Aditi could feel her internal panic level rising even before she turned the corner from the stop sign. If the line of cars were any indication, she was late. The line into the temple for Janmashtami darshan would be at least an hour long, and the temple would probably run out of prasad by the time they finished darshan.
Stupid Indians. She muttered under her breath. No matter which land, they flock to every possible event with the entire clan tagging. She hoped Manish hadn’t arrived yet. If he had, he surely would be well into the line by now, precluding any chance of them running into each other. The queue always just moved one way here. Surprising, given the propensity of Indians to digress from any and all queues.
‘Mamma, is Shrestha here already?’ Aadya asked again from the backseat. The five-year-old has been asking this since they had started from home. Every five minute. The lure of running into Shrestha – Manish’s daughter – was the only thing that had worked in convincing Aadya to come along.
Why do you have to drag her there if she doesn’t want to? Arun had been his usual self. Unconcerned – disregarding what Aditi wanted – adamant. Aditi hadn’t even bothered asking him if he’d like to accompany. Somewhere deep within, she didn’t want him to. This was her moment of respite. But she wanted Aadya to come.
‘You remember what I explained about Janmashtami?’ She asked instead of answering her daughter’s question.
‘Yes. It’s a birthday. Is Shrestha here already?’ Aadya asked as Aditi circled the block for the second time in search of a spot.
‘Five minutes. It’s Janmashtami. You will not regret it.’ The man kept pleading. The temple volunteers wanted the people in the line to step aside and chant for five minutes and then rejoin the line. Not everyone though. They were targeting intelligently – folks with no kids or elderly parents, non-Indians, young couples holding hands. But they were persistent nevertheless.
The man in front of them declined politely for the third time as the pleading continued.
Another reason why this line is moving like a snail. Useless management. Aditi checked her phone once more. No reply yet. She had messaged Manish ten minutes back. Thankfully, Aadya was quite preoccupied with the fanfare all around to be throwing her weight around. Yet. It would be fifteen minutes more at least for them to reach the jhula. That is where folks were taking a turn in pulling the ropes for a few seconds before entering the temple. If Manish arrived in the next fifteen minutes, she could just have him join them in the line where they were. But once inside the temple, it will be a pandemonium.
Aditi felt the surge of teenage excitement rising up her throat.
‘Hi.’ The tap on her shoulder was so gentle that Aditi could have missed it. She was startled and turned abruptly to bump into Manish, who had somehow sneaked up right behind them in spite of her checking for him for the last 10 minutes.
‘Shrestha!!!’ Aadya’s elated shriek said it all. The two girls giggled at one another, running out of the line holding hands. Childhood. Aditi felt a gulp in her throat. No restrictions, no inhibitions, no need for measured expression of joy…
‘Palak didn’t come?’ Aditi asked. Customary checking. She knew very well Palak wouldn’t be coming.
‘No. She has chores to finish at home. Good break for her. How about Arun?’
‘He’s an atheist as you know. What’s the point of dragging him here?’ Aditi didn’t have to think for the answer. She knew well what to say as an answer to this question. At parties. In temples. Kid’s events.
‘You are looking very pretty.’ Manish complemented. Aditi knew he would. He was always thoughtful and noticing. Or maybe it was just a man thing to notice and complement. For women who weren’t their wives.
Aditi knew she looked well. She had groomed herself with care today. Not necessarily just for the chance of running into Manish, but also for Janmashtami. Something about this festival kindled the romantic in her. A reminder of childhood days of monsoon. Of smells of jasmine. Of tales of the lovers from Mathura. Maybe there was still a Radha in her somewhere, waiting for Sri-Krishna…
‘For how long would you stay?’ She asked.
‘For as long as Shrestha wants. And she will want now – now that she has Aadya.’
‘True.’ Aditi smiled.
‘Do you want to step off the line to chant for five minutes? The temple volunteers are desperate for chanting folks,’ she asked.
‘How was Janmashtami?’ Arun asked. It was quite late. Aadya had fallen asleep in the car and had been placed in her bed. Aditi seemed quite happy, Arun was glad to see. He felt tremendous guilt, all day, every day. But this is how it was. How it had to be now. No turning around. No solution really feasible. Every option just a theory.
Aditi looked into her husband’s eyes. She knew she’d catch the sadness. She could catch it anywhere. It was so familiar now, from seeing it day after day, that she could catch it in her sleep. And some nights she did.
‘It was good. We chanted today. And I prayed.’
She indeed had. Standing in front of the decked up to the ceiling Mandir, facing the two lovers lost in flute tune, Aditi had prayed – not for herself, but for Arun.
It had become apparent within a year of their marriage. And Arun had apologized. For not knowing. For not being able to place a stronger case for himself. To himself. To his family. For being ashamed. He had believed the narrative that was being forced into him day and night, he had said. That all will normalize after marriage. After having a child. Or maybe he had believed because he had wanted to believe, Aditi had wondered many times. The eldest son – super successful, IIT topper – mother’s pride and joy – touted as a model to the entire clan and community…homosexual…
I couldn’t face the disappointment in their eyes. Arun had said to her once. I had believed that they were right. That this is just a phase. That I just needed to try harder. He had broken down. Anyways, it didn’t matter anymore.
So Aditi had prayed. For love to really be as Krishna had shown should be possible. No rules. No rights and wrongs. No boundaries. For all who come after to be able to love as they wish. For the Aruns and Aditis of the future who wouldn’t have to wait in dark rooms, or look for a few hours of escapades.