It is often said that marriages are made in heaven. I never believed in this axiom, but after my marriage, I felt followed this old saying .

Soon after my M.A. in Political Science from the Punjab University in Lahore, where I stood first in University that year and my photographs were published on the cover of some daily newspapers, including my own, a proposal came through my sister-in-law about a girl who was an undergraduate student in Lahore, was good-looking and her father was a government functionary.

When the proposal was received, my mother's reaction was negative. She believed that her son was a very 'special' case with a unique degree from the University, good job prospects, handsome, high Khatri family who deserved a rich, well-to-do family for such a partnership - a girl whose parents could hold a lavish marriage with prospects of a good dowry. Only a business family could do that, she believed. What can a family of government servant afford – specially working in an office where chances of extra income were negligible? – she argued.

My mother did not want to proceed on the proposal any further. I overheard the talk about the proposal and my mother's verdict. My opinion was not even sought. I also overheard that the girl on seeing my photograph had praised the boy and she showed interest in seeing my answer books - to know how the boys who topped the University write their answers. This indicated her interest in higher education and to some extent in the boy too.

My antipathy to the idea of marriage without first establishing myself economically was known to my family members - and the matter was closed as far as I was concerned.

When partition took place and we were uprooted from Lahore – the paths of the two families crossed again after a year – this time in Shimla, the new capital of East Punjab. My father-in-law the 'lowly' government servant had his job allocated to East Punjab Government in Shimla - and he was allotted a modest home in the new capital where he moved from Lahore with his family - wife, two girls and two boys who were younger than the girls. The eldest girl who was supposed to marry me – now appeared to be fulfilling essential conditions 'announced' by me earlier that she must be a graduate from a University - she was already a B.A. final student of the University of Punjab - and would be a graduate in six months.

My elder brother, Sohanlal was visiting Shimla with his family and was staying with his brother-in-law, a man called Hiralal who was also working in the same office as my father-in-law in a capacity junior to him. My father-in-law knew that Hiralal was related to my elder brother by marriage and informally asked him a question – is Pran still unmarried?

When he was told that he was still unattached, he suggested that Hiralal may broach the subject to my brother who was really a decision-maker in my family – being the main bread-winner of the Seth clan.

Hiralal had seen the girl – a daughter of his colleague – who, in his opinion, was good-looking, well dressed and that my own brother could see her as she came out with her parents every evening for a stroll on the Mall, Shimla.

The idea fascinated my brother whom I treated like a father-figure.

In Shimla, everyone including the locals as well as the visitors, are out on the Mall Road in the evening, dressed in their Sunday best, having a stroll, exchanging pleasantries with those whom they already knew and also making new friends. At the end of the Mall, there is a vast rectangular meeting area called the Ridge – popularly known as the 'Scandal Point of Shimla' since the British days. During the hey days of the British Raj, the Mall Road was closed to Indians except Indian coolies who pulled rickshaws for the old British Sahibs and Mem Sahibs who could not walk – four coolies at a time. Vehicular traffic was not allowed on the Mall – only exceptions were the British Viceroy and the Governor of the Punjab state. The Mall was closed to Indians of all hues and colour – well before independence.

Indians, were not allowed to walk on Shimla Mall but they could walk on a parallel road called Lower Bazzar - a stretch of 500 metres. They were supposed to avoid the main Mall Road, where the ruling race did all their shopping and did not want to mix with the brown Indians. The British considered the half kilometre stretch sacred and kept it screened from the prying eyes of the Indians or Indian revolutionaries. Even the senior Indian government officials were banned from walking on the proper Mall road during the twenties and thirties. There were notices on the Mall – spitting was prohibited – Fine Rs. 50 – Indians and dogs not allowed, etc.

A few years before independence, Indians were allowed to walk on the Mall along with the British. Now, the British avoided the Mall as well as the Scandal Point. There was unwritten apartheid in our own country.

