As the sun set that evening, the four current members of the Khurana family sat around the dinner table, picking at the meal the chef had lovingly prepared for them. None of them had much of an appetite. Dev was too nervous to eat, which was understandable. Savitri’s lack of hunger was more easily explained, resulting from a heavy lunch whilst finalising the menu for the small post-wedding dinner. The other two members of the family had another reason for their lack of appetite; it was simply that they wanted to finish the meal as quickly as possible so that they could leave the dining table and perhaps have a few moments for themselves.
Any plans they might have been making were brought to an abrupt halt by Dadi’s words.
“Hum aap logon se kehna bhool gaye the, magar Geet, aap bas jaldi se tayyar hojaiyye. Hum ne mehendi walon ka bandobast kiya hai, hum chahte hain ke Priya ke haathon mein jaake hum mehendi lagwaalein. Unn ka joda bhi dedenge, aur aap unn ki beti se bhi millijiyega.”
“I forgot to tell you, but Geet, will you hurry and get ready. I’ve arranged for some mehendi-artists to come to Priya’s house, I want us to go and spend some time with her and get her bridal mehendi done”
Before Geet could say a word, her husband spoke.
“Dadi, aap ne Geet ke liye bhi kissi ko arrange kiya hai?” “Dadi, have you arranged for someone to apply Geet’s mehendi as well?”
“Bilkul bete, humne teen kalakar bulwaye hain. Priya, Geet aur Anjali- teenon ke liye arrangement kiya hai” “Of course, I’ve arranged for three people. Priya, Geet and Anjali, there’s someone for each of them”
“Mere khayal se hum bhi chalte hain aap ke saath Dadi” “You don’t mind if I tag along, do you Dadi?”
He smiled at Geet as he spoke, provoking the usual reaction; she blushed bright red and felt her heart pounding at the look in his eyes.
As she hurriedly dressed, she couldn’t help but ask him “Aap bore to nahin honge humare saath chalke. Mehendi lagane mein bahut der lagti hai, aur aap ke karne ke liye wahan kuch nahin hoga” “You won’t get bored will you, coming with us. It takes ages to apply mehendi, and there won’t be anything else for you to do there.”
He didn’t say anything, just smiled, leaving her shaking her head in disbelief.
“Fine; fine. If you want to get bored watching the three of us just sitting with our hands covered in mehendi, thats fine. Ab hum chalein?” “Shall we go?”
“There’s just one thing I need to get Geet, tum neeche jao, I’ll meet you at the car in just a minute.”
When he came downstairs, she looked at him questioningly, but he said nothing, only smiled at her enigmatically.
They drove to Priya’s house all together; as they arrived, they saw the door open and Priya stepped out, obviously having been alerted by the security guard at the gate. When she saw what they had brought, she burst into tears. Geet and Dadi both rushed forward saying “Priya, tum ro kyun rahi ho, humne yeh sirf tumhein khush karne ke liye kiya tha, tumhein dukh pahunchane ke liye nahin” “Priya, why are you crying, we only did this to try and make you happy, we didn’t mean to hurt you in any way”
She smiled through her tears, then said “Nahin, main bas khush hoon ke aap yahan hain. Main aaj poore din apne parents ko yaad karrahi thi, aur soch rahi thi ke kaash mera koi mere saath hota, bechari Anjali ke ilawa. Aur dekhiye, aap aagaye” “No, I’m just happy that you’re here. I’ve spent the whole day thinking of my parents, and wishing that I had someone of my own here with me, apart from poor little Anjali. And look, here you are”
“Please, come in.”
Stepping back, she watched as the mehendi wale trooped in, then half-smiled as she saw that Geet had brought her husband with her.
As the mehendi-wale trooped past her, followed by Nakul, carrying the decorated thaal in which Dadi had arranged the wedding joda, Priya’s tears soon turned to laughter; the evening turned into a convivial family-style get-together, as Anjali emerged from her room and sat talking quietly to each of the adults.
Priya’s mehendi initially required the attention of two of the applying women, but after the main bulk of the pattern was applied, Maan insisted that Geet take a seat and have her own mehendi applied. He had a quiet word with one of the ladies, pointing at something on the table in front of her, then as Geet arrived he smiled then stepped away to use his phone to coordinate some of the last arrangements needed for the morrow.
Geet sat quietly as the woman started applying her mehendi; it took a few minutes to realise that the pattern was far more elaborate than the one she had pointed out to her.
“Arre, ye pattern aap ghalat lagarahi hain” “Oh, this is not the right pattern I’m afraid”
“Nahin madam, Sir ne yahi wala request kiya tha. Unho ne kaha ke agar aap mana karein, to main aap ki baat maanne se pehle aap ko poora design dikhadoon” “No madam, this is the design that Sir requested. He told me that if you wanted me to stop, then I should show you the whole pattern before I changed to another pattern”
She pulled out a sheet of paper and showed Geet the pattern she was working on; her eyes widened as tears appeared in Geet’s eyes.
“Madam, agar aap ko itna bura lagraha hai to main isko badal doongi, abhi to sirf shuru kiya hai” “Madam, if you really don’t like it then I can change it, I’ve only just started, I can make it look completely different”
“No don’t worry. Jo Sir ne chuna hai, wohi lagadijiye. Bilkul aise hi” was all Geet said, gesturing at the picture in front of her. “No don’t worry. Apply the pattern that Sir has picked. Just like this” was all Geet said, gesturing at the picture in front of her.
The picture was one taken of her own hands on her wedding day, the bridal mehendi winding intricately up her forearms, the colour as deep as their love had been that day. There had been one tradition that she hadn’t adhered to back then- she hadn’t asked for his name to be hidden in her mehendi, instead liaising with the jeweller to ensure that his name was hidden in the design of her mangalsutra, the mangalsutra she wore even now. The permanence of that had seemed much better than having his name temporarily branded on her hand.
