We braved bad weather to attend the wedding. Amaresh was getting married. He was forty plus. It was, by conventional standards, a late marriage. But never mind the age - he was finally getting married to the girl of his choice. That was more important for all of us.
We were a gang of seven -I, Mala Kashyap, Mrs. Gupta, Amaresh, Mr.Rathi, Mohini- commuted to and fro our respective offices by a pooled Marutivan, under the unanimously accepted tutelage of Awasthiji (being the eldest of all), whom we considered our organizer, friend, philosopher and guide.
The three hours of daily travel together had forged a unique bond amongst us. We discussed everything under the sun – from office gossip to world politics to mundane household issues, had a good laugh at each other’s expense and sometimes, caught in the Capital’s infamous traffic jams, dozed off peacefully till our driver Naved, on reaching home, honked us awake. Life would have been extremely trying had we not had the respite that the sojourn in the van provided.
Amaresh earned well and spent less. Medium built, myopic and conservatively dressed, he was just one amongst the crowd. What kept him going was his quaint sense of humour and an aptitude to find the funny angle to the most ordinary happenings.“The Met Department has proved its infallibility once again”, said Amaresh skimming through the Daily.“How?” asked Mr.Rathi.“They predicted sunny weather and it rained.” Amaresh shot back.We laughed in unison.
Amaresh was enjoyable company but as Awasthiji put it,“No girl would consider him an interesting or attractive catch.”
But Amaresh wanted to get married. From what he confided in Awasthiji, (which invariably got circulated in the van), it was quite clear that Amaresh nurtured inclinations and desires normal to his age. However, there were too many stumbling blocks in the way of his marriage, the biggest being his own family. Amaresh’s father had retired a long time back. His mother suffered from heart ailment. He had two unmarried sisters. And all were dependent on him. Moreover, his parents were highly critical of all the alliances that were brought or suggested for him. The girls were either too plain or too short or too less educated and in general not up to the standards set by the family for the ideal match. “In such circumstances,” Awasthiji clucked,”It would be very difficult for the old chap to get married.”
But marry he did. Eventually they “met on the net.” I am not sure who gave Amaresh the idea, however, while returning home his detours to the nearest cyber café increased. It started with innocuous chatting, which developed into deeper feelings, and by and by graduated to lengthy teletalks. The progress was smooth and promising. But the family was still in the dark and Awasthiji harboured a few misgivings of his own. “Amaresh,I suggest you meet her soon. Net does not allow you to know a person very well,” cautioned Awasthiji quite often.
But Amaresh could not care less. The girl was too sweet. “We have so many things in common”, he would often say. Moreover, she belonged to his community. Now his family would not be able to find a single reason to object. Amaresh was sure. “She is a lawyer, well-educated too.” Amaresh informed us one evening.The girl belonged to Kanpur and Amaresh had still not met her in person.
Six months later Amaresh told his family about Nisha. They had decided to get married and sought their parents’ blessings. Amaresh’s father was furious that his son had finalized his life partner without taking the family into confidence. His mother took to bed. His sisters were skeptical about this new-fangled friendship on the net. They refused to meet Nisha and her family. In short, the spontaneous support that Amaresh had expected from his family was not at all forthcoming. For Amaresh, approval of the family was not something that he could dispense with.
Awasthiji shook his head and said, “Poor fellow! I anticipated as much.” Amaresh cried bitterly. The dreams he had woven around Nisha were about to be shattered. “It was my only chance.” He sobbed. Awasthiji nodded gravely. Later, he confessed that he had never seen a man cry so copiously. It was a situation beyond control for even our worldly wise Awasthiji did not know how to handle it.
Amaresh lost weight, looked bitter and spoke cynically like an old man. We felt sorry for him. The mood in the van changed. The discussions inevitably veered around Amaresh’s marriage, rather, his nuptial failures. Something had to be done and quickly as the situation was going out of hand. We had great hopes in Awasthiji and wished he would mediate in the matter. Awasthiji was reluctant. “These are delicate matters. My intervention would be akin to trespass.” But we had our secret suspicion.
It was by a stroke of luck that one fine Sunday Awasthiji came across Uncle (Amaresh’s father) in the market place. During the course of casual conversation they realized that they visited the same spot for morning walk. It was purely coincidental that thereafter they kept on bumping into each other in the early morning hours. Soon it became quite customary for them to take the usual rounds of the park in each other’s company. During one such round, the issue of Amaresh’s marriage came up. Having debated threadbare on the pros and cons of a marriage, made not in heaven but on the net,Awasthiji could finally influence Uncle to meet Nisha’s family. And the rest as they say is history. In spite of several reservations and hiccups on either side Amaresh and Nisha ultimately got married.
The fissures appeared too soon. It was not even a month that Nisha started fidgeting like a caged bird. She had left an established career in Kanpur to get married. Now she wanted to resume her career once again. Prospects in the Capital were lucrative and she did not want to miss the opportunity. Double income was such a necessity too! Amaresh’s family preferred a helping hand at home than a working daughter-in-law. Frictions proliferated.
Nisha reminded Amaresh of his promise made before marriage, “If circumstances so necessitated, we would shift to a separate accommodation.” Easier said than done! Perhaps those were hasty promises made to woo the girl into wedlock. Perhaps Amaresh was too short sighted to gauge that occasion might arose,and soon enough, demanding drastic action. He faltered. His indecisiveness worsened the scenario.
A month later Nisha took the train to Kanpur.
Time flew by.Most of Amaresh’s weekends were spent traveling to and fro Kanpur.
Every Monday he would look confident and cheerful. “Oh she’s going to come back soon,” would be his optimistic reply. By every Friday his hopes dwindled.We kept our fingers crossed.
In due course of time arrived the legal notice confirming our unspoken apprehension that Nisha never intended to return again.
A shell shocked Amaresh was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We fell short of words of consolation. For once, opinion was divided in the van. Mala and Mohini blamed Nisha of intolerance and an uncompromising attitude. Mr.Rathi accused Amaresh of immature behaviour. Mrs. Gupta, a motherly soul, felt sorry for both and prayed they would reunite soon. Awasthiji maintained a stony silence. Somehow he blamed himself for the fiasco.Amaresh’s advisors were many – friends, family, relatives. Some said he should give his consent to the divorce as quickly as possible and start life afresh. Others suggested out of court settlement. We, in the van, wished that he would sort out the differences with Nisha. “Meet her, talk to her, coax her to take back the case and come home,” Awasthiji broke his silence at last.
But Amaresh had made up his mind. He wanted to fight back. He wouldn’t let it be a cakewalk for Nisha by meekly submitting to her will. Perhaps she had plans of remarriage. He would see that her plans were foiled. “I will not give a divorce…not so easily,” was his iron resolve.
“Isn’t it Geeta?”I turned around.“Mrs Gupta?” I was happy to see her. It had been three years that I had taken a new job closer home. Gone were the days of the van pool. I was a regular on the Metro now.