The Wedding Night
First published on Women's Web
The downpour from last night had left behind quite a few puddles all around the outside wall, dripping red on the freshly painted facades suggested grim happenings and the stench of wet planks competed with that of the composting flowers. But things were nowhere near as bad as they could be. Sinha mansion still needed to host quite a few occasions before wrapping up the month-long celebrations and Kalu had been afraid that the downpour damage was catastrophic. All the murals would need to be re-done and the draping on the spindles have lost color, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired. The wedding contractors these days cared about their reputation – unlike the small neighborhood caterers and suppliers – who definitely wouldn’t guarantee any of their materials. So there was a chance that the red and white fabrics draped around the erected spindles and around the house that had turned pink after a night of soaking from the red leaching into the white would be replaced promptly and without additional charges. But Kalu was apprehensive still. He didn’t trust these high-end wedding contractors any more than he did the small-time suppliers. The latter, he at least knew how to figure out, and could smack around as needed. These gentlemen ones, he was hardly able to talk to without Sinha Sab present, and they could charge another arm and a leg to re-do the decorations. But still, grace had been saved. After contemplating some more, Kalu decided to be happy.
Right then the ambassador pulled in, screeching to a half an inch from Kalu. The driver seemed to have realized late that the rest of the driveway was now a mud slurry.
“Namaste. I am here to meet Mr. Sinha.”
Kalu stared at the woman who had stepped out unassisted by the driver who instead of opening the door for the lady was out inspecting the car for splashes. The lady was dressed in trousers and a coat. Almost like a barrister would be.
“You madam?” Kalu enquired quickly, trying to remember if Mr. or Mrs. Sinha had mentioned something about this last night. They weren’t ones to forget mentioning such a matter. But last night wasn’t a usual one. The marriage party had started quite late from the banquet hall in Murthal, and Delhi traffic even past mid-night hadn’t been forgiving.
“I am Neelu Arora. I have an appointment with Mr. Sinha.”
“Come in Madam. I will see what I can do.” Kalu led Miss Arora into the house passing the side hall where most of the out of town guests were still sleeping on rented mattresses. Kalu felt slightly embarrassed at the sights the lady was having to see walking into the Sinha Mansion. He took great pride in the class and condition of Sinha mansion – a splendid home that awed its visitors always. But the wedding of course, that too of the only Sinha heir, was neither a small nor a usual matter.
Relatives – nth cousins and their relations – had traveled from a distance and the side hall had been cleared of all furniture to make room for the ones staying for the week. It irritated Kalu that they failed to make their beds or display decency by ensuring their belongings were tidied up. But there was nothing he could do about it. He cursed silently under his breath at the village imbeciles who lacked the class expected of guests in a house of such stature. That’s all he could do for now.
“Madam, please seat here. I will get tea and snacks.” Thankfully, Kalu knew that the hired bawarchi and his team were already making morning nasta for all and tea too would be hot and ready.
Miss Arora sat down in the grey velvet couch facing the backyard as instructed by Kalu.
“Kishen! Kishen!!! How many times do I have to yell for you for a simple task?”
Kishen, the seven-year old new hire into the Sinha household was used to hearing this statement irrespective of whether he responded right away or after a few calls. He knew not to mind, and definitely not to respond back.
“Go serve some nasta and tea to the Madam in the main living room. Now!!… and go tell Shanti to clean up the side hall some.” Kalu then thought for a second and added. “The guests have made a mess again. Then send whoever is up outside to have nasta. The bawarchi will have to keep heating and re-heating until noon otherwise.”
Kalu then hurried up the stairs towards the private chambers leaving a still sleepy Kishen with instructions.
The upstairs halls were still dark. But Kalu was surprised to see light pouring in from the library at the end of the hallway. If senior Sinha Saab and Mrs. Sinha were up already, why would they be in the library instead of coming downstairs? Each of the two wings – one belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Sinha and the other belonging to their only son Rahul Sinha – were more suites than mere bedrooms. They had attached lounge areas, balconies, and off course bathrooms, so the occupants seldom veered into the additional, mostly customary parts of this floor. Maybe it was the new bride. She must have gotten up early and was trying to explore on her own. Kalu wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He had taken quite some liking to the woman who Rahul Sinha had gotten married too during the pre-marriage mutual visits. But he didn’t like unknown or unfamiliar people wandering around touching and displacing things in his domain. And the Sinha mansion was his domain.