Looking over at where her husband stood quietly talking on his phone, she said “Ek change karna hai. Issmein kaheen unka naam chupadena. Maan”. “I just want you to add one thing. I want you to include his name in the pattern somewhere. Maan”
She blushed as the woman looked at her; she could see her wondering why a woman who was obviously not the bride wanted such a bridal touch to her mehendi, but the mehendi-artiste was well paid and wise to the foibles of the rich, so kept her thoughts to herself.
“Bilkul Madam” “Absolutely Madam”.
By the time all the mehendi had been applied, it was two o’clock in the morning. The wedding was scheduled for five o’clock the next afternoon, so the Khurana family didn’t linger over their leave taking. Dadi’s parting words were “Priya bete, I’ll be here at three o’clock tomorrow to help you get ready. Pareshan mat hona, sab bahut acchi tarha se hojayega”.
As they drove home, Geet fell asleep with her head on her husband’s shoulder; drawing up to the main entrance to the mansion, Dadi turned to wake her but stopped when he shook his head. He got out of the car, then turned to carefully scoop her up, smiling as she nestled into his arms and rested her head in the crook of his neck.
“Dadi, subha milte hain” “Dadi, I’ll see you in the morning”
With his precious burden in his arms, he walked into the house and climbed upstairs; he lay her in bed then stretched out next to her, careful to avoid her mehendi laden hands. Within moments he was asleep, his wife’s head laying over his heart.
She woke the next morning to find her husband standing next to the bed looking down at her.
“Uthjayein Begum Khurana. Der kaafi hochuki hai” “Time to get up Mrs Khurana, it’s quite late already”
Sticking her tongue out at him, she stretched, then shrieked as her eyes fell on the clock.
“It can’t be eleven o’clock!”
When she saw him grinning down at her she jumped out of bed saying “Aap ne mujhe itni der tak sone kyun diya, itna kuch karna hai” “Why did you let me sleep so late, there’s so much to do”
Before she could rush away into the bathroom, he grabbed her hand and pulled her close, moulding the length of his body along her back. She stilled as she felt his breath along the edge of her ear, then shivered as he whispered “Geet, ruk jao. Pareshan mat ho. Yahan ruko, mere paas do minute ruk jao” “Geet, just stop. Don’t worry. Stay here, with me, just for two minutes.”
She felt a shiver run down her body as the heat of his seeped through the thin material of the clothes she had slept in.
His lips caressed her neck gently for a brief moment before he sighed, then drew back. Turning her to face him, he said “Don’t worry Geet. There really isn’t anything for you to do apart from get ready. Everything is in hand. Just relax. I’ll be back in a while.”
Dropping a hard kiss on her lips, he walked out of the room.
She stood for a moment, feeling the heat deep inside her. Blushing at her own thoughts, she stood for a minute more, then went into the bathroom to bathe. Enough was enough; once this wedding was over, she would have to take things into her own hands and make sure that she could spend some time alone with her husband.
After bathing and drying her hair, she looked down at the mehendi on her hands. It was deep and rich red, and as she looked at it, she couldn’t help but remember the old-wives tale that her mother had told her when she was a child “Bete, jiss ke haath mein mehendi ka rang gehra hota hai, usska pati hamesha uss se bahut mohabbat karega” “child, if the colour of a girl’s mehendi is dark and rich, then her husband will always love her dearly”.
Wandering downstairs, she found everything had been completed to perfection. A small elegant mandap had been erected in one of the private rooms, perfect for a small ceremony, and the decoration of the main hall had been completed with elegance and simplicity with fresh flowers everywhere. Around twenty-five guests had been invited to a small dinner party in the evening, people close to Priya and Dev; the news of their wedding was to be broken during the course of the evening. The newly-weds would then leave for a three-day break, whilst Anjali stayed in the Khurana Mansion. Dev had initially wanted to take Anjali with them, but both Priya and Anjali herself had refused. Priya had initially thought that Anjali might want to stay with her best friend, but Anjali herself (who was a remarkably grown-up nine year old) had asked to stay in her new home.
Geet sat and had a light lunch with Dadi, smiling at Dadi’s obvious relief that everything seemed to be working out for the best. As they sat having tea after their meal, they watched the last minute preparations going on, then as the main clock in the hall struck two o’clock, Savitri stood and said “Bete, hum chalte hain, Priya ke saath hi wapas aayenge. Aap bhi jaake tayyar hona shuru karlein.” “Bete, I’ll go over to Priya’s house now; I’ll come back with her. You should go and start getting ready too”.
As Geet stood to say goodbye, Dadi came close and drew her into a tight embrace. Surprised, Geet wrapped her arms around the older woman for a moment, saying “Dadi, kya hua, sab theek hojayega, aap pareshan mat hon” “Dadi, what’s wrong, everything will be fine. Don’t worry, please”
Savitri drew back but kept hold of Geet’s hands.
“Bete, jo aap karrahi hain, jo aapne kiya hai, hum uss ke liye kabhi aapko shukriya nahin keh sakte. Aap ne iss khaandaan ko tootne se bachaliya. Aaj ke baad hum kabhi phir ateet ko saamne nahin layenge, magar ek baar kahe bina humein chayn nahin milta. Humara aashirwaad hamesha aap ke saath hai”
“My child, what you’re doing, what you’ve done, I can never thank you enough for it. You have saved this family from breaking. After today, I’ll never mention the past, but I couldn’t be at peace without saying it just once. My blessings are always with you”
Before Geet could react, she drew her close once more and kissed her forehead, then walked away, discreetly wiping her tears.