The right question
Shweta started to pick out cards for her marriage and the memories immediately flooded her heart. This was not the first time she was getting married. Two years ago her first fiancé Rohit had died in a car accident only two months prior to her wedding date. She wondered if she would ever heal from that loss. She was merely 23 when this tragedy happened and her family and friends expected her to move on and date others, which she did. But marriage?
Marriage, she felt was something different entirely. A delicate thread of new beginnings, new relations that had once been snatched away from her and the scars from that were still raw. Everything had happened so fast that she didn’t have the time to sit and reflect. After Rohit’s death, it was as if everything was covered in a film of dust and she was left squinting her eyes to figure out the swiftly changing images. A couple of men entered the reel of her life as dates through mutual acquaintances but she never had taken them seriously. It was as if she was scared of another emotional blow.
This was until her parents finally intervened and decided that it was time to settle their only daughter’s life. So enter- Virat Ahuja, son of Shweta's father's boss. Virat was everything a girl could dream of-handsome, intelligent, highly qualified, decent and well mannered. But more than that, he was everything a girl’s parents would dream of- prosperous family, steadfast Hindus and he himself- a foreign educated NRI. In fact, Shweta’s parents considered her extremely lucky to have found such a match. It started as casual meetings for them and Shweta found herself liking him; there was something charming and self assured about his self. Talks began to get more serious between their families too till a mutual agreement with the relationship was reached. It was then that the underlining things started emerging.
It was just a tiny fling of a remark in the beginning; something said by someone in the family but slowly the whispers and murmurs slowly took the shape of something more substantial.
“Is it true that Shweta’s fiancé was killed just weeks before the wedding?” they had enquired.
Shweta had been surprised at the question; she had been open about everything with Virat from the very beginning. but the real surprises were yet to come. That small enquiry fired into a prolonged questionnaire to decide if she was 'manglik'.
“It is my grandmother who believes in all this superstition that it will bring hurdles in marriage. And it is a simple matter of rechecking your horoscope Shweta, why are you reacting so much over this?” Virat had said when she shared the cause of her anxiety with him.
But one thing led to the other and the pandit proclaimed her astrological combination did have some ‘signs’ of the same and things could get murkier if the ‘mangal dosha’ wasn’t brought in control right then. Their relationship was in danger then because nothing could have deviated Virat’s superstitious family from their steadfast notions.
“But there is still a way” the pandit had offered leisurely “we could perform rites to bring it under control. It is nothing that couldn’t be erased by utter devotion and grace of God.”
And thus the rites began; the sanctum of 'utter devotion' but to Shweta it seemed more like a penance- endless pujas, hawans and fasts... inevitably fasts.
She had felt frustrated more than once, but the beautiful band on her ring finger kept her going. There was no one she could share these agonies with- not even her parents as they were loathe to let such a good proposal slip from their hands- except for her friend Abhishek.
Friends since college days, Abhishek had been the best bud of Rohit. Shweta didn’t know him that well then; with Rohit after the entire world around her just ceased to matter. He came into light only after Rohit's death; while she shunned the world away unable to face their pity, it was Abhishek’s brutal honesty that made her realize that he had something more than just vacant sympathy to offer her. And they became friends, just like that and they bonded to an extent where she started sharing all her troubles with him.
She remembered what he had said when she had told him about her in laws belief that it was something related to her horoscope that caused Rohit's death, “If you like him enough to stand doing all this then only it’s worth it Shweta. But remember one thing. Only liking won’t suffice. You must feel that one day there is a chance of you falling in love too…”
She didn’t reply to him then, the only person she had come close to loving was Rohit but that was a thing of the past and she decided to live with it.
So she had endured. Endured living on meager meals, days of going hungry to a point where she became ill and started losing weight but his family seemed oblivious to it all. But what pained her even more was that Virat himself seemed oblivious to her agony- both physical and emotional. Despite his claims that it was not him but his family who were insisting on this, Shweta could understand that somewhere to some extent even he believed in her being potentially unlucky for his life.
But all those hurdles had been crossed fruitfully and the wedding bells seemed sure to ring this time. There was a last hawan to attend that day and everything after that would be fine.
She smiled at the thought and her hand automatically reached to the two sided photo frame at her bedside. One side was empty; Rohit's picture had been taken away from there just as he was taken away from her life. But she knew that the time had come to fill that void again.
She sifted through photographs scattered on her bed and paused at one, smiling widely as she remembered how she had taken it without telling him. So much for claiming he was not photogenic, he looked adorable there; hair ruffled and carefree, a small hint of smile playing mysteriously on those thin lips and dark, brooding eyes seeking something out of the window.
