With his assurance that he won’t let her fall, she was relaxed. She smiled and turned to flash that smile for him. He grinned.
“Ready?” He whispered, taking a deep breath.
Her heart was beating hard when she whispered back, slightly singing her response, “I think soooo…”
“Let’s face it, then!” He chuckled.
“Yeah!” She sighed.
The wedding ceremony began with the bride and the groom formally accepting each other by rose garlands. He was too tall for her and none of them were wearing shoes. Her brothers had to lift her when Manik raised his neck further, making it almost impossible for her to put a garland around his neck.
She squeezed her eyes once threatening him of consequences for troubling her. He smirked so slightly that only she could notice it.
After the garland ceremony, they were asked to sit down before the holy fire to follow the rituals. Swarna applied ‘tilak‘ on Manik’s forehead. One of his sisters knelt down behind them and tied Manik’s sash to free end of Nandini’s dupatta.
The priest asked Manik to stretch his hand with his palm opened. Manik sincerely stretched his right hand between them, before Nandini’s father, Dev, was asked to hold her hand and give it in Manik’s hand. When her heavily decorated and bejewelled mehendi patterned hand was given in his hand, asking him to promise that he will never leave this hand in this life, Manik became serious for a moment. He was bent towards her and before her, with her hand in his hand. As if on cue, he turned to throw a quick glance at her. And right then, he found her looking at his eyes at almost the same time.
There was not even a single word exchanged between them but this connect, this wordless communication, this subtle moment where they were just the two of them… and both knew that somehow this marriage was going to be very different from what they had been thinking.
It was never going to be as simple as they had hoped for it to be…
She lowered her eyes and sighed. He found his eyes stuck on those lowered eyes, decorated heavily. Confused, he turned his eyes away to focus on the rituals. Both their hands were then tied together, using a pink scarf with red kumkum, rice grains and flowers between them.
They were asked to follow the holy vedic recitals of mantras and make promises one by one before the assembly of Gods, members of their families, friends and relatives and the holy fire. And they followed. Both of them went along with what they were asked to do… by every word, every step and recited each mantra with utmost sincerity and dedication.
A row of promises were made. A series of vows taken.
He was asked to promise that he will stand by her through every phase of their life together. She was asked to promise that she will keep her husband as her first priority in every situation, every circumstances. They affirmed that they will abide by every promise they make today.
After that, they were asked to take seven rounds around the sacred nuptial fire, making seven promises to each other, taking seven ‘traditional’ vows of a Hindu marriage ceremony. Each mantra, shloka in Sanskrit tranlasted by the priest to them. With every round, every ‘phera‘ around the sacred fire, they took one step closer to each other.
It was a weird feeling. A strange phenomenon, tying them together, not just for this life, but beyond that, if their priest was to be believed.
They sat down again. Nandini felt goosebumps when Manik’s hands touched her neck to tie the mangalsutra, a symbol of his promises to her, a symbol of her conversion of status from a ‘Murthy’ to ‘Malhotra’ from now. When he filled her hair parting with red colour vermilion, he looked at her face. She knew that his eyes were on her and she dared not open her eyes to look at him at this point. It was too intimidating a moment for her. For him, as well.
It was a moment, too emotional, not only for her and him, but for her entire family. The daughter they had brought up with so much love and care, so much affection and pampering was now leaving them for stranger shores. It was overwhelming.
They stood up to take blessings from the priest and touched feet of their elders.Nandini’s father hugged Manik and with a choked throat, he asked her to take care of his Nandu. “She has always been a little doll to us. Please see to it that she stays happy.”
Manik smiled subtly and assured him, “I will never let her cry!”
Everyone was happy at this small sentence, a word of assurance from their son-in-law. Only Nandini knew what he meant by this. He was never going to let her cry as he couldn’t handle it. In fact, just last night he had asked her to not cry even at ‘bidaai‘ and she had fought with him.
Nandini heard it and rolled her eyes at that, slightly turning to him and twisted her lips in appreciation of his choice of words. Manik smirked slightly and winked.
