The room was a complete buzz.
“Is she ready?” I heard my mom’s frantic voice from nowhere.
“Haan, yes! But we need five more minutes,” my elder sister, Shwetha, who was placing flowers on my head, managed to speak between her teeth that held a hairpin.
I beamed at my mirror image and felt my heart beating faster. My wedding ceremony! And that’s why I’m nervous.
“Aunty, you look pretty!” my five year old niece, Tanu complimented me.
I grinned at her and pecked her cheek. I held Tanu’s pinky finger tightly due to nervousness.
“All set?” my sister asked me.
“C’mon, stand up and try walking a few paces,” she ordered.
I let go off Tanu and stood up.
First, I checked my mirror to see if I looked elegant in the six yards pink and golden border sari and I heard Aadhi’s voice in my mind say, “You look smashing!”
And then, memories of Aadhi drifted and my face turned a bit melancholic.
“Tara, fast!” my sister urged me.
My thought chain broken, I tried to lift my sari a bit to walk forward and my bangles jingled with each step.
“Good! Have no difficulty, right?”
“No, I’m fine. Chill,” I said.
“OK! Sit down till they call,” she said, ushering me back to the same place before the mirror.
“Tara! You look grand!” my friends entered the bride’s room I was in, with much excitement.
I made faces at them and we giggled.
As soon as my friends gathered around me, all my relatives trooped out of the room to give us some privacy.
“So, bride! How did your spinster life go?” one of my friends, Varun asked me, holding an imaginable mike in front of me.
“Well, with some pesky little brats by my side always, my spinster life was fun, melancholic and romantic.”
“Romantic huh?” they all cooed.
“Sshhhh,” I said, winking.
“OK, OK! Cool! We’ll wait outside and witness the naughty Tara wed and turn into a silent wife!” Shilpi said and everyone broke into a laugh.
The atmosphere inside the room was now more serene and relaxing.
“By the way, where’s Aadhi?” I asked, when I realized his strong absence.
“Over here,” I heard his voice and I turned back to see him standing near the doorway, filming with a handy-cam.
“Catch you later, Tara!” Varun said and everyone filed out, while Aadhi entered.
Still filming, he circled me and came to a halt, next to the mirror, where he leaned on it.
“You look smashing!” he said, zooming in at my face.
“What?” he asked, pausing his shooting.
“Shwetha!” one of my aunts called at the top of her voice that sounded louder than the classical Carnatic music that a few musicians were playing to keep the invitees engaged.
“Tara, I’ll be back soon,” she said, closing the door shut, with me, Aadhi and Tanu inside the room.
“Uncle, so what’s your name?” Tanu asked Aadhi.
“Aaditya,” he said, opening his handy-cam to shoot my cute Tanu, “Smile Tanu!”
Tanu blushed and ran to hide her face inside the folds of my sari.
I laughed, teasing, “Now, where’s my Tanu hiding?” and tickled her.
She unearthed her innocent chubby face from my lap and ran away to Aadhi and that’s when I noticed he was shooting me in his camera.
I assumed a sensible, matured face and raised my eyebrows at him.
He shook his head, shut his camera and lifted Tanu.
I turned to face the mirror once again and checked if I looked gorgeous or at least good.
“Aadhi!” I called out to him suddenly.
He stopped playing with Tanu and came to stand beside me.
I turned sideways and pulled him to kneel down. He looked straight into my eyes.
“I wanna talk to you,” I said, after much hesitation.
“Shall we listen to your aunt?” he asked Tanu, playfully.
She tittered, mouthing a ‘No’ and shook her head.
“Well, Tara, sorry then, Tanu says ‘No’,” he said, rubbing his nose against Tanu’s.
“Aadhi, I’m serious.”
He looked at me again and let go off Tanu.
Tanu picked my mobile from the dressing table and sat down on a chair to play games, the usual thing that she does.
“OK, tell me now,” Aadhi said, placing his camera on the vanity.
