Celebration

Original author: Nirmal Jaswal
Translator: Sulekha Sharma

I stood alone in the three-star hotel, Mount View. My son Mohit had found his friends and had deserted me. He had found his own company. It was on my husband, Rahul’s suggestion that I had come to the party with our son, Mohit as my escort. I was feeling lost when I saw a waiter and ordered a Bloody Marie. I held the glass in my hand as a shield. 
This was also Rahul’s idea that I take a drink or two in such gatherings. Now I was addicted to it.  
I looked at the wine glass as if I was looking at it for the first time. It occupied my mind for a while. I liked its delicate stem. The cup was shaped like a tulip flower. Its delicate beauty engrossed me. To give it the ultimate touch was a piece of lemon placed delicately on one side.  There was a long transparent stick shimmering in the liquid. 
 It took my mind off my embarrassing situation for a while. I was alone and Rahul was somewhere else having a good time with his girlfriend. To offset my mood, I called Mohit. I was playing the concerned mother. Have you eaten anything? Have you taken a snack? I asked him.
Mohit was busy talking to his girlfriend. He was irked by my intrusions, and he told me so. I was guilty.
Somebody passed by me like a whiff of air. I heard him apologize, “Excuse me.”
He crossed the lawn. He put on his glasses and began his search for his favourite drink in the well -laid bar. Then a woman, fashionably dressed in a tight low-cut sleeveless brocade shirt, entered. Her Salwar was carefully creased. Her dress gave her a girlish look. The elderly man chirped up on seeing her and called out,” How are you Miss Walia?” The woman was holding a glass of beer in her hand, smiled at the man coquettishly and went inside. She knew me and my situation. She just smiled at me and picked a stick of chicken from the tray held by the waiter. She took a bite and chewed on it delicately. She ignored me. She knew my situation as I knew that she was in a live-in-relationship with Ritesh for the last four years and there was no proposal of marriage in the offing.
My husband is the life and soul of such rich parties. He is somewhere around lost in his latest conquest. I hear my son’s laughter. He is with his girlfriend. I see Rahul’s image in him. The sound kills me. I call him again and again and irritate him. I take out my frustrations on him. 
Rahul is thick-skinned. His suggestion of a couple of drinks is made quite casually. He hands me a drink and then starts flirting with young women and girls. He zeroes in on some young girl. He blatantly and shamelessly flirts with her, finds a secluded corner and forgets all about me.
Today he may be in another party in another part of the city for all I know. Mohit, our son is my designated escort, and he has left me alone.   
The party has been hosted by Mrs. and Mr. Harshvardhan on the occasion of their only son’s marriage. Both of them had retired as Gazetted officers. Now both of them were busy welcoming their guests and accepting gifts, pushing the envelopes of cash in the already bulging purse. 
“It is really embarrassing.” Mr. Harshvardhan said when he saw me looking at him.
 There were also bouquets of flowers. There were lots of them. The groom was feeling tired and bored with all the formalities. Some close relatives loaded the newly wedded couple with some more flowers. 
The groom was shining in a cream-coloured zari shervani, cream coloured zari sandals and silk pants. The bride wore heavy golden-embroidered outfit and looked tired as she thanked each of them. The bridegroom was exceptionally handsome, but the bride was not exactly his match. He was surrounded by his American friends. Each of them wore spot goggles and earrings in one ear.  He held out bundle of cash to his mother who pulled out as many as she needed. The son had recently returned from the US. He was still carrying dollars in one pocket. 
These people were truly rich. Mrs. Harshvardhan looked who she was, to the Manor born. Every action bore witness to their wealth and their high-born status.
I heard somebody calling me. I recognized her. She was a senior lecturer in the DAV College. She was a great fan of my husband’s style. “Come and sit with us,” she called. Her companions were sitting around a large table. The multi-story Mount-view hotel reminded me of the high-rise buildings of Hong Kong.
Most of the guests who were roaming around were aged between forty and fifty. But it was the young who lent glamour and freshness to the environment though nobody looked really old.  All the elderly ladies glowed with their diamond accessories though it was hard to tell which ones were real and which ones were fake. Who dare pop the question? Wealth is in the way they carry themselves. 
 Mrs. Taran’s diamond really stood out and somebody asked, “How many carats does it weigh?” 
“I don’t know. My son gave it to me on my birthday when I was with him in England last year.” Mrs. Taran’s old fingers moved on the necklace. I saw her old fingers trembling as she touched the diamond. Somebody laughed aloud but the laughter was lost in the din of the moment.
