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 i