Scandal Point was the name given by the British rulers as the white men and women who gathered there indulged in all kinds of social and political gossip. In fact, during hot summer days the British ladies often moved to Shimla from April to October – leaving their husbands sweating in the plains struggling with day-to-day governance of the country which was becoming increasingly difficult with revolutionaries or Satyagrahis not letting them rest. The British officers would visit their wives only occasionally leaving them as grass widows. Adultery among the wives was common and used to be the main theme of scandals. The Scandal Point was mainly related to who was seeing whom. The newly arrived young British Officers found Shimla an excellent hunting ground for indulgence– away from the gaze of their bosses in the plains. Shimla - Past and Present - an old book gives some interesting details of Shimla and its scandals during the British Raj.

As the British started doing the vanishing act in the early forties, the Scandal Point remained where it was but scandals were no less among the Indians who had replaced the British with new khadi-clad elite. Now, the scandals were of a different nature ... less related to sex, more relating to politics. Who was conspiring against whom, who will be a new Minister or who will be the next Chief Minister. Scandals about the top bureaucrats – their wives and mistresses were related with great relish. There was endless gossip among Indians.

Before August 15, l947, most of the Hindu and Sikh officers of the Punjab Government who had opted for India were transferred to Shimla and its surrounding hills wherever accommodation could be made available. Officials were housed as far as Mushobra, Kufri, Summer Hills, etc.

The new officers of the Punjab University were first housed in Summer Hills and later moved to Solan – midway between Kalka and Shimla.

My father-in-law to-be, Girdharilal Chojar, was allotted a house near the old Government Secretariat at the end of the Mall. It was a posh area – very quiet and nice. Mr. Chojar used to take long walks from his house on foot with his wife, two daughters and two sons to the Scandal Point and the Mall – making a circle. He met Hiralal with his family and my brother and his wife, somewhere on the Mall where my brother was introduced to him. They exchanged pleasantries. Marriages among the Hindu Khatris are never talked directly between the two families. One needed a go-between, as otherwise there could be loss of face in case of rejection of the proposal by one party or the other.

Nothing was talked in the first encounter with my brother and my father-in-law must have left everything in the hands of the go-between Hiralal – who did his job dutifully. He praised the qualities of the girl sky-high, bright in studies, expert in knitting and tailoring and a good cook. The two sisters always stitched their own clothes – never spent money on tailoring - he told my brother.

Mr. Chojar told Hiralal that both the girls were ready to be married and he had already 'discovered' a spouse for the younger daughter for whom a colleague of Mr Chojar had already done the 'booking'. Her husband-to-be was an engineer, etc. They wanted to marry the two girls almost simultaneously. The age difference between the two girls was one year only. I was sought for the elder sister who was studying for her BA.

This encyclopaedic information was already available with Hiralal and his wife and my brother wrote a detailed letter to my mother in Delhi recommending the union and describing the 'smart' girl he saw in Shimla. The proposal was discussed in the entire family openly – my brothers started teasing me on this issue and I, showing my usual reluctance/resistance to marriage.

Apart from jokes, every family member was excited at the proposal bringing some joy in the family after the dreadful time through which they had all passed during the past one year. There was a new topic of conversation – a moment of joy - a new member to be added to the family. Marriages among Hindus are not relationships between a young male and a female, these are permanent relationships and friendship between the two families – a contract to remain faithful and help each other in moments of joy, crisis and adversity.

My consent was never sought – though I had made it clear that I did not want an early marriage – till I had a roof over my head and a salary of Rs. 500 per month. But, I was just ignored – my current salary of Rs. 300 per month was considered adequate – they argued - they will manage somehow. The parents planned to build a temporary additional room for us in the present flat – that was one of the solutions offered.

I knew how my elder married brothers managed to sleep – one slept in the balcony where no one was allowed after 9 pm - the other slept in the back room which too was closed after 10 pm. The unmarried brothers slept on the floor or placed their cots wherever they could locate an empty space in the two adjoining flats. I used to be on night duty and slept in the office itself and came home only in the morning when things were much better. My youngest brother, who was sixteen then, found shelter in a store room space above a small room - peculiar devices to find a place to sleep.

