‘The hour before the dawn is the darkest’…. Does it always have to be true?... wondered Ryi. So many events were happening all around her and in so short a time that she was feeling exhausted at the very thought of it. She traced back her life a year ago. It was so peaceful, no fear of the impending future and regret of the days gone by, just enjoying the present…. She was way too happy for an average person. She had bagged the best job in campus, had a great group of friends and a steady boyfriend for a year.
Vikram was her dream man, just as crazy as she was, he was always game for every weird idea that Ryi ever had. He was not typically handsome but had a mind-blowing personality. He was charismatic enough to have persuaded the most number of sponsors for their annual fest and also the prestigious job as a Sales intern in a reputed company. They were just perfect for each other. Both were from good families, had strong careers, good jobs and a zeal to live life differently and on their own terms.
It was then that the bombshell struck, destroying the perfect balance of Ryi’s life. Although it was not raining that night, the atmosphere everywhere was grim and suddenly serious…everything had stopped momentarily, and it was then that she received that fateful call from her mother.
‘Ryi… come home soon, your father is very ill…. Yesterday night he complained of chest pain and we have admitted him at the G.D Hospital. I thought he would recover but the doctors are saying he is not getting any better…. I am unable to understand what to do…’ trailed her mother’s voice, followed by loud sobs. Ryi reacted as if struck by a thunder. What? Was she hearing right? How could it possibly happen? It was only yesterday morning when she had talked to her father and he seemed perfectly well to her. What could have happened to make him so ill….she removed the receiver from her ear and checked her breath. She had a small party going on in her room….and she worried the drink was making her hallucinate things. She shook her head as if to her thought process and enquired ‘Hello? Are you sure there is no mistake. I am Ryi Sen from the 2010 batch and my parents are….’ Before she could finish her introduction, the voice on the phone shrieked ‘Ryi….this is me... your mother, Papa is very ill, beta…please come soon.’ This time her mother’s voice jolted her to her senses. Her father was ill and she had to go home. Feeling helpless she replied ‘Ma…what happened? I’m coming tomorrow by the first train…please hold on till then’ saying so she replaced the receiver. Slowly she let her mind process the information. She had to pack and rush home.
‘Ryi… make it fast… are you planning to take the whole day to get ready…the wedding is today Darling… you have a deadline to adhere to…’ teased Payal, Ryi’s office colleague. Right she was, Ryi had a routine to adhere to. These memories could be traced back later too. After marriage she would have all the time in her life to think about these things. Moreover these things were in the past. The present should be much more pleasing than the past. But is it at all pleasing? This question had disturbed her for long but she did not find an appropriate answer to it. She had stopped planning things and expecting good things to happen. She was too wary of the concept of getting married a good three-four years before she had actually planned the event. Wasn’t marriage supposed to change everything in a girl’s life? Could she ever be the same person after marriage? And what about her career…. It will stay certainly but will she be able to devote just as much time to it? As has become the rule in the past year, subconsciously she slipped into the past again.
All good things stopped happening to her when she came home last summer to a cold house, where all was lost. Her father had been rendered immobile by the life threatening heart attack that he suffered. His life was spared but he was sentenced to a life imprisonment in bed. Ryi could not bear the sight. She had never seen her mother as much as cry and now she sat wailing beside her father’s bed for most of the time. Ryi had always led a protected life, she could not imagine what all was expected of her now. But being responsible by nature, she slipped into the role of the guardian of the house soon. Her new company understood enough to let her have a transfer in her home town, so that she could be near home. Although she had to accept a cut in salary but these things had stopped worrying her. She had larger issues now; issues that she never knew existed!
Almost as soon as her father started showing signs of improvement, the relatives started pouring in their house as unexpected torrents of rain in a winter evening. They coaxed, advised, ordered and pleaded in various ways to have Ryi married off as soon as possible and they all had wonderful grooms in store.
‘Are these people for real? As it is I’m worried about Papa and now you want me to get married? That too… because your relatives think so…?’ fumed Ryi at her mother. Although her mother had a point but it was too painful to imagine herself as another reason of worry for her parents. She was their guardian, was she not? Then how could her marriage be of any help whatsoever? But her mother knew better and she kept pleading with her. Unable to put her off any longer Ryi told her about Vikram and promised to bring him home to meet her. Promises are made to be broken and this one certainly qualified in that category.
