Saturday, October 5, 2013

Getting Engaged - Part III

Meeting the Groom - Part II

The Arranged Marriage - Part I

Of course, she did not expect him to call her in the interim, and yet, isn’t hope what everyone lives by?

Her friend Ritu helped her dress up for the occasion, teasing her all the while. Kirti tried to grin and bear, but her friend knew her better.  “What is this! The bride to be looking so pensive! Where is the glow?” she asked bluntly at one point, contradicting others who streamed in and claimed Kirti had the ‘bridal look’.

“Just tensed,” Kirti evaded.

“You must be too. What a great catch!”

Kirti’s eyes flashed as she asked tartly, “Why, am I not one?”

Ritu looked surprised. “I didn’t mean that.”

“Then stop saying it as if getting married to Sanjeev is a stroke of luck I don’t deserve.”

Ritu placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder and said, “Is everything alright? I have never heard you so angry all my life.”

Kirti took a deep breath in. “Sorry, no, I didn’t mean to lose my temper. But the way people go on… As if Sanjeev is some god and I should be eternally grateful.”

Ritu’s eyebrows knitted. “Well… aren’t you?” Catching a sharp look from Kirti, she said quickly, “I mean, if you were in love with him, that’s how it would be.”

Kirti was silent, pensive. “I was,” she whispered.

She would be called away any second, but Ritu pushed her against the wall and asked softly, “Was? Why was?”

Kirti told Ritu about the dinner, the absence of calls…

Ritu laughed. “Stupid you. That’s all!”

“What do you mean, that’s all?”

Ritu pushed her in front of the mirror and went about straightening Kirti’s lehenga and dupatta. “It is to be expected, of course. You have seen Neelam, right? Not easy, is it, to forget her.”

Kirti found nothing reassuring in that. “And what are you smiling for?”

“I am sure it is only to be expected that he still may have some feelings for her. The question is, are you going to let him off so lightly?” Her eyes twinkled and she winked at Kirti through the mirror. Kirti blushed and despite the tears glistening in her eyes, smiled.

As she stood next to Sanjeev a while later, she looked so radiant that a little bit of her lustre reflected off Sanjeev’s face too. The sharp angles of his grave face were blunted by an inexplicable softness. When she looked at him with uncertain eagerness as he slipped the ring through her slender finger, he looked just a bit startled, as if confused by the question they gently posed.

It was hard for her – as if trying to get a response from the wall. Womanly wiles were not her way, but she was learning fast. In the rush of the evening, she felt compelled to win him over.

But as the guests left one by one, she realised slowly that battling for his attention was not the purpose of her life. That she wanted some reciprocation, some effort from his side too. Was an evening too short a time to expect it? But it wasn’t just an evening, right?

She felt tired and confused. She drifted to the balcony, hoping for some quiet time.

“Quite an evening,” a voice broke through her reverie. Startled, she turned and made out the figure of Sanjeev leaning on the far side of the balcony. He was in the shadows, and she wondered if he had been hiding from people. There had been too much ribbing, as was usual, and it had got overwhelming as some bawdy numbers were belted out after the ceremony. A bit filmy, but to be expected from the actor-father of the bride-to-be.

She giggled uncomfortably. “Yes… Tiring…”

He looked towards the lawn and remained silent. Her heart beat fast. “Sanjeev,” the name rushed out of her mouth. “You… you don’t seem very happy.”

He looked at her quickly and glanced away. “Really? I am sorry if I seem preoccupied…” She waited and almost gave up hope of his saying anything more when he chuckled and said, “I am sorry to disappoint you. You would have liked to be wooed…”

“Well… a little bit of conversation would have been nice, yes,” she said weighing her words carefully, watching his face keenly.

“I am sorry to disappoint,” he said again.

“Sanjeev… Can I ask you something?” she asked, her voice tight.

“Do I have the freedom not to answer?” he asked trying to sound light-hearted. But deep down, he hoped he had that freedom.

“Are you really happy about… us?” she asked in a rush, not even pausing to hear his question.

He turned to look at her. He opened his mouth and closed it again. The silence weighed heavily on her. She desperately wished he would answer.

And then, when she heard his answer, she wished he had not.

“No,” his voice was soft but cut through the soft night like a knife.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Meeting the Groom - Part II

"Papa, aren't Sanjeev and I going to meet each other?" she asked her father that evening.

"Why beta, if you want to, you can, of course! Don't you trust your father?"

She shook her head and smiled. Mistaking it for shyness, he laughed. "Of course, you want to meet your future husband? He is a nice boy, well-behaved. I will invite them home, don't worry," her father assured her.

"No! I mean... I..." 

He relished watching his daughter squirm as she struggled for words. "You want to meet him alone?" he asked gently, finally relenting. She nodded glad that she had inherited some acting talent from him. "And, can I call?" Her father raised an eyebrow but nodded.

Her fingers trembled as she dialled his number. "Hello?" she heard his deep voice and felt her heart flip.

"Hi Sanjeev, this is Kirti." Please don't ask Kirti who, she prayed as she noticed the pause.

"Yes, Kirti, how are you?" he asked pleasantly but the doubt in his voice was evident.

"Mmm... Sanjeev," was it this Sanjeev her wedding had been fixed with? "I was just wondering... since we are to marry, could we meet?"

This time, the silence was painful. "I am sorr..." she started when he said simultaneously, "Sure. You had a place in mind?"

"Porch," she said and heard the quick intake of his breath.

