I put the water to boil in the kitchen; eyes still sleepy as I looked around. Two cups were already set on the tray. Rita makes sure about that before she sleeps. I hear the sound of the cuckoo and see sunlight streaming into the living room. There is a thud in the verandah, which must be the newspaper boy tossing the morning’s newspaper. Rita opened the door. I knew she would walk slowly into the room glancing over the news. Tea was ready when I walked in. This had been our morning ritual for some years now.
As we sipped tea, her cell phone rang. “A call this early in the morning, I just hope it is not bad news,” she murmured and answered it. It was obvious from her side of the conversation, whatever bits and pieces came through, that it was definitely not bad news. I continued reading the newspaper, my tea done, the sugary end left alone. It was her cousin’s call, and I was sure the conversation would go on for quite some time. They had grown up together, had been the best of friends and when they started talking, there was never any quick end to the call. It was a weekend and I decided to tend to the plants in the verandah and the ones inside as well, which I had a habit of forgetting.
I could hear Rita in the kitchen, rustling up breakfast, still on the phone. The heat had discoloured some of the leaves of the coleus. I liked that plant; a few months back I had just planted a small branch, and here it was now, nice and full. A few more cuttings were in order. I moved the plant into the shade. The periwinkle was in full bloom too, both the white and violet. I removed the dead leaves, dug up the soil, and watered the plants. The hibiscus was growing well, though there have been no flowers so far. I think it needs some compost. Maybe I could get some the next time I go to the local nursery. I moved the indoor plants into the sun for a while as I tended to the ones in the verandah. As I was washed up, I could still hear Rita’s voice. She told me at breakfast.
The date for Didibhai’s daughter’s wedding had been finalized. We were expecting this for quite some time. Pupli had been working in Mysore for some years now. Her mother was keen to see her married. Didibhai was a single parent and Pupli was her first born. Tukun, her son was doing his Ph.D at an institute in Mumbai. Didibhai had always lived in Lucknow. Her parents were born there too. My wife, Rita, too was born and brought up there and only moved to Kolkata after we got married. Making fun of her accented Bengali was regular, the fun light-hearted. Rita loved Lucknow, she had fond memories of the place. Who wouldn’t after all, if your growing years were lived there. After her mother passed away, Rita’s trips became less frequent in comparison, but she still went at least once a year. Her elder brother and sister-in-law also lived there, though their daughters had both moved to Delhi; initially to study and then they stayed on because of their jobs. And then there was Didibhai too.
A call from Lucknow or any news about the place made Rita very happy. This morning’s news made her even more so. “Didbhai was very worried about Pupli’s marriage, more so after things did not work out the first time.” Pupli had been engaged once before too, Didibhai had made all arrangements for the wedding. The wedding date had been finalized, the preparations dusted, when the young man decided to show colour, behave rather strangely. The marriage was called off. Didibhai, understandably, was upset for months; but she believed in Pupli’s determination and her decision. It was all for the best. Had things soured after the wedding, which they were bound to be, it would have been worse.
It seemed different this time. Pupli was happy with her decision, but so was she till the very end of the last time’s wedding as well. Didibhai was jittery. “Didibhai told me that she saw an astrologer for all this,” Rita said very sceptically. “I don’t really understand how she still believes in all this, the appeal of astrology, but I did not say anything to her. I think she is emotionally insecure,” she went on. Rita was sensible and practical, a shoulder Didibhai leant on to for support.
“Didibhai is insisting that I be in Lucknow at least a week before the wedding,” Rita told me that night as we sat for dinner. “They are having a civil ceremony followed by a reception,” she continued. “I like this too, and am glad this is the decision Didibhai and Pupli have taken,” she went on. I nodded in approval. As it so happened, I did not like all the rituals and customs of the Indian wedding. When we got married, 22 years ago, that is exactly what we did. Rita and I had a difficult time explaining it to our families. The arguments took their course, a long one, before our parents finally decided to do it our way.
“I agree, I do think you should go well in advance Rita. In fact, I will try to reach two days before the wedding too. I could help out maybe,” I said.
Rita was caught up with the wedding preparations the next few weeks, and was on the phone most of the time. Suggestions, advice, comments and remarks, all came out of her with conviction. Work kept us occupied. The wedding was all we talked about. “Didibhai is spending too much on the wedding,” Rita said one morning. “There is no reason for her to do so. I told her that Barun. I know she will not pay heed to me, but I felt she shouldn’t go overboard.” A week before the D-day, Rita flew in to Lucknow.
It was truly a grand affair. The guests were pieced in, the stage was set. The registrar came in at the appointed time. All the close relatives and friends were ready to see the signing of the documents, it was a first for many of them. Didibhai was nervous and happy at the same time. Pupli signed wherever she was asked to. The young man did too. It was now time for the witnesses. “Who all are going to sign as witnesses? Please come forward,” the gentleman said. Didibhai started to move forward, when Pupli said, “Tukun, my brother will sign as a witness.” She whispered something to the young man beside her. He signalled to his father and aunt to come forward to sign as witnesses. Rita and I turned around, to where Didibhai stood blank. She stopped moving, stood rooted. Her face turned red, I could see the water in her eyes rising. She saw us looking at her and tried to smile. Rita moved closer to her and held her hand. “I am not wanted,” she whispered, trying hard to hold back tears. No one noticed, no one was interested. The witnesses signed, the marriage was officially, formally sealed.
The photographer gestured with a flick of his camera. “Ma, come here,” Pupli called out to her mother, “let’s do the pictures!” Didibhai moved towards the bride. Didibhai moved towards her daughter.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in English and writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, Prosopisia, The Punch Magazine (forthcoming), Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The Pangolin Review, MAD Asia Pacific, Prachya Review, The World Literature Blog, Tranquil Muse and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel. She is based in Kolkata.