The situation was hilarious at its best. Strangely however, though refugees, we were not an unhappy lot. Meals were provided in time for all – students, office-goers and the businessmen under a tiny roof supervised by my mother whose authority was unchallenged. Whatever we earned, we handed it over to mother – at least by the unmarried boys like me .

In the entire excitement of marriage proposal, my brother invited my Mother to Shimla to have a 'look' at the girl for approval.

She took the first train to Shimla. My 'threats', that I will leave home, were dismissed with the simple statement that all young boys say such things before marriage and then settle down happily. Perhaps she was right in the prevailing circumstances – the will of the elders prevailed.

I expressed my frustrations through my newspaper where I used to write a humorous column under the assumed name 'AWARA' (vagabond). The title of the article was :-

'Darling, do not come to Delhi – We are Refugees'

Here, I took a dig at the way we lived in Delhi, no proper place to sleep, no decent bathrooms, queue for using toilet, queues for bathing, queues for eating, little space to move about and above all – no privacy.

I described the 'honeymoon' suite of my elder brother and his wife in the open balcony and warned that her fate will be no better! I narrated how a small store room (4ft x 5ft) was being used by my younger brother as his bedroom. Six bicycles competed for space with the humans in a two two-room flats. A kitchen where women cooked hundreds of chapatis every day taking turns and where not more than four people could sit at a time to eat to gather . I described to her the conditions of the toilet where human waste accumulated for 24 hours when it was cleared by scavengers who carried it on their heads. In between, no clearances. One could not even look at the cluttered toilet with accumulated human waste - smelling all the time.

The curiosity about the possibility of a new graduate and modern Bhabhi had excited my younger brothers too. One of them was already in correspondence with her. And, he made a clipping of the above mentioned article - 'Darling, do not come to Delhi' – and mailed it to her with a covering note.

Although she was shy to write to those whom she never knew before, her parents persuaded her to write back to my younger brother, who 'tried' to hide her reply from me.

It seemed that she did not understand that I was describing to her the real life situation and not a fictitious reality to amuse the readers.

She did express her concern over the plight of refuges in Delhi and volunteered to do some social work as she was already doing it in Shimla. I was amazed at her innocence. Only social work she could do was to cook more chapatis for my hungry relatives!! I thought.

This became another joke in our family – she is coming to do social service ... What kind of social service ? ... They let their imagination run wild.

I had assumed that the humorous column by me will frustrate her resolve and she will decline to marry me.

My brother continued to send her more clippings of articles written by me in the paper and she continued to comment.

Well, the date of marriage was fixed for October 4, 1948 for her and me and October 8 for her younger sister Shakuntala. Horoscopes were matched - at least, my horoscope was fake, as I knew it.

My parents insisted that my marriage will have to be done in Delhi and not in Shimla to which her father agreed.

My family, through their influence had arranged for them free of charge, an entire Dharamshala (free travellers lodge) used for occasions like marriages for outstation visitors for a week – solving a major hurdle.

They moved to Delhi and the preparations and negotiations restarted. Here again, there was a go-between needed to carry out daily communications between the two parties – usually the 'demands' relating to the customary exchange of gifts and other customs followed by the boy's side – which girl's parents were required to implement. Boy's family always had a upper hand in Punjab of those days- perhaps still has.

My mother wanted every ceremony to be done in their 'Lahoria' style – ostentatiously or what she described according to our 'status. The girl's parents had no knowledge about these except for the principal functions which they were willing to do according to my parents' wishes.

On principle, I was against any form of dowry or pressure on the bride's family. But who could restrain my married elder brother who was distantly related to them through his wife and now an important ‘go-between.’ In conveying a message, he could spin a long story. In any case, he loved to talk endlessly. He had studied only up to ninth class and enjoyed his role as an intermediary!!

He would convey some message or the other on behalf of the boy's side to the bride's parents every day – without even talking to the boy, It was a daily routine when he went to his shop and stopped at the bride's place to enjoy his temporary glory. I used to be sleeping in my newspaper office after my night duty.

