Finally, the Wedding
At Divya’s wedding, I who was less than a friend, had assumed a place of importance: I had been a bridesmaid, maybe the maid of honour. At Raghav’s, I was little more than a stranger. I was unknown to the vast hordes of relatives and mutual acquaintances, and I had no right by his side, in his dressing room.
We sat, Rizvi and I, in one of the rows of chairs on the lawn in front of the high stage, long before the guests had begun to arrive and Raghav and Sonali had emerged from their dressing rooms. We stood by politely, a little way away, while the priest married Raghav and Sonali by the fire, and young relatives tossed flower petals. Raghav looked up at us once and winked, and we grinned back. We stood in line too, with the other guests, to greet the groom and bride up on the stage after they were married. We clutched our wedding gifts in our hands and then awkwardly pushed them forward as we reached Raghav and Sonali. My gift was a digital photo frame: I had ordered it online—after much deliberation—within a few days after Raghav had announced the date of his wedding. I knew Raghav would appreciate something technological—even something as simple as my gift—much more than say, a set of crystal goblets.
While Sonali smiled graciously and accepted our gifts with an apparently surprised murmur of thanks, Raghav leaned forward to envelop us, first Rizvi and then me, in a close hug. Sonali’s smiled remained intact, but she immediately asked us to pose for a photograph, and she held my arm and pulled me to her side while allowing Rizvi to fall into place beside Raghav.
I kept my smile frozen until the camera flashed, and then turned to look at Raghav again. His grin had not faded: he looked exhilarated. “May you be very happy,” I said earnestly, and embraced Sonali in lieu of Raghav before quickly making way for the next group of guests.
Then there was dinner. I wasn’t hungry, but Rizvi had to leave soon, and I accompanied her to the buffet. I looked around at the milling crowd, wishing for a familiar face, and my eyes lighted upon Raghav’s mom. She saw us and came over, exhorting us to be sure to eat well. “I shouldn’t have to tell you that, Miki, you’re a member of the family,” she said, pulling me in a short hug before walking away. I supposed she was so thrilled that Raghav wasn’t marrying me that she could even be nice to me.
Rizvi’s brother came for her soon, and I walked her out to the gates. “Will you be okay alone?” she asked again. “Of course,” I said, looking back at the lights scattered over the bushes around the now dwindling crowd of people. “Don’t worry, you go ahead.”
I went back up towards the stage. I met Amit on the way, carrying a bunch of presents towards the small building at the back, and asked him if there was anything I could do. “Make sure you eat well,” he called over his shoulder as he hurried away.
So I sat in front of the stage, in the front row, and looked up at my friend Raghav standing by the side of his new bride. Soon Sonali’s mother and aunt came to usher the pair of them towards the buffet. The guests had ceased coming, and many had already left. There was a dance floor in a corner not far from the stage: the DJ had been playing slow romantic numbers earlier, but had now morphed into rock music, and a few young people had made their way there. I sat and watched. Sonali and Raghav couldn’t have had a good dinner, for they were soon back in sight, and on the dance floor, a bunch of cousins unceremoniously pulling at them, urging them to start the dancing. The DJ played “You look wonderful tonight”, Raghav’s favourite romantic song—he must have been informed in advance.
And Raghav held Sonali; Raghav tall and handsome with his devilish grin and his curly hair grown a little long again, his dark skin glowing against his cream and gold ensemble, and Sonali demure and petite in her pink and orange lehnga that brought out the colour in her cheeks (“or maybe that’s make up,” piped up Mandakini)—and they danced.
The song ended, and everyone clapped. I stood up and wolf-whistled. Raghav heard and knew at once that it was me: he looked around and saw me standing some way off. The music had changed to Bollywood dance music, and more people had gathered on the floor: Sonali was already swaying again, surrounded by a bunch of friends. Raghav stepped off the dance floor and walked towards me.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded. “Come and dance.”
“I want to watch, today,” I smiled.
“You can’t not dance at my wedding! You’ll come if I have to drag you there…”
My heart lurched at the threat, and Mandakini went “Oooooooh!” hoping that Raghav would carry it out. But Miki hadn’t lost her senses, and was sure that Sonali wouldn’t miss a thing, even though she seemed to be dancing unconcernedly, and on her dictum I grinned and walked ahead hurriedly, before Raghav could stretch out his hand.
I stood amidst the twirling groups on the dance floor, while Raghav went to gather more people. Most of the young people were already on the dance floor: Raghav returned with a gaggle of older relatives—I recognised his aunt and Sonali’s parents among them. Soon, his parents also joined in, and his great-aunt, and Sonali’s aunts and uncles. Everyone who had been involved in the wedding danced with abandon, partly, I suspected, from relief that it was over and that there hadn’t been a major glitch.
After some time, the older people moved into the house, and the dance floor resounded with the lustful cries and applause of the young. Sonali danced demurely, with Raghav or with her girl friends. Raghav was as boisterous as ever, he danced with Sonali and her sisters and his cousins and male friends. I stood there, a spectator to their revelry.
I decided to leave, to leave while they were seemed to be enjoying themselves so much, to leave before Raghav could look around and miss me. I fished my phone out of my handbag and saw that it was past one in the morning.
Just as I turned to find my way out of the circle, I felt a hand on my arm. Raghav pulled me back in. His face was all smiles and he danced, expecting me to join him.
I danced then. I danced for the friendship we had shared and that had now changed into something uncertain and unfamiliar. I danced for the happiness that he had found. And I danced for my own life, for the freedom it had, and for the many interesting things that the future would bring it.
I danced till the music stopped, and then I walked to a corner and called a cab.