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The big day

This is Chapter 31 of The Romantics of College Street, a serial novel

By Devapriya Roy

  • Published 5.01.19, 8:41 PM
  • Updated 5.01.19, 8:41 PM
Shaarani Sen smiled, “Here, take the earrings.” “Nobody wears that kind of a sari at a premiere, Ma,” Pragya said, now trying on the earrings in front of the dressing table where the mirror, like make-up rooms of the past, was surrounded by an orbit of light bulbs
Shaarani Sen smiled, “Here, take the earrings.” “Nobody wears that kind of a sari at a premiere, Ma,” Pragya said, now trying on the earrings in front of the dressing table where the mirror, like make-up rooms of the past, was surrounded by an orbit of light bulbs Illustration by Suman Choudhury

Recap: In the midst of the celebratory mood in Ghosh Mansion following the return of the eldest of the younger generation, Lata finds that he has left his partner in a hotel and forces Goopy to tag along with her to get him to the house for lunch.

On Molly’s wedding day, a somewhat curtailed gaye holud was to be hosted in the morning by Boro Jethi and Manjulika, immediately after the ritual nandi mukh. The curtailing was because Molly needed to be in make-up latest by 12.30 — since the lagna was early in the evening — and a suite had been booked at the Oberoi for that. That barely left any time for a proper gaye holud. Girls these days. What to do?

The nandi mukh was presided over jointly by Boro Jethu and Kaku. Standing guard behind Molly (who, unbeknowest to the elders, was nursing a bit of a hangover) was Lata, propping her up from time to time, tying her mukut, adjusting her sari. The ancestors being invoked formally by the pandit were peering down at the bride in her traditional yellow sari, almost approvingly, from their framed — and garlanded-for-the-occasion — photographs. Twice, Lata had to mediate a disagreement between Boro Jethu and Kaku about the titles of said ancestors. “How does it matter if he was Sir?” Lata had to hiss. The videographer promised to edit those bits out.

Goopy and Duma had been joined that morning by Aaduri and Hem — who were planning to get to the office once gaye holud was over — in the vital role of greeting the Jaiswals. Which meant they lurked about the porch and cracked jokes. Duma and Hem watched some wretched match on the phone, Goopy and Aaduri tried to catch up on 12 years’ history at top speed. Eventually, despairing of any help from them, Lata shepherded everyone to Dayanara’s courtyard herself, streaking from room to room.

The Jaiswal ladies finally appeared, dressed in fine cottons exactly like their Ghosh-Bose-Mitra counterparts, carrying the trousseau in beautifully decorated trays. (In fact, the liaison officers had helped interpret the rituals so well that instead of a real fish, which of course would be taboo to AJ’s kin, the Jaiswals had cleverly commissioned a life-like rohu fashioned out of sandesh and coloured silver, decorated that as a bride, with the traditional red veil and a tin-foil nose-ring.) The bride’s family were wholly overwhelmed. There was ululation, conch blowing and very civilised holud-smearing. “Not my hair, please,” Molly was heard to beseech the women and they seemed to be heeding her.

When, finally, the Germans reached, all starched dupattas and kurtas, Lata managed to slip out.

She decided to check if Molly’s car had arrived. It was Goopy and Duma’s job to accompany her — along with her outfit and jewellery — to the hotel. But the porch was deserted. There was no sign of the car or the men. Bobby Bansal was leaning against one of the columns, having a heated discussion on the phone. Lata didn’t want to intrude. But neither did she want to go back in, right away. There was a nippy breeze this morning and in her white and red taant, she now felt a little cold. A sudden rush of goosebumps dotted her forearm.

“Hey,” said Bobby. “Sorry about the shouting. There’s always some work shit going on.”

Lata waved it away with a half-smile.

“I just wanted to let you know, I’ve invited Pragya Paramita Sen and her cousins too. It’s a bit last moment.”

“There you are!”

Lata had not heard Aaduri walk up.

“Molly’s looking for her Didibhai, Lata Ghosh,” Aaduri tapped her shoulder, “What’s up with you?”

Lata now looked at Aaduri, even though the words were addressed to Bobby really. “Bobby was just telling me that Pragya Sen will be coming tonight with her entourage. In fact, Bobby, you should tell Aaduri all about it. She’s the one who can organise the press at short notice, that sort of thing. I’ll go check in on Molly’s car.”

“She seemed tetchy,” said Bobby, affecting innocence. Her hair, left open, billowed behind her like a halo, as another gust of wind came their way. “Uff, Calcutta gets really cold in winter now,” said Aaduri. “Actually, I was going to ask you why you seemed tetchy.”

