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Most people had a family doctor; the Shah’s had a family priest. He had performed this ceremony, intended to appease all nine planets, at the weddings of the previous three generations of their family.
Mrs. Shah had vehemently opposed any suggestions of procuring someone with a cheaper rate. ‘His presence is so lucky for us. See how everyone in our family has had successful marriages. My sister tried to act smart by getting a new fellow for her daughter and see what happened… divorce in a year!’
Now as Neha watched the elderly priest wheeze from the smoke and cover his coughs with a trembling hand, she hoped enough of his luck would rub off on him to not leave in a stretcher.
Despite the strategically placed table fans, Neha’s red tasseled blouse turned progressively maroon as droplets of sweat made their way down her back. Her normally curly hair had been tamed into submission by an hour of straightening. After waging a hard battle with the styling tool, it now lay meekly on top of her head in a loose bun, adorned with a row of tiny white beads.
Meera was not required for this part of the ceremony and was ensconced on a jute sofa across from Neha, her feet tucked underneath a pink saree. Mrs. Shah had been equally generous in passing her genes to her daughters. With dainty frames and fair skin, there was little to distinguish the sisters physically, except for a tiny mole on Meera’s lower lip, as if God Himself had put a black teeka on her as protection from envy. Meera munched on a tiny samosa and smiled guiltily at Neha.
Neha’s stomach gave an audible growl. It was so unfair. As a bride, she was expected to fast the whole day while Varun could eat whatever he pleased. She frowned as her thoughts drifted to her fiancé. She glanced at her mobile. He still hadn’t returned any of her calls since morning. Probably went for a smoke with his cousin from Bangalore, she told herself.
She got a sharp poke from Mrs.Shah. Neha looked up. “Please offer these flowers and ask Lord Ganesha to bless you with marital happiness” the priest repeated. Neha placed the petals at the foot of the idol in the center. ‘Pay attention Neha. You are the not the only one who had to get up early today…’ Mrs. Shah muttered under her breath.
Meanwhile in a flat in one of the more affluent areas of South Bombay, Varun paced the floor of his bedroom. Neha’s cherubic face had been blinking on his cellphone every hour or so, but he had disconnected every time. “Are you ready?” his mother called. “Yes. Maa. Just a minute”
His cellphone vibrated again. His thumb hovered above the end call button, but he hesitated. It was a text -“Its confirmed”. Heart pounding, he grabbed his suitcase. His silk cream colored Sherwani was laid out carefully on the bed, the tiny ruby stones on the embroidery glinting in the sunlight. Next to it was a Titan watch, his first gift from Neha. Without a backward glance, he slammed the door shut.