“Rajji!” Shikha was back, clearly stressed and upset, “You girls go and have fun. Go!” She shooed the giggling girls away.
“What’s wrong Shikha?”
Shikha made a visible attempt to calm down. She went to the mirror and patted her elaborate hairdo and twitched at her pleats.
“Nothing much actually. Just some…some confusion. Uncle…”
“Confusion? Have they arrived? Or are they calling off the wedding?” Rajani’s heart thudded. What did she wish for? What should she wish for? Herself or her Papa? If the wedding were called off her Papa would be devastated! Oh! What if her wish came true? No wonder they said be careful of what you wish for…
“Relax Rajji! The way you jump to conclusions…”
“But that’s the way you said it!”
“Said what? I just said there was some confusion.”
“It was the way you said it…”
“Okay okay fine I won’t say anything.”
“Fine! I’ll go and find out for myself.” Rajani stood up and staggered with the weight of the lehenga.
“Sit!” Shikha glared at her. “There’s no need to be constantly on your high horse or be so egoistic.”
“When was I egoistic?”
“Just now. Couldn’t you have said, tell me please what is going on?”
“Why don’t you say you want me to grovel at your feet?”
“Wha…okay fine I am sorry. Can we start over again? There is a bit of a fuss outside and I wasn’t very whether to tell you or not so I end up confusing matters even more.”
“What’s wrong?” Rajani’s eyes bored into hers. “Tell me or I…”
“The groom’s side is upset because there is no arrangement for drinks or non-veg. They want both.”
Rajani stared at Shikha in consternation. She knew what her father’s attitude towards drinks and non-vegetarian food was. Now what!
“But this is not right!” Rajani was up in arms. “They didn’t say anything before and now at the last minute they are blackmailing…”
“It isn’t like that Rajji. They are saying they took it for granted that there would be drinks and snack. Whoever thought of a wedding without…?”
“But Papa would have never agreed if he had known, they eat non-vegetarian food, and drinks is a strict no-no.”
“It is a tough call and an unfortunate situation – embarrassing and expensive.”
“Will Papa call off the wedding…?” Rajani couldn’t help wondering, “Maybe he should…Shikha will you call Papa? Or should I go…”
“What will you do? Let your father decide, it is his decision isn’t it? After all no point in losing lakhs of rupees just to save a lakh or two.”
“It’s not about money it’s a matter of principle…”
“Now Rajji don’t over-react! These people have come just to have some fun and drinks are…”
“How come you are supporting them? Oh Amu said something right?”
Shikha blushed but stood her ground. “Yeah so? Actually even he asked about drinks. When people come for a wedding they are looking for some masti…
“At the cost of someone else’s hard earned life savings?”
“I understand your sentiments and concerns Rajji,” Shikha tried to walk the tightrope, “But just saying I understand them also. But they shouldn’t be embarrassing and blackmailing the bride’s family like this. This is a hotel, they can jolly well pay for their own drinks!”
“EXACTLY. Why should Papa…?”
“But you know things are here, everything in a wedding is the bride’s family’s responsibility.”
“That’s not fair!”
“I agree and to tell the truth, I am wondering what will happen at my wedding. Who knows what they will ask for? I only hope Amu will be sane and rational enough not destroy my faith and love.”
Rajani wrung her hands. “Do you think I should talk to Harsha?”
“Why are you panicking?” Shikha blustered, though she too looked ready to join Rajani in the Ganga-Yamuna program. “Let Uncle handle…”
“Where’s Bhabhi?” Rajani brightened. “Maybe she could talk to them? After all she knows them…”
“She isn’t here yet. I also thought the same thing. But I couldn’t find her anywhere.”
“Rani!” Nisha dashed inside, her bun askew, “Come! It’s time for the Jaimala….”
“Mamma what about the drinks and…”
Nisha looked at Shikha reproachfully.
“I am sorry Aunty but Rajji is already mad at me for keeping secrets. I didn’t want to…”
“Mamma!” Rajani tugged at her. Nisha pulled her along. “Come on we are getting late, everything is delayed…”
“Mamma, please I refuse to run into the mandap. As it is I can barely walk with such a heavy lehenga and I am not so desperate…”
“Drop it now Rani,” Nisha hissed, “enough is enough. Get married with good grace otherwise things won’t be good post- marriage. You’ve come this far and now continue to do so without any fuss…”
“But what happened earlier?” Rajani insisted.
“Nothing just a bit of fun and masti,” she brushed it off.
“I wouldn’t call it that,” Suryakant’s voice was low and defeated.
“What happened Papa?”
“Nothing Rani. Nothing that money can’t cure. Go on now, it’s time for the wedding.”
“Papa, please,” Rajani hated to see him like this. Her sense of impending doom which had dulled with Sunaina’s grant of a major reprieve came back to assault Rajani. “Please if you think right…”
“I don’t think it right,” Suryakant straightened, “we have no choice but to go ahead. It’s too late now.”
Shikha and Ritu led Rajani to the elaborate dais was set up. It planned in full filmy style – the dais would rotate, and guns would explode showering the blissful couple with roses as they garlanded each other and accepted each other as life partners for better and for worse in full public view.
Cheers, titters, chatters, guffaws broke through the blaring music and all but drowned out the mantras being chanted to sanctify their irrevocable bondage.
The smoke made Rajani’s eyes water while Harsha had trouble sitting down on the ground on account of his leg (the cast was off but it was still stiff and painful) so a stool was arranged which was lower than what was comfortable. And then they had to stand up for the pheras, Rajani’s leg had gone to sleep, she shook it awake and groaned as pins and needles jabbed her. Harsha had his own plateful and they both hobbled around the fire. To spice up things, bawdy and helpful comments were showered along with flowers.
“Harsha carry your bride around the fire!”
“Hey no! The bride should carry him. He looks frailer than her.”
“Maybe I could carry both of them around the fire! But would that mean I would be married to both?”
“Hmm good question – only half married.”
“Oh no-no, I am already married and don’t want another…”
“Yes but just think of the variety, the bonus rights…”
Raucous laughter grated on Rajani’s nerves; she gritted her teeth and walked on ahead.
Her ears burned and her cheeks were on fire – she was only thankful that she couldn’t identify who was saying what. But her real blessing was that because of her sheltered and isolated upbringing, she didn’t grasp the entire meaning and connotations of the snatches of comments that came her way.
The wedding was over and Rajani was almost dropping with exhaustion, her entire body felt battered and bruised while her cheeks hurt from all the smiling for the guests not to mention, shutterbugs.
She was desperate to go home even if it was Harsha’s but the rituals, customs and revelry stretched out endlessly until it was almost 5 am when the bidaai happened.
Rajani was too exhausted to even cry. Dull, dry-eyed and woozy she allowed herself to be hugged and wept over by her family and even people whom she had never met before.
The last image she carried with herself as the decorated car carrying the bride and groom slid away from the driveway was that of her mother weeping in the arms of her brother while she hugged her father.
Wait that wasn’t her – that was Bhabhi.
The Ahuja family picture was complete.
Click here for Part 3: Trial by Fire