Fiction: What is the Measure of Love

Shernaz Wadia
He finally got married to the love of his life. The day and date had been cemented in his memory.

The match-maker hadn’t exaggerated when she told Carl that he was going to meet an angel.   Ruksheen’s inner charm, her grace and beauty had unsettled his mind. Gentle, soft-spoken, even demure and mostly quiet, whenever he had taken her out on dates, she drove him crazy.  And she had accepted this simple, loving man as her husband-to-be! Ah, bliss divine!

Purple and white, her favourite colours, fluttered in the orchids and satin sashes. Stars had descended on trees and around the hall in the guise of gold and silver lights; the floral decoration, the live band, the aromas wafting from the specially crafted buffet all screamed LOVE. Everything had to be superlative for his sweetheart Ruksheen, who would enter his life today as his beloved wife. A year of dating had been too long a wait. 

He kept glancing around the venue in-between greeting guests, answering his mother vaguely as she asked him to take his chair on the stage.  His heart beat like a jackhammer against hs chest when the band struck up “Here comes the bride...’’ A mesmerising apparition walked towards the stage, one hand resting delicately on her father’s arm. Dressed in a pure white Chantilly lace saree, diamonds glittered in her ears, on her neck and wrist as she glided along holding a dazzling bouquet of orchids and delicate baby’s breath flowers. Eyes downcast, she climbed up and sat in the chair opposite his.  

The ceremony began. 

Priests, some family members and two witnesses followed her.  Someone passed a white satin cloth to the witness from the boy’s family. He opened it and passed one end to the witness from Ruksheen’s family. They held it so that the two couldn’t see each other. The priest than passed a ball of white twine and it went from hand to hand as it was wound seven times around both the chairs. Then the bride’s right palm was put face up in the groom’s under the cloth; the priest put some rice in each palm and then they were loosely bound together by thread. The bride’s mother whispered something in her ear. Ruksheen nodded slightly and the priests began the prayers.  One after another, the bride and groom were asked thrice, “Pasande Kardim?” (Are you Willing?) Each one answered in the affirmative and suddenly someone nudged the bride, who pulled out her hand from the grooms and threw the rice on him. Shouts and claps rose from the bride’s family and on cue the band played a short drum roll. The belief is that whoever throws the rice first will dominate the marriage. Carl couldn’t have been happier. He was already her slave.  

 The screening cloth was now removed and the chairs put side by side. The priests started chanting marital blessings, invoking the divinity to sanctify this marriage; they threw handfuls of rice, rose petals and finely chopped coconut slices on the two, signifying abundance. Once the ‘ashirwad’ prayers were over, they were declared married and Carl eagerly kissed his gorgeous bride who moved her head slightly. He missed her lips. 

Carl’s patience was stretched taut, like elastic ready to snap any minute. He craved to be alone with his Ruksheen. But the evening seemed endless, taking its toll on both. Ruksheen was unusually pale.  

A final ritual still stood between them and the privacy he ached for after the typical Parsi wedding, wining, dining etc. was over. On the threshold of their house, his mother performed the achhoo-michhoo to ward of any evil or bad luck entering with them into the house.  Once it was done, he carried his bride straight to their bedroom and laid her gently on the bridal bed.  Black kohl trickled in rivulets on her soft cheeks. Her tears wringed out Carl’s heart. He tried to comfort her with the promise to take her to her parents first thing the next morning. Her eyes shot arrows through his joy. A collage of pain, gratitude, inhibition and fear smudged their warmth. He helped her out of the high heeled shoes and jewellery; then as he tried to undo her saree blouse she shrank. He stayed composed.

“It’s okay. Please go into the bathroom and change,” his muffled words rose from the throat of disappointment.   

Ruksheen took her time coming out; her eyes puffed and face tear-stained. Molten lead throttled his anticipation of a thrillingly romantic night. He barely managed to tell her to go to sleep. Instead, she went and stood by the window, still and dark like the street bathed in an eerie glow. 

Hesitantly he went and stood next to her. Still perplexed he asked her what was wrong and if there was anything he could do to ease her mind. She could have been carved from marble. After an interminable, suspenseful gap she turned to him. 

“Carl, there’s something I want to tell you but I don’t know how to.” It was a trembling whisper. 

“Tell me without fear, my darling. Did I do something to hurt you? All I want is to see you happy.” His voice caressed her diffidence. 

 “Oh no! You have done nothing wrong. It’s my parents. They blackmailed me into this marriage,” she blurted. 

She shivered like a leaf in a howling wind wondering what storm it would bring. He felt hot drops on his hand.  She sobbed inconsolably. When she looked at him again her eyes were stricken pinpoints of pain and apology.

 “Forgive me for dropping this on you on our wedding night. But you have to know the truth.  I am in love with someone else. I don’t know how to respond to your amorous advances.” 

The brutality of those words! They left stinging gashes on his heart which curled into itself.  The heaviness of her disclosure crushed his vocal cords. This demanded time for absorption. 

