The yellow ball of fire blazed in glory. Not a patch of white was to be seen in the blue horizon. The solitary Tulsi plant at the centre of the outer courtyard appeared to have shed the last of its leaves.
‘It is parched,’ Sahyadri rued. The generous amount of water that she dutifully sprinkled every morning hadn’t helped.
Sahyadri turned towards the 100-year-old Haveli she had first entered as a demure bride two years back. With its multiple courtyards, tall balustrades, and countless rooms, the colossal building was imposing to the young girl. She was quietly standing beside the luxuriant Tulsi when her husband had come to her, and unbeknownst to others, squeezed her Mehendi-dyed hands. “Don’t worry. I am with you,” he whispered. Sahyadri had shyly smiled and averted her eyes.
“You seem different,” he had told her later during their first night together, “much prettier than your photographs.” Sahyadri had turned redder than her lehenga.
It was the first time they were by themselves after their match was fixed by their families. They spent the entire night getting to know each other. Sahyadri had fallen asleep while talking, her head buried in her husband’s heart.
The heavy thud of boots had woken her up the following day. Her husband was packing his bags. In his Olive-Green uniform adorned with Three Stars on either side of the shoulder blades, he looked every bit the decorated Indian Army Officer.
“Government of India has revoked Article 370 in J&K and made it a Union Territory,” he had responded to her glance. “My leave has been cancelled, and I have to report back to my regiment in Kupwara.”
Sahyadri had no words to say. Her husband continued, “My only regret is not getting to spend enough time with you. I can’t say when I will be back. You may want to go to your mayka for some time.”
“No,” she had replied. “I will wait for you here, at home.”
Major Veer Pratap had then kissed his bride on the forehead and departed.
Two long years had passed. The internet crackdown in J&K, a patchy telecom network in Kupwara, and the secrecy of military protocols had conspired to limit their conversations during this period. The long but irregular emails were somewhat of a solace.
‘When will I see my KunwarSa again?’ Sahyadri sighed.
“Bindni.” Her mother-in-law’s voice reverberated in the courtyard. Sahyadri adjusted her pallu as she rushed forward.
“There you are. Veer spoke to me after you didn’t take his calls,” MaaSa said.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, silently reprimanding herself.
“His leave has been sanctioned,” the matriarch pronounced in triumph. “He has booked his train tickets and will reach home the day after, Bindni.”
The tears that coursed through MaaSa’s cheeks mirrored her own.
Sahyadri turned to the Tulsi. A flicker of a smile appeared on her face as she noticed the green shoot sprouting from its lowest branch.
“You seem different,” she whispered while wiping away her tears.
- Tulsi- Holy Basil, a medicinal herb used in Ayurveda that is native to India and Southeast Asia. It is believed to give peace and happiness of mind and is planted in many Indian houses
- Haveli: A traditional palace or fort in the Indian subcontinent, usually with historical and architectural significance
- Mehendi- Otherwise known as Henna, it is a paste associated with positive spirits and good luck. Indian Wedding tradition calls for a Mehndi ceremony to be held the night before the wedding as a way of wishing the bride good health and prosperity
- Lehenga- A form of ankle-length skirt worn by women in India, usually during ceremonial occasions such as festivals or weddings
- Mayka-Hindi word for parent’s home. Generally, referred to in the context of the Indian bride’s parental home
- KunwarSa- The male member of the Rajasthani family whose father is alive
- Bindni- The daughter-in-law in a Rajasthani household
- Pallu- The loose end of a sari, worn over one shoulder or the head
- MaaSa- The respectful version of mother-in-law in a Rajasthani household
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