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Wedding season

Arpa Ghosh |

The first call reached her when she was packing her big-shopper and silently weeping for the shonajhuri trees. Daronda was a haven of peace. She hated to leave her house, her garden and the trees. Amrita sensed them calling her to stay, stay, stay… If only she could. The station-bound rickshaw had arrived and Amit was giving the gardener last-minute directions.

“Hello,” breathed Amrita unwillingly. The odour of Kolkata wafted to her nostrils.

“Amrita di, Tanuja here. This is unacceptable!” Tanuja was panting.

“What happened?” Amrita was troubled since she knew Tanuja to be a quiet, middle-aged divorcee who usually opened her mouth once a day to eat her tiffin. Recently she had been keyed up about her niece’s wedding. Everyone in college had been invited to Hridaypur to grace the grand occasion.

“Oishee may be a guest-lecturer, but she is my niece and therefore like my daughter. I have full freedom to invite the whole college to her wedding if I want. The principal has graciously accepted, so have you and the rest. I’ve given you detailed road instructions to the venue. Two hours down Jessore Road, turn right when you come to Mulayam’s Dhaba, take the forked road….”

“But what’s the problem?” interrupted Amrita utterly confused.

“Yesterday, Rukmini di charged me savagely.”

“Why?”

“She ambushed me in the corridor and hissed, I am an associate professor and your niece is only a humble guest-lecturer in this college. I am inviting the whole college to my daughter’s wedding and so is she? How is that possible? Look at my status. I’ve booked Rajaji Palace. Aurobindo Dinda, prize-winning Durga Puja artist, is designing my daughter’s wedding-card, gondhoraj kabab and chocolate samosa is to be served as starters.

I am giving Tushu thirty lakhs in jewellery. How can there be any comparison between my Tushu and your Oishee? Tell me Amrita di, have I ever drawn any comparison? Oishee is in her place and Tushu is in hers. I am also an associate professor. What right does Rukmini di have to insult me?”

Amrita made soothing noises. Amit was pointing to his watch.

“Tanuja, I’m…”

“Even then I kept quiet and was coming away. Rukmini di thrust her nose in my face. Twenty years ago, you invited all the teachers and all their husbands to your wedding, she hissed. You squandered money like water. What happened? Have you forgotten those days? What if it gets repeated with Oishee? Can she say such a thing, Amritadi, can she?”

Christ, murmured Amrita. “Tanuja,” she repeated firmly, “I’m in Daronda. We came for the weekend. We are returning. I shall meet you tomorrow. We’ll talk then.”

***
On Monday, when Amrita entered the staff-room Rukmini was angrily munching egg-chop. In another corner, Tanuja was glumly reading a book on abnormal psychology. Amrita quietly switched on her laptop to check student projects. Amrapali, staff-room gazette, moseyed up with a steaming cup of coffee.

“Heard the latest?”

“About Rukmini and Tanuja?” asked Amrita wondering if it was safe to comment. But given Amrapali’s refined espionage system, she would be the first to know anyway.

“O, that? Don’t give it any importance. Tanuja was always an over-reactor.”

Too late Amrita remembered Rukmini and Amrapali were thick as thieves. Amrapali continued, “There was a huge scene between Ragini and Ayushi di on Friday.”

Amrita raised her eyebrows. Aayushi di was a mature bride-to-be scheduled to be married right after Rukmini and Tanuja’s wards’ nuptials. Cupid had arrived late in her life and she was reserved about details.

She had left cards in names of selected departments. People were peeved by her selectivity, but she belonged to the science faculty and could have ignored the arts people, so nothing much to be said there.

“What happened?” asked Amrita.

“Ragini, it seems, received a call from the principal who wanted her to take down an important phone number. Ragini had no paper on her and she couldn’t be bothered to fetch paper from the corner. So guess what she did?”

For the life of her Amrita couldn’t. Pleased as punch Amrapali filled her in. “She extended her hand, took one of Ayushi di’s wedding cards, tore a piece from it and wrote down the number.”

“And then?” whispered Amrita furtively eying Ragini’s thunder-cloud face. So that explained the bad temper of the usually jovial and witty lady.

“Then what? Someone must have squeaked to Ayushi di. She came storming down from the science wing. How dare you vandalise my wedding card, she screamed. You call yourself a Brahmin? Is this the conduct of a Hindu Brahmin woman? You’ve given your son in marriage and you don’t know the inviolability of the card before the wedding is completed?”

“What was Ragini’s reaction?”

“She kept saying there was no other paper. Ayushi di went ballistic. No paper? You call yourself a professor and you don’t even carry a diary? I’m getting married after so many years and here you are trying to jeopardise my happiness? Ragini couldn’t hold her tongue and finally retorted, don’t mind, but there lies the crux. If you had married at the right age you wouldn’t have been so insecure! And then all hell broke loose!”

Amrita let out a sigh and collected her books to leave for class. In the corridor she was waylaid by Deepshikha, a striking young part-timer.

“Madam, I’ve something tell you,” Deepshikha said shyly.

“Are you getting married?” Amrita asked with a tired smile.

Deepshikha glowed with happiness and fished out a wedding card from her designer jhola.

“For you and Monami ma’am. Please don’t tell anyone else. The venue is Orchid Resort off Park Circus. And ma’am, it will be a theme-wedding; the theme is peaches and cream. Don’t worry. You can wear any shade of pink.”