"Why?" he asked finally, after yet another long pause.

"Nice place, I heard... But if you prefer something else..."

"No, it's okay." A finality. I will face it kind of an attitude. She felt cheap and admired his fortitude. "When?"

They agreed on Saturday, 7 pm.

She sat in front of the mirror, debating between dressing up or toning down. Finally, she decided to keep it simple. She wanted to marry him, but only at any cost.

He was there, in a black full sleeve shirt on light blue jeans, his eyes fixed on the menu card. He smiled pleasantly as she walked up to him. She looked around, wondering if Neelam Sikand would be there - as she was said to be on Saturdays around this time. What was this death wish, perversion?

As she scanned the menu, her heart beating fast at the proximity to Sanjeev, he waited silently. Say something, she begged. "Hello Neelam," he said, and Kirti became aware of another presence.

"Unexpected visit, Sanjeev?" Neelam said as she glanced at Kirti and their eyes met. Neelam looked stunning despite her professional attire.

"My fiancée wanted to try this place out. And since you have been asking me to make a visit," he said coolly and shrugged. There was no challenge in his voice, and yet he seemed to be daring her to something.

Neelam looked at him steadily, then turned to Kirti and said, "Have you decided yet?"

Kirti frowned. "About marrying Sanjeev?" she asked, perplexed, eliciting a laugh from Neelam and a stunned look from Sanjeev.

"I meant the menu. But looks like the two of you are not of one mind about the marriage!" Then she said smoothly, ignoring the embarrassment on Kirti's face. "Try our sizzlers. And, the welcome drinks are on the house." She left them abruptly and yet not seeming rude.

Kirti looked at Sanjeev stricken. "I am sorry, I misunderstood.”

“Was that intentional?”

Kirti shook her head. “Just the context… I misunderstood… Who was she?”

Sanjeev raised an eyebrow as they sat down. “You don’t know?”

Kirti looked at him with her eyes wide and shook her head slightly, as if wondering if she should.

He was silent for a minute. “She is the owner of this restaurant.”

“Oh, and a good friend of yours? You mentioned she had been inviting you…”

“Not a good friend.” Then he clamped shut.

“I am sorry if this was not the right place…”

“Please decide your order, Kirti. Neelam… or this place… doesn’t merit a discussion.”

“What does?” she made bold to ask.

He looked at her sharply. “Meaning?”

“What merits a discussion?” she asked, riled now. He glared at her silently. She felt nervous now, unhappy about the anger that had cropped up between them so unexpectedly. She took a few deep breaths. “Sorry,” she said, not trusting her voice.

He shrugged.

The evening seemed to drag. His ill-humour continued and she gave up her feeble efforts, defeated.

That night, she was sure the wedding would be called off, but surprisingly, there were no developments – not that day, not in the days to come. Preparations for the engagement went on as usual.

Continued: Getting Engaged - Part III

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Arranged Marriage- Part I

Kirti closed the door behind her as she entered her room and smiled, joy lighting up her face. Her marriage had been fixed with Sanjeev - a dream she had never dared dream.

Daughter of a popular movie star, her life had been confined to the shadows. Her overprotective father did not want his private life sullied with prying eyes and so Kirti and her younger brother had grown up in a boarding school.

She had met Sanjeev, son of a businessman who financed her father's movies, a few times in all the years she had come home on vacation. She had gone abroad to study and returned just a year ago. She had got a job in a financial institution. There was a function at home, and that was when Sanjeev and she had met each other. He had grown into a handsome and charming man. Their interaction had been minimum, since she was busy helping her mother in playing the hostess.

The next time they had met was at a lunch Sanjeev’s parents had hosted for her family. This time, they had more time together, and Sanjeev had slowly taken over her heart with his wit, intelligence and quiet attention, putting her at ease. She wondered how she had ever considered herself shy and retiring. She had found herself opening up and telling him things some of which she didn’t even know she remembered!

How could she not think of him after that?

But after that, their paths never crossed and she did not seek him out. She was disappointed that nor had he. Sometimes, some word about him trickled in, but was barely enough to quench the thirst. She feared that thirst wouldn’t be quenched even if she had ocean of information. She needed something more, much more.

And now this proposal. Had he initiated it? How her heart fluttered at the thought!

There was to be a formal engagement soon, her father didn’t say when. Kirti waited impatiently for Sanjeev’s call, expecting a teasing tone that wove out dreams of their togetherness.

But the next few days brought only silence. Sanjeev’s mother spoke. His father spoke. He himself remained strangely silent, except for the first call when he spoke to her father and formally told her he looked forward to it.

No… this was not the man she had met the other day. Or this was his way? Was he the conventional, orthodox kinds?

She told her friend Ritu about the engagement hesitantly. It all felt surreal.
"Congrats! What a good catch! And, definitely, he should be glad that it is you and not Neelam."

Kirti frowned. "Neelam?"

Ritu paused, surprised. "You knew, didn't you? Your families are so close!"

Kirti shook her head.

Ritu flicked her wrist dismissively. "Never mind. Neelam is now married, wife of Sikand." Kirti’s frowned deepened. "Owner of the Porch group of hotels."

"Oh!" Kirti said. Was this the reason why Sanjeev had not even got in touch with her? Was he marrying for convenience, to prove a point to Neelam, because he must marry someone? And she was convenient, a catch (too), a good way to score a point?

Her stomach seemed to settle heavily; dreams seemed to float away into nothingness.

Continued: Meeting the Groom - Part II
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