Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Marriage II

Pallavi came out of the general ward and straight away went to the Emergency Ward. She had to talk to Amir. He was waiting for her outside the ward.

“Hi Amir.”

“Pallavi just give me 15 minutes and then we will get out of here. The patient with dengue is showing some scary symptoms.”

“Okay. Take your time, I am in no hurry today to reach home. Mom wants to discuss how should we go about planning the marriage.” She sighed.

He kept his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, is anything going to change by you worrying so much?”

“You finish your duty and then we would go out.”

She sat on one of the grey steel chairs arranged outside the ward for the visitors of the patients. Her phone beeped. Sujata had sent her a text, she wanted to know when she will be back. Pallavi replied that she would be late and not to wait for her. 

Amir walked out of the emergency ward some 20 minutes later.

“Come, let us get out of here.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“Let us go to the new coffee shop nearby. I am famishing, haven’t eaten a bite since hours.”

“Yeah, me too. Lets go.”

They came out of the hospital and went to the coffee shop which was further up on the main road.
They took the inside seats as it was really hot. Amir ordered two cups of cappuccino and chicken sandwich for him and a mushroom sandwich for her. 

“What will we do Amir?”

“I don’t know. It is all so complicated.”

“The guy said yes even when I asked him to say no.”

“Yes, that is very strange. Is he planning to strangle you to the mandap if you are not ready. But I know why he would have said yes. It's hard to say no to you.” He pulled her hand and held it. 

She smiled. “Why can’t we tell our parents and then see what happens.?”

“We can. But see my family might still be okay as they would say let us change the religion of the girl. But what about your parents?  Would they be okay with you changing your religion? Will they accept me as who I am? There is going to be a huge conflict. I think we should just go ahead for court marriage without telling them and then inform them later.”

“I can’t change my religion. Actually I don’t mint it, but my parents would. How can we do court marriage? My family would be devastated.”

“Then what will we do Pallavi. I don't think any kind of convincing would work. And even if it does, there would be no acceptance from my family unless you become a Muslim. Your parents are not going to accept a Muslim boy or you changing your religion. I don't see it working by the convincing way. I want to be with you. I think the only option is court marriage and then we will tell later. They might accept us then or reject us. But if we tell them and try convincing them, they won’t even let us do court marriage. Like I don’t know what all will happen once we tell them.”

“I know that you are right. I am just not able to accept it, that’s all.” Pallavi sighed and laid back on her chair while looking away. “ I am dissolving in this confusion and this struggle of choosing between you and my family. They love me and do whatever to keep me happy. They have spent their whole life while working towards giving us a better home and a better life. How can I just betray them like that?”

“I understand. Even my family have always been so supportive. They are the perfect parents. But our case is just so complicated. Who told you to fall in love with me?” He winked and tried to ease the air.

The waitress brought their food and cappuccinos. 

“Let’s eat first.” They both devoured their sandwiches as if they had been hungry for days and sat taking sips of cappuccino. 

“Let me decide Amir. First of all we have to take care of this situation impending on our heads. What should we do about this guy Ravi? He said yes, and my parents want to take the conversations ahead with his family. Somehow, I will have to say no because that guy won’t say no. If he had to say no, he would not have said yes in the first place.”

“Why don't you tell your mother that even though they have said yes, you need some time to talk to this guy and get to know him a little better. That’s how arranged marriages happen these days anyways. Nobody says yes without getting to know the other person. When your conversations start, tell your parents that he is making absurd conversations and you don't think he is the right choice.”

Pallavi smiled, “not bad Mr Amir. It seems reasonable. Let me try this. It might work out. You don’t mind me talking to him?”

“I mind you marrying him. So talking is fine if that’s going to keep the marriage away.” He smiled.

They left and Pallavi went home.

She reached home around 10:30. Sujata was waiting for her, sitting on the sofa, watching TV.

“What took you so long Pallavi beta? I sent many messages. Where were you?”

Pallavi took her phone out and saw text messages from her mother. “When will you come back?”, “Where are you?” “Why aren’t you replying?” etc.

“Mom I was working. One of the doctors had taken off and I had to fill in for her. I told you I will be late.” Pallavi got irritated. “Why do you worry so much? You know my work is like that, right.”