I breathed a few times to maintain composure and when I was about to speak, my sister reentered the room.
She saw us sitting so close and retraced her steps back out, when I said, “Shwe! Please stay here. I’d feel better and it’d be easy for me to say in your presence.”
She paused, while Aadhi stood up to leave.
I pulled at his hand again.
“What? Your sister’s there!” he whispered.
“I know! But, that’s not a problem. Sit!”
He kneeled down again after much hesitation.
I heard Shwetha opening a conversation with Tanu and I commenced speaking.
“Shwe knows everything. So..” I dragged.
I took hold of his hands and he was startled.
“Look, Aadhi, I’m not ready to beat around the bush. But, this is what I wanted to say. I love you so much. But, I never had the courage to neither tell you nor confront my Dad with it. Yet, I wanted you to know this before I got married.”
It took him a few minutes for my words to sink in.
“What? Tara, are you serious?” he asked when the truth hit right on his face.
I nodded, saying, “You know a lot about me. And so do I, about you. We shared good rapport. You were there all the while, when I badly needed someone’s support. With you, I was able to share my fears, my dreams especially, and you always instilled hope in me. You were my positive energy, my guide, my partner-in-crime,” I said, winking at him.
“Tara, is this a joke?”
“I’m serious, chap!”
“Then why didn’t you tell me when I proposed you?”
“Well, I never realized that until last week back. But,” I sighed, “Don’t worry, my love isn’t as profound as yours. Maybe it’s just a crush and still I’m confused if this is just the feeling of close friendship or love. Guess it’s the former though. So, all the way more, I didn’t want to call off my engagement and try with you, if you are meant to be my real partner. Besides, I love the friendship between us. Let’s not disturb it now.”
“Then, why tell me now?” he argued.
“Well, it’s just that Tara wants you to know that, the girl you loved, cared for you, but she felt all the same that you deserved someone much better than her.”
“That I’ll decide.”
“Aha! No mister! You’ve no choice left.”
I knew from his eyes that he was much affected by my talk.
“Aadhi, listen,” I said gripping his hands tighter, “I guarantee! You’ll get the best woman as your wife. One, who values you, your humour sense, your love and everything.”
“So, is your fear the reason behind this fake marriage?”
“No!” I said, retrieving my hands, “That’s just ten percent of the reason.”
“I know my worth. And yours too. Our match won’t workout. Besides, we’re fighter-cocks.”
Memories of those long fights came back to both of us and he shook his head frantically.
“Fine, I’m just glad you said it at least now. Anyways, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be the first person to be happy when you get married.”
“Good, me too, when you get married.”
“If that happens!” he said, getting up.
“Ah! It will! You’ll find a better girl.”
He mocked at me, took back his camera and resumed shooting me.
“Smile, Tara! Brides are always happy. Aren’t they?” he said, smiling.
I admired him, for hiding too many emotions behind those cheery eyes, but, we were acquainted for a long time and that’s why I unveiled the truth in the hope that he’ll overcome this particular loss soon.
“C’mon, go! Enough of shooting me! Maybe that handy-cam might prove to be your luck today. It just might show you your wife in my function,” I pulled his legs.
“Then, I’d keep shooting you the whole day!”
“Idiot!” I said, shaking my head, amused, “Shwe! Send this idiot out now! He’s gonna go wife-hunting!”
At that note, Aadhi pinched my hand in protest and my sister laughed, voicing out her thoughts, “Made for each other friends!”
Tanu came running to me to hand back my cellphone and then ran to Aadhi, asking, “Aadhi, will you shoot me now?”
“Tanu! Call him ‘Aadhi uncle!'” Shwetha warned.
Tanu grinned sheepishly before calling out in a small voice, “Aadhi uncle, will you?”
Aadhi, overwhelmed by her innocence, picked her up once again and left the room saying, “We’ll go out and shoot as your Tara aunt is betraying me today. So, let’s act as being angry.”
