“If you wanted to do something, anything, then why didn't you just tell me?”, begins Kamakshi. “I would have introduced you to our ladies club.”
Padmaja could have carried on her own. But the burden became too much to bear. It followed her everywhere, making it difficult for her to swallow or sit alone. It itched at her constantly, she was unusually fidgety. So despite her misgivings, she confessed it all to Kamakshi. “You know, this month at the club we are learning to make vegetable pickles. Next month, it is that old hag Jayashri Sundaram's turn to organise something. Mark my words, she is bound to mess up. Or fall sick, conveniently. You know what she did at our last meeting?”
“Sorry, Padma. You know how I feel about the ladies' club. Right, so how many people know about this matrimonial advertisement of yours?”
“Only the few thousands who read the Sunday matrimonial column”, replies Padmaja.
Sooner or later she was going to have to tell Sanjana about it.
“And how many have replied so far?”
“About a dozen or so.”
“And have you written to any of them yet?”, quizzes Kamakshi further.
“Are you serious? Of course I haven't written to any of them. I am not going ahead with this, Kamakshi.”
“Then why did you place the advertisement in the paper if you don't want go ahead with it?”
“I don't know what I was thinking. There was just so much going on”, pauses Padmaja. “But now, I can't be courting men old enough to be grandfathers. Look at me. Do I look like a bride to you?”
Kamakshi takes a deep breath in. “Let me see the replies you have had so far.”
Ignoring Padmaja's feeble protests, she spends the next half-an-hour sifting through the letters and divides them into two neat piles.
“These”, she says pointing to the bigger pile, “are useless. They're either men on their death beds who want someone to clean their bedpans or young boys who want to live somewhere and be fed for free.”
“No, I am not writing to them”, says Padmaja.
“These, however”, continues Kamakshi holding up the smaller stack of letters, “hold promise.”
“You are not listening to me. I said I'm not writing to anyone.”
“What harm can come of it, Padma? It's just a meeting. It is not as if you are going to marry one of them.”
Padmaja can feel Kamakshi's brain rolling up its sleeves and gearing into action. When Kamakshi had set her mind on something, it was impossible to shake her off this notion.
Perhaps it was all a bad idea from the start. She should never have written that matrimonial advertisement. What was she thinking? That her sixty-one year old self had any right to a married life? To happiness? That she had any claim to a companionable old age? How dare she hold out any hope for her twilight years? Shouldn't she simply be content with her health and the roof over her head? What was wrong with being an invisible old woman? How dare she want more?
“I don't have any recent photo”, Padmaja says looking up at Kamakshi. “Will you take a picture of me on your camera?”.