“What’s that noise Papa?” The girls looked at each other in surprise.
“Drumbeats. The villagers are celebrating…”
“Are they celebrating the arrival of our new Scary crow?” Rajani burst out excitedly. “Oh how nice!” she clapped her hands.
Shikha looked doubtfully at her father – surely not?
Lalit smiled and shook his head. “I very much doubt it,” Rajani’s expression fell, “even though your scarecrow is the best and scariest scarecrows of this village,” he hastily added. Lalit shaded his eyes and looked at the distance. “I suspect it is the return of the wedding party.”
“Come let’s go and see!” Shikha seized Rajani by the hand and ran towards the source of the sound. Two trucks, one bus and one tractor had drawn up and people were spilling out from all sides amidst much shouting and dancing. The drummers went berserk trying to outdo each other and the dancers were hard put to keep pace with the frenzied beats.
“Hurry, hurry,” Shikha dragged Rajani as they squeezed their way ahead through the surging crowd, “I want to see the new bride. Oh there she is!” Shikha and Rajani gasped as they stared at the bedecked, bejeweled bride descending from the bus, her face completely covered. Unable to resist, Rajani sneaked a look under her veil and emboldened, Shikha followed suit.
A roar went up from the gathered crowd and they were shooed away while the bride was whisked away amidst much fanfare and singing.
Rajani and Shikha stared at each other in dismay. “Why was she crying?” they burst out together.
They ran off to find Kirti. “Mummy,” panted Shikha, “we saw the new bride. But she was crying!”
Kirti wrung out a kurta and jerked it briskly, showering the girls with fine droplets. They squealed and dashed away to a safe distance. “Mummy, why was she crying?”
“Girls always cry when they get married.” Kirti said in a matter of fact tone.
Shikha and Rajani stared at each other in consternation – how was that possible? In movies everyone was so happy? Especially the bride!
“But why? She should be happy right? Prince of her dreams, new clothes, loads of jewelry new people, I would be thrilled to bits,” declared Shikha. Rajani nodded her head in support.
Kirti wrung out a towel. “All that is hogwash, poppycock, moonshine, balderdash,” multiple showers hit the girls.
“Mummy! I don’t understand!”
Kirti calmed down. “Never mind dear. What I mean is that weddings are grand to see and attend but for the bride, it is usually quite the opposite. She has to leave her parents house, go and live in a stranger’s house, make it her own, often her clothes and jewelry are taken away by her new family members and she becomes an unpaid working member of her new family.” The girls looked at her in horror. Kirti smiled to take away the sting. “It is only later, much later, after she has lovely daughters like you that she is really happy.”
The girls exchanged relieved smiles. “Oh so she is missing her home right now so she is crying. But later everything will be fine. Right Mummy?”
Kirti was silent as she hung out the washing. She looked down at the twin pair of bright hopeful eyes. “Yes,” she said softly. “Later, everything will be fine.” She shook herself. “Didn’t you meet your uncles, aunts and cousins?” She looked at the disappearing tail of the crowd.
“Biji?” she turned to question her mother-in-law, “where are the others? They haven’t come back or what?”
“Yes, I forgot to tell you.” Biji stopped pulling at the hookah. “They will be coming a bit later. They wanted to go shopping. They have their own car na?” she added proudly. “You better make dinner for all of them. They will be tired after their long hectic trip. Poor things, they rarely get a chance to relax and enjoy, unlike you town people,” she sniffed disparagingly, “always relaxing.”
“Oh but I was planning to leave today,” Lalit was dismayed, “I need to be back as soon as possible.”
“Never mind, you can leave early morning tomorrow,” his mother said comfortably, “gives you reason to spend another day with your old mother,” she heaved a deep sigh, “who knows how many more days I have left on this earth?”
“Biji, please don’t say things like that,” Lalit said gruffly as he sat beside her. “You are not going anywhere, ever.”
