‘…He held her hands… he smelled of acrid smoke… his masked face blurred as it approached her to bite her lips. What was he doing here now twelve years later? He was dead isn’t it? She wanted to call Gautam…where was he? She wanted to scream… she tried but her vocal cords had frozen. Oh that voice again… ‘Princess’ he referred to her as princess…no one called her that except Rewa didi…when she was angry with her… she hated that Preeti had learnt to shoot by bulldozing her father… Rewa didi called her Papa’s Princess…. But how did this man… this monster know that?
Suddenly she was shoved… her mother was calling her…what was her mother doing here in this Godforsaken place?… ‘Preeti… Preeti beta…’
“…Preeti beta… wake up… Preeti…?” someone was calling out to her… he mother… Preeti woke up with a start her head pounding. What was she doing in her Lehenga choli in this room…no… pandal? She then remembered it was Rewa didi’s wedding today evening. Everything rushed back and she held her throbbing temples. Rewa didi was saying something… She looked up to see her mother and tayiji looking at her with a strange expression. He mother sat next to her and asked, “Where is Rewa beta?”
What? Wait… Rewa didi was right here… She checked her wrist watch which she always wore irrespective of her attire. It was 9.30 PM… an hour since they had reached there. How long was she sleeping? She looked at her mother. “Ma… Didi was right here… and she…”
“…where is she gone beta.? We have been searching for last ten minutes now… and… why were you sleeping like that…?” Her tayiji was sounding frantic. “…It’s …it’s almost time now for the muhurat… Oh Mataji….where is this girl?” Her tayiji leaned against one of the bamboos supporting the pandal. Suddenly she heard footsteps and her father rushed in.
“Priyamvada, bhabhisa… where is Rewa. Vikram is already seated and panditji has commenced the rituals. We have to take the bride…. What…?” he looked at each of them. “…what happened? Priyamvada… what is it..?
Her mother stood and went to her father and said, “…um…Rewa is missing…”
“WHAT…?” Her father bellowed startling all of them. He looked at Preeti . “Where is your sister Preeti…? Have you done something that you were not supposed to do?”
What? What was her father saying?
“Bapu, I was… I don’t know how I slept off… may be just fifteen-twenty minutes…. Rewa didi was right here…”
“…Stop…not a word of nonsense…. You are very good at making up stories… Just tell us where is Rewa…?”
He was shaking in anger.
Her mother intervened. “…she is telling the truth… She was lying here… um… unconscious…”
Unconscious? Oh God… it must be the ginger ale she had… should she tell this to her father? It would make no difference to him. He wouldn’t believe her at all.
There was some commotion outside and Romila Devi entered the pandal. She looked annoyed. “What the hell is happening? Where is the bride?” She looked around the small area with disdain.
Her father spoke softly, “Bhabhi sa, Our daughter is not to be found… I am sure she must be around… we are looking for her….”
“…WHAT? Are you insane? I always had a doubt about your daughter. She didn’t have any qualities to suit my family. I only agreed because of the….” She glared at her father.
Her father, mother and tayiji all joined their palms. Her father’s head was bowed. It killed Preeti to watch her family getting humiliated. She stood rooted to the ground.
Where are you Rewa didi? Please come before all hell breaks loose…
“…What is the use of standing like this? You couldn’t control your daughter and now she has run away…. What an insult in front of so many guests… Listen…if this wedding doesn’t take place today, Sengar family… the ENTIRE clan will pay for this… I will see to it that you will be doomed. Sengar Enterprises will be finished….” Romila Devi kept screaming her face contorted with anger. Immediately her tayaji rushed in, followed by Gautam.
Preeti stared at Gautam with her jaw handing down. He looked terrific in the traditional groom’s outfit. She blocked out everyone and was only looking at him. That always happened whenever he was around. The world always faded away…
Her head was hurting so badly she was in tears but more so because of Rewa and her confessions… did Rewa actually say all that or was she hallucinating? She wiped her cheeks and looked at her family. They were trying to convince Romila Devi while Gautam too tried to pacify his mother.
Her father finally declared. “…In that case there is only one option. The wedding has to take place or else… we will be doomed…” He looked at Preeti. “…our other daughter will marry Vikram…” Then looking back at Romila Devi he asked “…is that alright with you…?”
Preeti only stared as Romila Devi walked towards her and looked at her from head to toe. She then looked at her father and said “…Yes… I will settle for her. She is average but will do… Get her out fast…the ceremony has to start at the given time…” She sashayed her way out of the pandal. Gautam stood there with a wide based stance, hands folded.
There was a moment of silence after which her father spoke. “Priyamvada. Get Preeti ready. We just have five minutes….”
“…Wait…No…Bapu…No don’t do this… Please….” Preeti wailed.
Her father gave her a once over and then looking at his wife walked away from the pandal.
Preeti was breathing heavily with a mix of emotions that she couldn’t fathom. But most of it was anger. “No Ma… JUST NO. I can’t do this. I am going to Mumbai right now. I made a mistake coming here…. And you can’t force me…”
Her mother opened her mouth to speak when Gautam spoke. “Auntyji, let me talk to Preeti. You all wait outside please…”
Her mother paused as if she wasn’t happy with his remark. But her tayiji touched her shoulder and they both left together… Her heart broke to see them like that but her situation was no different. Anger simmering inside she glared at Gautam.