“Bhabi Rani, are you looking,” Kalu stopped mid-sentence. It was not the new bride who was in the library! It was everyone but her! Mr. and Mrs. Sinha were seated on the side couch, and Rahul baba was at the desk with his head down on his arms. Something was wrong with him. From the way his body was crouched, from how his shoulders slumped more than his bent head. This couldn’t in any way be good. He looked at Mrs. Sinha. She had red eyes, and was wearing her sleeping gown! In his twelve years in this house, and the five with the Sinha’s in their previous residence, Kalu had never seen Mrs. Sinha allowing herself to be seen outside her personal chamber in her sleeping attire.
“Come Kalu.” Mr. Sinha stood up.
“Bade Saab, there is a lady downstairs to see you.”
“Come in first please Kalu. And close the door shut. We need you to do something.”
The dark mahogany doors to the library that had fresh marigold garlands hanging off them were slowly pulled shut by a concerned and baffled Kalu.
“What the hell is going on here? Are we going to get fed or not? It’s 9 am and no one from the house has shown up.”
“Nasta is being served outside ji – the servant had come and announced.”
“There is no function this afternoon – so maybe we should go for some sightseeing after eating?” “Mohit chachu was saying last night that they will arrange for some cars…. they have rented a few for the convenience of the guests.”
“Is it again poori for Nasta? I was thinking maybe poha would be better. Last night’s banquet was so oily.”
Shanti listened to the cacophonous conversation standing silently by the door. She usually never got noticed until she made some noise. Her go to – a short, deep cough. But she was in no hurry to do so today. She had taken three days off from the other houses for the Sinha marriage and was supposed to be here all day anyway. There were no other houses to rush to. On days with such leisurely opportunities, Shanti didn’t like to sweat the small stuff. It would not matter much in the grand scale of things if the side hall got swept at 10 am instead of 9. In fact, it not would matter if it got swept at all today or not. So she would much rather listen on to the conversations of the visiting guests, writing up their stories in her head from what she heard. Who they were? What did they think? How their lives were? That was what was important.
“Shanti-di, come upstairs.” Her ponderings were interrupted by Kishen.
“Why? What the hell for?”
“I don’t know. Kalu sir came down and asked to send you up.”
“Sir! Oh my! Good to know Kalu is ‘sir’ too to someone,” Shanti simpered and pulled Kishen’s cheeks to tease before gathering her stuff and obliging. Kalu’s orders were never ignored in this house.
The room was very very dark. The curtains were possibly blackout ones. Their color had looked purple last night in the light of all the candles. Now that most of them had burnt out, it looked black. Just black. Meera didn’t know why she was thinking of the curtains of all things. But on the other hand, she didn’t know what else to think of. There was nothing to think about really. Whatever needed to be thought of, discussed, decided, will be done by ‘them’ now. By others. Like always.
A very small amount of light, almost the size of the narrow ribbon that the priest had tied on their hands last night, was coming in from underneath the heavy door which the man she had just married had hastily shut behind him before leaving. Meera looked at it and slowly lied down. She wanted to sleep. She wanted nothing more than to sleep for a few hours.
Shanti stood awkwardly outside the closed door. The instructions given to her were disastrous and bewildering. She licked her lips in nervousness and slowly knocked. No answer. Shanti wasn’t surprised – it was quite possible the new bride was still asleep. Wedding night, Shanti smiled remembering her own, was one that took quite some effort and allowed very less sleep. The woman – with all the wedding draperies, heavy jewelry, hairdo, and after daylong rituals and fasting – was exhausted by the time she was left alone by friends and family in the anticipation room amidst flowers and candles. But there could be no sleep or rest, for her man had been waiting impatient and eager for this through the month-long fanfares. But once he was done – once she had been loved and consumed – there could be sleep.
Shanti remembered how her man had been quick. Shanti could tell he had been waiting for this for hours from the way he had looked at her when they were playing the post-wedding games – trying to find the coins in the bowl of milk as their fingers touched and everyone else giggled. He didn’t even glance at the full glass of milk left at the bedside once they were alone, or allow Shanti time to play coy. Shanti wasn’t going to anyway, but her tired body was hoping they could talk and sleep in each other’s embrace and wait for another time. They would have the entire lifetime in theory to finish unfinished business. But he had gotten to business right away – undressing her quite deftly and had continued for hours. Shanti remembered he had dozed off in the end, leaving her wide awake. She was still exhausted and aching, but somehow the sleep she had been coveting all evening had deserted her. She had pulled her pallu over, and opened up the windows, letting sunlight drench her after the first night of lovemaking in her life.
