vivek shanbhag


on our wedding day


On our wedding day Anita managed to look more beautiful than I'd been able to imagine her. She carried herself with poise. Her thick braid hung down to her waist. She was wearing lipstick. The first chance I got I stole a sideward glance at the blouse under her dark-blue saree. We had few chances to speak during the ceremony, and these went in saying things like: "So much smoke"; "Who's that teasing you? A classmate?" There was a strange charm even in exchanging inanities. The ceremony required me to hold her hand at times, or touch her arm with my index finger, and these brief moments of contact would be the cause of an immense thrill. When it was time to tie the taali round her neck I leaned in close and a whiff of fragrance went straight to my head. The scent of flowers and her close presence were almost too much. For a brief instant I felt unsteady on my feet. She stood there with her head bowed; flecks of turmeric dotted the down on her cheek. My fingers brushing against the back of her neck, I tied the knot.

At lunch, when we had to feed each other sweets, the tips of my fingers touched her lower lip for a moment. The jolt this produced took a while to subside. I was still helpless when she brought a piece of jalebi to my mouth. I seized her hand and pretended to bite off her fingers. A few girls nearby went "Aww, so sweet," and I felt embarrassed by my own antics. The wedding photographer, hankering for such moments, made me feed her again.

While we were still at lunch, a large group from Anita's side came up to us and introduced themselves one by one. Then in the afternoon, an army of elders from both sides took turns sitting on a chair so we could fall at their feet and seek blessings. In the evening we went home exhausted. Fortunately the more annoying relatives didn't follow us home. We could have dinner in peace and retire to our room upstairs.

I had on a white cotton kurta bought specially for the night. My mind swirled with the possibilities that lay ahead as we made our way to the room. I found it hard to even look at her. I tried to act casual as I closed the door behind us, but slid the bolt in slowly so the others at home wouldn't notice. When I turned around she was standing by the bed. The light-switch was next to the door and I turned it off. The room was now faintly lit by the haze from the street-lamp outside. I walked to her. I took a step closer. I could smell her scent now. I didn't know what to do next and I paused for a moment. Then I raised my right hand and placed it on her shoulder. One thing alone gave me the courage to touch her: we were now married. My hand lowered itself along her arm and stopped at her elbow. My left hand went to her waist and drew her closer. She moved towards me as well and we embraced. Her touch, her smell, the fragrance from the flowers she was wearing, the press of her chest on mine, her lips against my neck.

That single moment's intensity hasn't been matched in my life before or since. A woman I didn't know had chosen to accept me, in body and mind. Perhaps it is this instant that forms the basis of traditional marriage—a complete stranger is suddenly mine. And then, I am hers too; I must offer her my all. I want her to wield her power over me as an acknowledgement of my love. The rush of these feelings all together is too much to describe. Language communicates in terms of what is already known; it chokes up when asked to deal with the entirely unprecedented.

Similar feelings must have welled up in her too. Her face was buried in my chest. Her arms around me tightened. I could feel the bangles on her arms pressing into my back. Through touch, through the giving, yielding closeness of our embrace, this unknown woman began to be known to me. I've longed often for a comparable experience, but there seems to be none. That sense of strangeness, surrender, dependence, compassion, entitlement and a hundred other sentiments bundled together cannot possibly be relived.

I held her tighter still, then relaxed. I raised her face and through her lips gained my first taste of her world.


Excerpt from the novel Ghachar Ghochar

      Translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur