Life story

A true story of how an Indian woman was tricked into love by a scammer

Arrived at his place, close to the club, he insists that I go upstairs for a tea to calm my nerves. The thought of me meeting his family at the unconventional hour of 10 p.m. doesn’t deter him; in fact, he insists that no one will be bothered since they are watching the Golden Temple kirtan anyway. I already know that his family knows Devanshi – yet another bond that has grown between us – which makes me feel better about coming into his home.

When I follow him into the living room, I’m surprised to find his family gathered there. I am fully aware that all eyes are on me.

I notice they’re all tiny, and its six-foot silhouette contrasts starkly with their four-foot frames. He sees me measuring them, literally, and comments that he, too, wondered how he got so tall. “My dad used to buy his shoes in the children’s department,” he says, making me smile. Just when I wonder if he can read minds, he adds, sotto voce, “You would fit in very well in this scenario.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, puzzled.

“They’re all sitting around in their nightwear and not going anywhere,” he laughs. I recognize this as an allusion to the fact that I turned down many evening plans because I was reluctant to change my nightgown. Again, the over-familiarity catches me off guard.

As his grandmother prepares tea for us, I look at the photographs hanging on the walls and a series catches my eye, where each shot has captured him fully immersed in the game of the sarod. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen, and I think it’s impressive for a teenager to be so dedicated to a traditional art form.

“Ustad Amjad Ali Khan heard me play the guitar in an inter-school competition and told my mother to send me to learn the sarod with him,” he explains. Turning to his grandfather, he said in Punjabi, “Remember how the girls whistled when I went on stage? The old man smiled indulgently, while I was surprised that Randy could converse fluently in Punjabi.

“Oh, I didn’t know you spoke Punjabi so well…” I can’t help but say.

“I tried to keep my roots,” he shrugs. “My grandfather also taught me to read Gurmukhi and Urdu.”

As I chatted away for the next thirty minutes, the subject of Pranay Singh didn’t come up. Not until the next day at least, when Randy calls to check on me.

“I’m fine,” I assure him. “I was only pissed because he’s always been polite and respectful in the past.”

“Well, you know, you’re pretty. Many men might feel the same way.

Again, this unwarranted familiarity! “I tend to stay away from men who call me ‘pretty’,” I said sullenly.

He drops the subject, and we decide to go see a play. When he calls to tell me he’s come to pick me up, I leave the house to find him on a motorcycle. It makes me laugh and he can see that it has immediately improved my mood.

“The guard at my door is going to be so shocked,” I laugh, climbing up behind him.

“I borrowed the bike,” he told me, revving it up. “Relive my youth since Ma never let me ride a bike back then!” And off we go, sweeping the streets, hair blowing in the wind. After the play, he takes me to a quiet corner opposite the Jor Bagh market to teach me how to ride a horse. Since I’m usually strict, I uncharacteristically enjoy his attempts to get me out; he’s a fun bad boy in the guise of a good boy with strong family values.

A few days later, Randy lands at my house for dinner with a beautiful bouquet of lilies.

I empty the flowers immediately; I don’t want my friends to see him come in with flowers and misinterpret our “relationship”. He looks surprised, confused and a little pained, but I’m sure I don’t want to jeopardize my peaceful life.

Not that Randy and I haven’t become close – I respect his candor and appreciate his generosity. There are things about him that I’m beginning to appreciate – his honesty about his family and his troubled past, his desire to make his own way in life, his habit of tipping big because he too had already served tables in America to pay for college.

One evening, as we go out to dinner at the hotel, I see a girl crying in the ladies’ room. I ask if I can help, and she shakes her head. When I mention her to Randy, he is immediately worried. I learn that he was counseling victims of abuse in New York. “You know, even a kind word can save a life,” he says, which again sends me off to find the girl. I’m attracted to the fact that he’s not afraid to get involved if it can save someone.

I’m starting to trust her enough to talk about my rocky marriage and raising a son on my own. He has already started to include my son in our walks in the Lodi Garden and our meetings at the Khan Market Cafe. Often I feel like he’s older than me, certainly not five years younger.

One day, during one of these walks, his words stop me dead.

“You should get married.”

When I find my tongue, I say, “Why don’t you mind your own business and remarry yourself?”

He backs up quickly. “I was only thinking about Akshay. My mother was widowed very young and never considered remarrying. I often think that I would have done better if I had had a stepfather.

I drop the subject since it seems to come from a place of injury. But he talks about it again the following week. “I think you will be married by the end of the year.”

This time I laugh. “Are you a diviner?” I’m teasing. “You are certainly not a benefactor, because if you were, you would not wish this on me.”

He’s not one to give up; a few days later, he makes his first proposal. “Would you ever consider marrying me?”

I’m confused. I never intended to be anything other than friends. I tell him he’s too young to take care of me. Plus, it was a heartbreaking escape from my first marriage. I beg him not to put me in this situation again.

I don’t want to go back over the trials of marriage.

I was twenty-two when I was married to a man who had trouble being nice to me. I was too young to have my own ideas and I didn’t know what to expect from this relationship. The safest choice I could make for myself was to stay a mom, because everything I said was used against me.

His family oscillated between derision and insincere appreciation, always putting me in my place even when they pretended to care. Their attitude towards life was so different from mine, I didn’t know what to make of it. It always seemed to me that there was a lot of things in me that they had to fix before they could love me.

So now I’m suspicious. Even though Randy has met my family and gets along pretty well with my friends, I remember how my former in-laws also managed to convince my family that their son was right for me. In an arranged marriage, no one thinks about what might be good for the bride; she simply marries and prays for decency.

No, I can’t bring myself to remarry.

Excerpted with permission from Seduced: A true story of how a woman fell in loveRuchika Soi, Penguin Books.

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