But maybe the new bride’s sleep hadn’t been so merciless to her, Shanti contemplated. Slowly, she tried to push the door open. It will definitely be locked – no couple will leave the door unlocked for their married night. To her surprise, the door opened. In the slowly visible inside Shanti caught a glimpse of Meera, cuddled up and fast asleep.
“That randy! That whore! … @##$%…She is sleeping after ruining our lives. Pull that bitch up by her hair and drag her out.”
Shanti started trembling. She had never seen Mr. Sinha like this before. She looked at Mrs. Sinha who was motionless and then at Rahul. Rahul Sinha was staring into the blank wall. He wasn’t moving much either. Was he stoned? Shanti wondered.
“Saab, the car has arrived.” Kalu entered the room.
“Go drag your wife out and put her in the car.” Mr. Sinha ordered Rahul.
“She is not my wife.” The later said.
Kalu tried to remember if this is how Rahul baba had always sounded. Somehow he sounded as if she was something else…not really a human…some kind of a subservient species…
“Of course she is. What kind of imbecile hangs out with a woman for a month? Goes to movies….has dinner… and God knows what else they do and doesn’t have the smarts to figure this out. What moron has eyes so blinded and tongue out hankering that he can’t tell that the whore is a transvestite?!”
Kalu looked at Bade Saab bewildered! In all his years, he had never seen him raise his voice on his son, let alone address anyone by such names. And what was it that he was saying? …How… …he means like the Hizras that came last night for dancing at the wedding? …Bahu Rani?
“You found her for me Papa. You and Ma. I agreed to the marriage trusting you.” Rahul’s voice was now firmer.
Kalu slowly closed the door behind him. The house was by now teeming with guests. Freeloaders and mongers had gathered too. The post-wedding giveaways from Sinha mansion were expected to be good. Word had spread and loads of people were visiting for shagun and boxes of sweets.
“We didn’t touch and test her you, idiot! You should have. You useless piece of shit! We are going to be the joke of the town because of you.”
Rahul looked at his mother with dejected eyes. The later didn’t return the glance. Her eyes were now looking far away – past the past few days and months, in search of where it all went so wrong.
“My only child Rama. You need to find a good match. He is almost 32,” Mrs. Sinha was saying.
Rama, her old-time friend and confidante with a network worth envying, had listened on. Everyone knew the Sinha’s were looking for a match for their only son. They had started after the later returned home with a shattered heart leaving his high paying job in the US behind. He had been ‘dating’ – that is what the proper term was these days – a girl there. The later however had possibly left him, for he had abruptly returned and announced his intention of never going back. He had also, after some probing apparently, disclosed his heartbreak to his mother and had agreed to the latter’s suggestions of an arranged marriage.
Mrs. Sinha had been elated. Not only will her son be married now and her midnight palpitations wondering why he wasn’t interested could end, she could be the one ensuring a proper mate is found. A fate unheard of in these days for most mothers she knew.
“So, what is his choice? I mean what type of a girl? Working or non-working? Short or tall? Fair? Long hair? Tell me some requirements at least?” Rama had managed to finish the list despite the giant piece of samosa in her mouth.
“Doesn’t matter Rama. Just find a good girl. You know, soft – nice – caring – I don’t want my son to be hurt again,” Mrs. Sinha had said softly.
“Areh you should be thankful that it was this and not something else. At least it was love – with a woman. So many boys these days are not marrying because you know…they are of those kinds. They don’t tell their parent. They just keep on avoiding the topic of marriage. Like yours did for so long. And then some get married – but no children ever after that.”
Mrs. Sinha didn’t argue. She had been terrified of the same. Every prayer she had offered in the past years, ever since Rahul’s behavior around the topic of marriage started seeming more evasive than usual, had been for a virile, normal son.
“Still Rama. Find someone quick. I don’t want him to change his mind.” Rama had smiled understandingly. Mrs. Sinha was right – anything could happen anytime with this generation.
