While doing some settings change, I deleted few chapters by mistake. I am posting them again.
Thank you for all the love… stay blessed. And safe.
“I’m a lesbian.” She declared.
A genuine, deep-seated worry laced the subtle change of expressions on his face when he quickly said, “Oh, now I understand. Is this why you had a bad previous marriage? Is this why you are refusing our marriage? Then, it is a valid reason and I don’t think anyone should force you for that. Do you have a girlfriend?”
Nandini rolled her eyes and looked up at the sky once, to seek help from Aiyappa. She gritted her teeth, and replied, almost chewing her words, “No. I don’t have a girlfriend. I am done with relationships. This warning was for you, sir!”
Manik tried to think about it and wondered aloud, “But I told you specifically that I don’t expect anything from this relationship.”
“Listen, I agreed for this marriage because my maasi won’t have it otherwise. She will get me married to someone or the other. But I have to warn you on my part. It’s my duty to tell you that I am a lesbian, incapable of any normal physical relationship with a man.”
Manik leaned by the wall behind him, with one hand holding the phone to his ear and other hand folded to touch this hand’s elbow. He closed his eyes with a wide smile on his lips and heaved a deep sigh of relief. “Nandini, thank you so much. You have no idea about the favour you have done to me, today.”
“Favour?” She frowned.
“Yes. This was the only thing troubling me when my dad convinced me about marriage. I knew about you and your past and really didn’t care about it. But still, I was worried if I was spoiling someone’s life by not giving her what she deserved. Now that you are a lesbian, I expect you to absolve me from the sin of committing to marriage and not making any physical advances towards you.”
“You mean to say…” She couldn’t believe him.
“I mean to say that I have no issues with your sexual orientation if you have no problem in getting married to me. For me, it is just a formality.”
“For me, as well.”
“Fine, then. Is there anything else that you want to declare or ask?”
Aman’s wedding was arranged on a grand scale. The venue, catering, decorations, stay for relatives, sangeet, mehndi, and marriage were all decided for months and prepared well in advance, at the lavish and grand scale matching up to the Malhotra tradition and reputation.
The last moment announcement of Manik’s wedding in the same ceremonies shocked the relatives but Malhotras were spared of indefinite questions about Nandini and her family, as the hustle and bustle of two weddings, rituals, and the huge crowd killed a lot of unnecessary voices which could have amounted to the crazy noise, in other circumstances.
Manik had come to India after almost a year. So most relatives were busy meeting him, some asking about their medical ailments, some asking about life at Innsbruck, some requesting him to help their teenage sons and daughters in settling ‘abroad’, very few actually interested in his marriage. Superna was irked initially but since everyone including her husband and Manik was happy, or appeared to be so, she gave up on her gloomy mood and made sure that the wedding ensued in a grand affair.
Manik was mostly silent and sober for the entire duration of ceremonies, living up to his reputation of being less talkative, doing things he was asked to do, following elders, and not speaking much. He was not even thinking about what was going around him during the Haldi and other ceremonies. His mind was stuck in Innsbruck and he wanted this drama to get over so that he could leave India as soon as possible.
He didn’t really register when he was sitting before the holy pyre of marriage and someone had brought Nandini to be seated next to him. His sash was tied to her odhani, thereby tying the knot to begin the marriage rituals. It was only when the Panditji asked for him to stretch his open palm ahead and placed Nandini’s small, soft, delicate hand in his hand, when he was shaken off his trance to be in the present, to understand the gravity of the situation. The subtle human touch within his palm and the overbearing fragrance of jasmine flowers decorated in her hair made him aware of a life that was in his hand, just as he felt when he was accepting a case for surgery and asked by patients’ attendants to take care.
On an impulse, he turned his eyes towards her. She was looking at him, at this very moment. Her dark, soulful, mystifying eyes waiting for him to look into them and read her like a book. He didn’t smile. Neither did she. They simply looked at each other, as if recalling the phone conversation they had before this.
Panditji asked Manik, “The hand that I have given in your hand belongs to the girl you are getting into a sacred union with. All of us want you to promise in the name of God, before this holy pyre, that you will hold this hand forever… and will take care of her, as long as both of you shall live.”
Once again, Manik looked at her, wondering what was so different in this small face that it didn’t look like she was a stranger to him. It appeared as if he knew her. Since long. As if he was destined to hold her hand on this day and make this promise to her. Was it because they were both weird, mysterious, messed up individuals?
And, was it even right to do so?
His heart thumped harder wondering if he was making a mistake. What if he was committing a sin by mocking a sacred bond? What if he was destroying her by making her a part of his sinister world?
No. His heart confirmed.
His dad had told him that he was doing a noble gesture by marrying a woman going through the worst phase of her life and had no hopes of salvation. He had spoken to his dad about his complete disinterest in getting married. Ever.
His dad had listened to him patiently and then asked him if he would marry Nandini. It would shut the world up for both of them. The only way out for both of them was to save each other from shadows of their darkness. His dad had assured him that he had convinced Nandini, telling her the same, as even she had no inclination towards this marriage.
