They were two individuals, belonging to two entirely different worlds and were not yet ready to form one distinct Universe of their own.
Marrying each other appeared to be a better prospect than a tiring routine of meeting a row of prospective boys and girls and letting their parents down every moment. At least, they had liked each other enough, to consider living together till they achieved their dreams.
They were two different worlds… variedly different likes and dislikes, personalities and choices, professions and hobbies… but their opinion on marriage and achieving their career ambitions matched. And they picked up the thread from there, making vows of their own. promising to stick to their rules.
A series of celebrations started on both the sides. Mehendi ceremony and Haldi were done and so was the Sangeet with relatives and friends shaking a leg to welcome new members in their families on both the sides.
Manik and his family reached Mumbai two days before the wedding. Nandini’s family played a perfect host for them.
The night before the wedding, Nandini developed cold feet. She had been nervously fiddling through her things in her almirah, trying to skim through the stuff, in case she was forgetting something behind, to be taken away with her.
Everything! Her heart told her. She was leaving behind… everything!!
Her dolls… stuffed toys, she had collected since childhood and then every little thing that added to her life as a part of growing up from a small baby to a teenager and then a grown up woman… her diaries, slambooks, favourite novels, cards from friends and cousins… Virat Kohli’s poster on her wall near the almirah… the wind chimes she had bought at Surajkund art fair at Faridabad when she had attended Pulse at AIIMS, Delhi… the paper lanterns she had made with her cousins, now hanging by her window…and the fairy lights she had envied at her friend’s home, to be gifted by another friend on her birthday… her favourite mugs, pen-holder standing proud on her study table, along with carefully curated pens, pencils, fancy sharpeners … scented flowers in a glass jar near the window sill… fluffy cushions on her bed… her dresses…her stoles… her accessories… the dream catcher hanging near her bed… the brown monkey with a yellow nose, shaped alarm clock, she had hated all her life but kept by her bed just because papa had given it to her… the soft knit shawl woven by her mother… ‘jojo’ – the teddy bear her little brother, aged ten years, had brought for her from nani’s house in Kolkata when she couldn’t go last year due to exam…
Nandini had tears in her eyes…
She wanted to carry each and every thing with her in her new home. She lay her hand on one thing and then shifted it to another… every article, every thing had a story behind it… each piece was special to her. Finally, she held the shawl made by her mom; jojo, the teddy bear; and the monkey of an alarm clock. The stupid grin on his monkey face brought smile to her lips through the tears she was shedding.
Rest of the things, she couldn’t carry. She had to leave them.
I’ll miss all of you…
And this room too…
The room that she had lived in for twenty six years breathed in the scent that she had infused in it all these years with her fine touch in every little thing. And now she was going to live with Manik, leaving behind her material possessions, to be carried in form of memories…
Her phone rang. The caller id displayed the name – Manik.
“Hey!” His voice had been a little confused. More than it should have been, the way he had proposed their marriage to be.
“Hi!” She wiped her tears. “How are you?”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you, when I called… but wait…hey, were you crying?” He lifted a brow.
No point telling him. He had earlier specified on TWO occasions about how he was a lost case when people cried before him.
She didn’t expect him to talk to her or console her. In fact, the way it had been fixed, she expected nothing from him. Her image of a stranger had been a bit cruel and indifferent. People were harsh to women they married, if they didn’t love them, she had always assumed, thanks to Hindi movies and Hindi Tv shows and also random women telling about her issues at the hospital.
Thankfully, Manik didn’t appear to be one of them.
It was more than enough for her that they were cordial with each other and neither rude, nor aloof like she had hoped of a husband out of an arranged marriage, rather, a marriage which was more of an arrangement merely out of convenience.
He was nice. He was human.
“Were you crying?” He asked.
“Hmm… what will you do if I tell you that I was crying?”
“Please tell me that you were not!” He spoke in a serious tone.
“Nandini, I’ve called to ask you to not cry even tomorrow, after ‘bidai’... you see, what happens is that brides usually start crying at that time, making it awkward for the families on both sides and then the groom is left gawking in embarrassment. I don’t know what I would do, if you cry.”