Amrita stared. She’d never heard of Bengali theme-weddings before. Guess there is always a first time.

“I shall try Deepshikha, but I cannot make promises. There is such a flutter of weddings this year.”

“No ma’am, no excuses. Both of you have to come. Excuse me, I’ve to hurry. I’ve to go shopping for my pre-wedding shoot.”

“What’s that?” gawped Amrita.

“It is included in the photo-shoot package — pre-wedding, wedding photos, videos, digital frames, memory photo-book rolled in one. We can choose the spots. I’ve chosen Princep Ghat and College Street.”

“What will you do in College Street?”

“I shall peep out of a book-shop and Animesh will smile at me from across the street. Then Animesh will lend me a hand while I step out of a boat and we’ll smile into each other’s eyes. It will all be very dramatic and romantic.” And Deepshikha flew away on wings of romance before Amrita could ask her how much the affair would cost. Anyway it was none of her business. Amit and she had married in court calling a handful of friends to dinner.

Her phone beeped. It was the principal. “Amrita,” the lady said self-importantly, “As TCS, you will call a meeting, let us say, day after tomorrow?”

Warily Amrita asked, “What is the agenda, Madam?”

On the other side, the lady took a deep breath. She seemed to come to a decision. Deepening her voice to a suitable level of gravitas, she said, “We need to discuss contribution amounts for the wedding season. Too many invites in a single season! All these young guest lecturers and CWTTs marrying like mad! Then we have the wards and daughters of teachers.

Then again we have a senior teacher like Aayushi tying the knot. I seriously think there should be some demarcation. Everyone cannot be treated the same. So this Wednesday, call everyone to a meeting and we shall debate the issue. “

Amrita swallowed. “But Ma’am, this is a private matter. And the candidates, won’t they feel embarrassed?”

Sensing opposition the lady grew severe. “No, they won’t since they are contributors to other weddings. And no need to get sensitive about it. This is an institution and it works by rules and regulations. This year the situation is getting out of hand. We have to frame a gift-policy according to status.”

“Actually, ma’am, I am attending a family function on Wednesday, so…”

“Amrita,” interrupted the principal, “If you wish to avoid the meeting, fine, though if this is your attitude, frankly I’m surprised you were nominated TCS. The meeting will be scheduled on Wednesday and that is final. Tell Amrapali to conduct it.”

“Okay, Madam,” said Amrita meekly.

***
On Wednesday afternoon, Amrita’s phone beeped.

“Amrita di, where are you?” Amrapali wailed.

Amrita laughed. “At Bharat Sevasram. Why?”

“What are you doing in that dull place? Do you know what happened a few minutes ago?”

It was two. The TC meeting was scheduled at 12. Had there been a row? Had Aayushi di stormed out saying she had had enough and she wasn’t inviting anyone to her wedding?

“Nothing of that sort, though we were tense. Remember the mousy Neeta Pramanik?”

A face indistinguishable from the college furniture floated in Amrita’s mind-eye. Amrapali’s voice rattled on.

“The meeting was in full-swing. There was a ripple in the back. Gradually whispers reached the front benches. We turned and lo behold, who should be standing at the door dolled up in peacock-blue benarasi, forehead smeared with sindoor, head, neck and wrists armoured in gold jewellery, smug as you please? Who but Neeta Pramanik! Neeta had bunked invigilation duties on Monday and Tuesday.

The in-charges kept ringing her but she couldn’t be reached. And all the time she was getting married on the sly, and to a brain-surgeon who simply mints money! Can you believe it? How could you forget us we wailed, and pat came the reply, everyone marries with fanfare. I married in private. Nice variation, don’t you think? Why should everyone do the same? And then the principal lost…”

Balancing a pail of chholar dal Amit was urgently pointing to her right. Amrita firmly said, “I am in the middle of something important, Amrapali. I shall get back later,” and abruptly cut her off.
“To your right,” insisted Amit, “The children have been asking for mutton. Serve them.”

“I’m coming,” responded Amrita and heaving an aluminum bucket brimful with mutton-curry turned to the eager, lean, vest-clad street-children sitting in a row to her right. “Who wants mutton?” she asked. All heads nodded in agreement. All faces broke into heavenly smiles.

Amit’s friends Rupali and Dinesh were arranging ice-cream cups in trays preparing to dive in once the main course had been consumed.

“No,” warned Amit, “The bride and groom don’t serve today. Why are we here?”

Rupali blushed prettily in an everyday blue salwar kameez. A few hours ago in the presence of bosom friends and Bharat Sevasram monks, she and Dinesh had signed the dotted line. Her forehead was radiant with sweat-beads and a light smattering of sindoor that was perhaps the only concession they had made to a traditional wedding. Their wedding fund had gone into the sumptuous feast the monks had so kindly arranged for the street children.

“Come on, Amit,” soothed Amrita, “This had been the dream they had nurtured all their courtship days, to share the happiest day of their lives with the children. Let Rupali and Dinesh serve dessert. That is exactly as it should be.”

That night Amrita slept peacefully in her stuffy Bijoygarh flat and in her sleep she dreamt of the shonajhuri trees framing her little cottage in Daronda. They called her to “come, come, come”. She smiled gently in her sleep.