After a moment’s thought she added that photo next to hers in the photo frame and smiled hesitantly; though he had never said in so many words, she knew that he loved her; loved her in his own quiet, intense way but more than that, he respected and cared for her almost unconditionally. And as she looked at their photo together, she heard a small voice in her heart telling that she would love him too. Someday for sure, their married life wouldn’t be barren and empty without love.
Shweta went down just in time before the hawan started. She looked gorgeous in a bottle green lehenga and she bit her smile on seeing Virat’s expression. She greeted her in laws graciously, everyone looked happy that day; even the unyielding grandmother had a smile for her.
Everything looked normal but a sudden ominous feeling clouded Shweta’s heart and left a deep sense of foreboding in her mind. The hawan started and soon the air was filled with smoke and chants. Turn came for Shweta to add the hawan samagri in the fire when suddenly, the flames flickered and died.
A quiet hush fell over the room and the fire was lit again but after a few handfuls of the offering in it, the fire died again. “Maybe the logs are wet” Virat suggested and the wood was checked but nothing defective could be found. Mercifully the hawan was at a ending stage and was somehow completed.
The stricken looks on Shweta’s parent’s faces turned a bit back to normal and Virat’s grandmothers ominous mutterings ceased as the pandit told Virat to break open the coconut. “Now you do the same thing beta” his mother instructed.
Shweta broke open the coconut with such a force that the water and small pieces fell in her eyes. “I’m ok” she said a bit irritated when everyone turned to fuss over her.
“Look, look!” Virat’s grandmother exclaimed, pointing not towards Shweta but towards the broken coconut. The seemingly white surface of the coconut was slowly turning black.
Everyone stared horrified at the sight and Virat’s grandmother stood up to leave when the pandit came forward and handed Shweta another one. This thankfully turned alright but the ominous sign of the spoilt coconut was stamped in everyone’s minds.
Shweta’s parents couldn’t wait for the event to end; they breathed a sigh of relief when the day closed with Virat’s mother handing Shweta her bridal dress. She took the plate with a smile when suddenly, without any prior notice, the fabric was set aflame. She dropped the plate on the ground horrified and with every flicker of the lilac flame; she saw Virat and her family walk away from their house. Virat tried to say something but he was dragged away vehemently by his grandmother.
Shweta stood dumb as the agonized bustle and cries of shock ceased and turned to a deathly hush. She stomped away to her room as her mother tried to approach her and with a thudding heart shut the door behind her. As she slowly collected her thoughts she checked her mobile- 5 missed calls from Abhishek. She smiled bitterly at the irony of the fact and proceeded to call him back.
She cut away his questions and told him quietly “My marriage is broken Abhishek. Yet again…”
And then slowly, her lips set into a smile.
She remembered the exact moment when she realized how her life would be with Virat. Right or wrong he would have never stood by her side. She couldn’t directly deny her prior assent for the marriage; it would have been a huge blow to her parents, especially to her father professionally and moreover it was already too late. So she had to take a more drastic measure.
The question from the very beginning wasn’t the marriage itself; it was the marriage with the right person. She just had to make up her mind about it; the rest was easy.
She knew that it would take just a splinter to fire the shimmering coals of her in-laws superstitions and she acted carefully on that. CO2 in the form of dry ice mixed with the hawan samagri prevented the fire from burning.
Though it took so much time to start working that she had panicked it won’t work but it did in the end. The coconut stunt had been tricky but thanks to hours of mad devotion towards being a magician as a kid, she could pull it off. Hiding the black organic paint was easy enough, delivering it into the target a bit tricky. The distraction made in the form of breaking the coconut too hard helped her.
The sari stunt had been the easiest of all. Just few potassium pellets taken from the chemistry lab and slipped under the fabric under the pretext of arranging the plate. A few sprinkles of water had done the trick- thanks to potassium being such a reactive element.
The real danger had been Virat seeing through it all, because it had burned with a characteristic lilac flame instead of normal blue but thanks to the superstitious grandmother, he was taken away before he could suspect anything.
She breathed in relief, a load was taken off her chest. She was shook out of her reverie by Abhishek's voice on the line; th epoor guy was freaking out at the news.
“Hush. It’s ok now Abhishek, it’s ok now.”
“OK? How can it be ok? You loved Virat!”
She took a deep breath and said “it was never Virat that I loved Abhishek. It was you…”
She looked at the photo frame and smiled even before she heard his reply- she knew what those brooding dark eyes would say…
* * *
I know this is a mad, crazy story but I had huge fun writing it and discussing the plot with Arpita :D
Million thanks to her for some brilliant ideas she gave. And also for the roll :P You rock girl!
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