“Why are you sitting here, Padma? Go and sit in that two-seater. Else, you love birds will curse me for ruining your privacy.”
Padma glared at her mother for such a lame comment.
She huffed and puffed her way to the seat and sat with a thud, frowning. Anirudh smiled at her shyly, and she returned it with a forced grin.
Padma wasn’t alien to an arranged marriage set up in a TamBram family. Every couple she knew in her family went through the same process. But her case was different. Anirudh stayed in America and landed in India only a few days before the wedding. Though they had exchanged a few e-mails, yet he seemed to be a complete stranger.
She felt like a mere puppet in the hands of her relatives at their wedding ceremony. She was rolled in and out of colourful sarees and made to sit next to Anirudh. The Pandit told Anirudh to hold her hand, and she obliged. But, she felt no connection whatsoever and doubted her decision to get married to him. It wasn’t as if she was made to agree on gunpoint.
After a whole day of festivities, all she wanted was to crush on the bed. But her in-laws insisted that the family visit Tirupathi immediately. Padma still hoped for a travel nap. But a big fat Indian wedding is always accompanied by noisy and unruly relatives. Suddenly, everyone was on board to travel along. The minivan overflowed with humans of all ages and sizes.
The two-seater she sat on next to her new husband had the tiniest seat. At every hairpin bend and U-turn, she unintentionally leaned on his frame. Starting a conversation in itself was awkward, and the mountain climb made her even more uncomfortable.
Finally, they reached their destination and made their way to the longest ever queue at the Tirupathi temple. The crowd was overwhelming. Every now and then, all the devotees echoed in unison ‘Govinda, Govinda. Anirudh stood exactly behind her, and she constantly felt his breath on her shoulders. As they neared the shrine, the crowd was suffocating. Her relatives went way ahead, and she was left with Anirudh. It was getting difficult for her to swim through the push and pulls.
But Anirudh was her knight in shining armour, he swayed his arms on either of her sides, protecting her. Anirudh bore the brunt of all the pushes from his back, yet did not force himself on Padma.
On their way back, after offering their prayers at the lotus feet of the Lord, Anirudh spoke for the first time.
“I guess we need to jostle our way out too. Would you like to hold my hand?”
Padma smiled, butterflies flying high in her heart. For the first time, she felt loved and fell in love. She held her hand out, and their fingers entwined. Padma felt a stream of warmth run down her spine. They walked through the crowd, hand in hand, gazing at each other’s eyes. The wind had changed its course in a day. Padma looked forward to the van ride back home eagerly.
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