It was a match made in heaven, people said. You could hear the dhol and the shehnai far and wide. The daughter of the house was marrying the Prince of Alkapur. Hundreds were envious only some were happy, a handful in awe and most were shocked!
“How did Menaka manage this catch?”
“She is very beautiful and why not?” enquired Mrs Deva. To which Prapti replied, “Of course Aunty, she is, undoubtedly and they complement each other.”
Prapti’s mother had doubts from the beginning and even now, when the haldi ceremony was in full swing, Mrs Dhaliwal, the busybody was in the mood to express them ensuring that they spread into the ambience in clever disguise and get wide coverage.
“Oh I do agree that Menaka deserves the best, but a real royal Prince does make me wonder why and how this rishta came about!”
“Shh Ma! Please, don’t embarrass me,” Prapti pleaded.
Mrs Deva, not the kinds to miss the chance poured in, “Sheelu, stop it! Let us enjoy this once in a lifetime Royal wedding.”
Never had the small town seen such splendour. There were elephants decked with jewellery, camels, chariots and a palanquin! Not to forget the endless coterie of people carrying gold plates covered in satin for the bride to be.
When the bride was being smeared with haldi, the happiness seen all over her family members’ faces was brighter than the auspicious golden colour of the turmeric. Her luminous large eyes, lotus like with blossoming dreams, slender frame, dusky tone complemented the yellow coating. Her wavy hair wouldn’t stay still today, they came cascading every now and then. She quickly and carelessly tied them up each time. Her long legs, were seen tapping to the beats of the dhol.The banana plantains added the much desired emerald green to the rivers of daffodil yellow.
In the last few days to the countdown, Menaka had frequently wondered, “Am I doing the right thing? I have known him for only two months, and met up only about seven times.”
“Parmeshwarguru, I always wanted a proper arranged marriage with a good man. I Hope Deva, that you will see to it.”
Prince Preetam was a busy man, being a Havard graduate mattered. Looking after the estates took away his time followed by those days of pursuing his hobbies holed him up for days and then the royal game of polo was also top priority.
He had a self-made rule. None one was allowed to disturb him during his pastime.
Maneka had made it very clear that all these peculiar methods of solitude wouldn’t be welcome post the nuptials and the Prince had reluctantly agreed more out of a desire to please her.
“Maneka, I promise that you’ll get whatever you want.”
“Thank you Preetam, I am lucky, but what did you see in me?”
“My hope,” His eyes smiled at her attractive eyes.
He was fair tall, athletic but nothing extra ordinary. And there was something else about his persona which she couldn’t define or describe. In fact, she couldn’t even pin point it.
“Oh that?” her friends would tease her, “Is just the Royal blood.”
She was sensuously dusky, slim and pretty with the most beautiful soft wavy locks. He had melted seeing her.
The speck of haldi in her eyes made her come back to the festivities with a jerk!
“Parmeshwarguru, please see to it that I continue to remain lucky!” she tucked in quick prayers. She did feel weighed down in flashes just like the marigold strings. Although these strings were too heavy to sway for the windless day, they managed to add the right quotient of prettiness that needed to wall up surroundings on such an auspicious day.
Her beaming parents, Mr Suresh and Mrs Suvarna Chaand were busy welcoming guests and looking after their needs.
After Maneka was escorted for her bathing ritual, some guests resumed their overdrive, with various theories and views erupting in the midst of the music.
“They are a very rich family in their own right, Sheelu, so this marriage is not about money,” Reshma Singh pointed out to her friend.
“And is this the place to discuss?” Pramod Singh reprimanded his wife. A sulky look camouflaged the pancaked face immediately.
Mr Deepak Karthikeyan knowledgeably announced, “An only child, Manuka owns three apartments and a bungalow in the metros of the country. So she definitely isn’t someone coming from either below or even remotely close to the poverty line”.
Mrs Karthikeyan, a devout sporty lady was always in agreement with her husband, much to the irritation of other ladies of the area.
“But they are not royalty,” quipped in Chandrima Sen.
The Chaands were a highly educated and cultured family.
