She had been married for 2 days. He hadn’t touched her yet.
The marriage, like all arranged Indian marriages, was an exercise in organized confusion. Collective hysteria. Mass pranaams. Deafening music and inscrutable Sanskrit. She remembers catching glimpses of his face while the marriage ceremony was being performed. The time he tied the mangalsutra around her neck, and when he smeared the vermilion-dipped ring on the parting of her hair. On other occasions, she was too lost being herded by her mother and aunts from one ritual to another. Too exhausted to express irritation. Anger doused by an overwhelming sense of change.
But when she did steal those looks at him, a mixed emotion of love and shyness flushed her. Forcing her to bite her lips and suppress her smile. She could not believe her luck. A boy she had loved since her girlhood days was now being given to her in marriage! He would be her man…a distinction too great to be digested in a day. In her honest opinion, four, even five women like her could not collectively deserve him! She thanked her babuji from her all of her soul.
Son of a family friend, he was among the first few males she had an acquaintance with. Even before the families had perceived the possibility of their marriage, she had started seeing him as an ideal partner. Always measured in his words, generous in his manners, soft with children, respectful with elders…he became her bespectacled hero. In a time when boys of his age busied themselves with video games and spiky hair, he remained comfortably old fashioned. Sticking to his loafers and khakis. Not even bothering to shave, or try different haircuts. Distant and sober with girls. Usually found with a book pressed under his arm. Helpful with chores.
They’d not exchanged more than a few lines in all their growing up years, usually meeting in family gatherings, but she could sense her heart going flip-flop whenever the time of his coming came. She engineered excuses to be around him, only to hear him talk to others. His deep, confident voice stirring the chords of her body. She didn’t breathe a word about it to anyone, but she often berated herself for not behaving this way or that when he was around. It was as if his presence dissolved her idea of balance. Did he figure out what she felt for him? How she sized up every centimeter of his 5 feet and 8 inches? Did he notice that she stared at his lips, or his eyes, a trifle too long? The attraction left her weak and fidgety; his lips melted her skin, his eyes drew her breath.
And now, after all these years of idolizing him, she was getting married. To HIM! It went by like a dream. She didn’t know for what joy, but she couldn’t spend the first night with him. In any case, she was too tired to enquire. She slept and slept till she was shaken awake, refreshed, trussed up in sari and gold, and sat on a bed to be shown. A part of her cursed herself for allowing this. Another part of her, flared by exasperation, wondered how he could be so detached. Luck is one thing, but she was now her wife! Where was he?
He met her in the privacy of their room in the night. Thankfully, the relatives had dispersed. It was then that she realized that he was as nervous as her, if not more. He muttered some clumsy words to make her feel home, implying she could ‘get more comfortable’. Not realizing, that the only comfort she had been seeking, every damn second of her life, was the snug comfort of his arms. Head facing down, she listened gracefully, not once revealing the hunger within. He slept on one side of the bed that night, giving her more space than she needed.
Two days of her marriage felt like two decades of deprivation. On the third day, yet another feast was organized and the house was swarming with familiar faces. But there was an interesting change. He had begun meeting her eyes with a look of understanding, of partnership. Over breakfast table, he offered her the menu with his eyes, and she responded with a nod, a shake, a smile, a blush. Romance was seeping in. And she had to try hard to look composed.
Their bedroom was on the first floor of the duplex apartment. The ground floor was where she was generally placed on display, and often ferried upstairs to the puja room for countless offerings. It had become a drill; soon she would be able to do it with her eyes closed. The day smothered along, different sets of people asking her the same questions, well-meaning people asking her to pose for their mobile camera a few hundred times, young in-laws trying to make small talk, almost everyone having an opinion on her sari and jewelry. It was such a constant drone, she thought she could doze off on its very rhythm.
Evening drew in. Golden rays of November sun came in through the slats of window, casting a fiery glow on her orange sari, reminding her of yet another day gone. She was beginning to miss home. The ceaseless clamour was getting on her nerves, and the only person she longed to be with, was engulfed himself. Once more, she was called upstairs. But this time, he came to fetch her. Her husband. Pleased, but tired, she gave a weak smile on seeing him. It was a short flight of stairs, sharply curving to another flight, before leading to the first floor. He went before her, to her right, offering his hand to help her find balance in the heavy banarasi silk sari. She managed herself, taking one step at a time, moving like a zombie.
At the curve of the stairs, when they reached the part which was blind to both the ground and first floor, unexpectedly, he extended his left arm to pull her close by her waist, gently squeezing her side as he drew her body close. It was a brief side-hug, made intimate by his pressing fingers on her bare waist, momentarily taking the breath out of her. He looked in her face as he did it, smiling, showing the first sign of ‘owning’ her. It was a touch bereft of desire, a touch not so much to convey that she belonged to him, as to assert that he belonged to her. She was so thrilled with the gesture, she blushed till her ears, and dug her chin in her chest. Smiling ear to ear. Unable to respond in action or in words. All other emotions washed out from her body, only a lingering sense of sweetness prevailed. The commotion, the crowd…all seemed to fade in at a distance, filtered through layers of atmosphere, the body of the man standing next to her as the only real thing. Overtaken by a sense of deep gratitude. Feeling, for the first time, as his wife.
Decades passed; children were born, raised. Life returned to the pace of normal, with regular troughs and crests in between. The early years of romance gave way to a subdued and stable companionship, laced with issues to be sorted, matters to be argued, happiness to be shared. An entire life transpired in between. But that one evening, on the third day of her marriage, that evening remained the most special evening of her life. Not even in the breathless post-coital panting, or the throes of child-birth, or the collectively hosted parties, did she feel so intimately attached to him as she did that day. When, in a house full of new people, he had stolen that moment of closeness with her. When he had first exercised his authority over her, when he had hauled her with love, in open defiance to the norm of the society. She had never felt so much his, as she had felt in that brief life-packed moment.
In all their after-years, she continued to smile inwardly, flooded with a gratefulness towards him, feeling time and again like his new bride, every time she thought of that squeeze.