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A Bride for a Day

December 18, 2005

Oct-Dec 2005

She sat in front of the mirror, an inscrutable smile on her face. Spread out on the dressing table were the ornaments she would adorn that night, like every other night before and every other night after. She carefully picked up the delicate anklets, holding one between her fingertips and letting it rest on her open palm as she examined it by the weak golden light of the night lamp. She had needed stronger lights in days gone by, when she had to see herself in order to dress. And a maid had been there to fuss over her, dress her hair and set her pallu… but that was years ago. There was no one now, and she’d grown accustomed to adorning herself in the dim light. She liked the dimness, the faint golden glow that bounced off the numerous stones set in her jewelry, and she liked the contrast she saw in the mirror, the sparkling ornaments in the spotlight and her face veiled by the shadows.

She moved to the edge of her seat, bending closer to the mirror to examine her face before she applied anything. She cast a critical eye over her features—a sharp, somewhat aquiline nose given a haughty air by the slight upturning at the end, prominent cheekbones that gave a certain authority to her face, long raven hair that cascaded down to her hips in layers, settling softly around her face, smooth alabaster skin that showed no signs of aging yet, full lips that spoke of passion and a prominent chin that bore testimony to the strength of her spirit. She looked into her eyes then, moving closer still, trying to fathom the secrets hidden in the amber depths—they were mystical eyes, drawing you in at first glance and dropping the veil when your curiosity was piqued. Honey and fire, molten lava and drops of sunshine—they all jostled for space in her irises and shot out spangles of gold.

Satisfied with what she saw in the mirror, she cast a glance over the table top and picked up the kohl. With deft hands, she drew thick ebony lines inside her eyelids and over, lending further mystery to her eyes and bringing out the golden flecks more prominently. She then picked up the scarlet rouge and shaped her lips, filling the soft contours with an inviting shade of crimson. Picking up an ornate, heavy comb set with mother of pearl, she combed her tresses and gathered it up into a bun at the nape of her neck, inserting gold pins to hold it in place.

She looked over at the bed, where her bridal attire was laid out. A deep shade of crimson, heavily embroidered with gold brocade, the sari was rich in color and texture. She walked over to the bed and knelt down, skimming her fingertips lightly over the surface of the aged silk, which had retained its resplendent sheen over the years. She felt the same rush of emotions each night she laid eyes on it—the mixed feelings of anticipation and apprehension, a strange exciting tingle that ran through her, the sense of foreboding that grew strong as the night wore on and she waited, alone in a room fragrant with roses, alone in her bridal garb…

In a frenzy of activity, she quickly pulled off her clothes and put her blouse and petticoat on. She carried the sari and walked to the mirror, taking a long look at herself before she began draping the sari. Taking her time over the pleats, she set each crease perfectly. Over the years, the sari had learnt to fold itself at the right places, almost as if it knew that she had to make more of an effort each day to get dressed. Satisfied with the pleats, she sat down at the dressing table again, picking up the heavy earrings and looping them through her delicately shaped ears. She then picked up her Kundan necklace, heavy with rubies, and fastened the clasp around her slender neck. She slid on the red glass bangles, two dozen on each hand. The nathni, or nose-ring, she never took off—it was tiny and perfectly crafted, unobtrusive except when she drew attention to it. She placed the tika on the center parting, its jeweled circle lying just on her forehead.

An involuntary sob escaped her lips as her tremulous hands picked up her last adornment—the little silver box containing the sindoor. She took a pinch of it between shaking fingers and, moving her tika, applied it in a straight line down the parting of her hair. Her vision was blurred with unshed tears, eyes brimming with sorrow words could never capture. She slowly stood up, pulling her pallu over her head, taking a last look at herself before her wait began…

She had lost count of the years now… each night she dressed and waited, a young, shy bride, and each morning with sunrise came the awareness of her widowhood. For her, the vigil would never cease… nor would the nightmares. Her innocence and naivete would be ravaged each night and her sanity lost each morning. Then sleep would come fitfully and she’d wake at dusk to dress again, vaguely aware of the shift of balance in the ethers that made her more and more reluctant to dress each evening.

Tonight was different somehow—there was a sense of finality that lingered in her nostrils, something that told her that tonight, she would know how the story ended. As the darkness grew more impenetrable outside, she sat by the open window, a lonely figure bathed in a golden glow. Towards the early hours of the morning, as she fought off the tendrils of sleep that curled themselves around her senses she heard a strange sound—the steady turn of tonga wheels down the path leading to her doorstep. She sat up with a start, her heartbeat fastening at the realization that, at long last, the visitor she had been waiting for was here. Her feet flew around the house, as she ran to the mirror for one last inspection, then set about straightening random items and finally, after opening the bolts, she lay herself down on the bed, feigning sleep.

*-*-*

Beating the dhoti vigorously on the washing stone, the girl commented conversationally “They say her husband was murdered on their wedding night, trying to fight off a gang of dacoits who broke in during the early hours… she was never quite alright after that, the poor thing. They were terribly in love, I heard.”

“Yes,” said the other, sending an arrow of red betel spit shooting to the ground, “That was decades ago. Her old maid, the one who came to see her yesterday—got a rude shock, she did. She walked in, she tells me, on finding the door unlocked, eager to see her mistress. Imagine her horror when she finds herself looking at a bride! Her mistress was all decked up in her bridal attire, lying waiting in her bed. She took one look at the maid, shrieked and fainted. Never came to after that… they cremated her in all her finery; no one had the heart to touch one thing.”

“I wonder what she must have been thinking, dressing up like that…”

“She wasn’t thinking. She was crazy, that one… and don’t you go around with your head in the clouds—no good comes of such things, I tell you. Your father and I, we have a good arrangement—never was any love there. He brings home the money and I give him sons and keep his house. No crazy happenings in my house… you’ll do good to remember that—let your father pick a good man for you, and give him sons. It’s a content life.”

“Yes, amma” she bowed her head demurely, while her eyes danced as she thought of the young and handsome wrestler from the nearby village, who would even now be on his way to wait for her near the old ruins on the river bank. Let amma have her content life, but it wasn’t enough for her… she craved the love that made a woman wait, day after day, for a man who would never come…..

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4 comments

  1. Amazing piece of literature. Great detailing done. I can see hints of a great writer in your pieces. You could have shaped it into a complete work of fiction though. Any plans??


  2. Amazing Stuff.Really impressive.Has lot of depth and intensity.


  3. beautiful post.. i wish u cud write more frequently!


  4. hey, you really should write one of those semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional timeless saga type things. Maybe not, but short stories for sure. I tell you I find your writing style phenomenally good. seriously. I find it difficult to believe that more people havent commented on your blog. srivats



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