Maneka was a doctorate in Psychology. She had followed in her mother’s footsteps, not her Scientist father’s and become a Psychologist.
“All said and done the Prince is marrying a sensible young lady who is educated and wealthy in her own right,”declared Prapti. She was agitated and fed up of these tongues dipped in bitterness of jealousy.
“And this generation expects respect from us…!” sarcasm took over Prapti.
The fragrance of the moment, the buzzing excitement did very little to refrain the guests from speculating.
Maneka, this wealthy educated woman had fleeting doubts occasionally which she would put to rest remembering her beacon, “Parmeshwarguru”
She was insanely devoted to the saint and his teachings and believed that her life was his gift and she regarded no other super power, “God, it is you who is making me marry him, over to you – then!”
“Preetam is a wonderful human being, but I am jittery at times. Is it the difference in our economic status or does being a commoner makes me uneasy?” She used to often stare at the revolving rainbow halo behind the idol of her Parmeshwarguru and allow these thoughts to rule her head. Those seven colours would turn slowly each replacing the other one at her point of focus and she would wonder why she was drawn to these colours not in the sky but right here, behind her deity.
The wedding was an ostentatious affair. The grooms side insisted on all arrangements being paid by them, something unheard of in recent times and all the more reason for the newer spices added into the dish of gossip.
Despite the potpourri of emotions, not a single invitee could stop raving about the celebrations.
“This has been a wedding of a lifetime,” said the Kapoors who were trying hard not to be worried about their three marriageable daughters.
“It is never a competition of any sorts,” Kavita Krishnamurthy consoled her.
Kali Kapoor resented this woman!
This was a community of scientists living in a grandly designed town. They were the brains of the country, yet the parents inside the cranium were found to be wanting in their colloquial exchange of views regarding a colleague’s daughter’s nuptials. And most certainly they seemed to be concerned with everything that was not their family matter.
The Chaands were aware of what exactly the gossip mills had been churning month after month prior to the wedding. They ignored all.
Their only girl had gone to her rightful home. The parents felt happy because their daughter was happy!
The Royal in laws were relieved that their errant son had finally got married and brought a lovely daughter for them.
Every girl dreams of her wedding night which is meant to be her perfect night. Maneka’s was different. Her husband was indifferent to her that night, preoccupied but he spoke gently, making her feel like a princess, pledged her his wealth, allaying worries about the future.
And she was wondering what kind of a wedding night, this would turn out to be!
Maneka concluded that it was a case of nerves. Probably men from royal family are restrained on their wedding night as they have had their share of thrills.
They said goodnight to each other amongst the most expensive fragrant flowers of the world surrounded by pillars of gold and antique silver furniture.
The next day was caught up in a frenzy of activities, rituals, family gatherings with teasing cousins.
She had to admit that not a single person so far had treated her as a commoner.
They all loved her.
They loved “Preetam’s Dulhan”.
As the days merged into weeks, Menaka settled down in her new life. She was on a sabbatical and she intended to learn everything that would make her dissolve into this family system and her in laws had no qualms of letting their Bahu work. She looked up to them and in turn she was treated like a princess.
One of the very interesting duties was to counsel family feuds among the villagers who came seeking help. Her mother in law and her team of advisers patiently helped resolve issues. She marvelled the way her mother in law performed this kind of duty.
Her induction into duties had begun.
All was hunky dory in her marital life, exteriorly.
All was not fine in their bedroom. It had been twentyseven days without intimacy! There was however no negligence, no harsh words or no ill treatment from Preetam. He was so gentle and kind all the time. His voice was the best part about him. It had some inexplicable angelic value.
But the time to question him had dawned. It had made her suspicious about the presence of another woman. This lack of physical intimacy no longer deserved to be attributed to either of the fact that he was kind or royal.
She had made up her mind to confront him!
Confrontation would be too harsh a word. But she had to know the truth.
No couple stays without consummating their marriage!
That afternoon Preetam sent word that he would be going out of town and he’d like her to accompany him.