Bobby sighed. “Work stuff,” she said, “I will be honest, Aaduri. A bit of publicity for Pragya wouldn’t hurt.”

***

Having raided her closet and found nothing that suited her mood, Pragya Paramita Sen turned to her mother’s. Shaarani Sen did not quite understand why Pragya was going to this wedding, Bobby Bansal’s cousin’s, basically a no one, but, nonetheless, she offered her daughter the new forest-green Benarasi with the gold border that had been gifted to her for the Pujas by the New Jersey Bengali Society. It would be perfect with Pragya’s gold choli and the emerald earrings that had been her grandmother’s.

“Why can’t I wear the pink-and-gold Benarasi?” Pragya pouted, squatting on her haunches and pulling out that stunning creation from the layers of muslin in which the sari was swathed. “You never wear it yourself!”

“Because,” said Shaarani Sen, “It’s bad manners to wear something that might threaten the bride. As it is, you are a somebody, you will stand out. Wear it some other time.”

“Whennnn?” Pragya whined.

“At the premiere of Shomoy?” Shaarani Sen smiled, “Here, take the earrings.”

“Nobody wears that kind of a sari at a premiere, Ma,” Pragya said, now trying on the earrings in front of the dressing table where the mirror, like make-up rooms of the past, was surrounded by an orbit of light bulbs. Shaarani Sen’s first husband had had it refashioned from an older piece, and though the marriage had not lasted, the Belgian glass and the Burma teak were still going strong.

“Shomoy is a period film, it would be quite appropriate,” Shaarani Sen said, carefully wrapping the sari in mulmul again and putting it back in its designated place. This one was almost an heirloom, and occupied pride of place in this closet, her sanctum sanctorum as it were.

“I think there is trouble with the producers,” Pragya told her mother. “Ronny didn’t say anything. But their big film this year — the one about the grand space odyssey with robots — that one has flopped badly. They were to have released it during the Christmas week. Then the astrologers preponed it, marketing was rushed, it has bombed now. Mimi was telling me. She read reviews on Twitter.”

“Are you worried?” Shaarani Sen looked up from the pyramid of red velvet boxes on the table, in one of which nestled the matching emerald bracelet. (If it wasn’t in the locker, that is.) “Should I speak to someone else?”

“Of course not,” Pragya replied, at her own reflection in the mirror. “Will this work?”

Shaarani Sen looked at the so-familiar-that-it-appeared-almost-strange face of her child. It was a lifelong regret that Pragya had not inherited the natural arches of her eyebrows or the complex milk-and-saffron of her cheeks. “You should wear your hair up tonight,” she told Pragya, “The emeralds will glimmer against your cheeks. No necklace. Let’s look for the bracelet for your right hand.”

“I hope I am papped,” said Pragya.

“What’s papped?” asked Shaarani Sen.

Laughing, but not saying anything, Pragya began to methodically open the velvet boxes and look for the matching bracelet. She had her own reasons for attending the shindig.

***

“Why are we going to this wedding again?” Vikramjit Banerjee asked his wife, Tilottama, as the car entered the outskirts of Calcutta and she roused herself from her nap.

“Do you want an apple?” Tilo asked.

It was late afternoon. The sun was weak, it was almost as though dusk was in the wings already, ready to appear. There was a wan, brittle air about the city. Vikramjit had not been in favour of moving back to India, and certainly not to eastern India. But these days, Calcutta, the city he had grown up in, the city he couldn’t wait to have outgrown and left, twisted his insides acutely. He missed his son, suddenly.

“Because Lata invited us,” Tilo now said, popping open a little tub of balm and applying it generously onto her lips.

“Why did she?” asked Vikramjit, sullenly.

“Well, to be honest, she must have invited Bappa and family. And then she must have thought of us. After all, we have invited her to our college — it’s an Indian Ivy League after all — all-expenses-paid trip.”

“But this is a wedding, it’s different, why are we going, Tilo?”

A flash of annoyance lit up her face. “Why do you have to be difficult, Vik? We come to Calcutta often enough anyway to see your parents. I thought it might be nice to work in the wedding. And I do have that meeting at IIM-C tomorrow. What’s wrong with going to a reception at the Oberoi and catching up with a group of friends?”

Vik looked out of the window while his wife munched an apple. A group of boys and girls in school uniforms — blue trousers-white shirts and white salwar kameezes with blue dupattas — cycled past them in abandon, laughing, chasing each other. “That’s a group of friends,” Vik muttered to himself. But Tilo paid no attention.

(To be continued)

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