Vantage Point meets Indian wedding. This is not a linear story having a beginning, middle and end. You see the entire charade of an Indian marriage from the Point of View of the different characters involved. And the plot takes some feisty turns pretty soon. The characters in this story are flawed and you might not support them, but you can’t hate them either.
Bridegroom: Tushar Shah
God, it’s hot in here. Aren’t you feeling hot all covered up like that? Anyway, I came here prepared to say wise things about marriage and all. But now the proper words are not forming. Have you read Khalil Gibran on marriage? He says something about letting there being a ‘sea between the souls,’ and the importance of ‘space’ between married people. We’ll need to talk about that: your space, my space.
Don’t get me wrong: marriage and family are important. We can start a family right away. You’re good with children, isn’t it? Your mother said so. I can imagine you with two, no, three kids. One in your arms, one pulling your sari pallu, one in your tummy. What fun!
I hope your figure doesn’t change too much from the pregnancies. Some Gujarati girls, they just fool you – thin and sexy they are – until they get married. After children, God! How they expand! The thing is, you have to keep active.
I play squash at the Club, three times per week. Our kids will have to do sports. I want our boys to be swimmers. They have the best physiques. And our children will go to the best schools. I’ll use my pull at Campion, Cathedral, DAIS, I know people everywhere.
We’ve barely spent any time together. Four or five visits, was it? That, too, supervised! I found that odd, but chalo! Your mother had her reasons. She listed all your talents nicely for us in her letter. Mummy was quite impressed that you can cook all kinds of Surati specialties.
We … I … throw parties regularly in the Juhu flat. I have so many friends – artists, photographers, models, actors, and other show biz people. You’ll get your thrills from meeting them. But that will have to wait a while, okay? First you’ll have to learn how to be with my crowd people. This city is so very different from Bhavnagar. Anyway, we … I entertain a lot, good food and cocktails.
See that tall man there in the gray suit? That’s Shyam. Khaas dostaar, my closest friend. Very smart he is, distinguished professor of English at Wilson College. He’s going through a hard time right now. Be kind to him, won’t you? He loves to eat dhokla. The white kind.
And that khadoos, there, see him? That’s my cousin, Shumeet. Call him Shu-meet, not Su-meet, okay? Big-shot job at the World Bank he has. Be nice to him but don’t take him seriously. He’s uptight, and so damn boring. Even on the day of my marriage he can’t smile. Look at his face: looks like he’s suppressing a few farts. Anyway, he’s Papa’s favourite. ‘Why can’t you be more like your cousin brother Shumeet?’ One hundred and one times he must have asked me that.
Lover: Shyam Seth
‘Call me Tush,’ he had said with a wry smile the evening we met in the bar, and I knew he would be mine, for a long time. I had no inkling of today’s events then, not even as a potential fear. Now I’m looking at him standing under the mandap holding that enormous nut in his hand. He is going to make promises to that caparisoned girl using words meant for me. He will promise her loyalty, nurture, protection – in front of the fire and all of us, his witnesses.
How many people here really know what’s going on today, I wonder. I couldn’t pull off such a phony extravaganza: I’m simple, strive for truth, and want to be accepted in truth. I came out to my parents, full knowing they would disown me.
What’s strange is they had suspected all along that I was gay. My father told me that he had the first such thought when he watched me on the cricket field before I was ten. ‘You don’t run like the other boys,’ he had said. And I can swear that until I confirmed their suspicions with the truth, they were accepting of me.
Luckily, by the time I came out, I was already here in Bombay. Such a great city, so easy to get exciting work. In addition to teaching, I’ve taken up work with American companies, coaching call centre staff. A-loo-minum. Veesa card not ‘weeza.’ Have-a-nice-day! Not exactly academic, but kya karein, the pay is good. In a few years, I’ll be able to buy a bigger flat. Tushar would like that.
Oh that happy day, when I first saw him walk toward me at the bar! His wet black hair glistened with raindrops, like morning dew on blades of grass. And that naughty twinkle in his eyes – I felt pleasure and lust, but also imminent ownership. Our eyes locked fast like the clasp on my belt buckle, and I knew! I knew he would be mine.
Love! Baldwin wrote of love as a mystery, ‘with the possibility of torment.’ How it stings, that word today: torment. Tushar assured me that nothing would change. ‘It’s just a piece of paper for inheritance purposes,’ he said about this marital arrangement. But I hate the fraudulence, the hypocrisy!
