The queer excited tone of father rings through the house as he animatedly talks into the mouthpiece.
Curiosity draws me closer.
“Here! Why don’t you get Daamad Ji on the phone? Nitu is standing right here.” He croaks into the ancient artefact.
“Daamad Ji?” Who is that for God sake?” I fumble before the instrument is thrust into my hands.
Speechless, I decide to stick to Hmmmms and Ahhmmmmm……..as a monotonous male voice tries to converse.
“Where has the migraine attack vanished?” my question falls on deaf ears as I return the handset to its wobbly cradle.
My five feet something frame stands bamboozled at the turn of events. The stark dramatics have left me awestruck as I struggle to recover from the aftermath of the telephone call.
No, it can’t be. What I assumed was a casual conversation has taken a serious turn. This needs mending.
“Dad…..Dad……” I follow him menacingly. “Dad……how can you…….how could you…….I fumble for the right words.” “How can you make a self-propitious decision?”
“You are barefoot…and the month is December.” The callous remark infuriates me.
“Hello! Excuse me……I know I’m barefoot…..and I don’t care!” all the cuss words build up within like the rising waters in a flooded dam. Dreading the eventuality of engaging in a verbal feud with Dad, I choose to clench my fists.
“Do you mind standing still?” The hollering is ineffective. “I have not said YES. Please hear it loud and clear, everyone in the household.” I twirl around making sure each corner is adequately informed.
“Go on walking……but I’m packing my bags and heading back to Kolkatta.” I retort in the direction of the indifferent silhouette. “And I’m not interested in marriage!” Doors slam and the angry me fumes and frets, while making my way to the sun drenched terrace.
An active septuagenarian, who is willingly developing a hump, defines marriage as the ultimate requirement to completed womanhood on earth. I’m aghast! My dreams of leading the dreamy life of an independent working woman seem to be crumbling down.
Resting my head against the warm concrete, starry eyed me slips into the future.
Confident and poised, chic stilettos and a saree clad me enters the board room. Well-groomed tresses reflecting the fresh burgundy highlights act like my cheerleaders. All set to impress with the presentation, I begin with introductions. Just as the final applause begins to descend, a rough hand nudging my tennis elbowed arm pulls me out of the reverie…..
“What the fuck?” The waspish tone upsets Mom.
“Misdemeanour redefined. A women using curse words.” She replies disappointed at what a metro education has resulted in.
“C’mon Mom! You and Dad are being so unfair. First, you call me home on the pretext of health issues. Then you bungle me into finalising a life partner merely be looking at photos from an onerous pile. Not to mention pictures, where most men look obnoxiously different from their actual selves.”
“That’s the law of the land and you aren’t anyone different.” The indifferent shrug further insinuates me. I choose silence, to be spared the sermons of how dutiful children abide every decision of the parents with their heads hung low, much like nescient cattle relishing extra hay before the slaughter.
“What’s the menu going to be?” Dad finally rises…..from the newspaper pile.
What the ……..? Menu? What’s happening. Both the greys are capable of anything and everything. Treading carefully I callously remark. “Another kitty party. Haan…..Mom? So what’s the shopping list this time.” I break out into an absolutely artificial and hysterical laughter. A minute gone and I realise no one is joining in. The seniors stand taught attempting to decipher the motive of it all.
“There is no kitty party. Your future in-laws are visiting along with Daamad Ji.” Mom announces.
“Oh! Give me a break! I can’t imagine that the two of you have hitched me on for good.”
“Lord! Watch the language girl…….. It is Sanjog.”
You mean Sambhog! I almost blurted but held back.
I know I am stuck. They faked Dad’s illness, got me to move cities and now this Sanjog gyan for me.
“Your future in-laws are coming tomorrow. Damaad Ji is also accompanying. Be prepared.” Dad announces stoically.
“Prepared? For what? Am I prepping for the NASA selection?” I snap.
“We are done talking.” The veteran announces to the troops and marches on. Once again towards the heap of newspapers as if they an enemy hideout.
The household plunged into a mysterious merriment while I opt to transform into a recluse. A heavy head and a heavier heart, the weight of it all lulls me to sleep.
Mom bangs the door incessantly. “Arre…..Nitu! Wake up. Hurry! Will you! They are almost here. “
I reluctantly open the door to a chirpy rendition of Damaad Ji’s itinerary.
