Short stories

The Great Indian Arranged-marriage

She was mesmerized by the mirudangam beats and it was evident by the way she swayed her head to the rhythm. I, on the other hand, tried my best to put on an expression that would conceal my disinterest. Classical music was not really my cup of tea. She tapped her feet along with the beats thoroughly enjoying the concert. I was restless. She caught me looking at her and smiled as if she could read my mind. I looked away sheepishly. She held my hand and thrust something into it. Movie tickets. “What’s this?” I asked her uncertainly. “Movie tickets… Isn’t that obvious?” she whispered, not wanting to disturb the others. “But you don’t like psychological thrillers??” I said. “You don’t like concerts either.” She smiled.

I came back to reality as the car screeched to a halt.

It’s my wedding today. I will be married soon, to a girl whom I do not love or admire. A girl, who is not Ananya. There was a vibrant Rangoli and full grown plantain trees to welcome me. Memories flooded my mind.

“Wow! It’s beautiful!” I exclaimed as Ananya gave the finishing touches to her Rangoli. “Thanks!” she said, in her chirpy voice, without looking up. I was not looking at the Rangoli at all. In fact, I was least bothered about the Rangoli.
It was “Ethnic Day” in our college and Ananya looked like a Goddess in her yellow Sari. “What are these plantains trees for?” I asked, trying to start a conversation. “The ones tied to the gatepost?” said Ajay. I nodded, cursing him silently. “If you’re hungry in the middle of the Ethnic day lecture, you may walk out and help yourself to the bananas!” he said and she laughed. Her dimple was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. It was a pleasure to see her laugh. Dude, I owe you one. I made a silent promise to my friend. “They symbolize Prosperity. They are tied to the gates for longevity and prosperity for endless generations.” She explained. 

My mother’s voice brought me back from the whirlpool of memories.

There is a huge crowd of familiar and unfamiliar faces. I am about to wed an unsuspecting girl. Will I manage to live the rest of my life with her? Will I be able to make her happy? Will she love me as much as my Ananya? My head was throbbing with innumerable questions. The worst thing that can happen to a person is to get married to someone they do not love. The bride is yet to come. I feel nothing. “Very eager to see your wife, aren’t you?” my sister giggles. “Not exactly” I say, forcing a smile. The days I eagerly awaited Ananya’s arrival flash in my mind’s eye. She was always late. A typical cute girl. But the wait was worth it.

“I am extremely sorry for making you wait!” said Ananya, with an expression that could melt the coldest heart. “You’re early… compared to yesterday” I teased. She punched me playfully. “How did Anusha perform in the interview?” she inquired. (Anusha is my sister). I always felt like she was part of my family. “She did great” I smiled. She was yet to meet them but she knew them by their names and interests. Having lost her mother at a very young age, she used to refer to my mother as Amma.

“Oh! Look who is here” cried Anusha, shattering my thoughts. It was my fiancé. I wish something happens. Something, that could stop this wedding.  Everything that is happening is like a nightmare. It is time for me to tie the mangal sutra. Or is it just a thread? I wish I wake up from this nightmare. The nadaswaram beats mixed with remorse fill the hall, suffocating me. I look at Ajay. His eyes seemed to assure me that everything will be alright. Will it, Ajay? But it’s too late. I have never imagined this scene with anyone except Ananya. I am filled with dread as I take a deep breath and tie the knot.

I am officially married now.

A vital part of the wedding is the honor paid by the couple to Agni, the fire God. They circle around the fire, and feed it with ghee, and twigs of nine types of trees, as sacrificial firewood. The vapors that arise, are supposed to possess therapeutic, healing and purification properties for the couple. Agni, the most powerful element in the cosmos is deemed as a witness to the marriage. Ananya was the one who enlightened me with this bit of information.

Holding the bride’s hand, the bridegroom has to walk seven steps with her. This is the most important part of the marriage ceremony, and only when they walk seven steps together is the marriage complete. The belief is that when one walks seven steps with another, one becomes the other’s companion. I thought about the innumerable steps Ananya and I took, hand in hand.