Shwetha stood near me and touched my shoulders in a reassuring way.
“What you did is right. But, play it cool. No hard feelings inside,” she said.
“Yeah, I know! This news must be devastating to him, yet, I know, he’ll cope up with it. I know for sure Dad wouldn’t have accepted our love.”
“Well, maybe he’d have said yes.”
“Shwe, don’t raise false hopes in me, NOW! In another one hour, I’m gonna be someone else’s wife. They’d call me Tara Arjun soon.”
“OK, fine, need a hug?”
She hugged me tight and I tried to control my tears. It wasn’t a love failure exactly to me, but the thought of losing the closeness to Aadhi indeed did break my heart.
“So, did you mention the condition to Arjun when he ties the ‘Mangalsutra’?”
“Really? How childish of you!” she mocked at me.
I remembered the condition that I said for the first time, not to Arjun, but to Aadhi, of course!
Me – “They say that the three knots of the Mangalsutra represent three different aspects of a woman.”
Aadhi – “Really? What does the first knot say?”
Me – “Her obedience to her husband.”
Aadhi – “Second?”
Me – “Her respect to his parents.”
Aadhi – “Third to his dog huh?” (laughs)
Me – “Idiot! It’s to God!”
Aadhi – “And what does the guy do in return?”‘
Me – “Ah! That’s were my condition comes in.”
Aadhi – “Condition?”
Me – “Yeah. When the guy is gonna tie the Mangalsutra, I want him to look into my eyes and mean that he will respect my space for the first knot, he’ll support me equally like he does to his parents for the second knot and for the third one that, he’d never let me down in front of of others, while I’ll look into his eyes and provide my promise for those three knots.”
Aadhi – “Whoa! Pretty tough ones! Yet, I won’t mind doing it for you.”
Me – “Idiot! That’s a never!”
“Tara! Ready?” my mom entered, asking in an excited voice, breaking my thought process again.
“Yeah, Amma! But, before that, I wanna badly hug my dear Amma for being my Amma all the while.”
My mom broke into tears and I wiped them saying, “I said I needed a hug, not tears.”
She hugged me and I touched her feet to get her blessings.
Then, taking a deep breath, I stepped out of my room, accompanied by my sis and mom on either side and I sensed all the attention on me.
While I was asked to sit down next to Arjun, I smiled at him and his eyes showed the same enthusiasm as mine.
After a good half hour of chanting mantras, there came the final moment, everyone was anticipating.
Arjun was handed the ‘Mangalsutra’ and the loud beats of the mridangam echoed in the marriage hall.
“Tara, fold your hands in prayer and then close your eyes. Pray for long life together, while he ties the knot,” the priest said.
“No, I want to look into her eyes while I tie the three knots,” Arjun debated.
Everyone was taken aback, including the priest, while I was overjoyed that he had remembered my condition.
“But, that’s not the tradition,” the priest argued.
“Never mind! We’re gonna see each other as I tie the knots.”
The priest eventually relented and when Arjun tied those three knots, I had to break my promise of looking into his eyes as tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was blinking rapidly to keep eye-contact.
“Maybe,” I thought, “Arjun is meant to be my real life-part…”
“Tara,” the priest called out, breaking into my dream, “fold your hands in prayer and then close your eyes. Pray for long life together, while he ties the knot.”
I gave a meaningful look at Arjun, expecting him to debate, but all he said was, “Do as he say,” in a stern voice.
That moment, I felt my hopes, my dreams, my everything get shattered.
I looked surprised, when the priest called out to me again, “Tara!”
I remembered saying, “You’ve no choice left,” to Aadhi just one hour ago.
But, maybe, I must say that to myself now – “Tara, You’ve no choice left now.”
As I turned, I met Aadhi’s gaze and he shook his head sadly at me.
I folded my hands and closed my eyes as Arjun began tying the knots, while I prayed frantically, “God, please convey my sorry to Aadhi…”