he frowned darkly as he looked at the faint trace of yellow on the back of his right hand where mami had put a generous dab of the turmeric paste. di had smiled widely as she’d taken a little bit of the paste off his skin and scraped it on the edge of another bowl of the haldi ceremony turmeric she was holding in her hand.
“ho gaya!” she had smiled, “now we can take this over to khushi’s place and she can have her haldi… chalo chalo, everyone finish putting haldi on chhotey, we must leave soon, not much time left…”
(done! now we can take this over to khushi’s place and she can have her haldi… let’s go let’s go, everyone finish putting haldi on chhotey, we must leave soon, not much time left…)
for a while now, he’d been standing before his potted coleuses, shears in hand, trying to concentrate and trim the tips. his eyes kept straying to the spot on his hand. he needed to quieten his mind. suddenly nothing was feeling stable, there was a roil in him he couldn’t control. it made him exceedingly uncomfortable.
he had quickly washed off all the turmeric blotches all over him, straight after the ceremony. thankfully, there had been very little time and di had to be content with a quick haldi session. the family had started the morning with akash’s haldi and di had had her fill of ceremony there asr hoped. as for himself, it was a blessing really that they had to rush through the whole thing.
he had agreed to haldi thinking really of di. he had not given her or anyone else much time when he’d said he was going to marry khushi. and there was shyam… the truth that no matter what would have to come out and hurt di like perhaps nothing ever had. anyway, he didn’t believe in these ridiculous customs… but if observing one gave her some joy, he was willing to go through with it.
when he had sat out in the verandah, wearing his track pants and tee… he had of course refused to wear the kurta pyjama di had pulled out… he hadn’t really given much thought to the colourful orange and red decorations, the priest with his pot belly and beatific smile, the advancing women in bright gaudy sarees bearing the haldi and other things needed at the ceremony, and all the many signs of wedding evident everywhere in his house. all he wanted to do was get this over and done with and then go finish a couple of hours’ work.
and yet, when di had come close suddenly and smiled, her eyes twinkling, her pale yellow and gold bangles jangling, and said that about khushi… about taking the turmeric that had laid on his skin to her… something had started to happen inside him. and whatever it was, it left him troubled, frowning.
what was he doing? he snipped a tip of coleus sharply, deftly, making sure the points from where the next leaves would sprout were not harmed.
married? he was going to be married in less than eight hours? what was wrong with him? had he gone mad? how could he have even thought of such a thing?
arnav singh raizada could feel a thick restlessness in his chest. a howling persistent wind rushing through him. he didn’t believe in marriage.
he snipped another tip, just as carefully as before.
he had never ever felt the desire to spend his entire life with anyone and even if he had, he was sure he would not marry, he’d simply live with the person.
marriage is a place where people destroy each other, not nurture, not love. his face set in a sneering grimace. memories came. maa… she had paid with her life. di… di…i couldn’t save you, how i failed you… i was so stupid.
he bent further toward the bushes and continued with the pruning.
unbelievable… a girl whom he had never set eyes on till a couple of months ago, today they were joined in ways he had never thought of in his life.
a girl who didn’t belong to his world, a girl who believed in things he never could… a girl who collected sea shells, who spoke to stars with a serious face, who ate six aloo parathas without batting an eyelid, a girl who said “haylow.”
his eyebrows shot up at this last thought… he didn’t realise but he’d started to smile, even though the frown remained dark. he breathed in deeply, did she know anything about gardening, he wondered.
he was sure she’d over water the plants and talk so much they’d wish no one had told human beings you must talk to plants.
suddenly he was laughing.
then he looked up at the sun and thought, “maa, this is going to be hard on me…”
“nannav!” shouted out a familiar voice which was not supposed to be here in delhi.
asr turned around startled… what was nk doing here?
“nannav, mere bhai!” a smiling young man, good looking and full of energy, came bounding out of his room onto the poolside, behind him came akash, behind them… mami. and following everyone else trotted in lakshmi ji.
(nannav, my brother!)
“surprrrissse!” said nand kishore, or nk as everyone called him, mami’s sister’s son who lived in sydney, “did you think the man who said he’d never marry would…” he paused for effect, gesticulated with both hands making circles in the air, and went on, “… marry! and i wouldn’t come down! humney hawai jahaaz liya aur kooda!”
(i took the plane and garbage!)
“kooda naahin, my handsome nefoos phrom downs under, he he he… you arej callings aastralia thats i knowj… your mausi eej obhars the taaps to seej you.. kooda toh eej what laksmi eatings… uda, uda… flyings!”
