MAY THE LIGHT DISPEL ALL DARKNESS
16: Sweetest Taboo
Anand was true to his word. At the hastily constructed mandap in the backyard of the Mishra house, he took over the responsibility of Shreya from her father in his own highly capable hands.
The bride glowed as she and the groom were showered with blessings. And at the auspicious hour to the thunderous sounds of the nadaswaram and drums, Anand tied the mangalsutra around Shreya’s neck. The knots were then reinforced by his cousin sister and the bride became officially a part of his family.
Khanak eyes shone bright through a veil of tears as she watched her best friend grasp her cousin’s hand and take the seven vows around the sacred fire.
She felt at peace despite her sorrow. Shreya wouldn’t have found a better husband and perhaps Anand wouldn’t have found a better wife. It was time for her to move on.
“Anand is one lucky guy.”
The tiny hair follicles on the nape of her neck pricked and stood erect as she felt his voice drip like rich honey into her ear.
She closed her eyes, letting the warmth seep throughout her being. She had missed him, oh how she had missed him.
Trying not to let her tone belay her excitement, she said, “Yes, anyone who marries a girl like my cousin is very lucky indeed.”
“I didn’t mean to say that. He is lucky because he has you for a friend.”
‘The one who makes your pulse race..makes your heart sing with joy..’
“He was more a friend to me than I was ever to him.” She mused then said abruptly. “Let’s go..we are done here.”
“I am willing to marry you Anand.”
He looked up and stared disbelievingly at Khanak. “Did I really hear what you just said?”
Her lips attempted a bright smile but her facial muscles refused to cooperate. “Yes..I will marry you if that’d make you happy and ..and Shreya would be free to lead her life the way she is supposed to.”
He got up to his feet and stepped up close crowding her in. “Leave Shreya out of it! I want to know about you! Would it make you happy?”
False words couldn’t cover up the anguish brewing inside. “Of course! I will be happy..after all I’ll be spending the rest of my life with my best friend…right?”
All at once Anand threw his head back and burst into a fit of merry laughter and it filled Khanak with trepidation.
“You will never grow up will you Khanak? Though we have all graduated into adulthood, even your precious Shreya…you still remain a little girl of eleven whose favorite pastime is playing hide and seek with her chums. No Khanak! I won’t let you off this lightly, you can’t deceive me..I can read you through and through!”
His smile vanished as his hands clamped down on her arms, and she felt his fingers mark her bones, yet she didn’t squirm. There was something in his eyes she had never encountered before and it scared her. “I don’t want you to be just a friend, I want you to be much more than that…I want you to be my wife, my lover..Someone I can share my sorrows and joys with..I want to be your everything. Can you see me in that guise Khanak?”
She didn’t think he’d like her answer..but they’d always been honest with each other. “Perhaps I could.”
Pics taken on the Santa Monica Pier-Edits by Emrys
Carnival of Life
As the earth spins
And time rolls on
Affection becomes an obligation
Lines deepen into wrinkles
The present becomes the past
And the past history
Front in line steps back
As the weary spine sags towards the ground
The carnival of life stops for no one
It simply goes on
14: Shattered Dreams
“Hello there!” Called out an authoritative voice while a strong hand grasped Shan firmly by the shoulder stopping him in his tracks.
Irked at the interruption, he turned around and was confronted by an imposing specimen of manhood… tall, slim, and square of shoulder, it was obvious this guy hailed from the armed forces…and after a careful perusal of the distinguished features marred by a linear scar on the right temple, Shan figured that he was a close relative. Khanak’s brother or cousin perhaps? Gosh..I hardly know anything about her.
He smiled and shook the proffered hand, concluding that it wouldn’t be prudent to cross any of Khanak’s relatives, particularly if he wished to form closer alliances in the future. Heck! What am I thinking about?
“Hi! I am Shyam..the bride’s brother! Am so sorry to startle you, but you see mom has given me the task of making myself familiar with as many guests as possible. Being away stationed on the border for months on end, I hardly know my own family..let alone anyone else! You must be one of Anand’s college friends’. I’m assuming so, because I know all his school ones!” He roared laughing out loud as if finding the thought quite funny.
Shan guessed Anand was the bridegroom.
“He must have sent you to spy for him. That chap has very little patience. Has been that way ever since he was 5 yrs old. I don’t know how Khanak handled him. Both of them always got along very well.”
Shan felt a sudden chill as Shyam’s voice trailed off and a look of pique settled over his jovial features.
