Sulochana aunty had to go apartment no. A Block 234 and inform the ladies that her daughter in law, Hemamalini, would not be able to attend this fortnight’s kitty party cum get together, arranged in this house. She could have very well telephoned and told them. But then, she was not sure who would pick up the phone. Sulochana aunty was not good at conversing in English nor in Hindi. By going in person and telling the ladies, it was expected that one or the other woman would understand her dialect. By the way it was neither a far away place, just two buildings apart.
When she reached the spot, she found quite a lot of ladies, talking, giggling, chirruping, humming, chiding and teasing one another. It was a lively atmosphere. The ladies were actually waiting for Hemamalini to join. Since she would not be attending, the ladies wanted to start and finish fast. They had already decided to ‘start early and finish early’ so that they could get back to their respective homes and carry on with their other routines. Each one had one agenda. School going children were expected anytime from 4 pm and mothers had to be there to receive them from school bus. For one lady, a physiotherapist would come at 4 pm to attend on her mother in law; another lady had to get back home to giving tuitions; yet another one lady had to keep her door open for the cook --- and so on.
The host of today’s party, Archana, was aware of the problems faced by these housewives. She stood up and said,
“We are all aware that The Valentines’ Day is just around the corner. Let us share our experience and refresh our memories. So, folks, I want each one of you to tell about your first meeting with your husband.”
Keertana was the first one to respond, “Which husband? First one, second one or third?” All the ladies laughed aloud in a chorus. Because, the question was posed by an unmarried girl. The only unmarried girl in the ladies’ group. She was a jolly type, easy-going lady. She was a spinster by choice, as she had her sick and aging parents to be taken care of.
She retorted, “I was asking on behalf of other members, so that no confusion exists.”
There was neither any case of second marriage or third one in the group. Of course, there was one divorcee woman, Shilpa, among them. But she too joined others in the riot of laughter.
Poornima, Aradhana, Sheba and Kareena started one by one. Poornima’s case was a ‘chat mangni – pat shaadi’ which was an instant marriage. So, she just saw him on the girl seeing ceremony and they approved of each other and the parents solemnised their marriage. There was no meeting as such with her husband. If at all any, it was only in the mandap, -- the marriage hall.
Aradhana had a long-drawn love affair. She met her fiancée in a mall at the billing counter. Her credit card when swiped did not work and she did not have sufficient cash in her purse at that time to meet the bill. Luckily, she had the cheque book with her. The counter clerk would not accept a cheque leaf. There was a long queue behind her. The other customers were getting restless. The man next to her in the line was willing to accept the cheque and offered his credit card for her bill-payment. His presence of mind and willingness to help her at the crucial hour were something that she did not expect. The problem got solved amicably. For safety sake, she got his account number and phone number written on the backside of cheque leaf and also in her cheque book. Even after a week’s time neither the cheque was presented, nor her account was debited. She became curious and rang him up to find out if there was any mistake or any lapse in the cheque given by her. He spontaneously replied that he had retained it as her autograph and the instrument as memento. She told him, “Instead you keep my credit card as memento. Now I have a new one.”
The magnetic strip on the card had faded. But the magnet otherwise from the card had worked on them. The rest was history. After many merry-go-rounds they were finally married.
Sheba met her husband at a hospital. He was an in-patient and she was the attending nurse. She narrated in detail about his medical problem and her care giving. He proposed to her right in the hospital, before getting discharged. Soon they became man and wife.
Kareena’s case was unique and all were aware of it. She was recently married. Both Kareena and her hubby-to-be were from the same block in the same apartment. They were accidentally locked inside the lift and it took a very long time for them to be rescued. That became a solid reason for them to be wedlocked.
Some ladies looked at aunty but, due to respects and reverence, they remained silent. One of them gathered guts and whispered,
“Will you tell us your old-time story of how when you met uncle for the first time?”
Sulochana was naturally interested in these young ladies and their ‘carry-on-easy’ policy. She spoke,
“I may be excused. I am not good at speaking in English. Hindi also, I am fluent only to some extent. So, one of you may have to translate.”
The ladies became curious. It was only a decade ago, her children celebrated their golden anniversary. Hemamalini had invited all these ladies for that occasion.
Sulochana said her father, a hand-to-mouth ordinary man of limited means had arranged for her marriage with great difficulty, that too in his native place. She was just thirteen when she was married. She was happy that she was made to wear a new saree and was decked with lots of flowers and garlands. She was the centre of attraction. That was all she knew about a marriage.
