I lay in bed the next morning, running over in my head for the twentieth time what Arunav had said to me last night. He had used phrases like “one of our best workers”, “consistently excellent performance” and “glowing feedback from project managers and team members”. He had ended with – and this part, I clearly remembered, because Miki had quietened down enough by then, “The company has great hopes from you, Miki. This is only the beginning. You have a wonderful future here.”
I dreamed of the wonderful future I had. I had become vice president and moved into Arunav’s office when Mandakini intervened.
“I have to buy something to wear to the wedding!”
“Wha…?” Miki was reluctant to leave the office.
“The wedding is next weekend and I don’t have anything to wear!”
I sighed aloud and got up.“And the engagement is tomorrow,” Miki remembered. “Well, I can wear my muga mekhela-sador to that. For the wedding… I guess I’ll have to buy something.”
“There’s a cocktail party too, on Saturday,” reminded Mandakini. I fished out the wedding invite from the mess on my table and looked at it to confirm.
“Cocktails, Saturday, 13th March; Wedding, Sunday, 14th March,” I read out.
“And there’s the engagement tomorrow, which is a small, private event,” added Mandakini.
“I wish it was too private for me to have been invited,” sighed Miki.
“Come on! You don’t want to go to your best friend’s engagement?”
“Well, he’s not going to propose to her there, is he? They’re going to put rings on each other while a bunch of people sit around and clap… What am I supposed to do, hold his other hand?”
“Are you still jealous?”
“No, I’m not jealous. This is just my usual dislike of weddings and rituals. But it’s Raghav, and I’ve got to put on a brave face—rather, a simpering one—and do it, don’t I?”
I took a bottle of cold water out of my new fridge and finished half of it in long gulps.
Summer had almost arrived. It was sunny at nine in the morning, and I settled for cold milk instead of my morning cup of tea. There was a cool breeze though, and it was a far cry from the searing heat of May. That air conditioner had suddenly begun to look more attractive.
With much grimacing, and much furious squabbling between Mandakini and Miki, I went shopping for a sari to wear to Raghav’s wedding. Mandakini suggested heading to some old-fashioned market with a line of sari shops, but Miki wisely advised sticking to my own familiar environment so as to not make the experience any worse than it would be, so I made my way to the biggest mall. There were some saris in the big garments stores: most looked overpriced and gaudy. Finally, as I was near to giving up, I found one that seemed perfect: a dark blue georgette with silver on the border and the pallu, colours that would look good against what Abhijeet had once called my “honey-coloured skin”—and, best of all, the price tag read a thousand rupees, which was in my budget. I hauled my prize off to the cash counter before I realised I would need shoes as well.
I then looked in at shoe stores. The first two seemed to have no shoes wide enough for my feet, and my feet looked definitely odd in the thin strappy stilettos they offered me.
“That’s the standard size, madam,” one salesman said sneeringly. “You won’t get wider shoes.”
“I’m not buying shoes that don’t fit,” I told him with what I hoped was a withering look before I swept out of the store. Of course, my dignified exit was a little ruined when, ten paces from the door, I looked down at my hands and found them empty and hurried back to the store for the paper bag with my sari in it.
Raghav called as I walked out again, and I informed him of what I had been doing. He ungratefully launched into peals of raucous laughter.
“You… are… shopping… for a… sari?” he stuttered, barely stoppering his laughter enough to speak.
“Indeed I am,” I said haughtily. “And it’s all due to you.”
“I’m honoured, Mandakini, I really am. It will be worth getting married just to see you in a sari. Be sure you don’t trip over yourself: I don’t want the wedding guests to be looking at you instead of at Sonali and me.”
“Let’s see you wear one,” I said viciously. “Anyway, what are you doing?”
“We’re buying clothes too,” he said softly, as if afraid someone might hear him, “women’s clothes. For Sonali—and, I suspect, for all the female relatives she possesses. Mom’s in the store: I got bored and sneaked out to talk to you.”
“Don’t I get anything?” I asked plaintively.
“You know, Mom’s so pleased I’m marrying a Punjabi girl and not you, that she might just buy you something too.”
“Why’s your mom so keen on having you marry a Punjabi girl anyway, when she herself didn’t marry a Punjabi?”
“I don’t know. That’s the kind of thing you are good at analysing.”
“Do you think she regrets marrying your dad?” I asked slowly, viciously. “Or…”
“Naah, I don’t think it’s that. Probably something to do with wanting the bahu to fit in with the family…”
“I was going to say, maybe she herself faced so much discrimination she doesn’t want you or her daughter-in-law to go through something similar?”
“Could be.” I could almost hear him shrug his shoulders. “What does it matter, I’m marrying Sonali, aren’t I?”
“Yes, you are,” I sighed so softly as to be inaudible – or so I hoped.