Knowing more about Nandini from his dad and then after talking to her, he was confident that he was not spoiling someone’s life because of his own apathy towards a marital relationship. He had had enough burden of his own that he would have never added a headache of a wife to his disturbed life. But thankfully, Nandini was as disinterested as him, if not more.
‘Two broken souls won’t damage each other more than they already were!’ They were convinced about this theory.
Manik was relieved to know that Nandini had her own baggage of indifference and turmoil. And if they were both trapped in the convoluted tangles of their own lives, then be it. He was comforted in this mutual darkness.
“I promise!” Manik said. And curled his fingers to enclose her hand in his hand. Nandini looked at their hands and wondered where it was leading them. She had stopped thinking deeply about her life, long back. But she wondered if Manik was being callous about himself when he agreed to marry her. She had tried her best to warn Manik about her. But he didn’t bother.
Now, if he was adamant about going ahead despite knowing everything she had intended to tell him, then it wasn’t her fault. She was not going to take the blame for any mishap now.
The rest of the rituals followed one after the other – exchanging of garlands, tying the mangalsutra, filling her parting with vermillion, taking seven vows with seven rounds around the holy pyre – each of the steps tying them together. Every vow taken by them, every mantra chanted by Panditji, bringing them closer in a bond that meant nothing for them but legally and socially, it united them to be ‘one’ for as long as they would choose to honour it.
Manik’s room was decorated in beautiful flower arrangements fit to serve the purpose it was meant for. It breathed into the smell of the flowers spread all around the room – fresh, moist, red roses and white rajnigandha and mogra.
Superna blessed Nandini and gave her a bracelet to ward off evil-eye, making Nandini wonder about its significance. She didn’t speak anything and patiently endured the relatives, through their share of teasing and trying to make her blush. Once left alone by Superna and Manik’s relatives, Nandini sighed and stood up from the bed, balancing her heavy lehenga, odhani, and all the heavy jewellery and flowers on her.
Nandini walked all around the room and observed the beautiful furniture done in dark brown and beige, beautiful flowers, royal, exquisite curtains, expensive carpet, and some antique artifacts adding to the exemplary decor of the room. Manik opened the door of the room and found her curiously looking around his room as a bird observed the cage on the first day of captivity. He felt awkward. He walked in and slowly and carefully closed the door, but it still startled her. She stood rooted in one place and gawked at him, with her beautiful doe-shaped eyes, looking evidently surprised and clueless.
“Um… do you need something?” he asked.
“A corner that isn’t decorated. A place that doesn’t smell of this fragrance.” She murmured, with a painful look on her face.
Manik rolled his eyes, “Tell me if you find one. Only I know how I am enduring this nonsense.”
“Suffocating!” She murmured in a low, stifled voice, and turned around to face the mirror in the dressing table of his room. She removed her odhani from her head and started taking off the jewellery from her head – mang tika and small chains extending from her heavy diamond-studded ear-rings, followed by every piece from all parts of her body, adorned in jewellery given by Manik’s mom and relatives.
Manik opened his cupboard, took out his black track pants and white tee-shirt, and went inside the washroom to change. When he came out after hardly ten minutes, Nandini had already removed all the flowers from her hair, taken off her jewellery, and bangles, and opened her long hair, extending down, much below her hips. Her peculiarly long, silky, jet-black hair went cascading down her back when she freed them from her bun made at the nape of her neck.
Manik stopped at the washroom door, weirdly surprised to see her lush, thick, black mane covering her back, almost up to her calves. Nandini noticed him observing her and moved her deep, kohl-lined eyes to his side, giving him a curious stare. He squeezed his eyes and frowned.
“What are you looking at?” She asked.
“Your hair…” He replied honestly, “Sorry…actually, no one in my family has this thick, long, black hair… everyone has brownish, thin, shorter hair. Even in Innsbruck, I’ve usually seen people with shorter hair and blonde or lighter colour… So, it kinda caught my attention…”
She glared at him and raised her brows, as she spoke in deep, husky voice, “Maybe, because… you haven’t seen a witch before?”
He was not expecting this reply. The suddenness and the weirdness, both were enough to make him smirk. He threw his sherwani on the couch and went near his bed to remove the flowers hanging down from the ceiling, making a canopy over the bed. He was still smirking. Baffled, she observed him keenly. He collected all the flowers from the bed and the canopy, and returned to her to dump them in one corner of the room.
Then, he stood right before her. His eyes on hers, straight and piercing them. He had stopped smirking by now. In a serious, poised tone, he said, “I am a doctor. Try something else to scare me.”
She folded her hands across her chest in a defiant pose and raised her chin up to meet his eyes, almost a hand’s distance. She spoke, one word at a time, “I’ve told you before that people around me die in mysterious circumstances. I will not take any blame if anything wicked happens with you.”
“I wish!! Not a fan of this shitty life, either.”