(not garbage, my handsome nephew from down under, he he he… you call australia that i know… your aunt is over the top to see you… garbage is what lakshmi eats… flew, flew… flying!)
lakshmi said “meh mehhh!” in protest.
“ma, lakshmi eats only the finest vegetable peels and fruit, and her laddoo has to be made with pure ghee… not exactly kooda, and over the moon, not top…” akash grinned, “bhai, nk just arrived from the airport… and of course before i could stop him, he barged in,” he said with a faintly apologetic air.
“nk…,” asr gave a tight little smile and greeted the ebullient young man who called him by that name which was always a reminder of his childhood. he couldn’t pronounce “arnav” when he was an infant, he would say, “nannav.” nk decided that was what he would call him, and no amount of bribe, negotiation, threat had been able to change his mind over the years.
“c’mon, give your old buddy a hug,” said nk completely unfazed by the restrained welcome and full of cheer, put his arms around his cousin’s cousin.
asr made sure nk did not see the smile on his face as he hugged him back. he was glad nk had flown down. he had a feeling khushi would like him.
damn. why was he thinking of her again. wasn’t it enough he was going to marry her in less than eight hours!
“arri o parmeswari, toko apne amma babu ji ka koi phikar haay ki naahin, hau?? or is it that because, hai re nand kissore, they are not your real parents it doesn’t matter!” bua ji was trenchant as she hollered the moment she laid eyes on khushi.
(o supreme goddess, do you care at all for your amma and babu ji, huh??)
khushi had just walked into the house, shashi ji and garima had barely had a chance to speak to her, when madhumati ji got back from the temple nearby. thankfully, billo mausi was not in the room, payal thought as she stood on one side, already dressed for haldi, waiting to help khushi get ready.
khushi looked at bua ji aghast and her lips trembled. babu ji made a move to reach out, amma took a step toward her, but pushing everyone aside, bua ji got to khushi in one swift gigantic move and stood hands on waist, face thrust forward.
“don’t think crying will get you out of this scolding, understand, aafat ki puriya! if you’d been my daughter, i’d have beaten you with a stick, nand kissore, for this callousness of yours, samjhi maharani!” she snarled.
a tear rolled out of khushi’s eye.
“phir humey mariye, bua ji,” she said in a tiny voice, sniffing a little.
(then beat me, bua ji.)
“with a big fat stick, nand kissore!” bua ji shouted, her jowls shaking, eyes growing bigger, posture more threatening. babu ji and amma exchanged worried looks. payal quaked.
khushi looked at her toes.
bua ji swung her plait around her neck and hit her forehead with a heavy hand, “saadi hai, khoosie, saadi… kauno gudda guddi ka khel naahin… how could you do this to everyone… to me!”
(it’s wedding, khushi, a wedding, not a game… how could you do this to everyone… to me!)
“bua ji, hume maaf kar dijiye,” khushi wept.
(bua ji, forgive me.)
“haaaink! you are crying… ee lo, nand kissore… do you know how ugly you look after you weep, sanka debi?? your eyes red and puffy, your cheeks extra fat, like you are indeed my daughter only… you even get a double chin and your lips… hah… become like two balushahis one on top of the other… how will my handsome damad ji marry you then… hai re nand kissore?” bua ji had done one of her mercurial and dramatic about turns and was now peering down at her niece, smiling from ear to ear, lifting khushi’s face with two rotund fingers under her chin and swaying her head from side to side with an indulgent look.
khushi sniffed again and said, “maybe i am your daughter and i got lost in kumbh ka mela many years ago, hai re nand kissore…”
a lightness entered the room, babu ji burst out laughing, “bua bhatiji dono nautanki…” he said happily.
(aunt and niece, both drama queens)
“maskari!!” bua ji yelled, her eyes gleaming, “titaliya, ja ja… taiyaar hoja… abhi haldi leke oo raijaddan logan aateyi hongey!”
(joking!!! butterfly, go go… get ready… the raizadas will be coming with the turmeric paste soon!)
payal grabbed khushi’s hand and ran with her from the room before anyone changed their mind or billo mausi arrived.
asr sat in his office looking tight lipped and still strangely disturbed. the laptop was open as usual before him though he hadn’t glanced at the screen in the last fifteen minutes.
jean pierre knocked and looked in, when he saw asr at his desk, he said, “ahhnav! you are here now? go home… you’re getting married zees evening… when la said she thought she saw you walk in, i couldn’t believe my ears.. go, man, go home!”