The first time Meera had appeared in front of the Sinhas, it was at Mrs. Goenka’s place. Meera’s family was from Bhopal. They weren’t locals and had traveled to Delhi for the showings. They were talking to many prospective grooms, and the trip was planned around the most optimum time to show Meera to as many families as possible. They were staying at Mrs. Goenka’s, their old neighbor from Bhopal who had moved to Delhi before Meera was born but had kept in touch. Mrs. Goenka happened to know Rama who had seen Meera’s pictures when the former was circulating them around in search of a prospective mate.
“How do you know the Gupta family, Mrs. Goenka?” Mrs. Sinha had asked on the introductory phone call.
“I used to live in Bhopal. I know them since then. We used to be neighbors. That was before their children were born, but we always kept in touch. They are just such lovely people – the parents – and I am sure they have raised their children with the same values.”
Everything from there had just fallen into place like long scattered pieces of a puzzle. The caste was a match, and the birth chart comparison finished smoothly. Meera was very lean – so much so that her face appeared to be almost geometric. Yet there was a charm – a perfect symmetry in her features – that made her quite attractive. Long hair, modesty in dressing, the could be bride for his son had checked off all of Mrs. Sinha’s boxes. But her shoulders…Mrs. Sinha now remembered having noticed… were a bit too broad. A bit wide framed she was all in all for a woman. But her son had liked her. So she hadn’t brought it up.
Rahul and Meera had spent a few days going out for dinner and such before Meera and her family left for Bhopal. The match was finalized. Wedding preparations started on both sides, and although Mrs. Sinha’s sister had found it a bit odd that the girl’s family insisted on having the wedding in Delhi, given the usual preference of the bride’s side to host in a familiar environment, everyone congratulated the fortunate and fast turn of events and went along with the flow.
“We don’t have a huge family, Mr. Sharma,” Meera’s father, had said. “Not many of us will travel to Delhi for the wedding – only close members – so it will not be a bother for us to arrange our part in Delhi. And it will be so much easier for you all too. The baraat will not need to travel to Bhopal.”
Yes, it was odd. Mrs. Sinha now realized. She should have asked more questions. She should have…
“Bhabhi, I have packed your bags.” Shanti slowly said to Meera at last. She was done packing quite some time back. There was not much to pack. Just the wedding jewelry that had been taken off and the change of clothes that were unpacked in preparation of her coming. Most of Meera’s stuff was still in the two suitcases that she had brought with her. But Shanti was waiting for Meera to be done. Meera was still in the bathroom – still staring at her reflection in the mirror, with the door wide open.
“OK.” Meera responded.
Slowly… as if cautiously…the two left for the back exit of the Sinha mansion – the small door through the backyard that leads into the by-lane behind the house. Shanti handed over Meera’s bags to Kalu who was waiting.
“What took you so long? Why can’t you ever do as told?” Kalu started blasting but stopped on catching sight of Meera. He gestured to the latter to follow him. Not much long after that, a private taxi left the Sinha mansion with the new bride of Rahul Sinha in its back seat.
Rahul watched on from the study window, clenching the velvet drapes. Last night was his wedding night. Today, he had met with an attorney to file an annulment. Rahul started feeling a bit sick in his stomach, feeling bile rising up his throat.
“Meera. The name is a bit old fashioned; don’t you think?” The big screen in the theatre was showing two men dueling over a lady. Meera had seemed to be bored. She was looking away and Rahul had noticed.
Meera didn’t say much, Rahul knew by then. And he liked that. He had loved and lost. Meera, and the promise of peace she had an allure of around her, was a welcome contrast to Rahul.
“You don’t know much about me. But … whatever you think I am…maybe I am not.” Meera had said as they walked side by side another night taking in the light summer evening breeze.
“I am fine with that.” Rahul had replied. “With whatever it is that you are.” It had started to drizzle some right then, and they had run back into the car.
Kalu knew how to handle family crises well. He had done so many times for the Sinhas. The guests were all fed and cancellation of the rest of the ceremonies was communicated quite aptly and unceremoniously. A bus was to arrive within the hour to pick up and drop all of the long-distance guests off at the station or the bus depot. The damage was controlled as much as was possible.
Slowly, the guests departed.
Some were told a little more than others. Some wanted to ask more than what they were told. But the situation, albeit with some subjectivity, was dispersed and dismissed well for the time being.
But the aftermath was lethal as expected. Word spread like fire. Phones were ringing off the hooks, not in the Sinha household, but in the homes of the first cousins and close friends. Could it really be true?!! How could it be? How could have no one known? Why couldn’t anyone tell?
