Ego Or Khichdi
by Kusum Choppra
(Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India)
Phakarchand was the village Scrooge. Spending money caused him pain – in the heart and head and even physically in the stomach. People talked but Phakarchand did not care. Why should he? His farms and tenants took care of his family’s needs.
But what about the wedding? Everyone told him that his Gudiya was growing; first she was siyaani, then umar layak and finally shaadi ke layak. Yet Phakarchand made no move until his mother and mother-in-law both issued identical ultimatums: “Ladki ghar pe nahi bidhani hai.” (Girls are not kept home).
Since he had never consulted anyone before, he had no sounding board other than the village nai to review his options.
“All these village boys are yokels; not fit to be my jamai. Masterji’s son is an NRI. These days NRI marriages are too risky to be considered. No NRIs. Fauji Saheb’s son is the Air Force, too dangerous. Yes, Mukhiaji’s son is working near Songarh itself. He is a few weeks younger than my Gudiya. Remember your bhabhi and Mukhiyaji’s wife were pregnant together. Arrey bhai, what do a couple of weeks here or there matter? The boy must be smart to land a good city job, he comes home quite frequently in that big black Scorpio.”
The nai’s eyes glinted. Two days later, as he swung past on his cycle, he called out “they’ll come tomorrow with shagun”.
The Phakarchand household was agog with excitement, preparing to receive the Mukhiaji’s party with an almost ecstatic “manzoor, manzoor.”
As they prepared to leave, they promised an early wedding for Gudiya and Chiranjit.
“Chiranjit? I thought Mukhiaji’s son’s name was Yuvraaj?”
“But Yuvraaj is younger than Gudiya and Chiranjit the older brother, son of Achala didi, who has lived with us all her life. Is he any less our son?”
Phakarchand was thunderstruck. It was too late to back out after the shagun. His fury was in no way abated by his wife’s arguments in favour of Chiranjit.
“He is older than our Gudiya and much more sober than that wild Yuvraaj. Chiranjit has worked with Mukhiaji, he knows the lands, all the village politics and political leaders, right up to the collectorate. He’s a better prospect.”
“He is not Mukhiaji’s son. He is a nephew. Will Chiranjit inherit the lands? Like Raj Thackeray who had formed his own party, he will have to buy his own lands, or he will only work them for Yuvraaj who will own them, foolish woman.”
But nothing could be done. At her advanced age, Gudiya could not opt out of the match, to be left on the shelf, like her Buaji. Phakarchand was bent on revenge for Mukhiaji’s perfidy in palming off his nephew.
“He is only the nephew. No need to spend lavishly for such a wedding. Now listen carefully. Nothing new will be bought now. You have spent too much on her already. You can spare dozens of saris for Gudiya, along with the gold you have been collecting. Remember, no wasteful expenditure. Nothing but Khichdi for this dagabaaz baraat”.
The household was aghast at these edicts. “No new saris Ma?” wept Gudiya pleading to no avail.
“Don’t worry, Gudiya; remember the ones we bought last month?”
“Baba will pull them out of the bag.”
“Arrey when he won’t see them, how can he? I’ll put them in last, right-on top, after he checks the bag”.
She then summoned her ladies’ brigade to figure out ways and means to get around the Khichdi edict. An array of condiments to add variety to the dreary dose of Khichdi: various dry fruits to give different flavors,
vegetables and an assortment of accompaniments were planned. But nothing would disguise the basic KHIDCHI.
The whole village watched with keen interest. Mukhiaji was away and his wife saws fit not to inform him of the developments. Phakarchand’s mother remonstrated “What about the groom’s side?’
Her son was prepared. He laid gift-wrapped parcels before his mother to send off. Meanwhile, the older women put their heads together and between them, produced an array of sweets. Large thalis of these were sent to the Mukhiaji’s; more were generously interspersed with the wedding feast in all its Khichdi glory.
There were no puris or rotis, just Khichdi, sweet kheer and salted, embellished with peas and potatoes/ garam masala/ dry fruits/ cauliflower and carrots/ chicken etc. Half a dozen raitas, potato, pineapple, palak, kasuri methi, cucumber, boondi, a bewildering assortment of instant and matured pickles and then all those sweets.
Saffron, ghee and rose water hung heavy in the air of the dinner tent as generous lashings had been sprinkled over as many of the platters that could take either.
Phakarchand was bewildered at the variety on his banquet table, lorded over by those six huge dekchis, carefully smeared on the outside with auspicious kumkum and haldi patterns, and offering tantalising aromas of ghee and saffron. “I said only Khichdi”.
“It is only Khichdi” admonished his mother’s sotto voice, but with that steely glint in her eyes which forbade any further exchange just then. Ignoring his guests, Phakarchand whimpered into his corner like an injured dog.
A few weeks later, Gudiya came home in a flood of tears, carrying a large bag. She flung it on her bed and it revealed its contents: well starched dowdy khadi silk saris, all new.
“Dadima, Ma, this is what Baba sent there at my wedding. They gave the khadi kurtas to the servants. Yuvraaj is getting married next week. The girl works in his office but has no family of her own, so we are hosting the wedding and the feast. Baoji bought three saris for every lady in the house, except me. He gave me the saris Baba gave them, saying I should wear only what my father approved of. Every day I hear taunts about my saris. Baba had taken out the new ones so I have to wear the ones we had earlier worn at festivals and marriages; everyone had seen them and they remember them.”
All eyes turned to Phakarchand, who stood biting his lower lip uncertainly in the face of the furore. “Wear them and show him,” was his shot at bravado. His furious daughter outdid him. Picking up her scent bottles from the dressing table, she splashed them over the saris. Then she took a matchbox from her prayer nook and set them aflame. The alcohol caught the light with a whoosh and the whole bed was engulfed in flames; sparks chased truant drops to the carpet and the curtains as Phakarchand herded his women out.
At Yuvraaj’s wedding, Phakarchand strutted in with a clutch of henchmen carrying large covered thalis. The Mukhiaji acknowledged his greetings, waving the thalis away. Holding his two bahus, he looked Phakarchand in the eye and declared grandly
“See I have married both my sons to Yatims (orphans) and gained daughters in the bargain.”
Phakarchand caught a glimpse of the film of tears waiting to break out of Gudiya’s eyes and the tightening of Mukhiaji’s hand on her arm. She was paying the price for his ego. He straightened his shoulders and walked stiffly out, not even pausing to collect his women before rushing off in his ghari. *****