Her parents were busy attending to various chores. In those days there was no outsourcing system. Hence for every little thing, they only had to run around. Only priests and cooks were the outsiders. Rest all had to be managed by cousins, uncles and aunties. It seemed that the would-be mother-in-law saw Sulochana and told her son that he was very lucky to have a beautiful bride. He being carried away by his mother’s words wanted to see her, though it was not customary in those days. He insisted on that. So, his uncle, went to Sulochana’s father and told him about the groom’s fresh demand. He was already in neck-deep debts and now one more demand and that too at this eleventh hour! He was quite shaken. When he came to know about what the demand was, ‘Oh what a relief’! In this demand, there was no additional expenditure. Thank God!
He went inside and told Sulochana. He along with some elderly members led her to the groom’s party, who were located on the other side of the marriage hall. On seeing the bride, the groom, who was being teased and tickled by his aides till then, suddenly fell at her feet. All were aghast and no one could utter a word. But the scene did not end there. The groom was at the bride’s feet, not because he was enchanted by her. He was reeling under bouts of epilepsy. His mouth had gone awry, filled with fluids and froth, his hands trembling, legs twisting, his throat making funny growling grunts, … on the whole, a gruesome and grotesque scene. On seeing him lying like this, anybody would be quite disturbed. What to say of Sulochana! Tender Sulochana could not bear this shocking uncouth gesture from a person whom she was supposed to marry in a short while. She screamed ‘Appa’ and held him tight and cried, “I don’t want to marry. Let us go home.” Her father too was taken aback. He was more worried than anybody else. Soon things turned topsy-turvy. Relatives, guests and others started spreading news in their own styles. The marriage came almost to a standstill. The head-cook came and asked the food is almost ready and only a few more things remained to be done. He too was worried, ‘to carry on or not?’
While groom’s people went around to fetch a doctor, somebody pulled the bunch of keys from Sulochana’s father and thrusted them into the groom’s hands. Sulochana’s father, Mahalingam, almost gone crashed. He could neither perform the marriage nor cancel the wedding. More than his daughter’s life and future, he was worried about meeting the mounting expenses if he had to re-do it at a later date. He would be doomed forever if he had to postpone and perform it all over again. And what about his reputation? Who would care for him? In his own village his family would be an outlaw.
Just then a miracle happened. It is said truly, ‘when one door closes another door opens. Mahalingam’s close friend cum relative, Adinarayanan, rose to the occasion. He looking at the moving crowd announced loudly, “Please don’t go. The marriage will be carried on. All of you bless the couple and then go.” He turned to his son, standing by his side,
“Hey, you Kannan, get dressed up and come to the stage in the marriage hall. Be quick. Don’t worry. There is no Janawasam, no vratham, no Kaasiyaatrai and none of the so-called pre-rituals. Straightaway marriage only. Note this point. This Sulochana is your Bhagyalakshmi, that is to say your lady-luck, to brighten your life and future for all time to time. You are tying the knot and bringing her to our family.”
He turned to Mahalingam who was already at his feet with teary eyes and unspoken words. He consoled him and asked him to rush up. The auspicious hour for the auspicious occasion should not be missed. The priests chanted the hymns with double rigour as their payment was now ensured. The crowd was happy as they could freely indulge in the wedding feast. Finally, amidst all chaos, Kannan, the young boy tied the knot around Sulochana’s neck. Rukmini, his siter, who lent support for the holy act, demanded a new saree. Immediately, her father knuckled on her head and snubbed her. “How dare you demand a new saree? Don’t you know this is a budget marriage. You will get the extra one in your marriage. If you want, go and take two laddus.” She was known for her craziness for sweets.
The journey of Kannan and Sulochana started from then on.
Sulochana aunty almost completed her wedding story. The ladies remained spell-bound. They were quite impressed by the gesture of the boy who accepted the bride without any hitch or demands. But Keertana asked, “Aunty, when did you meet uncle?” Sulochana was about to say that she met him in someone else’s marriage. But by then somebody came asking for aunty. Who else? Uncle Kannan only.
As soon as he came in, all ladies one by one fell at his feet. He did not understand why suddenly a bevy of women fell for him and were at his feet. Afterall he had come to fetch his wife and go home.
Archana instantly extended an invitation to Uncle.
“Uncle a marriage feast is kept ready. Please join us.”
Kannan asked, “Whose marriage?”
Swiftly a chorus reply rent the air, “Of course, yours!”