She rolled her eyes, and spoke one word at a time, in an irritated tone, “How. Very.Rude!!”
“I’m just being a bit practical…” He chuckled.
“Manik Malhotra, didn’t we make a deal that we will not interfere in each other’s business, won’t tell the other what to do and what not to do?”
“Yeahhhh… we did…”
“So stay away… and remember all the rules…”
“I remember each rule, each vow, by heart…”
“Good! Please don’t tell me what I am supposed to do tomorrow… I WILL cry…”
“No wayyyy!! Mannn… you can’t do that…”
“That’s MY day and you can’t stop me from crying… I will do as it pleases me…”
“Why is everyone determined to make it tough for me??? Why??? Already I’m dealing with so much…such silly rituals around me – never-ending rituals, to add to that… and you have no idea what not they have applied to me… yellow, red, green colour things…”
He spoke in such a helpless tone that she couldn’t stop giggling. She wiped her tears and listened to him while he grumbled in one more sentence how he hated it all.
“It’s once in a lifetime thing, Manik… enjoy it!!” She spoke without even thinking twice about it. Soon, she realised the gravity of it and her heart made ‘thud‘ sounds, one after the other, leaving it pacing fast.
He pressed his lips and sighed, “Hmm!”
“Manik…” She had to raise this doubt.
“Are we doing right? Will we be able to manage?” She asked him.
He took a deep breath. “I hope so…”
“What does that mean?”
“It means – I don’t know, Nandini. I don’t know about the lifetime… I don’t know about tomorrow… all I can say is that at least we know our strengths and weaknesses. I will try my best not to become a typical husband…”
“I will try to do the same…” She murmured slowly.
“What? You’re not sure? Listen, we still have time…almost 24 hours…”
“Heyyyy!!!” She was back in form, “Are you silly? I’ve had a broken marriage before, 24 hours before the wedding. I can’t do that to me or parents anymore… and dare if you try to back off, now…”
“Oops! I’m scared!! Threat and all?? What will you do if I back off right now??”
“I will hunt you down, kidnap you and make you marry me, on gunpoint!” She grit her teeth.
He laughed at that, so heartily that she could feel the thrill reach her through the phone, “Woman, you are crazy! Do you even hear what you speak??”
“Nandu… are you sleeping beta…” Her masi called as she came in.
Manik heard that voice, “Nandu?? Your name is Nandu??”
“What is it with you? You shouldn’t eavesdrop!”
“Tell me…Is that you??”
Nandini tried to cut it short, “Manik, I’ll talk to you later.’
Masi had now reached right by her side, “Nandu, stop talking on phone and talk to me. I’ve come to talk to you about something really very important.”
Manik chuckled to tease her, “I got that right. You are Nandu…”
She forced a smile for her masi and quickly disconnected saying, “Okay, bye!”
Manik laughed again. He didn’t know how life would be with this little girl but one thing was sure that she knew how to make simple things exciting.
“What?” Nandini disconnected the phone call and folded her hands to stare at her Priyanka masi who was the youngest of her mom’s siblings and was only 39 years old. She was considered friend of the younger generation. She used to be the mediator sometimes when there were issues between parents and kids in their family.
Like all weddings, even this time, she was doing things which mothers would find a bit embarrassing like advising Nandini to get waxed from head to toe and telling her about fine details of things after marriage, ‘how to’ and ‘what to’ and ‘what not to…’
Nandini was majorly irritated with her as they argued on almost everything. Priyanka masi had rolled her eyes when she found Nandini keeping casual tee shirts, pyjamas and shorts as night wear. In fact, she was solely responsible for all the hush-hush stuff which was added later, like sexy nighties, lingerie, shorties, lacey nothings… Nandini had buried her face in her palms when masi explained how important it was for a woman to appear desirable to her husband.
Later that night, Nandini had sneaked that stuff out and replaced it with her casuals, pyjamas and cotton tee shirts.
It happened every day with masi interfering in everything. With her aunts giggling and mom blushing, there was nothing left in Nandini’s life that was called ‘personal’…
Obviously, Nandu was angry.