Tushar, if you only knew how lost, how beaten, I feel today! Because you had told me girls were unfuckable. That’s the word you used, ‘unfuckable’, and I believed you. I never once worried about those flirty, fashionable models you work with. Now I have to worry about this girl. Imagine: so plain, practically a villager, and she is my rival. How could you do this to me? To us?
Already, you’re starting to seem like an illusion to me. The villager doesn’t know it yet, but you’re her illusion too. For now, you are our shared illusion.
Bride: Sneha Desai
I’m not so pretty or fair in complexion. Why you chose me? Your mother said many girls replied to the matrimonial. So what for, you chose me?
Those two times we were meeting, we talked in Gujarati, because my English is not good. But I have heard you talking English on the telephone with your friend Shyam. I was thinking: He is talking so stylish, like a movie hero!
My mother kept on and on asking me: Am I sure I want to married you? No hesitations are there? Kem? Why I shouldn’t be sure? You are so handsome and so much responsible with your own business! You told to me I can take a course, any kind of lesson in dance, or in singing or anything after we get married. I felt it so nice.
How your house is? How it looks? My mother told me it is not a bungalow. It is in a building, very up. She told me kitchen is big, in bathroom there is fountain from ceiling.
I hope I give you a son first. Then your mother-father will be happy. Five children they want, like Pandavas, they said. I did all the fasting, so I’m sure it will be happen.
I want to look on you with my eyes, but my mother told me to see on my hands until ceremony is finish. The mehendiwali wrote your name and my name in the pattern. She said if you find my name, then your love for me will be true. Find my name in the mehendi pattern. Look in the tree, in the leaves. There you will find me. If you search properly, you will find me.
Groom’s Father: Hasmukh Shah
All my life I worked hard, fixing electrical gadgets, then specialising in auto parts for Fiats, Ambassadors, Jeeps. Everyday I went to factory at 7:00 sharp, and came home after 6:30, with oil and dirt on my hands, washing them with special industrial soap to take out the smell. Worked hard to make money, did all this so that I could have a line, a business line, to give you. All you were supposed to do is give us continuity to our family line. Shah family line.
Your mother and I had you followed, some time back, so we know all about your other life, your filthy life. Your mother thinks that you will change after marriage, that your lafdas with men and boys are a timepass. I am having doubts.
This is our first family wedding since my own marriage, and it’s a bogus, all bogus! Your mother and I did whatever we could to make you happy. Money, cars, whatever you wanted, you got, and you lied to us every day about where you were and what you were doing. When you were I lying, I could see it in your eyes.
Now, I’m telling you this: I want to keep it all in the family. Otherwise you wait and see, I’ve talked to my solicitor about it. In my will, I’ll keep your cousin brother in charge of my business. If you don’t provide issue, the business and properties will go to him. When we are dead, I don’t want everything I worked for to go to some fairy boyfriend of yours. I don’t want you to gamble and drink away my hard-earned money at the race course. Saala! Every vice you had to have?
Groom’s Mother: Bharati Shah
Jai Shri Krishna, this is an auspicious day! God has sent me Sneha, as a salvation. She is young, still young enough to give us grandchildren, thank God! How long your father and I have waited for this day, you stubborn boy!
The Brahmin has put the varmala around both of your necks. Now Punditji will make you sit side by side, as partners. You know why? Because it is more important for two people in a marriage to look in the same direction than to look at each other. Remember that: You should have same view on things. Now, hastamelap. Her father will put her hand in yours – he is giving her to you. Now you will take your pheras around the fire. Om Svaha! Om Svaha!
I can still remember how I felt circling the holy fire during my own marriage. How nervous I was about my first night. How sad I was to leave my childhood home, how scared I was of my future mother-in-law. But don’t worry I will take care of your wife. I will be a good mother-in-law. Sneha will be happy here.
Groom’s Cousin: Shumeet Sen
It started with Brother Monty, the science teacher, the one famed for elongating his vowels. ‘Vant-toooo-seeee-mai-pate-frog?’ he used to ask all the junior school boys. ‘Eeet-ees-eeen-mai-poke-ate.’ Word was he showed you his ‘pet frog.’ Word was you held it. Four boys reported seeing you holding his ‘frog’ in the lab that morning. By lunchtime everyone in Tagore House knew. I got into all kinds of fights for you at school, but you ignored me. You forbade me from being in the Visual Hall at school same time as you.
Here’s your dad, wearing a tired look under his turban. I feel sad for him – he became a crorepati businessman for you. And what do you do in return? Lie and cheat. And now you are going to ruin this poor girl’s life. Have you anything in common with her? I can’t see more than two things. One: She is a Gujarati. Two: She breathes.