“Sorry beta. I didn’t get a reply so I was worried. Won’t do it from now on. Actually it’s my mistake, you had told me you will be late. We were all planning how to take things ahead with Ravi’s family. So I thought it would be good to have you as well.”

“Its okay. Yeah about that, Mom I think it would be good if I talk to Ravi for a while and then decide. I don't think it is a good idea to just marry off someone with out even knowing them.” She thought it was a good chance to put in her words. 

“Why do you want to talk to him? You never said this before.” Sujata was surprised at Pallavi’s sudden suggestion.

“Don’t you think it is better that I know him a bit more before deciding or getting married. Right now I don't know what kind of a person he is, what does he like, how he reacts in situations. You think it is a good idea to get married without having zero knowledge about his behaviour, his likings, disliking etc.” Pallavi knew she could convince her mother. She knew she was not being unreasonable.

“Okay beta. I understand actually. I know it happens like this these days. All this just scares me off a bit. If these things get prolonged, it sometimes creates issues also. The families get involved, you two would get involved and it might become messy.”

“Don’t worry Mom. I would be careful. We won’t involve anybody, instead we would just get to know each other better.”

“But what will I say to them now? His mother asked me if you like Ravi and I said yes. I said that we will talk to them about marriage preparations etc. They would feel odd when I tell them this.” 

“It is okay Mom. Tell them that Pallavi wants to know Ravi better before deciding. When she said she liked him, she meant she is ready to take things forward. I misunderstood her and thought she is ready to get married. Let us see what they say. They are a well educated family. I don't think they would mind it much. In fact, I am surprised that this request didn’t come from their side, Ravi’s side I mean.”

“hmm okay. If you say so. I will talk to your father once. Beta, I hope this thing goes well. It is a very nice family.”

“It would be fine Mom. We are also very good people. Don't forget that.”

She kissed her mother on her forehead and went to her room. Pallavi came inside her room and texted Amir. “I told Mom to let me talk to Ravi for a while. She agreed. But I am feeling very bad. They don’t even have the slightest idea that why am I doing this.”

She lied down on her bed to sleep. She thought meanwhile they might find a solution. Maybe her family would agree for Amir and changing her religion to Amir’s or maybe Amir’s family would accept her as who she was. Thinking about all this Pallavi went to sleep.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Marriage I

Rushing for the bus, Sujata looked at her titan watch on her right wrist. She always wore her watch on the right; she said as the right arm was stronger for a right hand person, it was natural. It was already 6 PM. Pallavi and Amit would have already come home, she thought to herself. She dropped them a text saying she was running late, and gave them a list of things that they should get from the market. Then she called her husband Mani, holding the steel pipe that ran across the top of the bus with one hand and the phone in another, she was barely able to manage her balance in the fully crowded DTC bus. Why did she even take DTC in the first place, she should have waited for the private one, she mumbled to herself. Mani’s phone was ringing and as always he picked up after what seemed like an eternity.

“Mani, could you go home early please. It will take me another half an hour. We have to prepare for their arrival.”

“I am almost leaving. What is it that you want me to do? Though it looks like we both would reach at the same time.”

In time of such emergencies, Mani’s spoon fed attitude never amused her.

“Kids would have gotten all the stuff we need. I didn't know I would get so late today. We have to prep for the dinner and snacks. But if you are reaching around the same time, then no point. If you reach early, give me a call.”, she took a deep breath.

“All right. Come home and we will do whatever is required. Don't worry. There is a lot of time.”

“Yeah. I hope they like Pallavi.”

“Yeah, don’t worry. They will. If you make those paneer stuffed samosas, they definitely will”, he giggled.

She smiled and hung up. The scorching summer heat made her sweat, and she wiped her forehead with her saree.

She had no clue why she was so tensed. Pallavi had seen and met many guys, and she didn't like anybody. Sujata was worried. She thought Pallavi had something going on with one of her fellow medical student but when probed upon, she refused clearly, “ I would have told you Mom”, she had said.

Sujata was really counting on that day as the guy was from a very well reputed family. They also lived in Delhi, and had a big house in Lajpat Nagar. They were also baniyas, just like Sujata and Mani. Ravi, the guy who was coming to see Pallavi had just finished MBBS and his elder brother was an Engineer and settled with his family in Mumbai. Both brothers were well educated. Ravi looked tall and handsome from his pictures and as per Sujata’s & Mani’s phone conversations with his parents, they all sounded like good people.