The boy will have VIPs in the marriage party – he would tell the bride's parents. He wishes that food should be served on chairs and tables. Sixty years ago, hardly any marriage took place while sitting on chairs and tables. Seating on cushioned seats on the floor was the order of the day. The organisers on the other side had a major challenge on their hands – and they were worried.

However, matter was sorted out by the go-between himself two days later. The boy demands no special seating arrangements on chairs and tables as the number of guests from his side could exceed 200 and chairs and tables will make it difficult for this number to be seated. The number of guests was going up without any reference to me – whereas due to food shortage in Delhi the Guest Control Order had restricted the number of guests at a marriage to 50 only.

Similarly, last minute requests were made for some 21 silver utensils for some unknown ceremony of the Lahorias. On 'Milni' (introduction ceremony) how many relatives had to be introduced to their counterparts on the girls’ side and the gifts to be given to them, etc. caused some ripples as time was very short. The hosts were expected to feed the guests in four shifts to avoid a Police raid- they were forewarned.

Interestingly, for a subsequent ceremony relating to women alone, a gift had to be earmarked for a baby in the mother's womb! They were told by the 'go-between' to the amusement of the hosts.

All these and a few other ridiculous requests were made on behalf of the boy's family – I was not even aware of any of these.

I guess my brother did an honest broker's job - listening to various conventions and ceremonies among the people of Lahore – and conveying a summary to the would-be-bride's parents, using his own wisdom.

The cost of these items did not amount to much, but it was the logistics of arranging things at short notice.

I was later told by my wife that she got so angry and frustrated with these odd requests that she told her father to call off the marriage.

All hell broke out in their family. She was pacified after lengthy discussions about the consequences of breaking off the marriage. Perhaps the situation was also explained to the go-between and he too was apologetic.

And the matter settled amicably. The marriage took place happily.

When I was settling down to the realities of married life and trying to figure out my next move on job front, an opportunity came in my way.

I had recommended my colleague M. M. Goswami to a Hindi Writers job in the Public Relations Department of the Punjab Government and he was selected. As soon as he joined, he called me from Shimla that a couple of new posts for Information Officers in the Department of Information of the Government of Punjab had been created and I, he stressed, could be a more suitable candidate and I should apply. He told me that my old Professor L. R. Nair was the Head of the Department. I put in an application.

A few days later, I got a call from Goswami again telling me that my application was missing from the office – someone already in the government who feared competition from me had got my application stolen so that I could not be called for an interview. He wished I should do something.

I was helpless. But, Goswami was more imaginative. He met a politician Mr Virender who was now the Chief Parliamentary Secretary of the Government and was virtually the Minister-in-Charge of the Information Department under Chief Minister Dr Gopichand Bhargava – and he told him about my stolen application.

Mr. Virender knew me as an up-coming journalist. He immediately asked the Chief of Information Department to call me.

A telegram was received by me only a day before the interview. Anyway, I had to come to Shimla to bring back my new bride to meet her family – first time after marriage. It seemed to me an opportunity for a quiet and snowy honeymoon in Shimla at my in-laws house.

I had never kept any money with me and gave all that I earned to my mother. I had not opened a bank account either. Marriage was a reality now and I had to face it ..

I was too embarrassed to ask for the train fare and other expenses from my mother. My wife had some money and I booked the train tickets to Shimla without asking for any money from my mother.

The first person I met on arrival on the Mall was the Head of the Department himself – Professor L. R. Nair – my old teacher and a friend. He gave me a welcoming smile and was amused how my application alone had disappeared!

I and a few other candidates were interviewed. Chief Secretary M. R. Sachdeva was the Chairman of the selection board.

Needless to say, I was 'in'.

So my new bride did solve my problem of a roof over my head- a private room of my own and a decent gazetted government job by current standards on the princely salary of Rs. 250 a month – less than what I was getting from my newspaper.

I, therefore, was not wrong in assuming that marriages are made in heaven!