The daughter in law the Sinha’s had found for their only child and had betrothed to him with such pomp and splendor – was not a daughter in law at all! She was no daughter at all in-fact! Neither a son! She was an inter-sex some said. Others used worse terms.
Some contemplated she was possibly a man. Of ‘those’ other types. Or maybe there had been a sex change! But either way, the younger Sinha had found out on his wedding night that the woman he had didn’t have the right parts!
“We had all seen pictures on Rahul’s Facebook profile. You really can’t tell.” Some friends said.
“What a surprise it must have been – when the groom lifted her…” Some tittered.
“My God! Couldn’t tell during the ceremony.” Others gasped.
“I knew. I could tell something wasn’t right. She walked funny.” That one aunt observed.
But they all eventually asked, “How could they? What kind of people would do this to other families?”
Mrs. Rama Sonti gulped on smoking hot tea. In her 20 years of matchmaking, never has there been a miss. Let alone such a catastrophe.
“Even if the family could – even if the parents were shameless – why would the girl do this? Why would she? What was she thinking? How could she think this won’t be discovered? How could she dream of anyone accepting this?” Rama felt like her head would burst. The sensation of burning from the tea numbed her tongue, but her head was throbbing.
“We will take legal action, Mrs. Sinha. Don’t you worry. Not just the annulment – we will make them pay. We will recoup the entire cost of the wedding.”
Mrs. Sinha wasn’t listening. Rahul had locked himself in his room since. She started weeping.
“Why my son Rama? Why? How can a woman – or whatever she is – how can someone do this to anyone?”
Slowly, a private taxi pulled into a mostly deserted bus depot. It was drizzling again, just like it had started to that day. Meera got out of the cab.
“No need to pay me, Madam. They have paid. Here is your bag Madam.”
Meera slowly took a seat on the side bench. So many buses to board. So many cities, towns, and stops. There had been none for her though. Ever. She hadn’t been born into any family. She hadn’t grown up. She had never been allowed to be. Never told what she was. Just what she should have been.
“She is lucky that they are keeping her at home. The parents. Others would have left her as a newborn outside slum of the Hizras and transgenders. To grow up with them – that is where she belongs. That would have been better.” Well-wishers had pondered out loud.
Meera had often wondered what that would have been like. With others like her. A life not of comfort, in the slums, but maybe of existing as is? No need to pretend. To try to be. To hope and pray and be ashamed.
Maybe someone would have found her beautiful. Acceptable. Someone from her own people. Someone she could have a relationship with that didn’t need to fit into the only offered choices.
“You ungrateful wretch!” She could hear her father. “You say that only because you haven’t seen what it is like in those slums. They beg and dance at weddings. When one of them dies, the rest spit on the body and curse to ensure enough penance has been done to spare the soul a rebirth. You have a roof on your head. You got to go to school. Finish a BA. We raised you as a daughter. And all we ask of you is just try to be normal.”
“You need to be a woman. Learn how to be one.” Her mother’s sobs. “It is the only way we can get you married. We will not live forever for you. Where will you go otherwise after we pass? Your brothers will not…” Her mother could never finish this part. She didn’t know what Meera’s brothers will do once they married. They were ok with her existing as long as she was a sister. But that would change for sure. For they will start their families and the wives coming in will know. Word would spread.
“What will they do when they find out Ma?” Meera remembered having asked when they said Rahul had liked her.
For a place to call home. For a place to hide. For the sake of the ones who couldn’t keep her anymore. The other ‘if’ – the one in which she could exist in her identity – as God had intended for her to – not having to conform forcefully into a forced form had entered her mind in her dreams. But dreams seldom came true for some people.
“Nothing.” Her father had interjected, slapping her hard. As if he had read her thoughts. As if to nip in the bud the possibility of her initiating the process of them knowing. “No family will publish this humiliation. Especially one with the stature of the Sinhas. They will have no choice but to accept and stay silent. Your husband will figure out how to take care of his needs otherwise. Rich men do that anyways, so no need to feel sorry for those bastards.” Meera had looked with empty eyes at her father, a kind man otherwise as he pressed his teeth together in resolve, as her cheeks slowly turned red.
The drizzle turned into a downpour. Meera was still where she had been left – seated on the bus stop bench soaking wet – her blurred self and dark silhouette gradually merging onto the blurred city lights in the distance –unnoticed, and undefined as buses bearing hordes of passengers arrived and departed one after another.