Kiddo was a few months old when I saw her. The year was 1996. I was about 7. It wasn’t love at first sight. I was attending her naming ceremony. She was a little more than two when she came to visit us in Mysore. Her mother would put her to sleep on her laps and she’d complain of the mosquitoes that would bite her. A mosquito is called “Solle” in Kannada, this girl had just started speaking and she’d say “Amma, dolle” (Ma, mosquito) every time one bit her. She wouldn’t sleep easily, her mother or grandmother would raise their voice when she’d trouble too much. And when she’d cry, they’d say “ningalla” (not shouting at you, baby). That baby would repeat “Aunty, ningalla”. And then we had been to the zoo in Mysore. She’d see the chimpanzee and get excited. When asked what animal it was, she’d say “sampangi”.

And when she was around 5 or 6 years old she visited us in Hassan. I was, well, 12 or 13. We played a lot, teased her a lot. She was one nasty kid, binged on tomato wafers. I didn’t see her for the next 7-8 years. It was the fall of 2009 when I saw her next. Decked up in a red embroidered salwar kameez, she was sitting across for the lunch that was being served at my elder brother’s pre-wedding ceremony. I teased her a lot that day, she blushed a lot too. For whatever reasons, we hit it off. She was 14. I was 20. We spent a lot of time together during my brother’s wedding. She was a “emo” girl and I was a metalhead. It was here that I named her Kiddo (after Beatrix Kiddo). She called me Bill. We exchanged numbers, songs over bluetooth and talked a lot. Mysorewali was also present at that wedding and I had introduced Kiddo and a cousin of mine as two favorite girls in my life to her.

In about a year’s time it was her uncle / my cousin’s wedding. She had grown in that one year, turning less boyish and more beautiful. The amount of time we spent together in that wedding had raised a lot of eyebrows. Many relatives frowned at it. It was apparently a topic of discussion in some circles. And apparently my mother had brushed aside that we’d ever get married. Her point was that Kiddo’s parents belonged to a different social strata than us and would find a better groom for her.

We met again at my newborn neice’s naming ceremony. She had even come to see me perform with my band and had come to meet me backstage. I had introduced her to my friends backstage. I met another person that day – Shahrukh. Shahrukh was friends with one of my bandmates. That was the last I saw of Kiddo in person and the first I saw of Shahrukh.

Come 2011, things were going downhill with Mysorewaali due to the long distance nature of the relationship and my affinity to Shahrukh. Kiddo called around this time to introduce me to her boyfriend over phone. I spoke to both, wished them luck. Many years later I’d learn that she would go dating only because I was already with someone. After that phone call, she pretty much went incommunicado. I tried contacting her on her cell, landline, she wasn’t there. Disappointed, I carried on with my life. I had my own share of shit to handle, after all.

It was in November 2017 that I received a text message on my Instagram. Kiddo had stalked my profile through my cousin’s profile and had left a note describing a dream and how we (she and I) were roaming around the streets of Malleswara in Bengaluru, trying out street food. A lot of texts would be exchanged over the next couple of weeks. Our past stories, our flings, our career and retirement dreams, whether we like kids or not – we covered a lot in those 6 weeks that were left in 2017. We even met in my favorite pub in the city, twice. On New Year’s Eve, she’d send me a video of her twerking to a song, enjoying Jameson’s Irish Whisky. She announced that she has fallen in love with Jameson. I knew who Jameson was. I knew I was no longer “Bill”. And she wasn’t Kiddo anymore, she was my Little Birdie.

I was a little skeptical at first. We were related. She was my father’s elder sister’s daughter’s daughter. I couldn’t risk anything here, it’d destroy the reputation of the family and affect the relationships that they share. I brushed it aside. She confessed her love for me a few days later. I chose to say “I know” and asked her to meet in person.