Dance Troupe Singers: Tamay ek vaar Marwad ja jo re, O, Marwada, Tamay Marwad thi shu shu lawsho re, O, Marwada …
Bridegroom: Tushar Shah The sound system is working properly. Good. Let the dancing begin! Aaaah, my favorite dandiya-raas number. I hope Shyam joins the dance circle. If I get to see him close, even for one minute, I’ll tell him everything will be alright. I’ll tell him with my eyes. It always works.
Lover: Shyam Seth The ceremony is over. Tushar is legally married – benedict no more! He has an official wife and I am now his invisible bum-pal.
The women are dancing in the inner circle, the men are in the outer circle, and I am completely outside, standing here alone, like a lukkha. Now he’s looking at her, dancing with her. See how socially supple he is: making small-talk with eminent doctors and politicians. He is posing for photos with his arm around her. He is smiling for the photographer, or for his father, who must have proof that this wedding is actually taking place. And that stupid lady is singing:
‘What will you bring for me from Marwada? Be sure to bring me mehendi. Be sure to bring me shoes … ‘
Groom’s cousin: Shumeet Sen Note to self: ignore comments about when I will marry. Deliberately spill my drink on the next person to make an inquiry about my green card status.
Shit. Two or three pushy aunties are trying to present the bride’s sisters to me. One’s chubby, but the younger one – not bad waist-to-hip ratio. But wait – the thought of being doubly related to Tushar is seriously grossing me out.
Okay – cutie pie radar buzzing: hot chick coming up again in the inner circle. Nice long hair, Miss Lemony Scent – she’s looking me straight in the eye. Low sari. I like! Okay, that was no accidental touch there – hope she’s not with anyone. Wait, wait, don’t go yet! See you next round, okay?
Groom’s Father: Hasmukh Shah Bharati thinks the girl will be happy – she won’t even know about your other life because you can keep secrets. Still, this whole thing is making me uncomfortable. And the secret we are hiding is also making me very much uneasy. What if her family is hiding things from us? Suppose there is some illness that runs in her family that we don’t know about? Bhagwan!
I pray Bharati is right. I hope the girl will be happy, as a wife, as a mother. I hope she never finds out the truth about you, Tushar.
Dance Troupe Singer: Tamay eli lavo, oloo lavo, sabu dana, paan supari … Tamay ek vaar Mumbai ja jo re, O Marwada …
Lover: Shyam Seth What are the odds that this sham-marriage will last? Come on, take a stand, for once. Do you really think that by changing the image of your lifestyle, you will be happier? Tell me, tell me the truth. It’s what I need to hear.
Getting dizzy, now, watching these people dancing round and around in those circles. And the lyrics are only getting stupider:
‘Get me this, get me that, food and paan. Go to Mumbai, Go to Bhavnagar. Bring me back things …’ Things! Money and shopping lists. That’s what this is all about. Can’t take it any longer … need fresh air. Outta here, like the Americans say. Have-a-nice-day!
Bridegroom: Tushar Shah All these people dancing in here to celebrate our marriage. And my wife, she is the best dancer of all – her mother wasn’t lying about her talents! She’s looking at me now, with those big eyes, offering me her heart, her life, everything. How young and sweet she is.
Sneha, my wife, you can make this a fulfilling family life. You can travel home to your mother’s house to see her whenever you want – we live in modern times. I’ll be involved with our children, you’ll see. I’ll show up at their school events: Sports day, Swimming gala. You’ll have lots to do once the children arrive: doctors’ appointments and meetings with teachers, swimming lessons, tuitions. You’ll be busy in a nice way.
I pledge you my best, the best I can do, given who I am. I’m sorry if … I’m sorry if the bedroom disappoints you in any way. But think of it this way: you’re marrying an older man. Who knows, perhaps you’ll be grateful if I don’t trouble you too much in bed.
If you show understanding, all is possible. Sneha, you’ll have saris more than you can count, Club memberships, a car and driver wherever you go, unlimited shopping and beauty budget … The servants will take orders from you. The children’s characters will be shaped by you. Eventually, the house will be run by you.
Don’t feel as if you have to cook and sew. Don’t go on those silly weekly fasts that don’t mean a damn thing to me. Don’t sit home like a caged bird. Don’t wait up for me to have dinner. Carve out your space in this life and do whatever you want in it. Space. Khalil Gibran’s space, remember? Fill out your space with your interests and hobbies. It’ll be more than satisfying. Try it. It’s all I’m asking you today.