‘Marriage? Now? Are you crazy? I mean… of course I love you but what about our plans….remember we wanted to go for on-site opportunities then reach a salary of at least 1 lakh per month and then get married. We both made these plans and you can’t back off now….? Please Ryi think of our future together…’ reasoned Vikram, her Punjabi boyfriend of almost one and a half years. He was right, they had made these plans but things have changed. Everything had changed, life was different now.
‘Please Vikram, understand that a lot of things have changed. If you don’t get married to me now, I will have to get into a stupid arranged marriage…. I don’t want to ruin my life. Our plans will stay the same just that we will marry earlier…’ countered Ryi. What a fix….what a situation they had gotten themselves into….she knew that Vikram was right and it hurt her ego badly to pressurize him on this issue. Even she was not ready for marriage but she was not the only one making decisions now. She had a sick father and a nervous mother at home, who had all their remaining hopes pinned on her.
She had gone home accepting defeat and also her fate. She asked her mother to look for grooms. The search started and she barely managed to survive three sessions of bride-display, when her patience snapped. Were these guys for real? It was as if they were buying vegetables in a market. They wanted it all: a pretty wife, who was convent educated, had a good job, knew house-work, will stay with his unlimited relatives in the same house and bear him wonderful children! ‘Oh God…irritating!’ exclaimed Ryi and left in the middle of such a display session, wherein the groom’s mother had crossed all levels of expectation. She was almost mentally ready to stay single forever when….
‘Ryi…. are you planning to trip and fall on the stairs on your marriage day?’ shouted her mother at a lost Ryi. Ryi was so lost in her thoughts that she had not noticed that she had almost reached the beginning of the stairs. She was unacquainted to this place. It was a marriage hall taken on rent for the event of her marriage; as a result she couldn’t judge the area and placement of the stairs. On the floor below she could see the decked up area being made ready by her cousins and friends. It was a sight to behold; the flower decoration was her mother’s idea. Although skeptical in the beginning, Ryi was quiet liking the look now. She spotted her father sitting propped against pillows on a single sofa. Although unable to display any movement physically he was surprisingly calm and satisfied, almost happy. His eyes gave Ryi the feeling that she was doing the right thing and he was beside her even in his silence. Amidst all this, the groom had arrived. Her friends and cousins streamed past her to greet the groom.
‘Go inside the room Ryi, we will call you when the rituals will begin. You are the bride. You can’t keep standing at the head of the stairs like this….’ exclaimed her aunt almost scolding. Her aunt was right, what was she thinking. The least she wanted was to shock her future-in-laws. She shuffled inside only to be called within minutes to carry out the marriage rituals. Heavily veiled she could not see her groom. There were people everywhere: friends, relatives, friends of relatives and some strangers who were relatives too. She tried hard to see through so many faces, how her groom looked in all his marriage finery. It was not an easy thing to do though.
Finally they came face to face to look into each other’s eyes and exchange garlands. A pair of mascara-lined eyes met a stern gaze from light-brown eyes. His eyes… Vikram’s eyes made Ryi forget all her fears. The apprehensions evaporated bringing a shy smile to her lips. Even the last month, seemed distant now, when she was actually getting prepared to marry a total stranger; Vikram came back in her life almost as a blessing and took hold. After that everything happened swiftly. His parents opposed to a Bengali-Punjabi marriage, he persuaded them with ways and means no one knew existed. Apparently after their discussion about marriage, Vikram had realized that all his plans had a meaning when they were to be executed along with Ryi and not alone. That is what he told Rye, ‘It was not love….it was just a feeling of emptiness that I feel without you’. Men will be men and Vikram too kept the mystery about his emotions alive. Mystery or not he was clearly in love and couldn’t let her go.
In a quick movement Vikram jerked her towards him, shaking her out of her thoughts and whispered in her ears: ‘It’s alright….Don’t look so tensed….go for it…this is my first time too….’ Shouts from all around separated them; Ryi smiled at his remark and flung the garland across his neck.