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A Yellow Kurta

by Kusum Choppra

Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

Touchdown. Excited to be part of Delhi Lit Fest, no less, plus meeting three friends, fresh off Facebook! They’d never actually met. Fingers crossed.

Mimi had a maverick style all her own, a bare nod to ‘latest’ trends, preferring her own colours and styles, comfort over ‘latest fashion’.  Her tall figure bloomed with silver waves flowing down her back as she stepped out with a big smile, scanning the name boards – none with her name. 

Spotted a face that looked familiar, petite standing next to a tall gent with his back to the door, elbows balanced on the railing, with some sort of a swinging umbrella contraption on his head.  Staring at it took a moment to realise that the panels read her name ‘M I M I’.  A familiar face caught her eye and signalled, and Aruna and she fell into each other’s arms, giggling “I knew it was you.” 

They held each other at arm’s length to have a good look - another hug.

“How about me?” spoke a husky voice.  She looked up to a handsome beard slipping the swinging contraption off.  “Rajan? Should have guessed. Come, nothing like a hug to perk up vibes”, holding her arms open.   In a split second, another head popped into the arms screeching “Naani, I love you.”  Mimi looked down at her catch, kissing the forehead fondly.

“Arrey Laddo, where did you pop out from?”

A cheerful voice pointed to her belly, “From here Ma......” laughing helplessly. The loyal friends took a graceful back seat for ‘family’ -- in Delhi? Mimi never mentioned. Uproarious laughter was happening until the son-in-law appeared for perfunctionary touching the feet.  The duo watched Mimi transform into a matriarch, offering a gentle blessing ‘Khush raho, beta.’

“OK young lady, you’ve met Naani; now off to school.  Ma please don’t spoil her.”

“Bilkul sahi.  Beta go to school.  I’ll fix a date with you, promise.”

The friends guided her out. “I thought your daughter lived abroad. This is ....?”

“One of my many apart from my own, who walked through my home and heart,” smiled Mimi.

“That little one is something,” Rajan ruefully.

“Isn’t she?” grinned Mimi in response. “always has been. Touchwood”

“Why?  Problems?”

“Kal kya ho kisne jaana?   Now tell me the general plan?”

A delivery boy approached Mimi holding out an elegant bouquet. “Madame MIMI?”

Mimi frowned at Rajan.  “You?” 

He held up his hands.  “I’m in person.”

Aruna plucked the card ‘From Family. We’ll see you there in the evening.’ Hey Mimi, you have family in Delhi?”

“I forgot, honestly.  Had announced the Delhi fest possible on the family group, not realizing the Delhi bunch would ... It should be fun to catch up, many first time, some after almost half a century.”

“So this is going to be your FB trip.  Find time for friends too, Madame” Rajan a trifle sarcastic.

She gave him a sidelong glance. “Don’t get annoyed.  Can’t avoid family forever. Perhaps some fences may mend,” somberly. “But promise we’ll have fun.” holding up crossed fingers.

“Like mending fences?” shot out Aruna.  “Telling family group perhaps wrong move; but never mind, we’ll be right behind you.”

They wove into the thick of the festival crowd, sampling literary wares, before settling around a table for lunch. Konica appeared to add her cheers “What a crazy group, a horror person, a management geek, a self-help writer and .., raising her eyebrows at Mimi.  “Storytelling.”

“So, today we’ll sample that too.”

Family appeared while she was speaking; they waved frantically and she acknowledged herself smiling, apologizing to the audience “Sorry. Family after decades.”  Good naturedly laughter.

When she finished, the family waited patiently before engulfing Mimi, introducing themselves most for the first time ever, moving her to a distant figure in a pale sari. The friends kept vigil.

“Ma, see, Mimi Masi.”  Mimi held out open arms and a big cheerful smile to a sour face.

“Aarey Paduye, still holding on to gilley shikwe and spoiling your health? Come ...”

The older woman looked surprised and moved hesitantly.  Mimi closed the gap and held her close.  “Sone, look at it this way. I did you a favor; otherwise, instead of this lively family, you’d be stuck alone in Gibraltar.”  Hilarity seized the younger ones and finally, a smile flitted on the dour face.  She slapped Mimi’s shoulder.

“Hal chari! Nobody’s fault that you wore yellow and I wore blue that day. Today again yellow on purpose, no?”  The propelling outdoors came to an abrupt halt.

“What yellow kurta story is this? Tell us.” 

Settling at an open-air eatery, Mimi looked around to spot her escape routers. Yes, all three were around.  Then she smiled slightly in recall of four decades ago: ....

Four decades ago:
Once upon a time, the “Ladki Dekhna” ritual was great excitement; in the girl’s house, elaborate dishes prepared to impress the boy’s relatives.  The extended family with numerous girls to wed had unanimously decided to centralize such events in the matriarch’s house, where all visiting relatives from the world over inevitably congregated.

“Yeh kapde nahi chalengen,” declared Mami Ragini firmly -- young Padu’s Allahabad wardrobe nixed for a boy from “foreign”, come to wed in Poona, centre of matrimonial alliances for the community.  Everyone chipped in to doll Padu for her first Dekhna.

