Sonali's Suitors

Chapter 15

The day that had been apprehensive towards for had finally arrived. I awoke to the sound of clanking pots and pans and the smell of jasmine. I was not a bad way to wake up. I don’t mean the sound of the pots and pans, but to the fragrance of jasmine. If my mother and I had anything in common, it would most definitely be the love we share for jasmines. Unfortunately for us, we had bought a Jasmine plant that had not to this day provided a single bloom. So I was confused at first about how such a sweet scent aired out in my quaint little room. Then with the full force of an epiphany, it hit me. Today was my engagement. Just before a groan could escape my lips my mother came charging into my room righting the bedcovers and fluffing pillows.

“It’s high time you woke up young lady. If your in-laws knew you slept till the sun’s rays hit your backside, what would they think about me?”

I ignored her comment and dashed into the washroom.

“You get ready now, you hear me Sona? The groom’s side will be here in no time.”

I did not utter a word. Decked out in the set of jewellery that my mom had so selectively chosen for me and a leaf green sari with gold embroidery, I stared at myself in the mirror. I could not recognize the young woman who stood before me. She appeared to be more mature and I was far from reaching that level of sensibility. As I stood contemplating my reflection in the oval-shaped mirror I heard the distinct sounds of a van pull up and the sound of a horn blaring. I had to suck it up and just face the day. All I knew was that Gautham better get us out of this whole ordeal.

I watched Gautham as he walked into the living room standing like a lamppost near my bedroom doorway. He looked as cool and collected as always. Who needed to teach a lawyer to maintain composure? I tried to catch his eye, yet he looked everywhere but in my direction. Curse him! How could he not be nervous? I was bloody hyperventilating here.
As if sensing my anxiety a head turned towards me but it did not belong to Gautham. It belonged to his friend. His eyes bored into mine for what felt like hours, and yet he did not divert his gaze. I was the first to break the contact. Somehow Gautham’s friend always managed to make me uncomfortable.

I slipped back into my room and sat down with a thump on the bed. Please let this day be over soon! I had no more than a couple of minutes to myself before Gautham’s mother and sister bustled into the room. I smiled up at them both weakly. They shot back brilliant smiles in return.

“Isn’t she the image of serenity? My beautiful daughter-in-law, I wish I could just whisk you away this instant. My son is very lucky to have found you.”

“Hey Sonali! You look gorgeous!” said my future sister-in-law. I pasted on a strained smile.

Today was going to be one tiring day. Deceit took every bit of life out of you. At least Gautham was faring better in that department.
I was left alone after they declared their approval of my accessories and make-up. A little kid scurried into my room and stood a foot of distance away from me.

“Hey Kutty! What can I do for you?”

The kid was obviously shy but was determined to get on with what it had been sent to do. The child stretched out the palm of his hand. Inside was something scrawled in ink. I pulled the child closer so I could better read what was written. In neat print was the sentence, all’s well that ends well. This was probably Gautham ‘s attempt at trying to calm me down. It hadn’t served to cool my nerves but it definitely pulled my features up to produce a genuine smile. I thought, not for first time, of how fitting his name was for him. I had always liked the picture of tranquility that Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha as they called him, had presented.
My mother came into the room with a bunch of my female cousins following her. They were engulfed in happy banter. Leading the pack of females, my mom took me by the wrist and led me into the living room that had an audience present. As I came in they all took a moment to appraise me. I could feel the intensity of one pair of eyes in particular, and they did not belong to my fiancé to be. They were his friends. This time it looked as if he actually smiled, or was it my imagination.

Two chairs had been separately placed in the middle of the gathered group. Gautham was already sitting on one, chatting away with my father as if their relationship spanned ages and not a couple of weeks. He glanced up at me momentarily and smiled. The smile was both reassuring and devastating. Did he have a plan?
They sat me beside him. I noticed that they had the set of rings Gautham and I had picked out at the jewellery shop placed on the table in front of us. Gautham’s mother cleared her throat to signal that they should start the ceremony. I held my breath. The color seemed to drain from my cheeks. No one seemed to notice. My mother-in-law to be placed the engagement sari that rested on a platter in my hands and touched my cheek lovingly. My breathing felt restricted. Before I had a moment to settle myself I felt several pairs of arms tugging me in the direction of my room. In the privacy of my room I wrapped the sari on my slim but curvaceous figure. Putting on the matching accessories I strained to hear the voices that were coming from just a few feet away.

A shrill female voice that I recalled belonged to Chandrika caught my attention. She was talking to Gautham’s sister.

