‘Nice music,’ he said.
‘You want to dance?’ I said.
‘I am not much of a dancer,’ Brijesh said.
‘Neither am I,’ I said.
I held his shoulders as we swayed gently to Blue eyes. The girls went into an ‘aww’ and ‘how sweet’ overdrive.
See, I can be a ‘good’ girl. Am I not trying to be a good girl? I told mini-me, my personal chatterbox and eternal critic. Mini-me, however, had slept off. Alcohol does this to her. I guess that is why most people drink anyway. To shut up their inner critic. So they can do whatever the hell they want.
‘Ouch, Brijesh, you are stepping on my toes,’ I said.
It was 4 in the afternoon. Everyone who’d partied last night had a hangover. We had come back to the hotel at 6 in the morning and gone straight for breakfast. I remembered sitting with my mother and ordering pancakes. I couldn’t eat much, as I kept dozing off.
‘Wake up. This is so wrong, what you did. Brijesh’s parents will think what an uncultured and irresponsible girl they are getting. Who drinks like this?’ my mother had said, shaking me non-stop.
‘Even their son did. In fact, he puked and passed out at the club,’ I’d said.
‘He’s a boy.’
Even in my exhausted, hungover and sleepy state, my feminist antennae were up. I stared at my mother.
‘So what if he is a boy?’ I said. Clearly, the alcohol-induced confidence had not left me.
‘Eat quickly. Get some rest. There are bhajans today. Please wear something decent. Why do you youngsters have to do such parties the night before bhajans?’
‘Why do you oldies have to do bhajans the day after our party?’
‘Just because you have started to make money you will say anything?’
I had kept quiet. I didn’t mention that this uncultured and irresponsible daughter of theirs was paying for her own wedding. One crore rupees, or 150,000 dollars, wired from my salary account as the wedding budget. Did she even care?
I had had to gulp down a glass of orange juice to calm myself. You have screwed up your life enough, can you please behave for a few days? the voice inside told me. Ah, good morning, mini-me. When did you wake up?
I remembered being escorted to my room. Aditi didi slept diagonally across the bed, still in her red dress. I changed into my T-shirt and pajamas, slid didi’s legs aside and lay down. My head hurt like someone had hammered it a few times. I closed my eyes.
Didi woke me up at 2.30 in the afternoon.
‘Get up, we have bhajans.’
‘They are at 4. Why are you waking me up now?’ I said. Didi drew open the curtains. My eyes hurt from the daylight.
‘You need time to get ready. Here, you have to wear this orange saree.’
‘No,’ I said and pulled a pillow on top of my head.
I woke up eventually. I grumbled about the entire process of dressing up, which only women have to endure. The hotel sent a hair-and-make-up lady to our room. She blow-dried my tangled hair. The noise from the hair-dryer hurt my head even more.
We reached the function room downstairs. It had been converted to look like the inside of a temple. Marigold flowers in parabolic shapes adorned the walls. At the centre was a huge picture of Sai Baba. My parents believed in him more than any God. Statues of other Hindu gods—Krishna, Ganesha, Lakshmi and Vaishno Devi—were also kept. The bhajan singers set up their mikes.
The younger lot sat at the back of the room. Most of them were holding their heads. Brijesh’s friends and cousins wore crisp silk kurta-pajamas. They had taken a shower in order to look fresh. They passed around strips of Combiflam and bottles of water to nurse their hangovers.
My girls did no better. Most of them leaned back against the wall and snoozed in their elaborate lehengas and salwar-kameezes. The way Indian girls transform themselves from party chicks in short dresses to fully clad, chaste, virginal bhajan attendees is almost a visual effects’ miracle.
The bhajans began. The singers had wonderful voices. However, when you are hungover even the best melody sounds like an electric drill. Brijesh looked at me and smiled. I gestured that I wanted to sleep. He passed me a Combiflam strip. I popped a pill.
‘You are not well?’ Kamla bua said.
‘Just tired,’ I said.
‘I have an Ayurvedic medicine. It works better,’ Kamla bua said. Nothing in the world works better than Combiflam, I wanted to tell her.
‘Nice bhajans, bua,’ I said instead.
The angels of Marriott brought us cups of black coffee. I had two. I swore not to drink again, ever. Okay, at least not this week. The coffee helped me wake up somewhat.
‘Come and pray in front, beta,’ one of my aunts told me.
Brijesh and I went ahead and bowed before the gods. The singers sang a special song for us. I looked at Brijesh. He had his eyes shut and hands folded. He was actually praying. I felt guilty for not praying with as much sincerity. Because you are a fraud, mini-me told me. Will you ever shut up? I said to mini-me.
I went back and sat with the girls. Brijesh joined the boys. The crowd participated in the next bhajan, one of the more popular ones. Despite the loud music, I found it hard to keep my eyes open. However, I woke up with a jolt when a bearded man in his late twenties entered the room. He had curly hair and wore a white kurta-pajama.
‘Oh God. Debu?’ I blurted out.
‘What?’ Rajni, who sat next to me, said.
‘Nothing,’ I said.
He went up to the Sai Baba picture with confidence. He knelt down, bowed and touched his forehead to the ground. Done with his prayers, he went to the men’s section and sat down. He clapped his hands as the singers sang the next bhajan.
What the fuck is he doing here? Did I just say, or think, the F-word in the puja room? Who cares? Am I imagining this? No I am not. What the fuck is Debu doing here?
He looked at me and smiled. Brijesh smiled at me at the same time as well. I fake-smiled at both of them. I had to talk to Debu. How? Where is my phone? Damn, where is my phone?
‘Where is my phone? Haven’t seen it today. Did I leave it in the club?’ I whispered to Rajni.
‘Aditi didi kept it last night, right?’
I tapped Aditi didi’s shoulder. She sat in front of me, wearing a magenta salwar-kameez with the dupatta covering her head. She sang with full fervour. Nobody could have guessed how well she had matched every step of Sunny Leone’s Baby doll at LPK last night.