It was the biggest day of her life: she was all dressed up- weighed down by her heavy lehenga and the obscene amount of gold she was wearing. It was her wedding day: something she had looked forward to since she was five, and yet, she was the saddest bride you would ever come across!
She could hear the baraat arrive in the typical Indian way: obnoxious, loud, and grand. It was an arranged marriage, and she had made the choice (or rather, the choice was made on her behalf) in a matter of three hours. She knew that Vijay, her husband-to-be, was five years elder to her, he was an engineer, he worked in a multinational company in Delhi, and hailed from a business family. In other words, he was like any other “safe” option in the Indian marriage market. She hadn’t spent enough time with him to find out if he had a good heart, a good sense of humor, if he shared her interests, if he was someone she could talk to as a friend- but evidently, these weren’t important! So she had gone along with the decision, keeping her expectations low, and determined to make it work. Not that she had a choice anyway…
As she was sitting alone, pensive, and lost in thought, Neeraj interrupted her: “So, where is her highness lost? Come on, smile a little! It’s your big day today! And after a few hours, you will no longer be our little Mani. You will be Mrs. Manisha Gupta, wife of Mr. Vijay Gupta…” Mani didn’t like the way he emphasized on “wife”. She looked straight into his eyes, and challenged: “Are you mocking me Neeraj?” He smiled, and replied, almost in resignation, “How dare I mock you? You are no longer mine to mock, to tease, to even hold…” and held her hand, one last time, and not letting go: of the hand and of her.
He was still in denial; that Mani, her Mani was getting married, and not to him. They had practically grown up together, first as neighbors, then as friends, then as lovers. They had done everything together: from prep school to college, from learning to ride the bike together to going to vote together, they had crossed each milestone hand in hand. The first kiss, the first touch, the first time they made love- it all lingered fresh in his memory. There was no formal proposal, no formal dramatic declaration of love, no “discussion” between the two families: it was always understood that they will be forever together, get married, and have a family of their own- it was inevitable, until a few months back when Neeraj found out that he was suffering from lung cancer. It had already reached its advanced stage, and beginning to spread to other organs too, and the doctors had given him a few months to live. The day he told Mani, she had this peculiar expression on her face; she did not cry and she did not say anything. She had just stared vaguely in the dark, and Neeraj didn’t know whether to cry or console her. He was most tempted to shake her till her bones jilted forcing her to say something, anything! Once Mani’s parents found out, it was really a matter of time that they got her married off before word got out about her relationship with Neeraj.
Someone screamed in the background, jolting him back to reality. He let go of her hand, and hurriedly rushed off to welcome the baraat. Mani continued to look on, pensively, with the deep seated resolution that had possessed her in the last one month. She patted her stomach lovingly. Neeraj didn’t know, and he will never know. He was hurt when she had informed him about her marriage barely three weeks after they found out about his disease, but he hadn’t questioned her. And she didn’t tell her how badly she needed the marriage: for both of them, and their unborn baby.
….. Simanti Talukdar