Priya hurriedly folded one salwar suit to the smallest possible size and put it in her huge sling bag. She then stuffed a set of toiletries and finally a piece of her favorite jewelry along with her wallet which loaded with cash. ‘I may need it’ – she said to herself.
She was getting ready for school. She taught mathematics to the primary section. It had been her favorite subject all her life. Even though she would have preferred to be a Mathematician – but she had ended up to be a teacher. She belonged to a traditional Tamil Brahmin family in the small and scenic town of Krishnarajpuram in TamilNadu. Her family believed in education but not in sending their daughter outside the town for getting educated. There were no colleges in her town that offered this course, so all she could manage was a decent education. Her qualifications were decent enough to get a job in the nearby school where she would walk down every morning in a Kancheevaram sari. But today she wore a salwar suit – it was easier to handle. And she needed it easy today; with all the difficulties the day might have in store.
“Have idli-sambhar, Priya” – her mother shouted from the kitchen.
Priya had totally forgotten about her breakfast today. She took a deep breath and went to the dining room where the table was neatly laid. Breakfast was always elaborate in her house – prepared by her mother who would get up even before sunrise. Her mother first cleaned the kitchen, lit the oil lamps and offered prayers to their deity before finally preparing the food for the family.
“Just one idli won’t do” her father chided Priya as she started to leave after quickly. Her father Mr. Ramakrishnan was eyeing her suspiciously. She quietly took another idli from the bowl without arguing with her father. She was not supposed to argue with the elders of the house – this was one of the values that ran through her blood.
Finally she managed to reach school after half an hour and headed towards the staff room. Her heart was hammering and her nerves were nearly panicky. Today was a big day. But before anything happened, she had to endure those four hours in the school.
Exactly at 1, the school bell rang and all the kids of her class clapped in unison. Today even she wanted to clap as the school got over, but she restrained herself lest anybody found out her plans for today.
Priya quickly picked up her sling bag and rushed towards the back gate of the school. At this time it would be deserted. All the buses used to line up near the front gate.
As she stepped out, she saw Ramesh standing just next to the school wall on his bike. He waved towards her with a smile and she couldn’t contain her excitement. She walked briskly towards him. Her heart was pounding in resonance with her quick steps.
“You came? I was so unsure about all this!” – She told him as she sat behind Ramesh waiting for him to start the bike.
“I wouldn’t have ditched you for anything in the world!” – He reassured her and accelerated the bike with the same valor as Prithiviraj Chauhan would have done to his horse with Sanyukta behind him.
“So where do we go?” – Priya asked as he sped the bike on the national highway towards Madurai.
“There is a beautiful temple a few kms away. Should we go there and take God’s blessings?” – Ramesh suggested. He was from a God fearing Tamil family and these values were ingrained within him right from his birth.
“Yes. Makes sense.” Priya couldn’t agree more. “And then?”
“hmm….We will think once we reach there” – Ramesh was unsure of his next step.
They reached the beautiful Aayappa temple in a few minutes. Priya could hear the temple bells chiming as they climbed the steps in unison. “I would really love to get married here.” – She whispered.
Ramesh’s expressions tensed up. “Yes, Marriage – that’s a big step but inevitable.” – He commented.
Priya and Ramesh had met around 3 weeks back. Ramesh had been loitering in Priya’s locality when she had bumped into her bike. She had come out of her house without informing her elders. She had never done that before, but it was too much to pose like the perfect Tamil girl in front of her would-be-in-laws. She was being showcased as a product that was ready for purchase in a shop! Even though she looked beautiful wrapped in a traditional get-up, but she felt highly uncomfortable. And when she was gently nudged by Ramesh’s Hero Honda out on the street, she couldn’t feel more out of place in that attire. Ramesh had helped her get up. He had made her sit for a few minutes before confirming that all was indeed well with her. Priya had felt a connection instantly with him, more so because she was meeting the guy without her family’s knowledge. She had never socialized with a stranger till that day. Everything was orchestrated by her elders. She had dreamt of a prince charming all her life. But now that she was about to get married soon, she knew that no prince charming would come in search of her. She had to find one. That day she had felt her search was over.