The priest blessed them and finally declared them – Man & Wife!!
“How many more rituals to go… by God???!!” Manik complained in a frustrated voice, when his parents made them sit in the hotel room and performed welcome ceremony for her. They had left the wedding venue with her family in tears and Nandini emotional and teary eyed. The ‘bidaai’ had happened late at night, soon after the marriage as they were leaving for his ancestral home in Lucknow, where his parents and extended family lived.
“We need to perform the basic pujas…” His mother reasoned with him in a calm tone, knowing very well that he would become angry if they didn’t hurry up. She placed a lot of wrapped goodies, gifts and gold jewellery in Nandini’s lap and made her wear the traditional bangles, his grandma had given her.
“Mom, it is already 2:30 am… I mean, do you want to go on for the entire night??” He grumbled.
Nandini sat quiet, with her head lowered and eyes fixed at things in her lap. Her entire body aching under the weight of jewellery, garlands, flowers, bun, wedding attire etc etc.
“Look at her! She is not complaining, though more burdened and tired than you!” His mom scolded him.
His masi, Meera masi, stepped ahead and came right before him, and lowered to give gift to Nandini. In a low voice, she teased them, “I’ll ask di to hurry up, okay! I know why you are getting so impatient…”
Her tease was enough to mortify Nandini and embarrass Manik. Meera made another teasing remark and left them. Manik slightly bent towards Nandini and whispered, “She is my masi.”
“The one you were talking about in that Bengali restaurant?”
“Yeah. Anyway, she is crazy. Ignore her.”
“Trust me, she is not even a fraction of how crazy my masi is!”
He smirked at that. A tiresome routine of Punjabi rituals was followed by small games, teasings, advises and a shower of gifts before they were taken to their room. It was already 3:30 am by then.
Manik’s masi and sisters and cousins took Nandini to their room and made her sit on the decorated bed and teased her endlessly.
When Manik left his cousins and uncles and relatives to be finally left alone in his room, his brother-in-law Akhil called him, “Hey Manik…”
His older sister Gaurvi was four years older to him and already married. She had a baby of two and a half years old. Her husband Akhil and Manik gelled well and were found hanging out together at all social gatherings as both found them awkward. Manik was closer to Akhil than anyone else in their family.
“Hey buddy… no more talks…I’m going now!” Manik raised his hands in air.
Akhil winked and hugged him, “I’m not here to talk. I’m just here to help.”
“Help?” Manik asked while patting his back, wondering why was Akhil whispering. Before he could ask more, Akhil put his hand in his pocket and slipped in Manik’s hand a pack of 4 condoms.
“What the…” Manik was flabbergasted and about to say something, when Akhil interrupted him, “I don’t know if you have protection with you but you might need it…”
“Bro… one second…” Manik tried to stop him.
Akhil smirked knowingly, “Come on, don’t be shy. You should always be braced with protection… you never know how things turn…”
Manik tilted his neck and made a terrible face, scaring Akhil for a moment, before Akhil burst into laughter, “My God! I thought you were a stud… but look at you… so shy!”
“Yeah…whatever…!!!” Manik rolled his eyes, thrust the pack in the pocket of his sherwani and dodged every obstacle in form of sisters and cousins and aunts to enter the room…. finally!!!
The moment he entered inside the room, he closed the door behind him and locked it. “Phewww!!!” He made a desperate sound of relief.
Nandini got down from the bed and removed her dupatta from her face, and almost whined, “Finally!!! I’ve been waiting for you since ages, Manik!”
He took a deep breath, walking inside the room, throwing a glance at the closed door and signifying his relatives, he nodded, “I could guess that!”
“No… you have NO idea… Ohhh maaaa….!!!” She stretched her back and bent sideways on both sides, “What exactly was this??”
“Three days of torture!”
“Touche… I was about to say the same…” Her face showed how terribly exhausted she was. She had been sweating due to the effect of the heavy attire, almost reddened at neck and face due to scratches from her heavy jewellery and appeared to be in pain.
“Tired?” He asked in a sympathetic tone.