Masi gave her a wide smile and raised her brows, “You were talking to Manik, right? Arrey, you are getting married tomorrow. Talk to him as much as you want from tomorrow… today, I need your time.”
“What happened?” Nandini drew the curtains and stepped on her bed for one last time, feeling the warmth of the quilt around her.
Masi held her face in her hands and sighed, “My doll is looking so pretty. Protect her from every evil eye, God.”
“Masi…” Nandu huffed.
She sat down on the bed, mysteriously looking here and there and then whispered, “Shona, this is the last time, I get this opportunity to give you an important advice… later you will only call for advices…”
“What?” Nandini squeezed her eyes, hoping for another embarrassing insight from masi and took a sip from the water bottle kept by her bedside.
“Woh… have you two talked about contraception?”
“What???!!!” Nandini was about to sputter the water in her mouth. With great difficulty she swallowed it and coughed after that.
“What do you mean? You haven’t??? Oh maaa…I told Swarna di that we need to talk to Nandu sooner… but she was feeling awkward… so I came… Listen Shona, these things are casually discussed and assumed ‘done’ beforehand… But it’s not your fault… It’s expected in a love marriage but when it is arranged, we can understand that you couldn’t open up with him. And then the wedding was fixed so soon… I mean, you got only one week…”
Masi was speaking and Nandini was staring at her with eyes widened, with a single blink…
“So, you know what all methods to use?”
Nandini cleared her throat, and tried to remind her, “Masi, if you remember, I am a gynaecologist?? I advise people people on contraception?? How about that??”
“But he is not a doctor. Will he know? You don’t even know if he is bringing with him…” She was about to speak more when Nandu drew the quilt on her face and lay back on the bed, speaking in a muffled sound from inside the quilt, “Good night masi!”
“Arrey, you think it is not something serious??” Masi tickled her, making her laugh and tried to pull her quilt.
Nandini laughed like a baby as she was very ticklish. “Stop masi…please…”
“Listen to me… then…”
“No, you have embarrassed me enough…”
“What is there to get embarrassed?? In an year, you will come back discussing positions…”
“Shut up… please…please…” Almost reddened on her cheeks, Nandini buried herself more inside the quilt.
“Okay, let’s be serious. Come to the point. We need to sleep if we want to glow tomorrow. I don’t know about you, but I want to look my best!” Priyanka masi chuckled.
“Good night, masi…” Nandini refused to step out of her quilt and bed.
“I’m going…assuming that since you are a doctor, you will manage well… but I’ll beat you if you get pregnant on first night…”
“Gooooo!!! Go…go…go…. good night!!”
Nandini was sure that she must have been beetroot red if someone saw her inside the quilt. Her relatives were as crazy as her parents and her. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
The row of rituals continued for the next day as well… for the entire day…to an extent that Nandini found her head reeling.
By evening, she was not only tired but already feeling buried under the load of heavy jewellery, designer bridal outfit with a heavy odhani on her head. The head gear carefully covered her hair, collected in a huge bun at the nape of her neck, decorated with heavenly smelling white jasmine flowers and lastly layered by a heavy net odhani. Her bangles covered all of her tiny mehendi covered hands, the neckpieces were broader than her neck.
“Sorry!” Her mom squeezed her eyes when she corrected her nose piece to fix it in place, knowing very well that she hated such heavy jewellery.
“I told you to bring something simpler. You are making me look like a mannequin.”
“It’s your grandmother’s jewellery. She wanted you to wear this, beta!” Swarna kissed her forehead. “You are looking like a cute doll!”
Her father, brother and cousins accompanied her to the wedding mandap, after her aunts and mother welcomed the groom and his family and took them to the mandap.
When Nandini arrived, all eyes were on her. She was brought to stand right beside Manik. He glanced at her sideways and found her looking cute. She couldn’t raise her neck due to the heavy weight on her head and neck.
‘Damnnnn!! Why was he so tall?? She couldn’t look at him!’
“Hey!” He slightly lowered towards her and whispered. “How are you feeling today?”
“Like a jewellery shop… About to fall down, any moment!” She crackled her neck slightly, struggling with her duppatta.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall!”