Priya managed to get his phone number. She called him the next day on her way to the school. To her surprise Ramesh was very keen to talk to her. They talked about their profession, their interests, their friends, but never about family. She didn’t want to – she didn’t want to think about her family while she was conversing with Ramesh. The guilt of talking to him without the knowledge of her parents would ruin the pleasure. And then one day before her D-day, she told Ramesh that he should take her away from the whole marriage fiasco.
“I am just not mentally prepared for all this. I can’t marry somebody so early in life” – she had told Ramesh the night before. Though this was the truth, but only partial. The more important reason was she didn’t want a plain, boring marriage that was arranged by her parents. What would she remember all her life? That how she looked in the heavy kanjeevaram sari and heavy gold jewelry? Even her gold jewelry, though expensive, would be the run of the mill kinds – her parents would buy it from the only jeweler of the town. She wanted a designer marriage – one of its kinds.
“What will you do then?” – Ramesh had asked her, disheartened that soon his friend will not have time for their lengthy talks.
“Ramesh Payyaa(son)…Have lunch.” – Ramesh heard her mother calling. He promptly disconnected the call promising to call back later.
The whole family was having lunch together and excitedly talking about Ramesh’s promising future. Ramesh felt uninterested. Priya’s words were playing continuously in his mind lowering his appetite even though delicious Tamil dishes were laid out on the table by his mother. Some of his relatives were visiting them. To Ramesh it felt like watching the whole circus from a distance. He rushed through the meal.
“Slow down. Chew your food properly” – finally his mother chided him.
“Amma. I have to study for exams” – he lied. He had been preparing ME entrance for the past few months. But the last three weeks were spent mostly in talking to Priya – over phone and texts. He had loved single bit of it.
By the time he took the last spoon of curd rice, he was sure what he was going to say to Priya. He could hardly wait to dial her number again.
“So 1:30 sharp I will be outside the back gate of your school” – He confirmed to her nth time. And she nodded the nth time – her heart somersaulting a hundredth time at the sheer prospect of what tomorrow might hold for them.
And today Priya was with Ramesh walking up the temple stairs.
They sat silently near one of the side compounds.
“I am not a very adventurous person Priya. But now that I am in, what do we do next?” Ramesh broke the silence.
“Why did you get into this?” – She needed to know.
“Because it didn’t feel right to see you getting married against your own will” – he said.
This sounded like a good answer but Priya was disappointed. Anyway she thought it was too much too soon to expect from Ramesh.
“We should find a place to stay. We can’t go back now to our houses – there will be a lot of questions” – Ramesh pointed to the practical consequences of their action.
The reality hit Priya. It was late evening – way past the closing hours of school.
“My parents would have started panicking by now” – Priya looked at her watch as a few drops of sweat trickled down her forehead. She felt warm on a December evening. She would remember this all her life – nobody had ever run away from home in her whole family. She had a story now to tell to her grandchildren, she thought looking at the setting sun.
“I have a very close friend in Madurai. He will keep our secret” – Ramesh said. “Secret!” – This word didn’t have any place in Priya’s life and she didn’t know it was so thrilling but frightening to have a secret.
Ramesh looked intently at Priya who was smirking.
Madurai was one hour from that place. Ramesh’s zoomed on his Hero Honda on the national highway.
“Are you all right?” Ramesh asked Priya as he parked his bike near his friend Srinivas’s house.
“You know tomorrow is my marriage?” Priya asked him.
“Yes! But you said you don’t want to get married to that guy!” – Ramesh reminded Priya.
“Yes…but maybe I should have told this to my parents!” Priya shook her head and said hesitantly.
“Are you regretting?” Ramesh asked her.
She nodded while adding – “I want to go back. I can’t imagine a night outside my house!” – Priya had cold feet.
Ramesh patiently looked at her, waiting for the final decision from her.
“Can I go home?” – She finally asked putting an end to the suspense.
“So will you get married tomorrow?” – Ramesh asked the million dollar question.
Priya kept quiet.
Suddenly, Ramesh found the solution.
“Let us marry today. Then you can go and tell your parents that you are married now. They love you so they will understand.” – He suggested.
Tears threatened to cloud her decision – but she let them flow out making up her mind. Her dream of marrying in that temple was about to become true. Priya nodded silently and they both went into the temple in search of the priest to do the ceremony.
Short Story The Marriage Fiasco continued here......