“jp!” asr replied sounding completely in control, “good you dropped in, tell me… do you feel there is any merit in looking at a collection aimed at women who are not exactly size zero… let me be specific, i mean larger women… i have been wondering…”
jp gaped at asr.
“you mean, as in now, today, as you seet here, what ees eet.. seven hours before you are tying ze knot, you are seenking of a collection in ze future for ze… silhouette… very… ‘ow shall i poot eet… unusual? really?” he managed to say between many shrugs and gasps.
“i think there’s an opportunity… and something contemporary in that which might have traction, apart from the fact, it might challenge designers to actually come up with solutions that work and yet look devastatingly fashionable, different…” asr said blithely. work always made him feel better.
“okay! whatever… i will see you later,” jp said and left the room.
asr got up and walked to the bank of windows that lined the front of his office… he looked down at the floor below… where was khushi?
then he cursed under his breath.
of course, she was not here today. what was he thinking.
he went and sat again, looking at his laptop, his mind roaming.
he didn’t know what he noticed first, the wafting breeze or the faint scent of frangipani he thought he had just smelled. he blinked… what was that?
and though he frowned again, he didn’t get up. he stretched out his legs and let his back rest against his chair. he had a feeling khushi was somewhere near.
no. not a feeling.
he was sure she had walked into her office next door. she was not supposed to be here… but…
yes. he knew she was there. he felt a calm begin to find its way into him.
nani ji had said after haldi the bride and bridegroom were not supposed to meet till the wedding. he was sure khushi believed in such things. he sat where he was, smiling ever ever ever so slightly.
khushi perched on her chair and clutched her hands tightly. hey devi maiyya, what was she doing here in the office today? but ever since that haldi, which had a little bit of turmeric that had touched him mixed in it, had been put on her, she had had the strangest of sensations.
this was peculiar… she wondered again if there had been jadoo tona. black magic. you never know.
she remembered brown eyes glinting and felt a shiver in her… she thought of brown hands, with their long slim fingers and her breath shook, she recalled a gravelly, husky voice and its way of saying “khushi” softly stroking the “kh” and felt her stomach fall to her toes.
hey devi maiyya… this was not normal. but she had wanted to be with laad governor the moment she felt the haldi being applied on her feet by her mother.
she’d blushed at the thought of that cool paste smeared on his taut skin and then touching some part of her. now her eyes fell on a light yellow stain on her forearm and she felt her cheeks burn.
she had to see him, she’d thought. but it was not allowed. and she didn’t want to do anything that made a custom meaningless, nor worried her family all over again. so she had persuaded amma to let her go out for a while, she had promised she’d be back within an hour… they had to leave for shantivan where they’d get ready for the wedding.
she looked around her office and wished he’d open the door in between and stride in… order her to do some difficult thing or shout at her about something or…
khushi closed her eyes and breathed in… what was that faint perfume in the air? she smiled musingly and closed her eyes.
he was here.
yes he was.
she could tell.
she looked at the door for a few seconds.
then she got up and walked out of the room, smiling.
“aaj tera shadi hai, samjhi tu…” she told herself and stopped an auto rickshaw.
(today is your wedding, do you understand?)
the sound of shehnai filled the evening, a scent of fresh flowers made the air heady yet buoyant. guests had started arriving at shantivan. it was almost seven in the evening.
at the main doorway stood nk looking extremely handsome in a white sherwani of fine silver brocade and black churidar pyjama. he carried a long angvastra elegantly over a shoulder. he was accompanied by two lovely young girls, both teenagers, in vibrant lehenga cholis and lots of juniper gajra tucked in their hair. mitali and manjuri were cousins, they were mami ji’s dear friend shobha’s nieces and lived right next door. the party of three was assigned the task of welcoming guests, sprinkling them with a little rose water from silver containers and making sure they knew exactly where the cocktails and starters were being served, where the wedding mandap was, where the dinner would later start, etc.
anjali was walking around making sure everything was in order. she was feeling happy today. all her worries had been relegated to a distant back seat. chhotey was getting married. she grinned again at the thought. she had sat for almost an hour praying earlier in the day. she had spoken at length to maa. she had cried a little even, but she felt only elation, nothing else.
she had decided to wear one of maa’s tissue banarasis this evening. it was a dark onion pink with silvery gold zari work all over. she matched it with a maroon velvet blouse with tiny flowers in sequins dotting its base and a fine edging of zardosi at the collars and sleeves. she had put her hair up in a formal chignon, on its side glinted a diamond encrusted hair ornament. large kundan earrings with dark pink and cobalt blue patterns and studded with uncut diamonds hung on her ears. she wore the necklace and bracelets that completed the set. stacks of thin gold bangles adorned her arms. her makeup was simple as usual, the lightest of lipsticks and a tiny sparkling gold bindi.