Somebody offered her a drink. It was to celebrate the occasion, she was told. She began to select a drink from the tray.  I heard retired officers propose toast after toast and carry-on drinking. No one was in a hurry to eat. Young women too were moving around with drinks in their hands. The waiters were nervously carrying trays of chicken rolls, fish, kebab and spring rolls.
As I looked at those young women I remembered a party in the house of my husband’s clerk. We were invited to the sangeet party at his house. It was his sister’s marriage.
 He was rich but he was still at heart a middle-class traditional man. Such people become victim of jokes as they try to ape the rich.  I took a couple of my friends and found his house. He was not yet ready to receive guests. It was to be a traditional celebration with dholak and songs. He called his sister to look after us. My friends were disappointed. They expected dance-kebab and the high octave sounds of the modern dance and music. “This guy still has the mentality of the middle-class man. Wealth hasn’t yet taught him the style of the rich.”
One of my friends had planned a rendezvous with her boyfriend but the layout of this party did not holdout any such promise. The other one left in a huff.
I enjoyed the cup of tea and stayed for the party. The party did not disappoint me. The old Punjabi folk songs were amazing.
I was pulled out of my reverie when I heard someone told Sahib Singh that there must not be any problem. It is only a question of fifty lakhs.
Then somebody made a snide comment on the new entrant. “Here is your sweetheart with her coloured hair. Poor thing! She has grown old.”
“You are old too.”
“Men and horses never grow old.’” He quoted a popular saying”
The woman was carefully dressed. She had lucky stone rings on her eight fingers. She took the old man to one side, slipped her arm around his waist and got talking.
“Love also never grows old.” I said. 
To my horror I saw my husband entering the lawn with a young woman. She was in a thin blue saree with a zari border. I could not stand it. I unsuccessfully tried to locate our son. I left the party wondering at myself, “Am I jealous?”
Mrs. Brar hosted a party in the Chandigarh Club to celebrate her son’s selection in the Army. She specially invited Rahul and me. Rahul as usual told me to attend the party and disappeared.
Mohit and me took two rosebuds wrapped in a shining paper and went.
Chandigarh Club is a popular hub of the rich and important people. It is crowded by evening. It has an obscure path but once you locate the gate you find your hosts.  There are boards directing you to your destination. The waiters do help but sometimes one does get lost in the thick crowds before finding the destination. 
In my high heels and my new dress I finally found the place. I was tired by now. The party was full of young and beautiful people, dressed to the helm. Though I knew a number of them I did not join them. I took a coke and stood on one side. Somebody pulled me in the circle. In this circle it was taken for granted that ladies do not favour hard drinks. They were holding soft drinks and concentrating on snacks. The young boy was circulating among the guests and playing the concerned host. Mrs. Brar looked tired even before the party had begun. It was a momentous day. Her son was getting into a career but he was also going away from her, but her face was deadpan. 
I was surprised when an elderly woman from the group was accosted by someone. She left the group and walked away with him in happy familiarity. I noticed that under cover of her dupatta he poured a peg in her half-empty glass of coke. I learned from whispers that followed her exit that her husband has been living in some foreign country for the last five years. She was living a widow’s life. But she has been in a relationship with this man since last year. 
“Perhaps they are merely friends,” I suggested.
It is not hard to recognize the difference. Leave the subject. It is not our concern. But somebody could not hold back the poison in her tongue. She exclaimed,” She thinks she is pure. Is this the age for love?”
Mrs. Brar’s brother-in-law was drunk to the gills and was in a happy mood. He heard the word ’love’ and called out. “Who is talking of love? I am alone and need it.” 
I left the party early.
Next day Mrs. Brar told me that the party ended quite late that night.
I was curious about the woman they were talking about that night. 
She laughed and said, “There are many stories. Let us leave it at that.”
In the Press Club I came face to face with the woman my husband was involved with. The minute I saw her I closed the door.
I took courage and opened the door again. I located Jasmine who was talking on the phone on the counter. She saw me and pointed to the corner table. An elderly man of around seventy and a few others was sitting at the table. There was also an elderly woman with sleepy eyes.   They all began to ogle at my body. I also felt a pair of eyes piercing my back.
 This was not the first time that I had come alone to the party. But I never imagined I will confront the usurper immediately. I began to sweat. I controlled myself with great difficulty. The woman with sleepy eyes was looking at me. A couple of Rahul’s friends were sitting at the other table. Perhaps they were expecting Rahul and knew of Rahul’s other interests. They gave me a secret smile of understanding to which I responded.   
Today’s invitation from Jasmine was for me alone. She had invited me to meet an illustrious writer. He has grown old but he does not behave like an old man. He is a naughty man with a freshness of attitude, she told me.