She reached home at 6:40 and Mani had reached home already.

“Have you guys started the preparations?”

“We were just making tea. you want some?”

“Yeah, give me a cup. It was a long day and my head is aching.”, she said while pressing her forehead with her fingers, “tell me, what all you guys have done till now Pallavi”.

“Mom, we got the things as per your list. But we didn't know what exactly you had in mind to do with all that stuff, so we have not started.”, Pallavi said while handing her a cup of tea.

“You have not started!”, her eyes went wide, “ remember I told you all last night what am I planning to do. Nobody around here listen to me.”

“Mom, we will do now. Its not late.” Amit jumped in to soothe his mother.

“Okay, let me have this cup of tea and then we will get started.”

Mani was silent in all this conversation. He knew if he spoke, it would as always go against him. He instead went to the kitchen and started filling water bottles to keep in the fridge.

Sujata went behind him, Amit and Pallavi also followed.

They planned to make paneer stuffed samosas, Shahi Paneer, Dal Makhani, Dum Aloo, jeera rice and chapatis.

Vineet Gupta and his family came at 8 PM. Pallavi was sent to her room to get ready half an hour before.

After glasses of water were passed around, they all went to the dinner table straight away. Generally, Sujata invited the guys family for snacks and tea, but given her current schedule, she was doubtful if she could make it for snacks. So she planned for dinner and a smaller tea ceremony. Calling it a ceremony would not be an exaggeration. If a guys family came to see Pallavi, Sujata would adorn the whole dining table with different kind of snacks, namkeens, sweets, dry fruits and all that she could think of. It was her way of making sure that everything went right.

Pallavi was wearing a pink saree and was trying to adjust it the whole time. It was very obvious that she was very uncomfortable in it. During the dinner, Pallavi and Ravi spoke to each other just 2-3 times. Ravi asked her how her studies were going and when was her final exams. Pallavi didn't ask much. After dinner, Pallavi and Ravi were sent to her room with their tea cups and some biscuits.

Ravi took a chair, and Pallavi sat on her bed side. She was the one who initiated the conversation.

“Look, I don’t know how it would sound, but I can’t get married to you.”

“Are you serious? Then why am I here” Ravi was shocked. A sadness took over his face. He liked Pallavi from the time he saw her photo. She was in a salwar kameez in the picture and her hair fell on the side. That  picture of hers came to his mind when Pallavi said this. When he saw her today, in person, he was sure he would like to marry her. He wanted to talk to her once though before deciding finally.

“Please try and understand me. My parents want me to get married and they have shown me innumerable number of guys. I have said no to all of them by pointing out one thing or the other. They are really excited about you and to be frank, I have nothing in particular to be able to reject you. They might get suspicious if I say no by giving some random excuse. I hope you understand me.”

Ravi looked at her face, and thought that with a strand of hair falling on her forehead, she looked even more beautiful.

“Why don't you want to get married?”

“I have a boyfriend, we both are doing our MBBS together. We want to get married but he is a Muslim. We want to complete our studies first before all this drama start.”

“So what do you want me to do?” He was getting impatient.

“Could you say that you didn't like me. It would really help out. ” She said with a straight face.

“But how can I say that when I do like you.” He said it.

“How can you like me, you just met me? She was exasperated.

“ I don’t know. Sometimes, you just know.”

“Please, please say no.” She thought her pleading might melt him.

“All right.”

Ravi and his parents left there after, promising that they would call and tell them. When they left, Sujata asked Pallavi if she liked the guy with a very hopeful face.

“Yes, mom. He is fine.” Pallavi lied, hoping that Ravi would call and reject her.

Everybody waited for a few days, but nobody called. Sujata called them a few days later, and Ravi’s mother picked up the phone.

“So, we all discussed and we even waited for Ravi’s grand mother to have a look at the girl’s photo, that’s why it took us many days to respond back. We like your daughter and we should think about talking further if you also like our boy.”

“Yes, yes. I asked Pallavi and she likes Ravi. I will tell Mani and then I will ask him to give you a phone call to discuss the things further.” Sujata was on the top of the world.

