, but Badra followed Sholeh and I back to our cottage, came inside, and continued with the questioning. Mostly, she couldn’t believe that a man would marry a woman who had had sex with anyone else, especially multiple partners. She kept repeating, “One hundred boyfriends, are you serious? You can’t be serious. Are you serious? Oh God, you are,” which made me wish I didn’t go into detail.

“What I have seen on the television is actually true,” she said. Then she added, “You must follow this advice. You must not relay this information to your boyfriend. If you do, he will never marry you.”

When Padmesh called to her from outside our cottage, Badra gave each of us a long hug goodbye and placed a glossy kiss on each of our cheeks. She wished me luck, her dark eyes now slit like commas. “Listen to me,” she advised. I nodded, and she waved at us, then retreated into the dark, salty air.

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About The Author

Suzanne Roberts

Suzanne is the author of Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail, which won the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award, as well as four collections of poetry, most recently Plotting Temporality (Pecan Grove Press, 2012). She currently writes and teaches in South Lake Tahoe, California. For more information, please visit her website at www.suzanneroberts.net

  • Muhammed Shah

    You shouldn’t let it get to you, Indian brains just work differently. There’s no shame in having had multiple sexual partners, even if its in the hundreds; the right guy would realize that. Great piece, really enjoyed it. :)

  • Muhammed Shah

    You shouldn’t let it get to you, Indian brains just work differently. There’s no shame in having had multiple sexual partners, even if its in the hundreds; the right guy would realize that. Great piece, really enjoyed it. :)

  • Suzanne Roberts

    In case you are wondering, Dear Reader, he married me (despite the 100 boyfriends).

    • Ewan Niven

      gross

    • Terre Ryan

      I liked the narrative.

  • Megan Marrs

    Really interesting story – I love hearing about cultural differences. I also was intrigued about the idea of a “love marriage.” I’ve never thought about it that way before. Most people would call love a feeling. I guess I can see how it might seem strange to get married on a feeling which can pass, just like a sour mood.

  • Vijaylaxmi Sharma

    Interesting!
    Here’s something different from the stereotype – I am an Indian sans THAT accent. I consume alcohol. Have had multiple relationships and I can say that this lifestyle is a normal one. At least I’d like to believe so. Being secretive about one’s sexual history is a thing, not an Indian thing.

    I watch shows that many of my western counterparts do. I travel and have the freedom to spend my money and make my own decisions. I stand up for my rights and for others too. There are no social or physical boundaries anymore. Let’s look beyond the forehead tapping Indian and initiate a talk about the rapid cultural change.

    Let me also add here, I am not in denial of the existing stereotypes nor is this any sort of an attempt to debate the mindset, but I am practically in Love with this site and the stories published here. Maybe I was just looking for something different.

    Regards

    • Priyanka Kher

      I kinda agree. While the narrative is based on the authors’ personal experience with this one person ( and I understand that completely), the article in a way does conform to certain stereotypes about Indian women in general, even if ever so slightly.

      The rapid culture change is something that is undeniable and while the traditional mindset does exist, it’s absolutely essential to address and promote this other aspect too.

      India has it’s fair share of women who are progressive and educated and the number is growing. Things like consuming alcohol or having relationships is normal.

      Thank you for your comment Vijaylaxmi. I believe, the only way to try and break the image that has been hardwired for such a long time is to talk about it more and more.

    • Vijaylaxmi Sharma

      Thank you! while we are still talking about it, may I compliment you for your exceptionally well narrated stories :) I think I have read every single one of them and when I read this particular post I remembered your article on a conversation between you and muslim girl girl at an airport that broke a few stereotypes :)

    • Suzanne Roberts

      Vijaylaxmi Sharma,

      Thank you for your insightful comments. You are right: the Indian woman I met does, in some ways, reinforce the stereotypes, but at the same time, she embodies “the change” you speak about–a woman who is on the edge of old and new worlds. Unfortunately, a 1,200-word piece cannot capture the complexities and contradictions of India, and my intention, instead, was to show the doubts and the failings of the narrator herself, and maybe in some ways that includes a failure to really see. I would love to see you write a piece about the rapid changing culture in India, a subject difficult, if not impossible, to write well from an outsider’s perspective.

      Best,
      Suzanne

    • Priyanka Kher

      Vijaylaxmi- Thank you for reading my work. I appreciate your support very much :)

      Hi Suzanne,

      Firstly, i just want to mention that I respect your point of view as a narrator and completely understand where you’re coming from. The piece is based on your interaction with this person and I feel it’s more a personal rendition rather than a generalized statement.

      As a writer myself, I just felt the need to reach out and say this.

      India being a complex society that is hard to permeate and understand from the outside.

      Bearing this in mind, if you are interested, I would please urge you to read a piece that I wrote about evolution of women in India-published here on matador in jan last year. I have attempted in it to bring to light the rapid cultural change India is going through when it comes to it’s women.

      I am in the process of writing some more articles based on cultural changes in India and hopefully they will see the light of day soon.

      I think it’s unfair to expect visitors to promote and explore these changes. First and foremost the responsibility lies with us, the Indian women themselves.

      Regards.
      Priyanka

  • Sandra Ann Breylinger

    100 boyfriends? Perfect:) That’s just one more reason why I love you……….Some one who may have had more boyfriends than me!

  • This European Life

    Something I learned in the US is how immensely practical Americans are regarding the touchy field of relationships. If something doesn’t work for them, they look for something better suited to their need! It’s just like putting two and two together…and it makes so much sense compared to my ancient Catholic notions! Ask anyone from a Latin background –especially women– and you will find many reactions like the one you described. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Creative Nomad

    Brilliant! Well written and interesting! such a great story, thanks for sharing! and congrats on both the 100 boyfriends and the mariage.

  • Namrata

    Loved the piece Suzanne. Being an Indian who has lived abroad for a couple of years, I can totally see where you are coming from – especially the notion of love and arranged marriages… ;)

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