“Arre Lallu your saying that won’t change facts would it?” Biji laughed
Rajani frowned as she tried to follow the conversation. “Is Biji planning on going somewhere?”
Shikha rolled her eyes – she had been witness to such conversations several times and it was nothing new. “Yeah,” she whispered back, “another planet.” She giggled and ran off.
Rajani followed her. “Another planet?”
“Arre Budhoo, didn’t you understand? She is talking about dying.” She clapped a hand to her mouth and looked about guiltily. “I mean ‘head roll and tongue act’.
Rajani froze. “She is going to ‘head roll and tongue’? When? How?”
“Uff you really are a Budhoo,” Shikha was exasperated. “Don’t you know people ‘head roll and tongue act’ when they grow old? Like grandfather?”
Rajani was taken aback. She hadn’t really thought about it that way. She didn’t know of any old people who had died. Of course people died when evil men like Voldemort were killed but to die of old age? That was something new. A new worry struck her. “Will Mamma and Papa also…” tears welled up in her eyes and she burst into tears. “I want to go home, I don’t want them to…” she sobbed piteously.
Kirti came running. “What happened dear? Shikha,” she said sternly, “did you do something? Say something?”
“No!” Shikha protested, “we were just talking and she started crying.”
Kirti pulled her into her embrace and tried to console her, “Tell me dear. What happened? Why are you crying?”
“Mamma and Papa are going to head roll and tongue act! I want to go home!”
Kirti stared at her and then looked to Shikha for help who obligingly explained, “She says her parent are going to,” she looked around and then cautiously whispered in her mother’s ear, “die.” She nodded her head solemnly and for good measure followed it up with ‘head roll and tongue’ act.
Kirti was bewildered. “But why does she think that?”
“Because Biji said she was going to ‘head roll and tongue act’. And then I told her that when people grow old they ‘head roll and tongue act’.”
“Uff! Hey Bhagwan! You two girls will be the death of me.” Kirti looked heavenwards. “Rajani,” she gently shook the little girl, “look at me, no one is going to die, and certainly not your parents. In any case they are very young and healthy. Plus we have good doctors and hospitals only when you don’t get proper treatment at the right time does one die. Understand?”
“Mamma,” Rajani was still sobbing, “I want Mamma.”
Kirti heaved a sigh. “Okay fine. Your Lalit uncle will leave tomorrow morning. You can go back with him. Okay? Now come on stop crying.”
Rajani nodded and wiped her face, only to find Shikha glaring at her. “I don’t believe this! You are going back? What will I do all alone here?” she started crying.
Frazzled, Kirti rose, “I am going. Biji is calling me. Rajani, now you manage your friend.”
Rajani set about soothing Shikha who refused to calm down. Her wails grew louder, until she was so angry and upset that she forgot to cry. “You are such a big Budhoo Rajji,” she ranted, “making such a big fuss about nothing! How will you marry Harry and go away to London? Your parents will be even older then. And it’s not easy to come and go from London to Chandigarh you know. Flight tickets are so expensive.”
“I will come on Harry’s broom. I wont need any flight tickets.” Rajani said loftily.
“Oh really?” Shikha was furious. “Fine! If you go back it means you are not keeping your promise! Our deal is off – I will marry Harry not you. So you can stay with your parents till you are an old old maid while I will travel the world. Go, go back to Chandigarh,” Shikha pushed Rajani, “I will play with my cousins, feed Muniya, go to the fair, draw water from the well…”
“Okay okay fine fine,” Rajani interrupted her tirade, “I won’t go back okay? But you have to promise my Mamma Papa aren’t going to die.”
“I promise they wont die,” Shikha said readily, “at least not while you are here,” she grinned.
“Then I will stay here forever!” not to be outdone, Rajani declared.
“Great! Then I will marry Harry and be off to London…”
Rajani charged at her while Shikha ran away squealing, “Help! Help! The rakshashi is after me, help help!”
Kirti looked out of the kitchen window and shook her head smiling to herself. With those two girls one never knew what was next – rain or sunshine.
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