“You never give up! Do you?” I confront her.
“These decisions are unquestionable. We know what is best.” Mom rambles at the speed of light today.
It is almost time for Damaad Ji to arrive with his clan.
“I will not do the rounds with tray.” I am indignant.
Surprisingly neither of them protests. “Oh! Sure we can let that pass.” Dad replies.
“Your mom too never did that.” He looks towards Mom affectionately. Mom stands unimpressed. “Ain’t I grateful for that?” she mumbles and YES I do catch a smirk. The declaration of greatness is cut short as a swank, metallic silver SUV makes a razzmatazz entry into the driveway. The greys next to me jump like they have grown springs.
My curiosity gets the better of me as I squint my eyes to catch a lean yet athletic, bespectacled frame. He is ushered in with much pomp and show. Thankfully no one had the idea to garland him. The sloppy grin accompanied by the constant shaking of head strikes as weird.
“Psst…..psst……Mom….listen.” I dangle over Mom’s shoulder breathing down her neck. “I think he is a case of muscular dystrophy. Look how his head is shaking constantly.”
Mom shoves me away with an aggressive elbow nudge. “You are out of your mind.”
With folded hands and a malevolent smirk, I stand in awe of my future.
The mother-in-law steps in, her face lit up in a strangely triumphant glee.
Pointing towards Damaad Ji, she announces, “A promotion has been announced for him today. So we got a bit delayed. There are sweets for you too.” Saying this she has the audacity to pluck my cheeks with her muscular fingers. “You are lucky Nitu!”
“Sure I am!” is what I want to say. But restrict myself to a reluctant smile.
Damaad Ji responds with ‘shaking the head and grinning.’
My doubts are turning conclusive. However…..his gaze is stuck on me. Now what! Am I expected to reciprocate by ‘shaking the head and grinning’ toooo!!
A shiver runs down my spine at the mere imagination of it. Amidst the cacophony, Mother-in-law’s demeanour is stark. Authoritarian? Dominating or Bully? Well looks like I shall have a conclusion by the end of today. Meanwhile, the array of eats is laid out for the brigade to devour.
“The cutlets are so delicious! Nitu did you make them?” the beguiling question is asked over a mouthful.
“NO” is my sporadic reply. Mom issues an immediate clarification, “Actually! She has mostly studied away from home. Hardly leaving any time to take up cooking.”
No, absolutely no…silence is massacre. If I can’t control the arrival of this troupe, I can definitely control the outcome of today.
“Actually Aunty”, I move forward, taking centre stage. “I am an academic topper throughout. That is why I was the first one to be placed in my class of MBA.” I continue, leaving mother-in-law’s stuffed mouth ready to burst at the seams.
“And…..” I continue. No! I’m not giving up yet. Mom continues to inflict her cruddy pinches into my flesh. Undaunted, I declare, “And……I don’t like to cook.”
Ah! Done and dusted! What satisfaction! Like butter sliding down a warm toast.
The tea tray is quite a welcome as Mom and Dad continue to give each other dirty looks. Well of course, intended for me. But none of them dares to do it to me. My chiffon dupatta flows along effortlessly through the living room as effortlessly as the cutlets disappear down the hungry throats.
Meaningless banter takes over the room as mother-in-law continues to sing praise of every member of her household. Nah! that’s ok for me. It is like the blaring, head splitting loud DJ music in a wedding. I’m tuned off……or rather zoned out!
Zoning out is an acquired skill. More on this shall follow.
The evening ends with exchange of formal pleasantries and Daamad Ji’s earnest smile trying to convey something that I’m still trying to fathom.
“Hell! Man, I haven’t even come up with a convincing enough definition of marriage!” I mutter in infuriation.
The mother-in-law’s sly smile and cheesy stroking of my head are dangerous gestures……all pointing sternly towards the impending doom.
The three thousand square feet stand bespangled with colourful strings of light, flower curtains, much adorned than the bride-to-be. The latter still oscillating in a state of ‘to be’ or ‘not to be’.
Yeah…..yeah…I quite get it. How could I? I should’ve…….I could’ve…..and the list of possible outcomes carries on in my mind.
Quite expecting the emotional melodrama, there was not much choice left. Actually there are no choices if you happen to be the eldest of the siblings. So there it is……sacrificed at the altar of duty.
