One Indian Girl(2)

by Chetan Bhagat

Arijit signalled the smiling ladies at the counter. They stopped the smiles and the check-ins and put the shell necklaces back in the drawer.

‘How can we reduce the rooms for the boy’s side?’ my mother said in a shocked voice.

‘What else to do?’ I said.

‘How many rooms are they expecting?’ she said.

‘Fifty,’ I said. ‘Call them now. They will readjust their allocations on the way here.’

‘How can you ask the boy’s side to adjust?’ Kamla bua said. ‘Aparna, are you serious?’

My mother looked at Kamla bua and me.

‘But how can we manage in only thirty rooms?’ I said and turned to my father. ‘Dad, call them.’

‘Sudarshan, don’t insult them before they even arrive,’ Kamla bua said. ‘We will manage in thirty rooms. It’s okay. Some of us will sleep on the floor.’

‘Nobody needs to sleep on the floor, bua,’ I said. ‘I am sorry this screw-up happened. But if we have forty rooms each, it is three to a room. With so many kids anyway, it should be fine.’

‘We can manage in thirty,’ my mother said.

‘Mom? That’s four to a room. While the Gulatis will have so much space. Let’s tell them.’

‘No,’ my mother said. ‘We can’t do that.’

‘Why?’

‘They are the boy’s side. Little bit also you don’t understand?’

I didn’t want to lose it at my own wedding, definitely not in the first hour of arrival. I turned to my father. ‘Dad, it’s no big deal. His family will understand. We are here for six nights. It will get too tight for us,’ I said.

Dad, of course, would not listen. These two women, his wife and sister, controlled his remote. For once, both of them were on the same page as well.

‘Beta, these are norms. You don’t understand. We have to keep them comfortable. Girl’s side is expected to adjust,’ he said.

I argued for five more minutes. It didn’t work. I had to relent. And do what the girl’s side needs to do—adjust.

‘You and Aditi take a room,’ my mother said, referring to my sister.

‘Let her be with her husband. What will jiju think?’ I said.

‘Anil will adjust with the other gents,’ Kamla bua said.

Over the next twenty minutes the two women sorted the extended Mehta family comprising 117 people into thirty rooms. They used a complex algorithm with criteria like the people sharing the room should not hate each other (warring relatives were put in different rooms) or be potentially attracted to each other (mixed gender rooms were avoided, even if it involved people aged eighty-plus). Kids were packed five to a room, often with a grandparent. Kamla bua, herself a widow, dramatically offered to sleep on the floor in my parents’ room, causing my father to offer his own bed and sleep on the floor instead. Of course, Arijit kept saying that they would put extra beds in the room. But how can you compare sleeping on an extra Marriott bed with the Punjabi bua’s eternal sacrifice of sleeping on the floor?

‘I am happy with roti and achaar,’ Kamla bua said.

‘It’s the Marriott. There is enough food, bua,’ I said.

‘I am just saying.’

‘Can you please focus on the reallocations? We all need to be checked in before the Gulatis arrive,’ I said.

In the middle of this chaos, I forgot what I had come here for. I had come to change my life forever. To do something I’d never believed in my whole life. To do something I never thought I would. I had come to have an arranged marriage.

Here I was, lost in logistics, guest arrangements and bua tantrums. I took a moment to reflect.

I will be married in a week. To a guy I hardly know. This guy and I are to share a bed, home and life for the rest of my life.

Why isn’t it sinking in? Why am I fighting with Suraj on chat instead?

Me: Major screw-up on rooms, Suraj. Not cool.

Suraj: Sorry. Really sorry. Political reasons. Tried. Really.

Me: What else is going to get screwed up?

Suraj: Nothing. IndiGo from Mumbai just landed. We are ready to receive guests. See you soon.

I went to the Mehta–Gulati check-in desk. All my family guests had checked in. Some did grumble about sharing a room with three others but most seemed fine. Mom said that the grumblers were the jealous types, the relatives who couldn’t stand the fact that we had reached a level where we could do a destination wedding in Goa. The supportive ones, according to mom, were those who understood what it was like to be the girl’s side.

‘Do not use this “girl’s side” and “boy’s side” logic with me again. I don’t like it,’ I said. Mom and I were sitting in the lobby, ensuring that the staff readied the special check-in desk for the Gulatis.

‘Can you stop waving your feminism flag for a week? This is a wedding, not an NGO activist venue,’ my mother said.

‘But. . .’

‘I know you are paying for it. Still, beta, protocol is protocol.’

‘It is a sexist protocol.’

‘Did you figure out your parlour appointments? Aditi also wants hair and make-up all six days.’

I love how my mother can throw another topic into the conversation if she doesn’t want to answer me.

‘Of course she does,’ I said.

‘Now go change,’ mom said.

‘What?’

‘You are going to meet the boy’s side in jeans and T-shirt? And look at your neck!’

‘Again you said “boy’s side”. And what’s wrong with my neck?’

‘There is no jewellery. Go change into a salwar-kameez and wear a chain from my jewellery box.’

‘I have just arrived. I am working to settle the guests in. Why am I expected to doll up? Is the boy expected to dress up right after he gets off a flight?’

My mother folded her hands. When logic fails, she does this, brings both her hands together dramatically. Strangely, it works.

I relented and stood up. She handed me the key cards to her and my room. I went to her room first. I took out a gold necklace, the thinnest and least hideous of them all. Why am I agreeing to this? I wondered even as I wore it. Maybe because I failed when I did things my way. All the women’s empowerment and feminism bullshit didn’t really take me anywhere, right? Maybe Kamla bua and mom’s way was the right way.