A Lovely Wedding
(Written for Day of Reckoning)
There were times when words seemed to have lost their meaning. This was one of them. Vira was on
the phone telling Priti about the lovely wedding she and Ranbir had attended last evening. It had been
in the new seven=star hotel. The bride wore a sari that could have been made of pure beaten gold.
“It was so heavy, Priti, she could hardly walk. She and the girls supporting her had to move to the
mandap literally inch by inch. And the mandap was all lavishly lit-up. I wasn’t close enough to get a
proper look at her jewellery. . .”
If she had been, Priti reflected, Vira would have described each diamond quite accurately, carat by carat,
and how many emeralds there had been between the diamonds. Priti was thinking while she half
listened that a lovely wedding was what she would have called her own. It had been an affair of family
and friends, and the mandap a leafy flowery one in the garden. Far-flung relatives and their children had
met each other after years, to eat and drink and celebrate together. The bride – herself – had worn her
mother’s pearls around her neck and on her wrists .
. . .“The food was fabulous, Pri, imported from all over the place, and you won’t believe this, belly
dancers had been flown out from some Central Asian “stan” – can’t remember which one – and a band
from London – for the entertainment afterwards.”
There was no question of not believing it. It was what weddings had become.
“. . .and everyone who mattered was there. Ranbir knew a number of people and made some useful
new contacts. You know how good he is at networking.”
After telling her the boy’s father was giving the young couple a luxury Mediterranean cruise for their
honeymoon, Vira said, “I must rush, Pri. Let’s have lunch soon.”
Priti and Vira had been classmates in school. Not friends then, but school served as the connection
when they met again as married women years later in Delhi. A comfortable warmth and familiarity grew
between them, surprising for two women who had nothing in common, and might have been, thought
Priti, creatures from two separate planets, so unlike were their tastes and temperaments. Odd, but
there it was, in spite of the fact that they really didn’t speak the same language when it came to
anything that mattered. A lovely wedding! Or religion. Or tradition. Ranbir’s religion was money, and
Vira’s, to the naked eye anyway, was her weekly fast and various rituals prescribed by their astrologer
for her husband’s long life. What all this had to do with that mysterious fountainhead of love and mercy
upon whom true believers were said to depend, one could only guess. It was all far removed from Priti’s
own background. She couldn’t imagine her father networking at weddings or her mother starving while
he ate. Nor could she imagine either of her parents upholding anything, traditional or not, if it made no
sense to them. Yet the colourful touch Vira brought into her own more prosaic life was probably what
made her the companion to take time out with.
Vira’s next phone call urgently suggested a meeting right away. “I know how busy you are at this time” –
it was eleven o’clock in the morning – “but this is very important and I need your help or I wouldn’t
disturb you.” She and Ranbir had been waiting to hear when Prem was coming back from London,
having finished his course there, but instead he had telephoned to say he was staying on longer.
Obviously because of the angrez he had taken up with, which meant it was getting serious . It was a
terrible anxiety for her and Ranbir. Priti was the one to prevent this appalling situation from going any
further. Prem must be persuaded to come home and get down to work in his father’s office. And, of
course, he must marry an Indian girl, not a foreigner. They had found just the right girl, but her parents
couldn’t be expected to wait forever.
Lunch at Basil and Thyme was taken up with Vira’s anxiety.
“You know how important tradition is in our family, Pri,” she said after they had ordered quiches, “ My
in-laws would die of shock. You’re the one to influence Prem. You’ve always been such a favourite with
him. I wouldn’t even have asked for your help if you hadn’t been going to London yourself.”
Priti had been looking forward, with a great deal of hesitation, to her forthcoming trip. It was six years
since Som had suddenly died, leaving her to find her way through the wilderness of his absence – until
she had once again put pen to paper and come limping back to her writing, and gradually to a fairly
manageable life outside it. She still did not feel she could take the giant step of a journey abroad, even if
the invitation to the literary conference was an opportunity to move out of her isolation and get back to
the public activity that had now become part of a writer’s profession. Deciding whether or not to go
had been painful. And now there would be this other business to cope with. She did not share Vira’s
confidence that she could cope with it.
“Of course you will, “ said Vira, “if he doesn’t try to avoid you.” And suddenly losing patience with her
son, she burst out with “Can’t he understand how important tradition is and that we must love our
Though her distress was genuine, and Priti sympathized with it, the way Vira put it was so endearingly
like her, Priti could not help laughing.
“There’s no must about love, Vira. Love, well, love is love. It doesn’t obey rules.”
Vira brushed that aside. With a father in the diplomatic service, Priti had grown up in foreign countries
and couldn’t be expected to think like “us.” But that was what made her the right person to deal with
Prem. He would listen to her.
Priti rang Prem that night to tell him she would be coming to London and he was as delighted as when
she had taken him out for childhood treats. And as delighted, she was touched to discover, that she was
stepping out after so long. “You must stay with us, Aunty Priti, “we have a guest room.” She explained
that the conference had arranged for her stay. “But afterwards, then, at least for a couple of days,” he
insisted, and refused to take no for an answer.
Packing clothes for London would have its own problems. Summer there could be like winter. But she
could hardly make England’s weather an excuse for not going and it was much too late now to back out.
She gave herself a final mental shake and got down to work on her paper. The long and learned –
sounding title of the conference boiled down to an investigation into the why and wherefore of writing,
the hidden meaning behind the words and sentences put down on paper, and more of the same. Why,
she marveled, had the written word come under this invasive scrutiny? It hadn’t happened to painting.
No researcher burrowed into how or why a painting had been painted the way it was. If anyone wanted
to know why the canvas had a green splash on one side of it and blue stripes down the other and what
was this purple patch doing in the middle, he was expected to look at it and go on looking. That was
what it was there for. Paintings were painted to be looked at. And what was writing for but to be read?