when she came to show nani ji how she was looking, hemangini raizada almost wept to see her granddaughter looking so pretty and in such high spirits. perhaps devi maiyya knew what was the best time for things to happen. when chhotey had said he’d marry in just seven days, she had been dazed and quite worried thereafter. then had come the revelations about damad ji. hemangini shook her head… anjali bitiya was grappling with such a shocking thing. and now a moment of unmitigated joy… perhaps the best thing she and everyone else could have asked for at this moment.
nani ji noticed her granddaughter was not wearing her mangalsutra. neither grandmother nor granddaughter spoke about it. clearly anjali had taken a decision and she was moving along a path she had chosen.
hemangini raizada looked resplendent even in unstarched plain chikan sarees, today in her favourite gara which was a pale shade of grey with ivory embroidery across the length of the saree, she looked regal and from a splendid era gone by. long strands of large basra pearls, pearl and diamond bracelets and ear rings complemented her elegant look. she sat at the first reception area for the guests making everyone comfortable, ensuring the waiters were taking the food and drinks around properly.
mama ji walked around and mingled with guests. extended family apart, akash and arnav’s college friends, business associates, ar employees, models, designers, photographers and several well known people from the city were here. some invitees had also come from other cities. of course, payal and khushi’s family and friends were also here.
mama ji was taking special care of them since he didn’t want them to feel lost or awkward in any way. his brother in law masala, who despite his name and a fairly comical appearance, was a well known neurosurgeon based in bombay, tagged along with him.
bua ji wore her light mauve banarasi, which she had bought years ago during one of her anniversaries. she remembered going to india gate with phupha ji on that day and eating three mango duets. and when she saw the ice cream stall at the wedding in the lawn outside, her heart had filled with nostalgia… they even had mango duets. now bedi ji was standing before her, holding one out to her.
“arre bedi ji, hum kaisan abhi kha sakte hain… hum bua hain… saadi ke baad mein khayee hain… ee aap hi khay leo…” she said making a little moue and smiling at her neighbour.
(oh bedi ji, how can i eat now… i am the aunt… after the wedding i shall eat… you have this one…)
bedi ji almost melted faster than the ice cream and instantly started polishing it off.
mami ji sailed up to them and said, “aap bua hain toh hum ma hain aur mami hain… two two underisstandings? naats just ones.” she was smiling sweetly with her very red lips, but her eyes held a little taunt under their layers of blue and gold eyes shadow and thick mascara and liner.
(if you are bua, i am mother and mami… two two understand? not just one.)
bua ji gaped at mami’s ensemble of dark orange paithani with zardosi highlights all over. she noted, the colour was exactly that of payaliya’s lehenga… huh, this was certainly no coincidence madhumati was sure. manorama wore a pink banarasi blouse covered with crystal. her jewellery was mainly of gold, and lots of it. madhumati squinted… there were at least four neck pieces, a choker, a necklace, then a long haar up to her waist and a thick plain gold chain.
bangles, bracelets, pinky rings sat on mami’s arms and fingers and also a large ratanchur with its five rings anchored to a circular gold medallion of intricate filigree work. on her upper arms were tied elaborate mantashas with chains cascading from them. of course on her head was a full mang tika while chandeliers dangled from her ears attached to chains going up to her flouncy hair do. a wide belt of twenty four carat yellow gold peeped from under her pallu.
bua ji closed her eyes then blinked exaggeratedly and exclaimed, “ma, mami aur manorama golden store bhi… three three not two two, hain! and of course, bua can only be one, nand kissore… so special there is only one!”
(mother, mami and manorama gold store too… three three not two two, what! and of course, bua can only be one, nand kissore… so special there is only one!)
mami ji threw a snarky look and a “hoonh!” and left, her hips swinging from side to side, her hands stuck out like wings. mama ji, who had overheard the conversation, shook his head and asked if shashi ji would like a coffee and hopefully garima ji was comfortable and the brides had everything they needed in the guest room where they were waiting.
billo mausi assessed that there would be lots to talk about after this wedding and tucked in her silver pins. rajat ji had told her that he was sure khushi beta was eloping with a man, he had seen that fellow carrying her and striding out of gomti sadan.
billo mausi’s heart had perked up at the possibility of chaos, but the moment she’d heard the description she knew who it was and she’d hurled, “aap bhi, rajat ji… luckiest girl she is, you know… that is the man who declared he wanted to marry her and that too within a week… so handsome… manly… hayee… and strong!”