He scuttled towards the bed. Picking up his pillow and a sheet he went to the sofa. His voice wobbled as he once again told her to go to sleep. It was the hour of ghosts and ghouls in his mind. He spent the night thrashing like a fish dangling from a hook. The sensuous, passionate night he had envisioned in his waking hours had turned horrendous. A meteoric shower of memories exploded in his mind and in a flash her behaviour and attitude of the past year pulsated before his eyes. He had naively believed she was shy and was taking her primness to a warped extreme! Some primal part of his spirit raged like hissing orange and yellow flames! Her words danced viciously on his heaving chest.

“Go about this whole sordid truth with patience and tact” he warned himself as his somersaulting heart began to neutralise.

Morning light entered their accursed room oblivious of the burden in their hearts. He went for a shower. He spent a long time under the refreshing water. After Ruksheen too had finished her bath, he called her to join him for breakfast. Silence took the shape of the cups as they sipped tea. It constricted their throats as they forced down some food.  

Finally his words punctured it.  Delicately, as if he were handling a piece of tattered but crucial paper.  His voice was unhurried, dulcet. 

“Will you tell me all about the man you are in love with and why your parents didn’t let you marry him? They surely had a good reason.”

 Looking steadfastly at him, she replied:  “Yes. They had a very good reason. He is poor and wouldn’t be able to afford the opulence I had grown up in.”

His expression was fogged by disbelief not just at what she said but also at the rasping voice. 

“Not really? Perhaps they knew something you didn’t know. Who is he anyway?”

“His name is Percy Shroff.  He owns a cycle shop off M.G. Road.”

“I see”. A long drawn out pause. Then Carl heard his cold voice, “I will not come near you till you are comfortable, but don’t breathe a word about this to anyone”. Then emphatically, “Till I come to a decision let’s behave like a normal couple outside of this room. Do you get it?”

And so they began to live their lie. It gnawed their insides each time they saw his mother’s happiness; they felt nauseated with guilt when friends and family beamed at the couple made for each other. Cruel days tumbled into excruciatingly punishing weeks and torturous months. How long could they live this charade? Only the walls of the bedroom witnessed the borderlines drawn between them. In trepidation she wondered what the final outcome of her honesty would be.  

One day he came home with a decided air. Once alone in their room he handed her some papers. 

“My lawyer has filed for divorce,” he announced matter-of-factly. “It will be with mutual consent;    you won’t have to go to court nor answer any inconvenient questions. If any proceedings are required they will be conducted in camera.”

 Ruksheen was inundated by an avalanche of terrifying thoughts. Where would she go? Certainly not back to her parents! What would she do? How would she face the world alone? Till now Carl had been her support, her rock. He had begun to grow on her. How would she live without him? Her eyes began to well up.

 “Tomorrow you have to come with me to a meeting. You will understand everything.” With that he left her.  Unease balled up her guts. 

Next morning, he took her to her favourite coffee house and ordered breakfast. Ruksheen wondered aloud why the lawyer still hadn’t arrived. Carl said nothing as he nodded at someone behind her.  She turned and the ground slipped from under her. Pale and dizzy, her gaze shifting from Carl to Percy and back again, she looked like an ensnared bird. Her face was a scribbled, messy parchment of bewilderment, joy, fear, questions and enormous anxiety. 

 Speechless, her heart lurching, she saw Carl leave. 

“What is happening? Why are you here Percy? What do you want? Our life was going on smoothly and I was almost beginning to get fond of Carl. Why this sudden disruption...?” she accused agitatedly. He offered her some water and then began to talk. As he spoke, her eyes widened in utter disbelief!

Percy explained that Carl had been a constant visitor to his shop. He had made inquiries about Percy, found him to be a good person worthy of his Ruksheen and taken months to convince him to accept her as his wife. 

“Look Percy, I am not doing you or her any favour. I love her more than anyone else in the world and I want her to be truly happy. Please, support my decision. I beg of you, help me prove how deeply I love her. If you don’t we’ll be a triangle of misery.” 

Percy had given in after almost a year of deliberation and relentless persuasion. Only then Carl spoke to his parents-in-law, berated them and hammered sense into their shocked heads. Next he had tackled his mother. It was like trying to knock nails into concrete, but eventually he brought her around too. Finally he spoke to his lawyer and only after he was assured that he had laid all the groundwork in place without any loopholes, he brought Ruksheen into the picture.  

Her emotions were a patchwork quilt of anger, beleaguerment, confusion, elation and injury. Once more her future had been decided by others.  But this time she wouldn’t fight Carl’s verdict. She knew this was the culmination of true love and she wouldn’t insult his unselfish magnanimity. 
(Fictionalised account, of a real story. Hard to believe but nonetheless true)

1 comment :

  1. arranged marriages with its many flaws, couples in love who are prevented to share their love should elope


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