The elaborate theories and analyses about writing now made literature a puzzle to decipher. Worse, it
cut off the direct connection between writer and reader. It made the age-old art of story=telling rather
like what the age-old turning points of life had become – like weddings that imported bands from
London and belly-dancers from Central Asia. She wrote an unlearned, unfashionable paper. To her
surprise when she re-read it, it had also turned out funny. She had intended making her point with a
light touch but it had gone on to become wickedly hilarious, turning the mantras “about” writing upside
down and making short shrift of a solemn subject. When she read it on the second day of the
conference she had to keep stopping for laughter and clapping. Priti was enjoying herself. There was a
man in the front row whose face she recognized but could not quite place. He came up afterwards to
introduce himself and remind her they had met two years earlier on one of his trips to India, where he
was engaged in advising on the renovation and restoration of heritage sites. His warm handclasp was
part of the festive atmosphere her paper had released.
“I’m an interloper at this conference,” said Jason, talking above the din of the talk around them, “I heard
you would be speaking . I’m glad I didn’t miss it. I wonder if I could take you out to dinner tonight.”
The answer to that might have been that it was years since she had dined out alone with a stranger,
apart from the fact that Prem was expecting her to move in this evening. It would not have sounded
very intelligent to say she couldn’t delay moving in because she had been entrusted with the job of
seeing that her friend’s son did not marry an angrez. For some reason, in her relaxed mood, this was
what she found herself saying, much to Jason’s amusement.
“And how are you going to manage that?” he asked, “I didn’t think arranged marriages were in your
“I’m neither for nor against them. It’s a decision the two people concerned have to make. I have no idea
how to go about this situation.”
“Good luck, then,” said Jason, “and have dinner with me tomorrow instead.”
She agreed to dinner with, after all, not a complete stranger.
Prem showed her around his apartment – their apartment, he explained, as they had been living
together for nearly a year. Priti took in her surroundings in dutiful detail, knowing Vira would want her
to report back. The living room was clearly a room for lounging, for leaning back with legs stretched out
and feet up on stools. Unlike Vira’s richly furnished drawing room, with its soldierly array of plump satin
cushions on the sofa, this sofa had a used domestic look. Its cushions were squashable and casually
strewn over it, and a book had been left tucked into one side of it. The dining space opened onto a small
courtyard, overgrown with stubbly grass. The apartment had a book-lined corridor – their joint
collection she supposed, of new as well as well-worn hard covers and paperbacks. The whole place had
the domestic air of two people unmistakeably settled in. “Living like that,” she could hear Vira mourning,
“when he could have the life he is used to at home.” Prem had finished showing her round when the
front door clicked opened and an attractive young man came in. Prem introduced the man as Steve, his
Priti’s small sharp shock dissolved into the flurry of their talk and Steve declaring how much he had been
looking forward to meeting her. He went into the kitchen and returned with a bottle of champagne and
three glasses on a tray. One bubbling glass was set beside her chair. She picked it up. What could one
do with a glass of champagne but drink it? She felt guilty. She had a promise to fulfil. She sorely missed
Som’s practical advice, but even Som would not have known how to handle this. The light-headed
feeling her second glass gave her dealt with the problem by postponing it.
The next morning the two of them came into the kitchen – one early, the other a bit later, one to make
his tea and toast, the other to make his oatmeal and coffee. They hugged each other good morning as if
they hadn’t spent all night together in their king-size bed. Also, as if they found her presence there no
bar to showing their feelings. When Steve left for work , Prem went out to do household shopping,
leaving her to relax against a squashy cushion with a detective story. She would have been absolutely
content but for racking her brains about what she should do next. Prem came back with with all her
favourite things for their lunch – fresh asparagus, smoked salmon, brown bread and a salad of crisp
“Do Steve’s people know?” she asked delicately.
“Oh yes, and they’re dead against it,” said Prem cheerfully, “So, of course, will mine be when you tell
them, Anty Pri.”
This gave her another shock, having to be the bearer of alarming tidings. How could she possibly?
Dining out that night with Jason she talked to him about it – this private family matter that did not
concern him at all, and could hardly be of interest to an interesting man whose own description of the
work he was doing on site at Hampi had fascinated her. Jason solved the problem by saying there was
no problem. Problems arose, he said, when there were dilemmas, when there were matters to be
decided and minds to be made up. The way she had explained the situation, the matter was already
decided. It was a solution that would never have occurred to her. She had to laugh at Jason’s typically
masculine no-nonsense logic, and to realize how much she had missed masculine company. She was
conscious of taking great pleasure in it now, rare for her on so slight an acquaintance. The rest of their
conversation over dinner slipped into the easy give-and- take of people who have known each other a
“Steve and I have decided you can’t go tomorrow,” Prem told her when she got home, “ You must stay
till the end of the week, Aunty Pri,” pleaded Prem, “Please say you will. We are counting on you. We are
getting married and you must be our parents.”
It was a brief civil ceremony. At her request Jason served as the other parent. He took them all out for a
celebration lunch afterwards. Priti tried not to think of the explaining she would have to do at home.
Jason’s logic would not work, and glancing at the radiant faces of the two young men, one on either of
side of her, it was plain that logic had nothing to do with it. Love was love. She would have to leave it at
Jason drove her to the airport and did not say goodbye. They would be meeting very soon, he said,
holding her hands in his, and added, “Very often.”
It was a happy thought but her rising exhilaration as she boarded her plane had nothing to do with that,
or with anything but the fact that she felt free, in unshadowed command of her own life for the first
time in years, and had a book to write.
*Article reproduced here with Author’s permission.