Editor’s Choice: A Hilarious Short Story – A Summer Wedding
This short story is selected as Story of the Month June’2012 and won INR 1000 (US $20)
Samiran took his kurta off and threw it out to a corner of the room in disgust. It was soaked through in sweat. His vest was soaked too, but he could not remove it for propriety’s sake. After all he was a guest here and had to maintain some sort of decorum. He lay back on his back and stared at the ceiling. Sleep eluded him, not that it was essential, though, but a good siesta after a sumptuous lunch was always welcome.
The ceiling proudly displayed a hook to which a fan should have been hung. Only this illusory fan was missing. This room, or rather, hall, was a newer addition to his host’s house and was far from complete as yet. The walls needed a coat of paint. The ceiling needed a fan and the floor too was incomplete. Their host had allotted this unfurnished and unadorned room to them only to ensure their privacy. Samiran sighed and turned to his side. An ineffective table fan swung in the far corner, albeit in utter languor, emitting a peculiar sort of groan that rose and fell with the swing. What was it doing there anyway? Thought Samiran. It gave out more sound than breeze.
Samiran and his friends were all young medics who had just completed their Housejobs after graduating from the same college. They had come to a remote village in Midnapur district o the occasion of the marriage of their bosom friend and collegue, Sandipan. This was the ancestral home of Sandipan and his parents still resided here. It was from this house that the groom’s party, called Barjatri in these parts and Barati in Northern and Western India, would go with the groom to the bride’s village. They were to start this evening. The marriage was scheduled for midnight, which, the elderly Brahmins had jointly declared, was the most auspicious hour. Sandipan’s marriage was a relief for them all. At last now they would be free from hearing the sordid details of the courtship of that moron, that they had been bombarded with over the years. Tanima had been a distant relation of Sandipan, like the second cousin of his maternal aunt twice removed or some such rigmarole or other. Their whirlwind love affair had begun a few years ago when the girl had got herself enrolled in the Jadavpur University as a student of Comparative Literature. Now that chapter at least was nearing its end, to the relief of all concerned.
That fateful morning they had started from the Howrah Station in a local train for Contai. Contai was a big town with more bicycles and cycle-rickshaws on the road than men. There they had taken a van-rickshaw which would take them to Sandipan’s village. Samiran had no idea that these vehicles ferried passengers as well. He had always thought that these were used for goods transport. Anyway, all of them sat cross-legged on the flat wagon of the vehicle clutching at whatever they could for dear life, as they swayed and bumped their way on to the village, some seven kilometres away. It was a memorable and painful journey. On arrival they had been given a welcome fit for kings and after lunch, they were escorted to their present quarters. Sandipan’s father was apologetic at the non availability of a ceiling fan, but our intrepid heroes had brushed away all apologies with heroic nonchalance and Samiran was paying the price now.
Samiran turned the other way. Four out of the six beds in the improvised dormitory were occupied by his friends. Anwar was sleeping on his back, resembling a supine and comatose walrus, with his handle-bar moustache. Sudip lay on his side, curled up like a brooding foetus. The snores of Debu reverberated in the confines of the rooms like a diesel engine negotiating a Simla tunnel and Gautam was muttering obscenities in his sleep. In disgust Samiran sat up o bed and threw his slipper at the snoring giant, Debu, which merely bounced off his bulk. The sleeping beauty did not stir nor stop snoring. Samiran reached for his pack of cigarettes. How on earth could these guys sleep like this in this goddamned heat and humidity! His eyes, roving aimlessly around the room, fell on the open doorway and stopped. A pair of large, ugly feet came into his line of vision, being anointed with the red, liquid Alta.
Who could it be? Only ladies of the house adorn their beautiful feet with this stuff! But he had seen no lady yet with such a pair of Neanderthaloid feet! He stood up and tip-toed out of doors. The groom, Sandipan was lying on his back, getting his feet anointed, in accordance with the local custom. God! It was hilarious! Samiran ran back into the room and poked his room-mates awake inviting them all to see the comic scene. But the buffoons all rolled over to resume sleeping with a vengeance. So Samiran had only one option left. He went outside, strode across the body of the grinning ape, Sandipan, and went in search of a cup of tea. The tea was enough to rouse the rows of modern Rip Van Winkles out of their slumber.
After tea the friends assembled near the pond at the back of the house to enjoy a quiet smoke. They were now fully dressed, complete with perfumes and stuff, for their onward journey. They had not been able to weasel out the details of their travails ahead, but were mentally prepared to face all ordeals. Even then they were not prepared for the spectacle that unfolded before them, causing them to choke on their cigarette smoke. A procession was coming up the village street. That the procession comprised wholly of children, was not the cause of their consternation, but the lead object was. It was a palanquin!
“A palanquin!” exclaimed Anwar. “Can they still be found these days?”
“Apparently they can,” observed Samiran.
“Don’t tell me that the oaf Sandipan is going to travel in a palanquin to get married! He’ll take about a month to reach anywhere!” Debu was aghast.
Debu’s apprehensions were unfounded. The procession led by the groom’s palanquin, followed by his closest friends, the band party belting out Hindi songs, his relatives and the village urchins, legged it up to the main road about two kilometres away. There a bus was waiting to carry them further on, resplendent in a decor of chains of bright yellow and orange coloured marigold garlands. A loudspeaker blared out from top of the bus, giving them Bengali love songs. The band party was stationed on the roof of the bus. They wanted to give all concerned their money’s worth by continuing to regale them with Hindi film numbers. It was sheer torture to anyone’s auditory faculties.