Next he shows her the Arundhathi star in the Saptharishi constellation along with Dhruva. Arundhathi, the wife of Vasishta Mahrishi, is exemplified as an ideal wife, the embodiment of chastity. Dhruva is the one who attained immortality through single-minded devotion and perseverance – virtues to be emulated throughout married life. Glimpses of our star gazing-expeditions flashed across my mind. The irony – I am getting married to one girl as my mind is constantly circumambulating another. Even the Arundhathi star that signifies chastity reminds me of someone else. What is chastity? Chastity of body, or mind? Somebody once told me that memories fade. They do, but only with, a conscious effort to push them aside. Remembrance rekindles memories. And these are memories for which I would pay a million dollars, to keep them intact.   

Ananya!!! I stare in shock as Ananya walks into the wedding hall. She is wearing the same Saree that she wore for the “Ethnic Day” celebrations. I still remember every single detail about that day. How can I forget the day I proposed to her? The blush I got as a response to my proposal was priceless. I vividly remember the sparkle in her eyes. Am I dreaming? No. The pain is too much, for it to be a dream. She sits there and stares at me blankly as if she is nobody. The sparkle in her eyes is missing. Hey puffy eyes were proof that she had been crying. She wore a thick layer of mascara, trying her best to conceal it. I know her too well to get deceived by this. I wish the whole world disappears. My stomache is churning. I was caught in an overflow of powerful emotions. I made a huge effort to suppress my tears and turned away. She put on a fake smile, trying her best not to reveal her distress. The pain, is almost physical. I am feeling nauseous. I wish Ananya and I get magically transported to a different time and space.

“False hope is clung to with all one’s might and main, till a day comes when it has sucked the heart dry and it forcibly breaks through its bonds and departs.” – Tagore. I recall the quote which I did not understand once. It makes so much sense to me now.

Ananya’s father did not approve of me. A few months back we ran into him accidentally in a temple. He is a very conservative man and wanted his daughter to get married by the traditional arranged marriage system. The only reason he rejected me was that Ananya loved me and the “problems”, love – in a stereotypical scenario, which would be the outcome, if we break away from tradition. Screw the system! She was obstinate. But he was her father and not even Ananya could convince him. Eventually Ananya gave in after a few weeks of drama and silent treatment by her father. Of course, she would. Ananya always lets everybody win. She is a very soft-spoken girl. She would never hurt anyone, let alone her father. I hated the very nature that I loved the most in her.

“Is that your friend? She spoke to me a while ago. She’s very pretty!” said Anusha. Her eyes were fixed on Ananya. “She’s the prettiest thing I ever saw” I said, followed by a wink. “You’re checking out random girls even in your wedding. You’re despicable!” she said with a giggle. Random girl… the words echoed in my ears. I do not have the right to call her, my Ananya anymore. This thought made me feel like a thousand knives stabbed my heart. I blinked away the tears before they could give me away.

I got a call a few weeks back. “I am getting married” she said. Those were the last words that Ananya spoke to me. A usual Sunday afternoon, or, that’s what I thought it was. But I never knew that a single phone call could make it one of the unforgettable days of my life. There is no word that can describe how I felt that day.

There was another woman who loved me more than Ananya. My mother. I wanted to see her happy. She is the only one who loves me more than herself. I agreed to get married. She would do anything to see me happy and I thought that this is one thing I could do to make her happy. I realized that there was no point in waiting for Ananya’s father to agree. He was relentless and I did not want to rob him off Ananya. She would never forgive me if I talk her into leaving him for me. Our only fault was that we were not selfish. Ours was a selfless love. If I, who knew her only for a couple of years loved her so much, I can imagine how much he loves her and cares for her. I knew that I had to let go. I did not have a choice.

She got up. Unable to bear the pain any longer… she started walking away. I wished that she would turn and look at me one last time. But she didn’t. I hope I didn’t kill the dimple that I admired so much. She stepped outside the wedding hall, walking out of my life forever.

         I turn and look at my partner. The girl, with whom, I will be spending the rest of my days. I apologized to her silently. This was probably one of the biggest days of her life and here I am, thinking about another girl whom I dearly loved. I might learn to love this girl… eventually. But I will never forget Ananya.

****

         Ananya left India to pursue her post graduate degree in a reputed institute in London. She returned to India and took up a job as a professor in the college where we were alumnus. She never got married.

My wife thought that I was a lifeless person but put up with me nonetheless.

Ananya’s father blamed himself for his daughter’s transformation from a lively and cheerful girl to a dull introvert. The people around her never got a chance to see her dimple.

My mother was convinced that I’m happy and lived a contented life.

And to me… Ananya was just a password.   

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