Syamali had very less memory of her first times. Like she couldn’t remember having had her ears pierced for the first time. The memory of that first prick, the sudden gushing pain had been erased from over the years. She would have the wholeheartedness to remember the areas around that memory, as in remembered she sat on a wooden rickety chair on a veranda and feared toppling down as someone had held the dangling flesh from her left ear tight and done the needful. But she couldn’t remember the pouncing of her heart or the blood chasing up to her brain, the fear of the impending pain.
Similarly, she couldn’t memorize how she had been kissed for the first time, though she still hid within herself faint relics of the man. The boy. Sinking in that moment, she was swept off by the suddenness of that act, the intrusive affect of a foreign tongue in her mouth and how surreptitiously they had met after he had handed over to her a dozen sleazy letters swearing his love.
She had touched twenty and would graduate in the two months. And that would make her a B Sc in Chemistry, a degree that would be pretty forgettable and would erase itself off the yellow moldy certificate lying in the bottom shelf of her almirah, monsoon after monsoon after monsoon.
In the weeks following up to her final exams, Syamali was delivered a string of letters from her lover behind the bamboo bushes. These ones were more explicit with carefully worded descriptions of what more would he have done had she not left him abruptly that afternoon, pining for more. She callously left them under her mattress, sometimes reading them numerous times under her dim table lamp before she fell asleep on them. And then suddenly with an alarm of bare protectiveness for a man’s love, who she had barely seen once in what can be called seeing, she hid them amongst the pile of her old books from her previous years.
A few days after that day of the first kiss, Syamali has been shown to Natraj’s mother. Natraj’s mother seemed to inspect Syamali like a school headmistress trying to point out a speck of dirt in a child’s Saturday white uniform. Syamali sat nearly trembling in fear, her hair tied in strings of jasmine, the jasmine that she had planted, watered and protected from strange chattel throughout.
Syamali was not asked if she could cook or boil dal well enough. She wasn’t even asked if she herself had tied the sari she was wearing. She had. And Syamali wasn’t obviously asked if she foresaw a faint possibility of the loving the man she saw locked in his mother’s eyes. But she did see the man though. Through his mother’s round eyes, held in place by dark circles on a menopausal wrinkled face.
The session was vaguely out of line for what it had been for the couple of her older cousins who had been shown in the same room with the creaking sofa of jute and springs that placed old buttocks comfortably enough for a few dozen minutes or so, before they slightly shifted, to the sides. Some of them had even been asked to sing, stand up so that the jewelry they wore around the waist could be evaluated for what it’s worth.
But not Natraj’s mother. After she left that day, tiny children from their neighborhood pored over the ring on her right ring finger and Syamali sat perplexed breathing in exactly what had happened. She clutched between her fist rupees three hundred and one which was to ensure that the prospective groom’s mother had not drilled a hole at the expense of the sweet meat and sherbet bought on her pretext, taken on a long discarded plastic serving tray and kept before her.
That night, Syamali latched her door from the inside and fished out those letters from that sleazy lover from among the leaves of moldy pages. Those words titillated, arose her sleepy nerve ends. And in that half dream like state, she flipped through. Reading, forgetting, creating memories and simultaneously erasing. Carrying nothing along and yet living momentarily that meticulous of a love life. One sided, one and a half sided rather. As only the left half of her was involved. The ring that adorned her right ring finger, kept that half of her outside of the charm of that hallucination.
Switching between her antithetic halves, Syamali didn’t sleep much that night. She carried those burnt eyes into writing her exams a week later. A bit of that burn stayed in the corners of her eyes, when Natraj wed her a month later.
It was early in July. The lush leaf green outlived the pale grey blue of the gargantuan clouds that roamed around like loafers all day and kept everyone suspecting so as to when they would rupture. Before or after the day that would be photographed and pasted on albums with roses on their covers and lie untouched on the bottom shelves of Syamali’s closet, monsoon after monsoon after monsoon.
Mango leaves twirled about thin ropes of jute were strung across their thresholds and banana plants uprooted from their backyard and fixed on either side of the stairs that led up the veranda to the door. The walls were whitewashed, the odor of quicklime stayed and nauseated Syamali as she packed suitcase after suitcase for her sister-in-laws, gifts for her nieces and nephews, sifted through the gold that lay on her bed, sewing together her broken heart, stacking those godforsaken letters under the sheath of her bridal suitcase. Bits of that indefatigable infatuation with a unabashed man hung lose in between the dowry she was meant to carry two days later.
Just about that afternoon, some godforsaken force ruptured the clouds. It must have been the angst of the man she left behind. The man she left behind to move ahead and see the tall and olive eyed man that was Natraj.
Out of that old lover’s spat and also out of the sighs of every man that had ever laid their eyes and lusted for the form of Syamali, the rain couldn’t cease for the coming two days. The bamboo poles that held upright the tents, the shamiana to be, were almost washed away. Damp smells prevailed in their household with the gloom of a wedding that may or may not be. There was no power, the inverters had been exhausted. The kerosene generators made so much noise that it added a tinge of migraine to the existing nausea.
Scores of those unheard of relatives, aunts of aunts, unborn cousins until Syamali’s older cousins’ weddings, old discarded widowed toothless grandmothers were all left behind. None could make it drenched in the rain. The roads were clogged, the buses stopped plying. Other channels of transport were unknown then.
The mandap had to be shifted to the roof because their entire house was flooded till the knees with water. Little fish swam under Syamali’s bed as the bridal suitcases were stacked up on one another swaying in a delicate balance, just like her mind.
As an answer to an uncountable number of prayers, Natraj arrived on the evening of the fate-less day, an hour behind schedule. Carrying along-with his father and his younger sister and her son, decked up like a younger groom. His father breathing in deep sighs and explaining how they had to get down a hundred times over and walk in mud holding their slippers in their hands because the rusty old ambassador wouldn’t push the weight of all the people through the rain ditches. His sister began about how they had to start from home in the morning and how a two hour ride took them day long, and how much she needed to pee as she hadn’t had the chance to do it all day. Her son, toyed with Syamali’s red veil and asked her how long her hair was, that he found the big knot that held together her mind that time, to be some plaything.
The roof had been waterproofed with multiple layers of tent cloth, the floor, dried and carpeted. Not a drop of rain fell through. Only the neighbors came to eat, the grand dinner arrangements made by Syamali’s older brother, now talked about in the past tense were the most discussed matter around when the vows were read out in Sanskrit. Not a word of which did the fatigued girl with a bit of a burn in the corners of her eyes, understood.
Yet they sat as the rain lashed down incessantly that night and the few guests that were talked about dams breaking down, about the government opening sluice gates selectively to flood unfavorable constituencies and choosing to sweep away certain patches of population and leaving the others to thrive for no fault of either.
Amongst airs such, and in the heat of the sacred fire, sandalwood paste, vermillion, grains of rice thrown about and stuck between strands of their hair, their fates were tied for keeping safe each others’ secrets, holding on to hands through the thick and the thin, for a destined period of time. More than to stand by each other, to actually stand each other. To be blessed with the capacity to live through and not yet to get incapacitated through mundane human insanities that breeds a lull in every marriage after the first gushes of passion are done with.