TAIA front cover

Sara was twenty-kilometres away. She had chosen to come to work to distract herself: her stomach was all in knots. Till now, it had been like any other project she was managing. Today, the gravity of it all was making her worried, excited, and scared, all at the same time. The decision to come to work was a last-minute one. She had left the house keys for Anu, who was arriving that day, with her landlord. In the mêlée in the morning, she had not even bothered to dress up for the occasion. She had worn a hand-me-down from Trisha: a handloom, fuchsia salwar kameez with faint blue lines across the dupatta. She looked pale, from all those sleepless night. But, still, dainty, pretty, and dewy:  very much, the bride-to-be!

She told Debu that she had to pick a friend from the station and took a ‘time pass’: that piece of yellow-coloured paper which was the ticket to freedom during factory-hours. She boarded the 11:00 am shuttle service to the city, all set to start a new life as Mrs Solanki!

The breeze blew kisses from the window, like little flower-girls, dressed in foamy white flounces.  It ushered her in by showering pale pink flowers that it blew in from the tree-lined Chinhat-Deva road that it sped along.  Her bridesmaids were those beautiful memories trailing her: those tender moments spent with Samar, and the promise of a future full of love. They were holding her up, as she sat in the bus, reminiscing about the day she had first met Samar. They made sure that the bride was poised and, at ease. And, the magnificent bridal march was that sublime intonation of Samar voice, which told her, over and over again,

‘We will make it happen, darling.’

Samar was now, in the tempo, with his baraatis, Jams and Soni, one of whom was perched on the rail. With every bump, Samar worried if Soni would tip overboard and he’d be one witness short! He yelled, above the music,

Abe, be careful. Don’t fall off!’

The tempo was quite the bridegroom’s chariot, with its bright red and yellow plastic flowers, a poster of chest-baring Salman Khan, and row of mirrors. A string of sequinned gold trimming was sewn around the edge of the funky orange upholstery, making it look like a throne. Not just the look, the feel was celebratory, too: it was reverberating with loud, filmy music,

‘Pyar karne waale pyar karte hain shaan se.. .’

Mama ji waited for the couple to arrive at the appointed place, the Chandan Juice Centre. He leaned against the stack of sugarcanes, scratching his initials on one of them. Like any self-asserting Indian, he liked to leave his mark wherever he went. The twelve-year-something waiter came to him, asking him if he’d like a glass of juice. Mama ji shooed him away, yelling at him, trying to swat him with a swish of his black coat that was hung across his forearm.

Samar and the boys had reached. They spotted mama ji cleaning his ear with his scooter-keys, and waved to him.

Namaste, mama ji.’

Namaste, Namaste, Is Sara here?’

‘She will come here directly. She should be here any moment.’

‘I thought you were coming together.’

‘No…’

Achcha, have you got your id proof?’

‘Yes, mama ji.’

Sara was on the last leg of her journey to the court, on a rickshaw.

‘Bhaiyya, Chandan Juice Center. Dekhte rahiye, baayeen taraf.’

The rickshaw puller careened dangerously, trying to avoid an open manhole. Sara clutched the back of her seat, looking around for the juice centre. It was a crowded street, dotted with chai-shops, photo-copying shops, and a huddle of typists with a table and chair each, as their establishments.

‘Sara…’ Samar called out, seeing her approach, his heart warming up to see his bride-to-be.

He helped her off the rickshaw, and paid him.

‘Am I late?’

‘No, no.’

The group hurried into the court. The byzantine corridors wove their way towards clusters of small, dingy rooms designated for various matters of the court. Electricity supply must have been scarce and erratic going by how drab and dour the rooms looked. Stacks of dust-collecting files reeked of squalid disdain for timely justice, supported by a stench of urine mixing with that of masticated tobacco that hung around the rooms.

Sara and Samar were nervous. Those men in rumpled black coats did not look very friendly. Mama ji signalled that they wait outside. He went in and discussed something with a man seated there. The man shot curious glances at them, as he spoke. They remained rooted there, dutifully, trying to look nonchalant, despite their churning innards.

‘Come, come..,’ mama ji came out holding some papers.

They trooped in, looking like school-children summoned to the Principal’s office. Sara was, already, preparing apologies in her head: she wanted to be prepared if it came to that. Samar stood as far from Sara, as possible, observing the Awadhi norms of propriety. In this effort, he had broken all norms of preserving personal space with mama ji.

The proceedings were short and lacklustre, with few sharp questions, during which the civil magistrate looked at them suspiciously, from above his glasses. Thankfully, he did not ask any unpleasant questions like why they chose to marry like this. He just stuck to his job, made a few notes and then asked them to come back after an hour to sign on the certificate.

Samar and Sara exchanged a glance: a smile and a ‘I-still-don’t believe-it-yet’ look.

‘So are you married now?’ Jams whispered.

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