The psychologist’s anger immediately came down. No man who had a mistress would want his spouse to accompany him outside town leaving out a golden opportunity.
“This was going to be the way our marriage would be granted physical sanctity outside the palace walls,” she hoped.
Little did she know!
Preetam having sent word to his wife was pacing up and down, imagining the volcano of heat and emotions that would engulf him soon.
This was what he had been running away from, from all these years.
Little did he know!
He wanted to fulfil his parents desire of bringing a daughter in law home. He wanted to give the people in his city the thrill and joy of witnessing a royal wedding. And yes Menaka was perfect in every way. When he met her for the first time, her eyes had smiled sparkles of friendship, they had darted arrows of love and that is how he had dared to form this alliance knowing it would ultimately lead to unsavoury situations.
The royal husband knew that Maneka was no fool and if she hadn’t questioned him all these days it was either out of respect or decency certainly not out of fear that plagues the educated middle class.
It had to be divulged tonight!
A few hundred kilometres from the grandeur of Alkapur, stood in shocked silence, the future queen!
Her stillness was expected, not her nonstop flow of tears for over two hours.
Her body refused to show any movement and her eyes wouldn’t stop their flow of crushed dreams!
He watched her standing like that for hours. He dared not touch her. He felt nervous and he knew hysteria wasn’t far away! Preetam did not feel guilty for having come out in front of his spouse. Being a modern girl, he expected her to fight, and then take legal recourse. It was easier for him to tell someone he’d known for months as his wife rather than the people who had given birth to him. Seeing her stand glued to the wall, he felt helpless. He wanted to hold her, make her sit, apologise for turning her life upside down. She allowed none of it. He was mortified.
No words had been exchanged for almost four hours as she stood leaning against the pillar. Suddenly she collapsed. Her body crumpled in front of Preetam. He was in panic!
Maneka found herself face to face with a doctor injecting her. He detailed a few instructions and was escorted out by the staff.
“Maneka, how are you feeling?” he gently enquired.
And that soft kindness filled voice made her look at him directly, he met her gaze in those moist, swollen, puffed eyes locked inside that charming but shrivelled face.
“Why me, Preetam?”
Before he could answer came the next question.
“Why any girl for that matter? What gave you the right to shatter someone else’s dreams? Just because you couldn’t spill the truth in time to your parents?”
With every question, rose her voice, shaking, quivering lips adding to the pitiable sight.
“What gave you the right to put my parents through this shame if you couldn’t do this to yours?
“What Maneka, what have you done to this Maneka? You have made her a laughing stock!”
Preetam felt just as miserable as Menaka did.
When he was out of sight, the isolated Maneka questioned her Parmeshwarguru for allowing her to be the recipient of this curse.
All incoming phone calls were being disconnected since that moment of ugly truth.
He wanted to reach out to his spouse, whom he had knowingly cheated into this marriage.
Every cell in Maneka’s body was bitter. Her mind was in flames. She could feel her heart being cut into pieces and not to mention the laughter and the taunting voices in her head straight from her hometown.
She rose violently, flung her pillow aside and yelled, “So this is why royalty came out of their lineage to marry me and has been pledging wealth?”
‘Shame on you and your dynasty!” She fainted.
When Menaka came back to her senses, she had lost count of hours, she met Preetam’s anxious gaze.
She looked away almost immediately muttering, “Why me?”
Even if it was for a fraction of a second, he felt he was going to have her support.
But this assumption was wrong. He was wrong. His identity was even more wrong.
He turned her chin towards him, “I saw hope in your eyes, Menaka, hope for myself, my self-esteem,”
“I am sorry I cheated you but I assumed rather as it seems now, presumed that you’d show me a way”
Menaka felt a sad tinge rising in the crest somewhere inside the hollow depths of her darkened heart but she wasn’t going to acknowledge it.
The placid scenery outside their suite held no peace for her.
“I am confused about a lot of things, I have felt shattered for years, you have heard that truth today which I could neither accept nor reject, so I did what came to my mind as the best getaway- hide the truth from all who mattered because they would mock.”