Without thinking, she spoke, “Tired…as f…. oh, whatever!!!”
She stopped herself right in time, and didn’t use the ‘F’ word before him but he understood and smirked at that. She was one and only girl he had ever met who was non pretentious till the last fibre in her infrastructure. She spoke what she had in mind, she behaved as per her likes, and she never tried to impress anyone… at least not him.
It was such a huge relief!
He would have been a mess if he had married a girl who would have been clingy and pretentious, trying to be goody-good and nice to him, trying to impress him.
“Go to sleep, then!” He suggested, taking out his night wear from his luggage. She turned to her luggage and nodded, “Do you mind, if I use the washroom first?”
He smirked, “Because you don’t like to step after someone uses the washroom? You told me that day!”
She laughed candidly at that, “Oh you remember?! No…no… it’s not like that… I can adjust… It’s just that I’m too worned out by this attire and jewellery and I can’t wait to get rid of it.”
He shrugged and smiled, “Go ahead!”
She pulled out a casual tee shirt and cotton pyjama and went inside the washroom. Manik emptied the contents of his sherwani near the bedside table – his phone, wallet, some sacred things like threads and cardamom… and of course, condoms.
When she came out of the washroom, he entered it and closed the door behind him. She dumped all of her heavy stuff on the spare couch in the room, finishing the trial by removing the bangles and other jewellery, she decided to place it on the bedside table to keep it safe. Wiping her face with a hand towel, she reached the bed, sat on the edge and removed the towel from her face to make place on the table, only to meet the horror – a pack of 4.
With eyes almost popped out and heart beating hard, respiration erratic and lips tormented, she stared at them for almost 30 seconds and wondered what the guy had in mind on first night of their marriage.
Quickly, she removed her jewellery and ducked herself inside the duvet on the other side of the bed, pushing herself to the farthest edge, to leave almost 90% of the bed area free. She closed her eyes and stayed still.
It became a test of patience to remain still, when she heard the sound of door opening. He stepped out wearing his white tee shirt with black track pants. He wasn’t surprised to find her ducked inside the quilt, given the way she had been tired. But when he found her jewellery by the bed side table, her bangles, ear rings, anklets, nose piece and necklaces, his eyes rested on the proud pack lying on one side.
He opened his mouth wide and pressed his lips together, making weird faces, wondering if she saw them or missed them… ‘Shit…. Shit…. Shittttt….’ This is exactly what she must be thinking about me…
He cursed Akhil massively and slipped inside the duvet, closest to his edge on this side… leaving almost 50% space of the bed between them. He tossed in bed for some time, switched the AC on, which both had forgotten, switched off the lights and tossed in bed once again. She stayed still for this time, hoping for sleep to fall on her soon.
He couldn’t stop himself anymore. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep unless he clarified, “Listen…” He whispered.
She couldn’t stop herself anymore, as well. She turned to him and blurted, almost anxious and at the speed of lightening, “Listen Manik… I don’t know what you are thinking… I mean… we don’t even know each other… I mean… we just met three weeks back and met only 3 times before our parents got us married… it was too quick for both of us… and I know what you are thinking… but… you know… the circumstances and the way we got married…”
He was dumbfounded for a moment, before he stretched ahead and placed his hand on her mouth, in dark. They could see only each other’s eyes in the faint night lamp near the door. When she was aptly stopped, he spoke, “Oh My God!! For last few hours, I had nearly forgotten whom I got married to… Mannnnn!!! No…. no….. You talk this much??? Always???”
He whispered, in a soft tone, “God save me, then!!”
“How mean!” Her muffled voice below his hand on her mouth echoed.
“By the way… I’m aware how we met and got married. Relax! I didn’t bring them. Someone just gave them to me, a while back!”
She removed his hand, from her mouth, and sighed, “Thank God. Throw them tomorrow.”
“Throw them?” He appeared nearly shocked to hear that and returned to his side with a smirk and a tease.
“What?? Don’t tell me that you plan to use them…Err… Do you??”
He chuckled, with another irritating tease, “Such things are not planned… Nandu…”