The co-worker’s marriage proposal

It’s the holiday season, so here’s one on a lighter note.

Raj, a new HR (recruitment) executive with the firm, came over to my desk for a chat. I disliked him from the word go—he was gossipy, and he pestered me with questions about my age and which community I belonged to. [In India, it is not illegal to ask people their age at the workplace.] Out of politeness, I didn’t shoo him away. He came by a few more times; I would just nod, mumble a reply, and continue looking at my computer screen.

Raj’s team member Dolly, whose middle name was ‘indiscreet’, used to have lunch with us quite often. One day, she said, “You know, Raj says he’s in love with some girl at the office and he wants to propose to her. He says that she is five years older than he is, but she is from the same caste, so he thinks she will be right for him. [Caste—the term sounds so yesterday! And what a reason for wanting to marry someone!]

That afternoon, I did a mental survey of all the women at the office. It dawned on meI was the “chosen one”! I panicked. I knew my answer would be a firm no, and I was worried that after this rejection, he might go around bad-mouthing me at the office.

I told Dee, my next-seat teammate and my best buddy at the office, about it. With a devilish smile, he said, “At last, an office romance—how exciting!” After that, every morning, he would grin and ask me, “So, has Raj proposed yet?”

I wasn’t amused; I was worried. Fortunately, courtesy of Dolly, I got advance notice one day. She said at the lunch table, “Raj has consulted an astrologer, and he has been advised to propose next Wednesday between 11 and 11.10 a.m.”

I told Dee I would disappear into the toilet from 10.55 to 11.10. Dee mocked me, “Yeah, right! Nandy, you keep challenging us all the time, and you keep saying people are cowardly; isn’t that exactly what you are? Chicken!

Dee was right. Besides, I could dodge Raj once, but how long could I do it? What if I didn’t get to know in advance when his next “auspicious moment” would be? I would have to face it once and for all.

On Wednesday, Raj came over to my desk at 10.58 a.m. He said he was going downstairs to smoke (which he did at least ten times a day); would I give him company for a chat? So, off I headed.

Raj lit up his cigarette and kept looking nervously at his watch. I don’t know who was more nervous—he or I. For the first few minutes, he looked up at the sky (I distinctly remember the electric wires that ran overhead), and he talked about the wonders of Mother Nature—the blue skies, the clouds, the birds on the electric wire, and so on. I seized the opportunity to talk about the types of clouds, just to prolong the irrelevant conversation. I secretly prayed for nimbus—alas, the sky had puffy little cumulus clouds.

Raj glanced at his watch. So did I. It was 11.04 a.m.

Suddenly, I heard an excited voice call out, “Hey RAJ! You’re already here; I kept looking for you! You came down to smoke without calling me?!!” It was Sunil, another co-worker. Raj mumbled a reply. Sunil lit up and stood firmly near Raj.

I said, “Raj, now that you have your smoking buddy, I guess I can leave?” Too embarrassed to tell Sunil that he wanted a private moment with me, he nodded weakly. I made my escape.

Dolly gave us an update the next day, “Raj says he was unable to propose yesterday. The astrologer says that the auspicious moment has passed; he now has to wait five years before he can propose to her!”

Bless that astrologer!

[Raj was sacked a few days later, for embezzlement. Dolly promptly circulated the news. Raj called me that evening, gave me his e-mail ID, and asked me to keep in touch—cell phones were rare in those days. I have never heard from or of him since. But yes, I heard he got married a couple of years after the attempted proposal!]

[Names have been changed.]

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