“ I am mortally afraid of the old men.” But this is not the whole truth. I am always ready to help the old folk. Rahul often makes fun of me, “Are you born to fall in love with old men?” 
“I avoid getting into argument with him. It is not love. It is respect for the aged. Then I remembered what had happened in the last few days. Rahul’s lawyer is an aged man. He came to know of Rahul’s philandering ways. He almost prepositioned me. “He called me one day and invited me to his house for a courtesy call. He talked of his wife. “She would love to meet you”, he told me. I was appalled at the preposition. I shut him down. 
It had hurt me deeply. But when I complained to Rahul, he did not respond like my knight saviour. He was amused. “Ignore him,” he told me, “He is a dirty old man.”
He does not want any bitterness in his social life.
The old writer offered to get me a drink. At that point Jasmine joined us. She ordered apple wine for herself and soup for those who did not drink. I ordered beer and soup. She was surprised at the strange combination. “It is ok, Yaar.” I said.
 Her reaction amused me. 
The women with sleepy eyes looked at my rings, my dress and the glow on my face and decided that I belong to rich business class. “These rich people!” she whispered and sighed. She ordered soup only.
Once I met another woman in a party with Jasmine. She encourages me to play cards, “People who are unlucky in love, are lucky in cards.”
 But I kept losing in the cards too. The game irritates me but I do love to play tombola. I usually win with the number forty.
The other woman intervened. Her lucky number was fifty-eight. It is surprising. She always got that number. Then somebody said out of context, “Men are naughty at forty”.
“Do I look fifty-eight?” she asked.
Somebody tried to pacify her. Your winning number does not necessarily mean it is your age.
“No but why do you always get forty?” 
I laughed at the implication. The writer smiled. He saw the mischief in my laughter.
During all this jasmine was grappling with a critic. The critic was eulogizing ‘ishq’. It is above jealousy; it is beyond body and soul. If the lover is jealous and is ready to give up relationship, then it is not ‘ishq’. But these wives do not understand the sanctity of pure love. They stand between the beloved and you. Anyone but the beloved!
It is a strange relationship with the wife. They never understand it. The minute they learn of the extramarital affair they are ready to give up all. Why can’t they understand ‘ishq’!
I thought of Rahul. Is he caught up in this web too? 
I felt a pair of eyes fixed on my back. I turned to look at him. Is this ishq? He did not say hello to me. He got up along with a woman in red saree, perhaps she was his wife. 
Then the writer touched my fingers to attract my attention but the touch had intoxicated him.
He said, “After a couple of drinks one does fall morally.”I tried to check on my response to his touch. He asked me in undertones, “Do you understand a man’s look?”
I laughed. Every girl, every woman has known the hunter’s eyes.  She knows every look but he was not drawn into any more discussion. He got busy with his food. But I could not forget his earlier remark,” One does fall morally after a drink.”
Perhaps the writer in him was looking for a story.
I rang up Rahul when I reached home. I complained to him about his friends who were giving me the dirty eye.
He was incensed, not at his friends but at me. “Why do you go to these two bit parties? In big parties, nobody cares what the other is doing. Everyone is naked in the bathtub. They are all the same. It is business.
I was piqued at what he called two bit parties. I was astonished. 
“Is your relations with that woman business too?”
“Reena, when will you understand that with you I have my home? You are my family. That woman is business. She is part of the business attraction. I got big contract because of her.”
Rahul was excited, “let us celebrate tonight.” His excitement was filtering through the mobile.
I spread a red-coloured silk bed sheet and lay down. I felt as if Rahul was already there and I was lying on his girlfriend’s body. 
And I was prepared to bear the sting of million scorpions. 
This is celebration!
***

Bio: Nirmal Jaswal is a bilingual writer, Translator, poet, and retired as a professor from Govt. College, Mohali near Chandigarh (Punjab, India). Author of many books in Punjabi and Hindi short stories, poetry, critics, fiction essays, children book, translation etc. “RED WINE ZINDGI” a Hindi Novel, recently released on Kashmiri Pandits' emotional problem issues, Youth and women issues living in Canada - ne short story book “ Machchian Kach Dian’ in Panjabi Lang. is in Kurukshtra University for BA 11 or 111 syllabus. Chandigarh Sahitya Academy awarded three times for best books. Living place in Toronto and Chandigarh. At present in Toronto.

Bio: Dr. Sulekha Sharma retired as principal of Government college, Fazilka. She took up writing after a while and has two story books and three books for children. Her recent publication is “A Postage Stamp of Native Land”. It is critical analysis of all Faulkner’s novels. Her next book, ‘The Dark Side of Moon’ is under publication.
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