by Shiv Dutta

Our wedding took place on a July evening in Kolkata, a couple of months before Chhoton and I were to depart for Canada. On that evening, the rains were coming down with blistering ferocity, as if the sky had opened up to pour out a gush of tears. The roads were submerged in ankle-deep water. I lived on the south side of the city, a good fifteen miles from Chhoton’s house. Accompanied by five friends in a hired a taxi, which ploughed through the puddles of water in pelting rains, I headed for Chhoton’s house.

“What’s Chhoton’s sister’s name, again?” my friend, Arup, asked. He didn’t turn in the seat to look at me.

“Just call her Babli,” I said. I was glad my friend had been able to come. He and the others in the taxi would be my only representatives at the wedding. I had not told my family about it. I could not, because my brother, the provider-cum-guardian of the family after my father’s death, would not have approved.

“You’ve two sisters and a brother ahead of you,” he would have said. He was a strict traditionalist and believed marriages had to happen in order of seniority.

But I was not going to Canada without Chhoton.

We were mostly quiet inside the taxi. The rain was loud enough outside.

When we arrived at Chhoton’s house, she was already decked out in full regalia of red and gold, tiny dots of sandalwood paste framed her beautiful face, and the meticulously drawn kohl lines made her eyes look dreamy and bashful. She looked more beautiful than on the day I had first seen her four years before. We were both students at JadavpurUniversity in Kolkata. I was on my way to a class when my eyes fell on her. She was in a purple dress, leisurely walking with a bevy of friends, giggling and chattering and obviously having fun. I was stung by her mushroom-white skin, black hair, dark eyes, and her sparkling smile. I wanted to walk up to her and introduce myself, but my shyness held me back. Nothing could hold me back the next time I saw her that weekend.

Following a ceremonial welcome with garlands of roses and marigolds and wick-lit oil lamps, by the lavishly adorned women of the bride’s party, my friends and I were escorted to a flower-bedecked room set aside for the bridegroom and his companions.

Outside the room, blue and yellow tinsels and streamers hung in and around the shamiana pitched for the occasion. The place was teeming with an august gathering, tricked out in festive punjabis, colorful saris and jewelry, ready to revel in the mirth and merriment of the evening.  The mouth watering aroma of shrimp malaicurry, moglai lamb curry, and chanar pilaf wafted across from some corners hidden from public view. Thankfully, the invitees, absorbed in relentless chatter, kept the curiosity about my absent family to themselves.

The wedding venue was packed, mostly with eager women, and the priest was perched in the center, ready to initiate the evening’s main event. Chhoton and I took our assigned seats, side by side, across from the priest.  The cacophony of laughter and ceaseless chatter filtered in from outside, and as the plaintive refrains of Shahnai provided an apt accompaniment to the occasion, the priest launched into an elaborate ritual of chanting and lighting of sacred fires, meant to ward off evil spirits and set us off on an auspicious journey together. All eyes were at the center of the room. When the long ritual finally came to an end, we repeated our marriage vows after the priest, and Chhoton and I were declared man and wife. The Shahnai struck up a new refrain, and with the wedding feast that followed, the curtains slowly came down on the evening’s proceedings.

“Some day, hopefully not too far into the future, we’ll throw a huge party to celebrate our marriage and invite everyone from your family,” Chhoton had said at the time, sensing my sadness.

I nodded. I hoped so too. But somewhere in the future there would be a letter – me confessing to my brother – and no mention of my marriage in his replies. It would be years before I could get back to India, to talk to him, to make things right. And when I did finally go, it would be to his funeral, to the emptiness of never knowing if he forgave me.

Shiv Dutta’s publications have appeared in The Evansville Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Hippocampus Magazine, Eclectica Magazine, Epiphany, The Evergreen Review, Silk Road Review, Pilgrimage, Front Porch, and other journals. Dutta has also produced 45 technical papers and two technical books. One of Dutta’s personal essays was nominated for Pushcart Prize this year. By education and training, Dutta is a physicist and a computer professional, but interest in literary writings goes back to Dutta’s middle school years.