As we settle on to the dinner table for the last day of peace before the house is swarming with humanity. All my favourite dishes adorn the table. Remember…….hay….just before slaughter!
“Hey Dad! All set for the big day?” the other siblings smirk while Dad shoots the usual disinterested look. “You are the one who should be prepared more.” The unexpected statement points towards me.
“Oh yes! I am. All set to be a martyr and take a place in the hall of fame.” I remark.
As the siblings break into laughter, rarely authoritarian Mom interjects, ““You better rectify the vocabulary, you are going to your house now.” Announces Mom authoritatively.
“Whaaaat……my house!! I have assumed this to be my house. Remember you would always threaten to throw me out of MY house when I refused to complete the assigned chores.” “I’m confused Mom. Which is mine? This or that?”
A dreary silence follows which is broken only when my chair screeches along the floor. Is that defiance enough? I wonder.
Two days of idiotic chaos follows. Of course it is identified by culturally scintillating names…….Shagun, Mehandi, Choora, Chunni……..x,y,z……hopefully it ends somewhere. The marriage day being the cherry on the top.
The last time my parents displayed this enthusiasm might have been the day I was born. Suddenly their crib about ageing and burdens weighing on their shoulders, all seem to have vanished. The speed at which everything is progressing is like watching ice cream in a cone on a scorching sunny day.
Glaring into the frenzy around, I feel weighed down both by the finery and my emotions. I had long decided to go with the flow…..so going I was. As I switch between smiling and dropping death stares, I wish there is a smart identification for people too. Anyways…..just going with the flow.
The marriage rituals reach culmination as the priest announces us as two bodies yet one soul.
It isn’t long before the metallic silver SUV is leading me to a new home……my home or not, time will tell. As the SUV twists and turns on the road towards the new house, I find Damaad Ji peering into the glistening new handset that slides out of his pocket. Diving into the blingy handbag I dish out mine. Out pops the friend request notification from none other than Damaad Ji. Sitting inches away from me he twiddles his fingers across the gadget instead of speaking a few words. Well we sure are a Millenium Couple…… I update my social status as Frinning (frowning and grinning)! New word. I like the zing.
The vehicle turns into a swankier locality of the town and finally into another frenzied crowd. Ah! My house…I mumble.
I’m tethered to the car by a noisy group of girls. As there boisterous laugh hits my face, I thank the saviours, the breath mints.
“Come on Bhabhi…..welcome home!”
Yours or mine? I have half a mind of asking but let it go.
Daamad Ji retains a bashful predisposition. I remind myself to let go Frinning and chose only grinning.
“Hearty welcome dear daughter-in-law!” the majestic announcement of a new designation.
Several Mornings Later
Conversations are limited and so is my movement around the house. The guests declare tiredness and exit. Secretly rejoicing, I finally quit the daily elaborate walk of fame in regal finery.
I catch up on sleep. A greater part of the night is taken over by the anxiety of sharing the bed with a complete stranger. Can life get more bizarre than this?
There is a thing about the early morning siesta. One drifts in and out of it like a trance. The beautiful hungover feeling gives you a light headedness that is pleasant. It’s that phase of the awakening process when thoughts don’t strain and ideas pop out like fresh popcorn. I am the kinds to thoroughly enjoy it. Taking the cue, most of the days Daamad Ji chooses to tip toe out of the room. Appreciated! Thankfully he is picking up the cues and not trying to enforce his!
One of the said mornings, the siesta is ripped of all pleasantness and beauty as the door to the room is flung open and all bared. I sit up like a zombie, hair strewn all over the face similar to a tycoon struck beachside. Despite forcing the eyes open I only manage a faint view of the person who dared.
Well there stands her, mother-in-law in a floral silken robe, addressing me, “It is 7 am!” Short, abrupt and curt.
“Really!” despite all best efforts I think she hears me. Yet I desperately try a cover up by straightening myself and smiling back… “Ok!I think I missed the alarm.” A little fib does no harm of course. I and alarms aren’t comrades most of the days.
A rushed bath and I finally breathe as I don my jeans. It feels like floating in the air after days of torturous skin irritating attires. I catch mother-in-law eyeing me as I saunter about the house.
“Nitu. We will have cold cucumber soup today. Just check if the required ingredients are available to avoid any hassles later?”
Was this question for me? I am still in a state of wonder.