She called every body in the drawing room to give them the news.

“What’s it Mom? why are you shouting at this hour?” Pallavi said while lying down lazily on the sofa.

“Ravi’s mother was on phone. They said yes.”

Pallavi stood up.  She could not believe what she heard. She asked again, ”what did you say?  they said yes?”

“Yes, beta. They said yes.” She kissed Pallavi on the forehead. “Now I can be tension free. Mani I told them that I will talk to you and you will give them a call to discuss the things further. Why don't you do that early morning.”

“Yes, I am so happy and relieved.” Mani also got up and hugged her wife and daughter. Amit started teasing Pallavi. Pallavi left all of them and went inside her room. She said she had to prepare for a quiz.

She could not believe herself, she had asked Ravi to say no, she had very clearly told him, yet out of no where he said yes. She was mumbling and was very scared and anxious.

She called Amir and told him what happened. He told her not to worry and that they would figure out something.    

Pallavi realised it was going to be harder than she thought.

A Nightmare

I woke up sweating and struggling to breathe. I had the same dream again, I had been left in the market all alone and I could not find any familiar face. I took a few deep breaths and searched for my phone in the dark which I would have thrown on the bed carelessly. After striving for a while, I caught hold of the cold metal, and pressed the home button to see the time; it was 5 AM.

It was still dark outside and a thin streak of cold air was able to enter the room from the narrow gap between the window glass and the wall. I shrugged out of my quilt to close the opening.

My lips were dry and I felt completely dehydrated; I forced myself to go out of my room to get some water from the kitchen. As I took the stairs down to the ground floor of our three bedroom duplex, I saw the light of the master bedroom switched on. My parents were never up so early in the day. I looked at the wall clock hung above the TV to make sure I had seen the time right. 

Their voices coming out of the room made sure that they were up and the light was not left on just by mistake. It seemed as if they are fighting. I went upstairs and picked up A Pale View of Hills. I could not turn even a single page.

I remembered the day they had come to the orphanage and the sister had told me that they would like to adopt me. I was seven then. When I laid eyes on my mother, she started walking towards me, with small steps, trying not to scare me off. She bent down on her knees to make levels with me, asked my name and before I could reply, embraced me in a gentle warm hug. I was surprised, I saw her crying, little drops of water streaming down her cheeks. Her nose had turned red. Her face was round and her dark brown hair floated around her. She stroked my hair gently and caressed my back. 

I felt as if she understood me and was making up for everything by weeping gently. The thought of going away with them and staying with them made me happy. I never felt abandoned, scared or alone, except in my dreams once they bought me home.

I couldn’t sleep. 

Those cold nights in the orphanage, when one of us would burst out crying in the middle of the night, came back to me. I did what I used to do in the orphanage to put myself to sleep, I started counting from 1 to 100. I had reached 99 but I was still trying to figure out why they were fighting. 

I woke up with a headache and with the book lying on top of me. I was late for my Russian literature class. I would only get to the university by noon now. I brushed my teeth looking at the Golden Shower tree right out of my window that stood tall and in full blossom. I came down to find my parents sitting at the dining table. They both looked exhausted, as if they hadn’t slept the whole night. 

“Good morning, papa. How come you are still at home? I also missed my morning class.”

“Sit down, Nitu, there is something you need to know. “

“What happened Papa?”, I was worried as my mother was staring at the dining table, lost in thoughts. She didn’t look at me even once.

“I have decided something and before everything starts, I thought it would be best to tell you. I am leaving your mother.”

My throat parched, and my head started spinning.

“What? What are you saying Papa? Why? Please don't joke with me. Mummy, is this true? Mummy? Mummy?” Mummy didn't reply. I went to her and held her by her shoulders and shook her but she didn’t reply. Her eyes were full of tears. 

I felt as if I was going to be sick. Everything around me was spinning. I clutched a chair and sat down.

I felt as if I was in the orphanage again. 

I always wished to have parents when I was in the orphanage. Whenever I saw a mother carrying her child or a father buying ice-cream for his children, I used to feel heavy. 

How could it work if they separated? Didn’t they know that I could not afford to lose a family again? 