The bus, with the musical cacophony continuing unabated, meandered its way past the town of Contai to reach the broad and expansive River Haldi. Dark had descended by this time and the river looked ominous and black. A number of country-boats were there, tied to the bank, to ferry the Barjatris across. The hearts of the city-bred friends quaked at the prospect of crossing over, but there was no way out. Gautam missed his footing, fell into the river and got his trousers soaked through and through. But it was all a part of the game and nobody minded anything, except Gautam himself. Everybody piled in the boats, including the band party, and their voyage began. In the dark, Samiran could not make out whether they were moving backwards or forwards. Sandipan was all the while standing up in the boat like a twentieth century Columbus, grabbing the main mast, in eager anticipation.
All good things come to an end and all bad things too. After some time the crossover was complete and our heroes heaved a collective sigh of relief. It appeared that none of them were adept at swimming.
The ghat where they landed was well lit-up by sodium vapour lamps. A big reception team awaited their arrival and soon all of them were guzzling on an assortment of sweets of different shapes, sizes, flavours and colours. A bus, similarly made-up as their last one, waited for them up the street. All got in except that the band party was nowhere to be seen. Minutes ticked by and the waiting Barjatris got restive. It would be a shame if the auspicious moment was allowed to slip by. A few of the locals fanned out to search the neighbourhood. An hour went by. Now all began to get worried. Had their boat capsized while crossing? But, surely at such an event the drowning men would have called for help! After a further wait of a quarter of an hour, a chorus of singing voices with jumbled consonants and slippery vowels could be heard, followed by a number of tottering persons staggering upto the bus could be seen. The band party had, like a lot of homing pigeons, sailed straight and unerringly, even in the dark, up to a local country liquors shop about three hundred odd yards downstream and had brought themselves back totally soused.
It was close to midnight when we entered the bride’s village on foot. The groom, of course, was not allowed to measure his tread with us, commoners, and was transported once again like a piece of worthless, though antique, item in a palanquin. Porters with gas-light showed us the way. In this village, any village I mean, midnight is not the time for loitering about. It is hour of the drunk, the burglar or the alley cat. Even the dogs pull down the shutters and sleep the sleep of the just. But the good villagers of this drowsy little village proved to be a tolerant lot. Not only did they tolerate the band and dazzling gas-lights, but they were also good enough to crowd their doorways peering with bleary eyes to get a glimpse of the specimen of drowsy humanity swaying dreamily in the palanquin.
It was well, one at night when Samiran and others got an opportunity of sitting for dinner. They were on their alert, as Sandipan, before the wedding rituals began, had beckoned at Samiran to whisper urgently in his ears a few words of warning.
“Be on your alert during dinner time. In these parts, the girls from the bride’s side are notorious for their pranks and practical jokes on the groom’s friends.”
So they were now eating with great caution. One never knew what could happen. Maybe the appetising Mutton curry will be laced with so much chilli powder so as to make a tiger run for dear life! Or there maybe stone-chips in the Rosogolla! But none of them were ready for what came to pass.
The first missile was fired when Anwar was chewing at a particularly juicy drumstick. He was savouring the fare with eyes shut, when, splat! It landed right at the back of Anwar’s head. It was nothing lethal, of course, but sticky and annoying. The well directed Rosogolla hit its target with unerring accuracy and burst showering its shrapnel, in the form of its syrup and white fragments of itself, upon Gautam and Debu. Volley followed volley. The grooms friends were all smeared with this sweet onslaught from head to toe. Samiran had turned to locate the assailant. He froze. A pair of doe-like eyes made him captive. The blue sari-clad exquisite beauty gave him a coy smile. Samiran was so smitten that he failed to notice her lethal left hand. She was a lefty, by the way. Splat! The syrupy ball landed in between his eyes with mathematical precision. Samiran lost his heart and his face too, in the bargain.
She was Anima, the younger sister of the bride Tanima. She was the star of the attacking side. Her prowess raised peals of laughter from the ranks of girl brigade. Samiran felt the infatuation web and his hackles rise. He turned to call Debu, but the Don of the students’ hostel was nowhere to be seen. Later they discovered him cowering under the dinner table.
The whole group was enraged. Bathing at two in the night, and that too immediately after dinner, is an ordeal in the best of circumstances, even though it was summer time. They decided that enough was enough; they would be off at first light.
Dawn found our heroes slinking out of the backdoor, with their bags and things. But a rude jolt awaited them. Standing in front of the door, barring their way, was an Amazon with a long staff in her hand.
“No one leaves the house of Nandis without having breakfast,” growled Anima. “Leaving by the back-door, are you? I’ll crack the skull of any boy or man or whatever, who tries to leave.”
Our heroes came back sheepishly, though mentally gnashing their teeth. Anima, in the span of just a few hours had made a number of sworn enemies.
The full moon cast its magical beam through the open window to light up the countenance of the bride. It was the following summer. With her doe-like eyes the bride followed every movement of her groom. She simply adored him. The groom came up to her and drew her into a close embrace. The rest, as they say, was history. The lights still flashed in the illuminated gate lighting up the words “Samiran weds Anima.”