The Mock Marriage
Deepa and Shanti are squatting on the floor. They are going to play ‘house-house’ today. A mat is spread out on the floor. Some clay utensils, a broken jar, a small ball of dough, a spoon and some herbs are laid out on a coir mat before them; they are now ready to cook a mock-meal between them. I smile. I will press that ball of dough between my fingers and flatten it expertly on my palm into a small smooth roundel. Mother always praises me for that.
Deepa looks at me. She giggles and whispers something into Shanti’s ears. It annoys me. Are they going to be against me again? Last winter the three of us had fought fiercely over a ball of wool. It was Kusum who had finally come to my rescue.
I pass them. Their mock meal does not interest me today.
I enter mother’s bedroom. Some women are sitting on the bed, they are inspecting some fine clothes and jewelry that are laid out in rows on the bed. Some touch them gingerly as it were that expensive stuff would scourge the tip of their fingers.
Quickly, I pass them and walk towards father’s library. I open the door - a thick smell of old books ushers me in. I scan the bookshelves, so many books and I am yet to read them. I pick up a thick envelope from the table, it could be a new book that father had ordered by mail. It is still unopened. I hesitate. Should I tamper with father’s mail? But he is too busy today. Since morning he has been counting wads of money, sending someone to buy a large fish from the riverside. He will not notice it.
I do not think twice. Quickly, I break the seal. A bundle of printed cards fall upon the floor. I am disappointed. These cards can be of interest only to father. I pick them up one by one. I see an interesting picture printed on all of them; it is a wedding scene- a bride is being carried in a red palanquin and a small procession of men and children follow it. I smile. I must show this to Deepa and Shanti, we can use such a wedding card in our mock-marriage next week. This will be a new idea; to use a real wedding card while playing ‘house house’ with them. And this will be my trump card. I will flaunt it before them. I will pirouette like a princess showing off my proud possession.
Some one calls me. I put away the bundle of wedding cards in a drawer and walk out of the library. Some women rush towards me, they look at me curiously. I want to ask “why do you look at me like this?” I say nothing.
They jostle me, take me to a small room with a large mirror on the wall. I try to run someone says, whispering, “no, no, you must not do that now, you’re not supposed to”- I sit on a chair and cry. I do not know why I cry. The women chat noisily, gossiping about Kusum’s kohl eyes. Some whisper, others laugh with sneers. To me Kusum’s kohl eyes are beautiful and my world is beautiful too it does not belong here in this small room full of women’s voices. My world is outside under the sky on that floor with Deepa and Shanti preparing a mock-meal.
Someone thrusts a thick packet upon my lap. I am curious.
I ask - ‘what is it?’
Nobody answers me. Only some giggles gather around me.
A woman drapes a red sari around me. It is too heavy. Someone ties a bracelet upon my wrist it hurts too much. Some more ornaments are suddenly all over my ears hands and neck. They stifle me. I feel nauseous. I have not eaten much except a glass of milk at breakfast. A rich spicy aroma of a meat curry wafts into the small room. My mouth begins to water. A woman puts a thick dab of red vermilion upon my hair’s parting. My head begins to itch. Some more women come into the small room. They take me outside.
I walk down the steps. I want to take two steps at a time like I always do while running out to meet father at the gate. I walk instead slowly behind those women who now take me towards a large fire that crackles noisily under a colourful shed. I can see many strange men and women sitting on a floor mat.
A young face suddenly looks up at me as if he has been waiting for me to arrive near the fire. Someone is ululating. It staggers me.
The ritual begins. The young face now murmurs some words repeating them after a saffron clad man who utters those same words quite inanely. The young face tries to do the same misses a word inadvertently. I giggle. It is so funny like someone missing a word in an oral test, our grammar teacher would have slapped that face twice for making such a silly mistake. I try to look at that face, it is hidden behind some garlands. I do not know if it is a handsome face. It looks like a thin pale face, somewhat like that boy who comes to deliver milk at our doorstep, every morning. Someone is ululating again.
The ritual is over.
Mother hugs me, she cries hoarsely. What does she cry so much? Suddenly someone carries me outside the gate and sits me inside a bullock cart. I am now sitting beside that young face that had spelled the words wrongly. The cart moves and bumps over the uneven path. I only think of Deepa and Shanti and of that bundle of wedding cards in a drawer in the library, of that picture of a bride in a red palanquin and a small procession of men and children following it.
I must tell them about this mock-marriage, that I have just taken an important role in it.