“Hello? Neengal yaaru? Who is this Shyam?”
13: Hearts of Glass
Tongues wag. They do so for various reasons but the most substantial among them is because they don’t want to adopt a state of dormancy–that’d be akin to ringing a death knell!
Over the past few weeks the busy tongues along a serene and conservative street of the upscale beachside Chennai neighborhood of Besant Nagar were having the time of their lives. They were reaping a golden harvest. From dawn to dusk, in the courtyard of the Ashtalakshmi temple along the shores of Elliot’s beach, even under the Banyan tree of the renowned Kalakshetra Academy you could eavesdrop on the following prattle:
‘The elder Mishra girl has run away and wonder of wonders she has shunned the match of a lifetime- Anand Vaidyanathan! Now who in her right mind would even consider flirting with such an option?!’
‘ The girl is definitely not all there!’ This was the foregone conclusion accompanied by a sympathetic head shake.
‘Poor Srinivas and Komal Mishra.. They have committed no sin by coming forward to take care of their orphaned niece. How were they to anticipate the ungrateful girl would pay them back this way?’
Therefore on a pleasant Spring day in April when a brand new shining ‘phoren’ sedan came to a screeching halt in front of this infamous Mishra household, the aforementioned tongues wagged and twisted themselves into a feverish frenzy.
Dressed in a simple yellow and green raw silk salwar suit with the crinkled shawl drawn over her elegant head and across the lower portion of her face so to appear as innocuous as possible, Khanak entered her former home and rushed at once to find her cousin.
She stood outside the room which not so long ago had been to her as familiar as her very own and hesitated. She felt like an unwanted intruder.
It was packed with women talking in loud voices creating a happy din, one that is so prosaic in a house preparing for a wedding.
She stood there for several moments and listened, catching random phrases enunciated in lilting tones.
“Ahhh Savitri amma..aapke haathon mein jo jaadoo hai..Dekho…Dulhan ke kesh…kitne khoobsoorat lag rahe hain na? .(there is unique magic in your hands.. Behold..the bride’s tresses..how lovely they look..don’t they?)
“Kya? What..? Tamil mein (speak in Tamil)..I don’t understand!”
A trill of amused laughter. “Never mind! You are the best Savitri amma!”
Khanak smiled too. Yes, Savitri amma was the local expert on hair design, especially when it came to braiding it with fresh flowers. She inhaled deeply, the sweet aromatic fragrance of jasmine, rose, and marigold, fresh from the fields and it brought back bittersweet memories.
“Look! The Henna’s color shows up so deep! Shreya beti, don’t you worry , you’ll have no problems holding your husband’s interest.”
So it was true, her cousin was indeed getting married. She needed to talk to her.
Yes you can! Literally! At Dinosaur Ridge National Natural Landmark located in Morrison, Colorado which is just west of Denver. It is where some of the world’s best known dino fossils were found including Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus and Allosaurus. Here you will find beautifully preserved dinosaur tracks and bones of the Jurassic (144-208 million years ago) and Cretaceous period (144-65 million years ago) which were first discovered in 1877. Being there is like taking a monumentous step back in time.
“Ooooohhhhhhhmmmmmm” A sound emanating from the depths of the eternal soul. “Shanti, Shanti.”
Clear your mind. Control your breath. Elevate your soul to a higher plane.. Call on your inner strength. Forget who you are, what you are, your purpose in life. Merge yourself with the supreme. Breathe in..breathe out..in…out..in.. There I’m getting it.
‘Bubbly di! Look! I got straight A’s just like you! Finally! Like you said if I really want something I can make it happen and I did…and it’s all because of you di! You are the Best!’
Shree… Sweet young innocent Shree..with stars in her beautiful grey brown eyes, just like her Dad, though a lot more carefree and fun loving. Childlike, never wanting to grow up despite being all of twenty, just three years younger than her cousin.
Everybody said that Khanak grew up the very day her parents died. Every step she took wasn’t without considerable deliberation. Her behavior was exemplary, everybody looked up to her.
But see how it turned out? Khanak, (the one who could do no wrong) ran away bringing shame to the family, while Shree..young, flighty, irresponsible Shree chose to toe the line and get married. Married? The very thought made Khanak cringe! Was it some kind of a joke? No she’d sounded pretty serious on the phone..Then was it a trap? Was chachu behind all this? Was Anand…? No! Anand wouldn’t participate in such treachery..he simply wouldn’t! He’ll always be my friend before anything else. But people change. I’d never have guessed he thought of me more than just a friend.