Thursday, 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Sunita Singh


                                        The Great Indian Wedding Tamasha

 I was born to a doting father and a strict mother. My brothers doted on me too, since I was the youngest, my sisters were also fond of me, but felt I needed to be disciplined, since I always had a ready answer for everything. Infact my mother and sisters often said that my tongue was like a sharp pair of scissors. I was pampered so much by my father that I could speak my mind without any fear. Infact he encouraged me to speak up. Once, when I was just seven-eight years old, I had accompanied my parents and their friends to lunch while on a vacation to Nainital. The Boat House Club was a favourite and I was busy watching the lake from the deck. The emerald waters of the Naini lake looked beautiful, the colourful boats and the joyful voices of people and the graceful white swans, was a pleasant sight. Suddenly, one of my parents’ friends, a lady famous for being brusque teased me by saying that I had not greeted her and called me a ‘witch’. True to my nature, I did not bat an eye and immediately retorted, “Why are you calling me a witch, you are one, I greeted you, but you were busy talking”. The lady did not know what to say but everyone else burst out laughing at my boldness, also secretly happy, since she was very rude to people.

l also had a peculiar problem, the moment I was told to do something, my brain went into a questioning mode. I always wanted to know the ‘why’ behind every diktat, though gradually as I grew older, I softened my tone and would sugar coat my whys. But the questions always remained in my mind.
Anyhow, I grew up and it was time for me to get married. The parents started looking for a match. There were a few proposals and one of them was an Indian Administrative Service officer. My father was very keen on this, although I was not. I didn’t want to live in some godforsaken place with a ‘lalbatti gaadi’ and meeting the same people again and again. But I loved my father very much and in deference to his wishes decided to meet the family and boy in question. We had to go out of town to meet the boy and his family and all the arrangements were made. My mother made sure that I carried sarees to wear in front of the boy’s family, which I found too filmy, since I usually wore jeans and salwar kurtas, but obviously had to give in to my mother’s wishes.
The day of the meeting arrived; my parents were nervous, my mother specifically, but I wasn’t. I was curious to meet and talk to the boy. As soon as I came out dressed in a dark green plain chiffon saree, my mother threw a fit. I had been down with malaria for almost a month and my face looked, pale, dark and wan. The dark saree did not do anything for my complexion. Besides, I had not even worn lipstick. My reason was that I wanted the family to see me at my simplest and reminded my mother how often she had stressed that simplicity brought out the natural beauty of a girl. Well, my mother kept quiet after that.
The boy with his parents and his married sister came to meet us. I was amused to see that he was so shy that he did not even lift his eyes to look at me and instead of the boy, the sister took me aside to talk in private! How funny was that! I wanted to ask if I would get married to the sister! I was also very angry that the boy and his family had presumed that I had no say in the matter, it was his choice which mattered. Besides, a marriage which was only based on how a person looked, instead of knowing about the person, was not what I believed in.  I felt that I was on display, and that he was cocky enough to think that he was obviously the best. I looked at the sister dressed in a heavy banarsi saree in the afternoon and gave one negative mark to that. I would not be caught dead wearing such a saree in the middle of a warm afternoon! Well, the banarsi saree clad sister in a very condescending manner asked me my hobbies - a question I hated, because my hobby was to just lie on the bed and read, apart from that I loved to swim. For a minute I deliberated, but let it go with a decent answer.  I also noticed that she was trying to peer into my face to see if I had applied make-up or not. I was miffed but could not be rude. She asked me, “Have you done Masters”?
My answer was short. “No”.
Next, she said, “Oh, so you are doing Masters”
Again, my answer was to the point, “No”
She persisted, “So, you are planning to do Masters.”
I replied a trifle tersely, “No”.
This was accompanied by a full-throated laughter, which I had been trying hard to suppress. My mother turned around sharply to look at me, I could not catch her expression, since I was too busy watching the sister who had turned red with anger or embarrassment or a bit of both, I did not know, nor did I care.
That was the end of an IAS match, thankfully. Though my mother gave me a lecture that night about how I must learn to fit in and that it would still take time for the society to change, which I heard from one ear and out from the other. My father did not seem to mind much, since there had also been some talk about the gifts which I would bring, and my father disapproved of marrying his darling daughter to a greedy family.


Next came a high-flying Investment Banker from New York. The family was settled in United States. I could not see mysef talking only in a distorted version of the Queen’s language. Besides, there would not be any helpers or any family or friends. I protested but my parents told me to meet the family and the boy who was visiting India, and only then decide.
When the day arrived, my mother was aghast to see me dressed in jeans and made it clear that I would have to change. After a bit of an argument we reached a middle point, I would be allowed to wear a salwar kurta in case I did not want to wear a saree.
I heaved a sigh of relief.
The family was very nice, and this time thankfully, the boy wanted to talk to me and so we went out into the verandah, which was adjacent to the living room, to talk in private.
The boy did not know a word of Hindi. He would never come back to India. I did not want to leave India. The boy tried to reason, “You know we celebrate all the festivals there just like India”
I was not convinced, “Yes, but do you think you are Indian - no, your ideas and your way of thinking is different from average Indians here”.
“But we have the best of both worlds”
I was at it again, the rebel in me wanted to have the last word, “ Well, with due respect, I think you are confused, you are not an Indian, because most of you think you are superior and nor are you an American, because they will never accept you as one.”
“You have pretty strong views for a person who looks so coy”.
“Well, looks can be deceptive, haven’t you heard?” accompanied by a full-throated laughter again.
Strangely, the boy liked me very much, but wanted me to take the final call. My mother was very happy but when she found out I was not eager, she first tried to convince “You can always, after a few years, ask him to come back. Men listen to their wives”.
“What!! There is no guarantee, besides he will never come. How will you talk, he talks only in heavy accented English” I retorted.
Then, my mother tried insult, “You think you are very beautiful or what. Your father has spoiled you. You will never get a better match, rejecting proposals like that, who do you think you are, Madhubala?”
Silence was the only way to deal with such jibes. The brothers and sisters too tried their bit. I listened to everyone. In the end it was the humble dhoti-clad astrologer, Tiwariji, who I used to make fun of, who came to my rescue.  The horoscopes were not so well-matched after all. I heaved a sigh of relief. Suddenly, I felt so much love for our old helper, Billu, with whom I was always at loggerheads and who carried tales about me to my mother. But, for some strange reason my mother did not speak to me properly for almost a month.

Finally, six months later, my mother’s ‘poojas’ for my marriage, bore fruit and I met the guy I would marry. He proposed to me, I found him to be ideal for me and before much thought, my parents got me married off.

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