Laxmi's Groom - contd
by Swati Sahai
Back to page 1 of the story
Mohan's appetite had dwindled to almost nothing. When people commented on his weight loss, he took cover under the impending wedding and all the tasks to be done. Mrs. Khare took him to visit the doctor twice a month, she was adamant and he let her. The doctor continued prescribing the same medicines and Mohan continued to take them. That he was getting worse was never mentioned but well understood.
He visited his sons' school and deposited enough money to cover their books for the next couple of years. Being a government school in an economically depressed area meant their tuition was free. With some luck, they would be able to pass high school. Beyond that, Mohan could only hope for the best.
He also set aside a small sum for his wife. If she sold the few pieces of jewelry she owned, they would be able to get by without her having to work, once he was gone. It was for a few years anyway, until Suresh turned eighteen and started earning.
If only he had a few more years instead of a few more months.
Mohan's wife confided she was having trouble putting Laxmi's trousseau together. The money she had set aside had run out in buying saris for Raju's relatives. And they had yet to buy Raju's five pantsuits.
Mohan went to Mrs. Sharma. Setting aside all his distaste, he begged for a loan of five thousand rupees, promising to repay it within two months. Mrs. Sharma whined and moaned, complained of inflation, and parted with fifteen hundred. He visited the homes of his relatives and cobbled together another fifteen hundred. It wasn't going to be enough.
He knocked on Mrs. Khare's door.
"I have used so much of your generosity, beyond what is appropriate or deserved," he began. He did not have to ask twice. Mohan left with two thousand and a promise never to talk of repayment.
The wedding day arrived. The house, newly whitewashed, was strung with lights. Relatives, gathered from near and far, buzzed around. Loud music blared, children danced. Pre-wedding rituals were performed all day. Dressed in a red lehenga and blouse, fresh flowers in her hair, and makeup on her face, Laxmi had never looked more beautiful.
Mohan had been feeling particularly weak since morning but kept pushing on. In the early evening, Raju's older brother arrived unexpectedly. The wedding procession wasn't expected for another three hours. They did not bother to be polite about their demand this time. Raju wanted a motorcycle and Mohan would have to produce it right away or the wedding was off.
Everything turned into a blur. The music stopped. Where there had been smiles on everyone's faces, now there were lines of worry. Mohan's wife wept in a corner with other women. Laxmi locked herself inside a room.
The world righted itself as suddenly as it had tilted. Mohan's vision sharpened into focus. He knew what he had to do. He ran down the street, wobbly legs trying to keep pace with each other.
Mohan did not stop until he reached the tailor's house. Lalit, the scheduled caste boy, sat on the porch, repairing a television set.
Lalit's eyes widened in shock when he saw Mohan.
"Will you marry my daughter?" asked Mohan.
Lalit gaped. Several seconds passed. He shut his mouth and nodded vigorously.
"What if your father does not agree?" Mohan asked, "I insulted him. Though I will fall on his feet and beg forgiveness."
"I will make my father agree," Lalit replied. His quiet confidence reassured Mohan. "I have one more question for you. What are your thoughts on Laxmi attending college?"
"I will encourage her to study further and help her if I can. I know she is a very good student."
Mohan beamed. Laxmi and Lalit—he decided he liked the ring of it. Mohan knew Lalit would keep his daughter happy, and he would also take care of the rest of the family when Mohan was gone. Mohan understood now that caste did not matter, virtue and love did. ***