One of her cousins Malika, nicknamed Mimi had made herself a new kurta, converting a gathered dress into a shapely bright yellow kurta with long slits and patterned trimmings. The finishing made her late perhaps for designated kitchen helper duty. Braving the glares, she floated in, heading for the kitchen walking past the guests and a sidelong look at the Boy.

“Hai ram, he’s a chocolate boy with a baby face; -- will not do,” then looking at the array of goodies, she added “waste of good food,” in stage whispers that sent the kitchen crew into splits!  Dutifully, she picked up a tray, sampled delicately by the groom and his mother, but polished off by the rest of the party. The girls exchanged conspiratorial smirks.

The guests left, promising to send word, as they had other girls to ‘see’. This was the pre-dial up phones era of long ago. The bees hovered around their Padu, giggling “bunch of greedies – don’t like them – if you marry him.......”  The elders were placid, having analysed the looks of the visiting party.

Next day, Mimi and her mother waited, but no news. Day Two evening, Ragini Maami turned up with Banana Split grin. Her smiles were usually rationed.  “When’s the wedding?”

“You tell me,” Maami responded.

“Arrey ask Allahabadwallas.”

“They sent word of a Yes – but...” strategic pause.

“But what?”

“Not for Padu. ..................For the yellow kurta wali.”


“Arrey that giggling girl in the yellow kurta.”

“Who was that?”    Her mother repeated the question; when Maami looked pointedly at her, light dawned on Mimi.  Making a face, shouted “They’re mad!”

Somber conference between Ma and Maami, before they entered Mimi’s room. Succinctly:

“Listen, he’s quite a catch, looks like a hero. Own business. He liked you. I told them your parents will not give any dowry.   They said never mind, our son wants her, bas.  After the engagement, we’ll apply for her visa. Take her with us post wedding.” This last with a flourish.

Among the Sindhi Bhaibunds of those times, the pinnacle of every bride’s aspiration was to go abroad and live there with her husband.  This was a community that traditionally had men doing business in foreign locales while the women manned the home front. Partition changed it all and now, a couple decades down the line, every girl’s priority was to live abroad, whichever foreign outpost hubbie was in.

Obviously Maami came with an arsenal of arguments pro match.  When her father got home that night, he listened sombrely to Maami’s proposition, considering it.  Then, sitting at the table for dinner, he pronounced:

“Mimi is too young. She is half way through college yet.  Plus we have older girls to marry off first.  What will happen if the youngest marries first?” 

Maami was well prepared 1. the obvious benefit of a no-dowry marriage because the boy had fallen in love, 2. well settled abroad with own business, 3. prepared to wait to take her abroad with him, 4. not leave her behind for later as happened in so many cases, lasting years alone!  5. Plus well-to-do family etc. 

“I’ll find good matches for all the other girls as well.  You know you don’t have to worry about such things as long as I’m there,” declared the veteran of numerous matches grandly.

The father shook his head. “I know you Ragini. And also myself and my girls.  Mimi cannot go first.”  Case over, he rose to wash his hands.  But Maami was not defeated.  As soon as he retired to his room it was Mimi’s turn again, examples of happily married cousins while she mentally turned possible counters. Till her mind snagged on a recall, barely listening to Maami, deliberating how to effectively use the centerpiece of her life saving Nay!

Maami shook her shoulders roughly “Samajh, Your father has the burden of 3 girls. Isn’t it your duty to help with a no-dowry match?  One less?”  Red-faced, she looked ready to slap Mimi, who called out to her mother desperately.

“Ma, you remember where we went last week?’  Ma frowned. “That kundli wala pandit?”

“What does that have to do now?” Maami red-faced.

“Ma yaad kar, Pandit said something about my kundli?  Remember....”  Mimi knew the importance of it coming from her mother’s mouth, as she tried to recall the prophecies for each family member. “Ma, yaad toh kar.” Mimi grasped her hands. The noise brought her father.

“Ragini, I told you that Mimi will not be the first to marry. That’s final.  Don’t harass her,” and glared at his own bewildered wife.  His words triggered off Ma’s mind. She shook her head, fingers covering shaking lips.

“Stop Ragini, just stop it.  I will not fight against both father and daughter.  Let it be.”

“But it is such an excellent match,” she whined.

“What’s excellent about the chocolate boy whose face will never grow up? After ten years, I’ll look like his aunt,” sniggered   Mimi, aware now that her mother remembered but quailed at Dada’s  fury that she forgot such a vital detail just to see Mimi married off.

“Ok, tell me what the Pandit said and I’ll send the refusal tomorrow morning,” Maami still bargaining, Ma shaking her head.

“Beta....” her tone pleaded with Mimi who bent down with a hug before declaring triumphantly:

“The Pandit said if I got married before 24, there would be a disaster in the family.  So Maami, no chocolate boy in Gibraltar. Let me finish college, you look for matches for other girls.”

Maami was crestfallen, defeated by a kundli reading; but dared not suggest crosschecking with another Pandit, knowing the father would explode.

Mimi breathed in relief --- saved by her kundli!  Otherwise, tied to a chocolate boy in Gibraltar.  Ye Gods, what next? Maami would do anything!

No one foresaw that in the retelling, inadvertently the eye-catching yellow kurta became The cause of  Padu’s rejection, leading to a lifelong grudge against the wearer.


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