“It’s amazing how these things work out. Gautham is seems so taken with Sonali. Did you see how he looks at her? I think theirs was a match made in heaven.”
I shook my head in misery. These people would only see what they wanted to see. Chandu’s comment did not make the least bit of sense. Gautham had barely spared a few glances her way today. There was nothing special about the way he looked at her. She would have felt it if he had looked at her differently, wouldn’t she?
There was a knock at her door and Chandrika sweeped into the room bringing the fragrance of vanilla with her. She hugged me tightly and not letting me go looked me over.

“You’ll make a beautiful bride Sona. I’m so happy you’re going be part of my family.”

“Aren’t we already family Chandrika? You are my cousin’s wife after all.”

“You’re absolutely right. Silly me! Are you ready?”

“Yes. I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be.” She laughed at that and rearranged the bindi that adorned my forehead.

Pulling my arm she led me back into the room full of spectators and seated me next to Gautham. His mom opened her arms, swept them in a moment around use and formed fists at each side of her forehead. I winced at the cracking noise. It was a customary practice done by olden day Indian way to ward of the evil eye of any onlookers.
She motioned for Gautham and me to get up. Neelu passed Gautham a ring, and Chandrika passed one to me. Staring at each other we waited for instructions. A pundit, who sat cross-legged on the floor, read the formal announcement of our marriage that would take place 6 months from now. That was six months of having a pretend fiancé to buy time for the real deal. Gautham leaned into whisper in my ear.

“It’ll all be over before you know it Sona. Don’t look so dejected, we’re on camera.”
I turned to see his friend holding up a professional camera, staring at us through the lens. He looked amused at my discomfort.

Everyone else in the room was watching Gautham and me expectantly. Before I knew it Gautham was sliding an elegant ring onto my finger. It must have cost a small fortune. He had even said I could keep it in the aftermath as a gift of friendship. No friend of mine could afford to give such an expensive memento. Sometimes Gautham puzzled me.
I felt my mom shaking my arm to get my attention. I looked down at my own hands that adorned with the engagement ring, now clasped the matching ring. Smiling, Gautham presented his left ring finger. I slid the ring onto his finger wordlessly.

With the exchange of rings complete, I was given permission to retire to my room and change into more comfortable clothes. Everyone was still here, ready to enjoy the hand-made feast my mom had single-handedly prepared for a large number of people. I loved my mom’s cooking, and her speciality was vegetarian dishes.

Suddenly there was commotion in the living room. The voices were high-pitched in concern and I began to imagine the worst of scenarios. Quickly changing into a salwar, I came running into the living room. Everyone hovered over a person seated on one of the plush sofas. I came closer. It was Gautham’s grandmother holding her hand to her chest. Everyone, including me, regarded her with concern etched in our brows. Seeing me standing there watching, she called to me. I drew even closer to the sweet old woman. Why was everyone just staring at her? Why didn’t they call for help? Was she having a heart attack?

She also called her grandson to her. Gautham kneeled beside me at his grandmother’s feet. Stroking my arm she smiled at me but winced in pain soon after. She smoothed the palm of her hand over grandson’s head lovingly. She then glanced at me.

“You look so much like my mother had. She was as beautiful as you. She was also as quiet. I’m glad we have found you for my grandson.”

I simply smiled up at her. Beside me Gautham kneeled uncomfortably. His gaze flickered from me to his grandmother. There was a lot of affection in the look he sent the old woman’s way.

“I love my grandson a lot and I have only one wish left that I want to have come true before I close my eyes. This body of mine is old and worn down. I don’t know how much longer it will be before the man up there calls me to him. I want to see my grandson happily wed. Is there any way we can move the wedding date up? I don’t know if this old shell of mine will last for six long months. Please grant me this last wish my darlings! It’s my very last one. Please don’t say no.”
The old woman clasped my hands in hers. I choked back the ebb of emotion that threatened to drown me.

“I.....I,” I stuttered.

Beside me I felt Gautham stiffen. He looked like a deer caught in headlights, unable to move. He suddenly swivelled his head in direction and focused his eyes on me. He seemed to be pleading with me by the look he gave me. What could I do? This was all an act anyway. Honestly, he didn’t expect me to agree to this did he?
While I still struggled to find a way to respond I heard my mother responding for me.

“Of course we can move up the wedding. The sooner the better right Sonali?”

I could kill my mother right then, I was so upset. I finally managed to nod, sending a devastated look Gautham’s way. It was unimaginable how such a sweet old lady could land me in such a predicament and my partner in crime had no solution. Gautham and I were definitely going to have a long talk. This just wasn’t done. We just couldn’t carry on stepping on the hearts of our loved ones.


Texte: Bharathi
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 19.02.2012

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