So on 6th January 2018 (three years ago from the point I’m writing this blog), sitting at Icon Club, Kiddo, wearing an orange kurta, proposed to me. I told her I have always liked her and she’s a favorite person. I did confess my fears to her. I wondered if it was infatuation. I made it pretty clear that day that I’ll take a leap of faith only if this will end up in a happy marriage and if we can grow old together. She agreed and said she had pretty much the same dreams except that she’d want a beachside house instead of a hilltop one, and that she wouldn’t marry till she gets her a Masters degree in Design. I explored a few options including her pursuing higher studies post wedding. Eventually, I was convinced that it’s better to wait. She was 22, I was 29. 3 years wouldn’t do harm. She’d get to enjoy her adulting days and I’d get to prepare for a wedding.

I had fallen in love all over again. Something I thought I couldn’t do ever. In a span of 6 weeks, she took me from “I’ll never get married” to “I want to grow old with you”. We’d go on long drives, text all night long, know each other better. The texts were getting more personal, photographs were exchanged every morning to tell each other where we are or what we’re wearing today. We started building castles together, we were dreaming about the future together.

The first few years of falling in love are always beautiful. I had, however, requested that we exercise restraint in terms of taking the relationship to the next level. I didn’t want her mother chasing me with a broom in hand after learning I’m in a relationship with her daughter. Even sharing a kiss before the wedding would be a strict no-no. You never know who’s watching you where. Bengaluru is full of prying eyes that’d be keen to know what I’m doing and who I’m at the movies with. Trust me. We had bumped into known faces a couple of times and somehow escaped unnoticed. We wanted to keep this relationship from being pecked by vultures called “extended family”.

I had zero balance in my bank account at that point and lived on credit cards. I had plans to quit my job and move to teaching rural kids in a few years. The guy who was spending his weekends at Icon Club talking to the bartenders had to now rethink every aspect of his life to build a different world that Kiddo could comfortably enter in 3 years. No more reckless spending. A wedding in India isn’t easy. I had three years to buy jewellery worth half a year’s salary, sarees worth two month’s salary. And I had to save for the ceremony itself as I’ve always found it unfair to put the burden of the ceremony on the bride’s side. She wanted a destination wedding in Goa. I coaxed and convinced her into something more subtle, something local, may be a lawn wedding in Bengaluru or a wedding in a historical temple. We were excited. I was scared.

Oh, the things we do in life for the love of our life. We go to such extent to keep them happy.

I could see myself straightening up over next three years, to make sure I turn those dreams into a reality. I knew I had to make many more tweaks to my life. I had to park my plans of quitting IT and taking up a teaching job. Over the next two years, my weekends would be dedicated to her. I wouldn’t find time to finish my Bachelors in Arts degree for I had to spend more and more time with her. I wouldn’t play badminton with friends for I’ve to watch movies with her on weekends, or may be lunch at Toscano’s or Freskka. May be hangout at our favorite pubs – Icon, Chapter One or 1522. We did make some adjustments. I’d take calls from her place on days when I’m working, she used to pick me up from my office. She’d play badminton with me on weekends, we had a common goal which was to be fit and look nice in the wedding. I had thought a little further than that.

I had to cut down on my smoking and drinking, reduce weight to ensure I’m healthy enough to be in a marriage. I was overweight by 25 kilos before I met her and had just started reducing my weight. I had to do it to ensure I don’t leave behind a young widow. My weight issues and the weight reduction regime were adding to existing health problems. The list would include fibromyalgia, chronic & recurring sinusitis, chest congestion and hemorrhoids. The incessant smoking and drinking for about 10 years was taking a toll on my body.

I’d fall sick every couple of months that entire year. 2018 and 2019 were quite harrowing healthwise. She wouldn’t mind, though. She’d come take care of me in the absence of my parents. One of those nights, she’d even cross the line we had drawn for ourselves. First it was a kiss, then we had made out. I had tied a beautiful Swavorski locket around her neck that night. The day after her 23rd birthday, we were making love on my bed. Every time we found the place to ourselves, we’d be at it. She’d cross one line after the other and I wouldn’t resist much. You just keep your principles aside when you’re madly in love and there’s been months of restraint, after all.

It wasn’t all about being mushy. A month after having the big talk at Icon Club about our future, she surprised me by announcing to her mother that she wanted to marry me.

To be continued