"How was the marriage ceremony?" the moment I stepped in, Sudhir's grandmother asked.
I was little surprised at that question. Because not only Sudhir's grandma did not know the bride and the groom (and their families), she also did not know me well enough to ask this question.
Sudhir is my friend's - Nirmala's - husband. I was in the town to attend one marriage - which I could not afford to avoid due to my close relations with both the families involved in the marriage. I had taken this opportunity to stay with Nirmala and to chat with her.
"Oh, it was good," I answered grandma with a smile and immediately switched the topic. Grandma naturally had more questions to ask but my reluctance was visible to her too. Fortunately at that moment Sudhir came.
"How was the marriage ceremony?" Sudhir asked. Though Nirmala was my close friend, I had hardly met Sudhir. We knew each other mostly through Nirmala. So I glanced curiously at Sudhir. I get tired of entertaining people in a meaningless way. So, I completely ignored Sudhir's question and said, "Sudhir, did you see the news of this new scam?" (That was equally meaningless question!).
Sudhir smiled clearly showing his understanding of my thought processes. He pushed the easy-chair in front of me and said, "Now just relax. I will bring you a cup of coffee. Nima would be joining us any moment."
And Nirmala came. Surprisingly, she too asked the same question: "How was the marriage ceremony?"
That was it. "Nima, the marriage ceremony was like any other normal marriage ceremony. The bride and the groom put garlands, the Pandits and some of the old ladies sang mantras, people queued for lunch, the video cameraman's presence was overwhelming .... Is it not that each marriage ceremony is the same except for the changes in few details? One glance at the invitation cards tells you what to expect!!"
Nirmala must have sensed boredom in my voice. After a moment's pause, she said, "Well, there are certain things which are beyond all this obvious. I know you don't like to attend these ceremonies but you attend because you don't want to hurt people's beliefs. You also look at this opportunity to meet many people. So when I asked, 'how was the marriage ceremony?' what I wanted to ask was - 'Did you meet any other friends? Did you enjoy the gathering?' Now that you answered with such irritation only shows that your time was not well spent."
In spite of my irritation I smiled. That is the specialty of Nima. She always speaks in such terms that I can understand.
I turned to Sudhir. "Sorry, Sudhir, and what did you really want to know?"
Sudhir said, "Like Nima, I was also interested in knowing whether you enjoyed. Also I think we have similar views on the give and take part, the show of wealth in these ceremonies and the meaningless rituals etc. I wanted to know your remarks on these aspects of the ceremony."
"And what was Grandma's intention?" I asked feeling little guilty.
"Oh, being a lady from old generation, Grandma was naturally interested in knowing about ornaments, menu, rituals etc" Sudhir answered with smile.
"Oh! Then why don't we ask directly what we want to ask? Why the mask of words? Is it not confusing that each one of you wanted different set of knowledge but used the same words?" I was talking to myself but spoke out aloud.
Sudhir smiled again. He said, "How can we change language? Sometimes the direct questions sound very rude and undesirable. Instead of that why don't you take a challenge of interpreting the question in the right way? It all depends on the persons with whom you are conversing and your relationship with that person. We keep on using the same words, but each one has a different expectations from the same words, for each of us the hidden meaning of the words is different. It is a game of interpretation. One has to play it with interest and not get irritated. In reality everyone plays this game ...."
Same words, with different meaning, with different intentions, with different expectations.
This seems to be an interesting and challenging game.