Restaurant Engagement

Posted Tuesday, 12 November 2019

My mother and father got married in the 1960s. In India, arranged marriages are common, so the fact that my parents had an arranged marriage isn’t noteworthy. Even by the standards of the day, however, theirs was a bit unusual: They were promised to each other while still in utero. 


It was 1943. My grandfathers were friends and their wives were both pregnant. One night, one said to the other, “If you have a girl, and I have a boy, we’ll get them married.” What may have been intended as a joke or a throwaway remark hardened into certainty. As my dad grew into manhood, he always felt my mom was destined to be his wife.


My mom was on the fence. Once after drinking a glass of Chardonnay, she whispered to me, “There were other men who wanted to marry me. Some were even tall.” But when they were old enough, my diminutive dad wooed her. He paced back and forth outside her house until someone would take pity and invite him in. Once inside, he made everyone laugh, including her. 


One day, he asked her out for dessert at the best pastry shop in Srinagar. My mom arrived with a cousin to chaperone. My mom and her cousin ordered cake, but my dad said he wasn’t hungry. The three of them sipped tea while only the women ate. My dad cracked jokes and they had fun. 


My mom found out afterwards that my dad refused cake, not because he was full, as he had claimed, but because he couldn’t afford the restaurant. He wanted her to enjoy, and didn’t have enough money to feed three people. After that, my mom realised she had feelings for him. If he could be chivalrous enough to put her needs first, then he was a man she could build with.


I’d like to say they all lived happily ever after but life isn’t a fairy tale. When their engagement was announced, people were bewildered. A colleague at the school where my mom taught pulled her aside and urged her to break off the relationship. The man said he had encountered a lot of naughty students in his day but of all of them, Madan Zutshi was the absolute worst. On another occasion, a neighbour asked my mom, “Why are you marrying that dirty boy? You’re such a lady, and he always wears the same red shirt.”


My parents have been married 53 happy years. They are loved by their children, grandchildren, relatives and friends. My granddads proposed their union before they were born but the moment that sealed their fate happened at a restaurant. 


This month is Dine Out Lagos. Why not take your special person to a participating restaurant and enjoy a meal together? Unfortunately, due to the discounted prices, you’re unlikely to be as heroic as my father and nobly starve your way into getting the girl. 


It’s 2019. Times have changed, and I hope some changes are for the better. Wouldn’t it be nice if in this millennium, you could have your cake and eat it, too?


Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.




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