rajat ji had not liked the sound of that last “strong” at all. handsome and manly were fine, but “strong” put a certain pressure on him.
her prying had revealed that khushi had gone to lucknow for some work, alas no gossip there, but right now what she’d witnessed, ah, mami and her hostess at each other’s throats, that should be fun. billo mausi patted her bright green tanchoi banarasi and checked her bangles to see if she had remembered to wear all ten of them… solid gold they were, none of those stones and things in them. she was also pleased that rajat ji had brought with him the right big necklace she had asked him to get, the last time he had chosen the wrong one, the small light one, so embarrassing for her it had been, everyone thinking that was all she could afford. billo mausi smiled and reached for a badam sherbet from the tray the waiter held in front of her.
a hush fell across the house.
two young men stood at the top of the stairs.
one wore a regal off white brocade sherwani with a white churidar and a red and gold silk turban nattily tied, an emerald and diamond safa sparkling on it. on his feet were embroidered black mojaris.
the other wore a perfectly cut three piece steel grey fine woollen suit with a dazzling white egyptian cotton shirt and narrow hand stitched black silk tie. there was nothing on his head except for thick, dark hair with short sides and back impeccably cut. on his feet gleamed jet black shoes, church’s oxfords.
akash singh raizada and arnav singh raizada, the grooms… had arrived.
as all eyes turned to them and sighs could be heard from certain corners, even catcalls from a couple of friends, anjali started to make her way toward them. her brothers walked down the stairs and flanked her. she gave each a quick hug and took them to the wedding mandap.
anjali had sat for hours making sure the mandap looked exactly as she had imagined. flowers in all the hues of orange, yellow, red and pink… carnations, roses, marigolds, orchids, irises, gladioli, haleconia and more cascaded from an octagonal structure made of pillars covered in white silk and white lotuses. skeins of silver yarn was shot into the garlands of flowers and yards of silk.
on the floor, there were six places, for the priest, the father of the brides and the two couples. each place had a slightly raised platform of pure silver with beaten repousse work. right in the centre was the havan area, the sandalwood already in place. the floor was covered with intricate rangoli done with rice flour paste in pure white.
large urlis filled with fresh flowers, petals and bel leaves were placed on two sides of the mandap so guests could throw the flowers like confetti on the couples during the important ceremony of taking pheras, the seven sacred circles around the havan fire while reciting vows.
as the bridegrooms approached, bua ji and one of khushi’s chachis who had come from lucknow stepped forward and welcomed the young men with arati, the thalis with glowing diyas were turned before them three times, the elders blessed them and put bright vermillion tilaks on their foreheads.
“nand kissore!” bua ji beamed, “aaye gayo… come come, arnav babua, akas babua, sit…”
(nand kissore… you’ve come… come come arnav, akash, sit)
women ululated as the bridegrooms sat down.
the priest beckoned shashi babu to take his place and the rituals began. in chaste sanskrit, the priest recited lines, pausing from time to time to explain in hindi what was being said. the vidhi of vivah… wedding… started.
after a few minutes, the priest looked up at the women waiting by the mandap and announced, “please call the brides to the mandap.”
pin drop silence greeted the words. then a rustle could be heard as a girl in light blue suddenly ran toward the stairs. kareena was dragging la along with her. la was in a startlingly beautiful black gown, off the shoulder and figure hugging. she wore large fire opal earrings and a bracelet of antique silver, her heels were tall and she tripped on the carpet and would have fallen flat had it not been for nk.
he stepped up quickly, holding her arm, “hey, watch it, are you okay?” he asked with a big happy smile.
lavanya looked at the handsome face untarnished and open, eyes full of fun, “thanks…” she smiled back at him.
“oh, er, hullo… i am nand kishore!” nk said.
lavanya looked slightly shocked. nand… gulp… kishore? well she could always make it… nk?
“i mean… nk… aap bahut budhia dikh rahi hai,” nk went on, beaming at la.
(i mean… nk… you look very old.)
“er… i think you mean… badhia…” lavanya laughed and went ahead with kareena.
(er… i think you mean… great…)
kareena by now was quite impatient. the brides would be here any minute and khushi had told her to wait at the bottom of the steps for her, she wanted kareena and salman to walk with them to the mandap. and where was that salman, kareena fumed.
“don’t fret, i’m here,” salman whispered from behind her, kareena shot him a glare and her jaw almost hit the floor when she saw he was wearing jeans and a tee shirt. but there was no time to show her displeasure because two beautiful brides stood where just minutes before had stood two handsome bridegrooms.
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