Thankfully, Divya’s wedding outfit did not turn into the catastrophe it had threatened to be. We went to the tailor’s, and Divya tried her lehenga on. It fit perfectly. We thanked fate for this minor miracle. After we got back to Divya’s house, I helped her fit into the sharara she was going to wear for the mehndi that evening. I saw little reason in wearing a brand new dress that was very likely to be strewn with mehndi soon – or cut off at the knees, as her mother brightly suggested… but however Mandakini won over Miki and I let her take over, staunchly playing my role of the devoted (albeit unofficial) maid of honour.
The outfit was sea green, and I helped her on with the silver jewellery that she was wearing with it. A lovely delicate necklace and chandelier earrings: no rings or bangles, to keep her hands free for the mehndi. She had hired a stylist only for the actual wedding the next day, so I tried to help her on with her make-up – at which she was far better than I am, so I finally sat back and voiced encouragement and compliments.
Guests had started pouring in and the female ones invaded the dressing room and offered advice: much of it unwelcome. I sensed Divya bristle a couple of times, and raised my voice immediately in a bantering remark and placed a hand on her arm to warn her to stay calm. I was afraid Divya’s already frayed nerves would give way, but the evening passed without my fears coming to pass.
A helpful bhabhi offered to do her hair, and I relinquished my struggle gratefully. I snuck into a corner and changed as quickly as I could, turning my back on the masses of women that had gathered.
“You’re wearing white!” cried Divya, while I struggled to tie up my salwar. “You’ll get mehndi all over it, stupid!”
The roomful of women turned to look at me. “I wasn’t planning to get mehndi on me at all,” I mumbled.
“Don’t be silly, you have to…” At which moment another gaggle of guests came in to look at the bride, and she pulled her scowling mouth into a simper.
By a wonder, the bride was ready by eight, only an hour later than the time on the invite.
About eleven women, including Divya and her mom, squeezed into a Tavera that had been hired for the wedding. Divya wanted me to get in with her, but she was already surrounded by female relatives, and her mom yelled to Veer to take me in the Santro. I waved at Divya and turned to Veer, who was struggling with what looked like a heavy box.
I helped Veer load the box into the back of the car, and then I sat by his side while a bunch of young cousins squeezed in at the back. The venue was just a ten-minute drive away.
When we reached, Divya was already settled in the place of honour, her hands and feet being worked on by experts. I managed to squat in a small unoccupied space at her side, and she turned and gave me a grateful smile. I pulled up and held her clothes at appropriate times and places, and fed her soft drinks and snacks, and even helped her go to the loo once. As soon as she was done, she demanded of the mehndiwallah that he do my hands next, even though a bunch of cousins and aunties were sitting all around with their hands stretched. I helped her hitch up her sharara, and she walked over to the dance floor where the young men – her brothers and cousins – had already gathered. The assistant took over one of the most pushy aunties, while the mehndiwallah ran his fingers over my hands in what seemed an unnecessary action and then settled down to paint them.
It had been years since I had had mehndi on my hands, and the cold of the paste shocked me and made me tingle. It was a cool night, and the breeze was whispering over my hair and making my bare arms shiver, and now my hands turned ever colder, anointed with mehndi and held aloft.
There were plenty of delicious looking snacks floating around that I had to restrain myself from trying at first because my hands were wet with mehndi. A very handsome young man - one of Divya’s numerous cousins – came over and offered to feed me. I refused, but agreed to go up to the dance floor with him. Divya was dancing enthusiastically, carefully holding her hands apart all the while. Soon more people – men and women, young and old – joined in, and the dance floor was beating with the weight of many bodies and stamping feet. Several women jostled me with their mehndi-stained hands, and soon my white clothes were speckled with dark green and orange. I had already discarded my dupatta in a corner along with my handbag. The waiter came around again with a dish of aromatic paneer, and I rubbed my hands together till the almost-dry mehndi fell off in a little shower, and grabbed a piece.
My face must have shown my ecstasy at my first bite since an early lunch. The good-looking young man—his name was Sachin, I had discovered—came over, smiling at my expression.
“Shall I get you something to drink?” he asked.
“A Coke would be awesome,” I informed him, spearing another piece of paneer on a toothpick before the waiter went on his way.
It was only as I gulped down my Coke that I realised how thirsty I was. After those tiny morsels, my stomach was growling with freshly-stimulated hunger. My arms ached from holding my hands up, my feet ached from dancing—and being stepped on by men in heavy shoes and one middle-aged woman in stilettos. I sank down into a chair near the edge of the dance floor and looked at Divya, still dancing away, holding on to Veer.
Much as I disliked weddings, I was glad to be there, to be by Divya’s side when she seemed to sorely need friends. I was proud of her strength, of the way she took control instead of playing the demure, helpless bride. She realised that for the wedding to go well, she would have to take things into her own hands, and she worked like a manager organising an event. She gave instructions to her parents, her brothers, to various cousins, and to me. I was glad to obey, to help make what was supposed to be her event a little less difficult for her.
While her parents dealt with guests and made sure the venue and the buffet were perfect, I helped Divya get dressed and prettied and was at her side making sure she wasn’t feeling faint or unhappy. I stood by her side, handing her tissues or straightening the folds of her lehnga, obeying her furious whispered instructions to go and see whether this or that was in order, and trying – though with little success – to make her to ignore the petty stuff and concentrate on the fact that she was getting married. The thought of spending all my life with one person, someone I had known for less than a year, terrified me, but to Divya that didn’t seem to bother her as much as the fact that Sunny’s cousin did not speak to Divya’s uncle with the proper modicum of respect.
But everything happened without a serious hitch: the priest married Divya and Sunny by a roaring smoky fire that made everyone’s eyes itch (and for which I had to pass the bride a dozen tissues as well as do up her mascara later); they stood up and walked circles around the fire, she following him demurely; they stood on stage in front of two majestic red chairs that they couldn’t rest their aching bodies on all evening as they stood and greeted guests that lined up to congratulate them. “My mouth hurts from smiling,” Divya hissed at me before turning to smile graciously at yet another guest. Everyone commented on how pretty the bride was and how the bride and groom looked perfect together, then they went down to the dining hall and praised the lavish buffet. I snuck down for a quick meal with Sachin: by then my stomach was growling, the petticoat painfully tight, my shoes biting, and my earrings heavy on my ears. I took off the earrings and dropped them into my handbag, and then heaped my plate high with food.
Then there was the bidayi. Divya clung to her family members and wept, and her parents wept too as if they would never see her again. I stood around feeling like i was intruding on something private, until Divya pulled me into a fierce hug, whispering into my ear, “Thanks so much for doing this, Miki.” I hugged her back and wished her happiness. Then she was gone, the wedding was over, and we – the bride’s family sans bride – made our way back to the Joshi house. There were, besides Divya’s parents and brothers and me, a few uncles and aunts and cousins. Dawn had broken by the time we got home. Divya’s mother handed out cushions and sheets: the older people were offered beds, while the rest of us made do with sheets spread on the ground. We were all so tired that soon the house was silent except for the sound of heavy breathing and a few snores. I heard birds chirp and the distant tooting of vehicles before I fell asleep.