I remember the day I came to my parent's house. They asked me where I wanted to go. 

“Beach.” I had said happily. 

At the beach they bought me balloons, an ice gola, coconut juice. We walked on the wet sand. 
Mummy, papa and I watched the sunset holding hands. That was one of the best days of my life.

Now they wanted to get a divorce? 

They both seemed fine to me, Mummy was still fixing all meals for me everyday. She never forgot about my exams, dance performances, badminton matches, and sometimes even my friend’s birthdays. Papa was still giving me pocket money, and he never forgot even the tiniest of the things he promised me. 

Mummy loved papa, I knew that even if she always gave me priority over everything. I was not that busy to have missed my parent’s marriage falling apart. 

“Mom, please tell me why are you separating? You don't even fight much.”

“We do, Nitu. You might not have seen it”, she said.

“No, I have never seen you both fighting. I know something has happened which you are not telling me.”

“Nitu, it is not something that I can tell you.

“Your mother won’t tell you anything. She’s very good at keeping secrets.” 

Papa’s tone was bitter. I had never heard him speak that way. 

I was scared and for the first time, I felt that something had really gone bad. Papa took out a whiskey bottle from his bar. He made a drink and put four ice cubes from his small fridge kept in the bar. 

 “Papa, what has happened? Why are you both talking in this manner?"

“Nitu, you are big now. I think I should tell you. Your mother had an affair. Not now, more than 20 years back. She says it was because I was busy.” He looked at her with anguish and took a big sip of his drink.

“It’s not possible. What are you saying, papa? I am sure there is some confusion. We both know she will never do something like that.”

He looked at me intently, “beta, I no longer know who can do what and what not.”

“Will you please tell me clearly what’s happening. I am very confused.” 

I felt as if my head would burst.

“She had an affair with my best friend, Mahesh, when I was away on business to Delhi. ” 

I gasped for air. 

“Not only that, she was pregnant with his child. She had a miscarriage. She lost his baby and maybe that is why we never had a baby.” He gulped down some more whiskey.

“Papa, what are you saying? I don't believe it. Mummy, is this true?”

Mummy, draped in her red sari, stood in the kitchen now serving poha on to a plate. It was for me, I realised. Her eyes flowed with tears. “Is this true what papa is saying? I don’t believe it. Please tell me this is not true”.

She nodded her head.

“But when did all this happen?”, I sobbed.

"It was almost 12 years back", papa said angrily. 

“Why are you both talking about it now? It was long back.”

“I wish I had never found this out. Mahesh shifted to another town long back, and I understand now why.  He sent her a letter, maybe his last one, I don't know. I got it amongst her papers in her cupboard”.

“Please don't be angry with me. Don't think that I have betrayed you. I know I have hurt your father a lot. I have lived in guilt for years. “, mummy kept sobbing.

“You had someone else’s child inside you.”, Papa shouted. He poured himself another full glass of whiskey. 

“Papa, please don't drink so much.”

Papa just looked at me and said, “When we separate, with whom do you want to live, your mother or me?”


Standing in his garden, Satish looked at the servant’s quarter from a distance. It was a Monday night. His daughter, Mini, was inside the quarter, as every Monday she was invited to dinner by Bhaiyyan, his full time help at his Kirana store. Before she left for the dinner, Satish had asked Mini to go out with him to the chaat shop but Mini refused saying she would get late for the dinner. 

He walked towards the quarter; he wanted to figure out what was it that they ate or what did they talk about that made Mini so fond of those Monday dinner invitations. The main door of the quarter was left open ajar. It surprised him that his wife, Rama, who was so careful and over protective when it came to Mini, was not keeping an eye on them. She was away from the quarter, sitting inside the house, and digesting her dinner with a cup of ginger tea.

When he walked inside the quarter, he found them sitting on the floor, in the kitchen and eating with their hands. Bhaiyyan was saying something and Mini was laughing, waiting to put the next morsel in her mouth. 

“Sahab, please come. Have dinner.”

“No, no. You guys eat, I have already had dinner. I just wanted to check when will Mini be done. Her mother was asking. But seems like it is going to take some time.”, Satish said looking at Mini who was still giggling. 

While putting another morsel in her mouth, Mini rejected the idea of going home.