He seemed unfazed as he came near her. “Look Preeti I don’t care if you walk out just like this with me. You don’t have to change clothes if you don’t want to….But hurry up. Time is running out.” He spoke in a cool and composed tone.
Preeti was now breathing heavily with anger. “Who the hell do you think you are? First you cheat me and then my family. I am not going anywhere but Mumbai. I care a damn about all of you…”
“…You are coming with me straight on to the stage for OUR wedding.” He spoke with his hands folded
“…IN YOUR DREAMS MISTER…” she yelled tears streaming down.
He casually came close to her and wiped her tears even as she tried to pull away. He spoke in a threateningly soft tone. “Just a minute Preeti… Let me remind you, your family’s happiness is now in your hands. In fact not just happiness…their survival as well… If you don’t come with me at this very moment and get married to me then I will withdraw the investment with Sengar Enterprises with immediate effect. The loan sharks will capture your Haveli… just think where will you folks then go? What will happen to the ailing Maasa….”
“….No…you won’t do it Gautam… I know you won’t…” she almost whispered.
“…I will my dear…I surely will. So come out with me right now and get married…”
“…Gautam…please don’t do this. I have a life in Mumbai…. Don’t ruin my life like this… I can’t be stuck in a marriage… without love… please Gautam…” she cried.
“Hey…don’t worry…” he said with a smirk. “…I won’t be holding you up all your life. You will stay married to me only for six months. After which you will be free to go… wherever you want to…”
“…what the hell…what are you saying Gautam…?”
“…exactly what you heard… So now put that odhni on your head and come out with me… We are getting late. If my mother loses her cool then even I won’t be able to salvage the situation.”
He held his palm up and she placed her hand in it. He pulled up the odhni lying on the floor. Rewa must have dropped it there… He put it on her head covering her face and dragged her out behind him.
Preeti went through the motions of the rituals in a daze. Frequently, tears blinded her eyes but she blinked them away. Everything was like a dream…or should she call it a nightmare? She had been through so many nightmares for last twelve years…she should have been used to it by now.. But her heart sank as the panditji pronounced them man and wife. It was then she raised her head as Gautam lifted the covering and put the vermillion on her forehead marking her as his wife. He then put the mangalsutra studded by the Rajputana stones. She blinked seeing their allure…but not able to make out the feelings in her heart. She had waited for this moment… maybe for twelve years. But not like this. She wanted nothing more than to be his wife till she landed in Bhivadi…it’s when the tables had turned. At the moment she didn’t know what to make out of it. She loved him with all her heart she knew that…but this was a marriage of convenience which was not to last more than six months. Their marriage was a one sided love affair. Did Rewa didi run away because of the same reason? Did Gaitam arrange for all this? Where was Rewa didi? Preeti knew for sure Gautam didn’t do anything without a purpose… She knew she would definitely get out of this bond after six months. Oh God she was just married and she was already talking about her divorce…. She had surely lost it. At the end of everything she just hoped her heart would be unscathed…
The wedding ceremony went late into the night. She didn’t even know when the other rituals had taken place… Did her family perform them? Like the Tilak dastoor, Pithi dastoor , Palla dastoor…. All a couple of days prior to the wedding. Were they done? This marriage was such a quick affair…she doubted they were. She wondered why Romila Devi permitted such a breach of protocol lapse. Probably vested interests were of a greater weightage. Anyways she shouldn’t be bothered now. This marriage for her was a farce… a six month arrangement. Oh yes…she had to tell that to her heart….
The Vidaai was a low key affair. It was as if her folks couldn’t wait to leave the premises. Only Maasa and her mother cried. Others were indifferent. As per the custom, Yash was supposed to accompany her to her marital home. But he was nowhere to be found. She didn’t expect anything from her family anyways…What the hell was happening? Her cousins decided to disappear on the same day… was it why Rewa didi had called her to Alwar? Was this all pre-planned?
A beaming Narmada in tears came upto her and held her hands. “I am so happy bhai made this decision. Thank you for agreeing to this marriage….” She then hugged Preeti and said in her ears. “…take care of him bhabhisa… he needs you…”
Preeti blinked at her in surprise but then there was no time to ponder over her words.
Her family led her to the decorated car of the groom. Romila Devi gave a snide smile and went with her guests in one of their vehicles as if she wasn’t concerned with the rituals. Narmada was escorted by her husband who greeted everyone with folded hands and then they left in their vehicle.
As she sat in the backseat of the decorated Preeti she looked into the rare view mirror to see her minimal makeup spread all over her face. Somehow it reflected her life right now…. A total mess…
Gautam sat next to her and was soon busy with his phone, as if she didn’t exist. She moved close to the door and stared at the passing scenery all a dark picture with few night lights twinkling in a distance.
She was so terribly drained out that she slept within moments listening to the car stereo playing the song, ‘dushman na kare dost ne who kaam kiya hai….’
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