‘Cold Cucumber soup!!!’ even saying it makes me feel pukey.
I look over the shoulder to make sure the instructions weren’t intended for someone else.
She does have a way around things. Passing instructions and disappearing. My rendezvous with the kitchen and related elements has so far only been limited to serving myself and plonking in front of the television.
Suddenly, I want to run back home. I miss Mom.
Cold Cucumber…..Cold Cucumber soup……cold…….the words begin spinning in my head. I feel flushed. My narrowed eyes scan through the lobby and dining area and settle onto the lady perched up against the velvety sofa browsing through a magazine. I keep reminding myself the meaning of the word, calm as I walk towards her.
In a gravelly tone I say, “I really don’t know how to make the soup! I have never cooked in my life.” With a shrug of the shoulders, I feel the job is done.
Was I supposed to read up recipes before getting married? And where the hell is the lady who was cooking all these days!
I quickly turn towards the floor length mirror for an expression check…….glaring – no, flared nostrils –nope. Thank God!
Mother-in-law with all the softness she can muster looks up, “It is no big deal. All you do is wash and grate the cucumber, then you boil ……… blahhhh……blahhh….hmmmmm……..she goes on while I zone out…remember the zoning out I talked of earlier. Yes very much that. These are the situations where it comes to rescue.
“Did you get it…..? Nothing difficult. Don’t worry you will get used to this.”
I continue pretending to be in a vacuum, while in the zoned out state…..Before I realise, mother-in-law is shaking me vigorously. Patting the cheeks and the back in an attempt to get a reaction out of me.
I can hear and feel everything but something just feels enjoyable about this. So I persist.
“Nitu…..Nitu…are you okay? Say something…..” I peer through my half open eyes. Mother-in-law’s crinkled nose and creased brow trigger a laughter riot but all in the head. A good five minutes into the game I decide to retreat.
Continuing to slouch, I lazily open my eyes……. wide, trying my best to get on the pale face look. Mother-in-law lets out an exasperated sigh, much noticeable by the heaving bosom. “Oh! Thank God.” And thrusts an ornate glass of water into my hands.
“You rest up. It must be the overdose of wedding festivities that has got to you. I will take care of the soup and all.”
The words are a balm to the soul. Cucumber Soup done and dusted! Ahm…..and I walk back to the room with élan, of course with an occasional limp.
A Few Mornings Thereon
I am back to work within a week. It is still an unpleasant feeling. Waking up to a total stranger beside you. Walking down to questioning stares. I’m glad there is work.
It’s Friday. How I love weekends! To laze and lay most of the day. As I enter the house with equal eagerness, I’m welcomed with a tight lipped smile. Mother-in-law, of course. By now, the one eyebrow raised expression is well interpreted. I am confident about a bouncer being bowled my way.
“Nitu, let’s have vegetable soup before dinner.”
What’s with them and soups? I mumble. The only time I looked at soup was when I was down with flu or something.
Once again I freeze. Slumped shoulders and gaze fixed, I get into the Zoning Out Zone.
“I’m telling you this girl has some medical issues. Look at her.” the panic stricken voice of mother-in-law resonates all around. “This has happened earlier too.”
There is chaos as I’m pulled towards the couch. Minutes of patting and caressing follow. Yet I return only when I wish to return. Damaad Ji is shaken. He is probably conjuring ways to get rid of me. Once again the laughter riot strikes, but remember it is all in my head.
I repeat the slow opening of eyes and blank staring…..trying to get past the bulky bosom again.
To my utter surprise, Daamad Ji pops in, seemingly concerned.
“I think Nitu should visit her parents for some time. Let her get some rest.”
I swear, that very moment I fell in love with this guy….the stranger on my bed.
Mother-in-law, visibly shaken, left with no choice answers feebly, “Ok. Do as you feel right.”
As the car swirls into the driveway, I’m grinning like a child with a lolly. After the pleasantries, Daamad Ji asks for permission to leave siting important work in the office. As we walk back, I can’t help say, “Good bye! Thanks and……. please make sure the cook returns. I hate to cook.”
Trying his best to concur, I think he gets the hint. As the ignition revs up the car engine, he gives me a naughty wink before driving away.
Daamad Ji – son-in-law
Sanjog – fate/destiny
Sambhog – consummation
Shagun, Mehandi, Choora, Chunni – rituals in a north Indian wedding
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