“I just came. I am going to be here for a while. I have not even eaten yet.”

He assured him that she could stay longer and finish her dinner properly. 

Satish looked at the aluminium plate in which Mini was eating. Her plate was filled with steamed rice and a potato curry was spread over the rice; a half peeled raw onion was kept on the side. Satish remembered the day when Mini did not eat the fried rice that Rama made at home as it had onion. He had never seen her take a piece of chapati with her hand, and either Rama or he himself used to break the chapati into pieces for her. Here she was eating mouthfuls of rice with her hand. He thought he would go home and tell Rama about it. He was sure she would never believe him.

They continued eating, laughing and Mini was doing most of the talking. Bhaiyyan spoke less and kept smiling. 

Satish thought it would be best if he just left them at their dinner and went home. It was a long day for him and his mind was very tired from all the contemplation he had been doing since yesterday.

He was returning to the shop after his lunch yesterday, when he saw someone leaving. He saw Bhaiyyan keeping some money in the right pocket of his white kurta. Satish thought that Bhaiyyan might have put it by mistake and he would put it back in the drawer, so he stood there for five minutes and waited. But Bhaiyyan didn't keep the money in the drawer. Satish was shocked. 

He had noticed some mismatch in the accounts and the supplies at the middle of the month, but he was not sure as it had never happened before. After seeing this, he wanted to check the accounts once more to be sure. 

He rechecked the sales last night and tallied them against the sales numbers as per the supply and availability records. There was a mismatch of five thousand rupees. 

He was very sceptical now; he didn't want to believe what seemed to be true. He didn’t tell anybody and decided that he would observe for a few more days before making up his mind. 

Every day Satish went home for lunch and Bhaiyyan was responsible for the shop in his absence. He spent almost half an hour at lunch and it took him another ten minutes to commute back to the shop. So, overall, he was away for approximately an hour from the shop. 

Next day onwards, Satish started finishing his lunch in fifteen minutes. He would walk back to the shop, and when he would be close enough, he stood on the side and observed Bhaiyyan. Every time a customer left, Bhaiyyan kept the money in his kurta and never kept it in the drawer. When it had been about an hour since he left for lunch, Satish would go inside the shop and ask him if there were any sales. Bhaiyyan promptly said no, and sometimes he showed a bill of some small amount. Then he cribbed about how down the market was and it would pick up after the summers. 

Bhaiyyan had been working for him for almost five years now. Satish had taken him in when he had come to find a job in Meerut. Bhaiyyan had no work in his home town, a small village near Patna, and he left his family behind to work and earn in Meerut, as many of his other friends had done. Satish kept him at his shop, explained the work to him and gave him his servant quarter to stay. He was paying him a good salary, and often Rama would even give him some food. They would invite him home for festivals and he would sit along with them for poojas and other rituals. Satish thought of him as a part of their family. 

Bhaiyyan also used to take Mini to school whenever she missed her school bus. On her holidays, she played with Bhaiyyan, rode around on his cycle, and would also go to the shop with him. 

Satish thought he would try one final thing before deciding.

One day when he came back for lunch, he straight away went to Bhaiyyan’s quarter and started searching it. Rama came to ask what he was doing and he sent her back to the house and assured that he would tell her later. He knew that Bhaiyyan used to send all his money home except keeping a very small amount for himself. He had food, a place to stay and there was nothing more he needed the money for. Satish searched the whole quarter but could not find anything. He thought maybe Bhaiyyan was carrying all the money everyday in his kurta. It did not seem possible though. Bhaiyyan would not take the risk of getting mugged. So there was no other place to keep the money apart from his quarter. He was confused and  hungry.

Satish thought of going back to the house and having lunch. The more he stayed away from the shop, the more he was loosing. He came out and found that it was raining. He had to go to the house from the quarter. He had seen Bhaiyyan’s umbrella inside so he went to take it. He opened the umbrella and suddenly money showered on him.

He got his last proof. Satish counted the money and it was a little more than five thousand. 

He went home and told Rama everything. 

Next day by the time Mini came back from school, Bhaiyyan had already left. Mini asked Satish about Bhaiyyan at lunch. He told her that his family needed him so he left. Satish consoled her as she cried, she said she could not even say good bye to him.