Menaka sat up, looking at her nails, which were digging into her elbows.
“But you have no rights to drag outsiders in the name of marriage and then expect hope from them!” she snarled.
“You are royals; one expects honesty from such elite people. Filthy Royals!”
His kindness filled voice said, “Acceptance of a situation which does not agree with the ideal norms of the society is dependent on an individual’s heart not his or her status. I knew being a student of psychology, you’d comprehend my dilemma and fear of being shamed at exposure. “
She gave a sarcastic chuckle, “You need a psychiatrist, a counsellor, a psychologist also for sure, anyone, everyone but definitely not a wife!”
The evening sun had set casting a glorious spread of orange and gold blobs on the wall above the head rest of their bed. There was yellow light in the room meaning to overturn the agony that had clutched the occupants like a hungry crocodile.
That healing aura began bathing two souls standing at the make or break point, at crossroads of their destiny.
After a while she got up, pushing him aside, went to the washroom and stared at the unreasonable face in that mirror. She laughed wildly at the mirror and splashed water over it and watched the drops trickle down one by one, leaving an unclear image of herself. She questioned her Parmeshwarguru again and again.
Her Parmeshwarguru knew that this was her karmic duty to face the situation and eventually come out with flying colours.
Hot tea awaited her.
As she sipped, a warm fuzzy feeling reached her insides.
“He wasn’t effeminate, he looked manly, I had no reasons to be suspicious. Could his identity crisis be that quality which I failed to describe?” Her mind was boomeranging with the same thought.
While the silence in the room discomforted her, it comforted him because he had announced his dilemma to his wife, who was distraught and would spill the beans any moment. He would be free from his guilt.
Had he misread the girl?
Would it have been a similar scene if he had come out to his parents?
He’d never know as it was too late.
No one knew, even Maneka couldn’t say what happened in the washroom in those hours. She calmed down. In the next two days she was normal and began to converse with Preetam briefly. She went for long walks, stared at the sky, gauged the waves breaking into a billion crystals as they hit the hard disastrous rocks. Her life was going to be different. If this is what was expected out of her, then she would give her best performance.
That evening before dinner she laid the cards on the table in front of Preetam.
“I fell in love with you Maneka, I know I like men but when I set my eyes on you, I loved your eyes, I want to be close to you. I want to love and live with you. I have been with no one before. I am confused, I don’t know who I am and what I like.” For once the voice sounded like a helpless child.
“Would you like to find out?” She asked in her professional tone.
“Yes, I’d like that very much!”
“It could take years, and you may still be no where. You may want to be with both genders or years later you may want to undergo a medical change. Are you willing to go that far? She continued her questions.
“I don’t know, the journey to the new horizon will be long drawn and lonely,” he said with under confidence.
She looked at him directly, extended her hand to fill his cupped palm.
“It won’t be a lonely journey!” I promise breaking into tears.
Prince Preetam’s face conveyed the most loving expressions. The frown in his forehead smiled as did his eyes. He was a beautiful human being in desperate need of help. And his wife was going to help him.
“No! My soulmate was going to help me.”
“No! No! My soul was going to help in my journey.” He rejoiced at his choice.
Their hug broke barriers of anxiety, acrimony and senseless disgust.
They moved along with the flow of the moment. There was no guilt, hesitation or resentment on either side.
It was love between two souls.
The rawness and nervousness vanished into nothingness.
Maneka knew her Parmeshwarguru would be her pillar and help her navigate through these new unknown lanes.
All life changing decisions had been made by the couple.
“The future Royal scions will have two mothers or even better another dad, if that is what is destined for Alkapur.” Menaka told her stunned parents.
“Let the world witness how feelings of destruction can be remodelled into feelings of near perfection” Preetam’s Dulhan spoke with determination in front of her shocked in laws.
The Princess gave both the families all the time in the world to come around and join her Preetam’s Army.
Haldi ceremony– application of turmeric paste on the body as a part of the bride/groom making ceremony.
Bahu- Daughter in law
Shehnai-a pipe type musical instrument.
Dhol- double headed drum used to make rhythm.
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