It’s an Indian wedding and more importantly a South Indian wedding. The groom and the bride stand on a stage, behind them two gaudy thrones, on which no one’s been seated for the whole evening. Gaudy thrones, gaudy couple and we the minion guests who mill around in an endless queue to wish the couple good luck and get on with the evening. Where did this peculiar practice start? Stand in a queue to shake hands with the groom and bride one hardly knows, exchange forced smiles from pursed lips and mumble something inaudible, face the camera, flash! and the photographer gestures you to move on, if you linger awhile to probably tell the groom that his cheap off-the-shelf suit looks like a gunny sack, the photographer gets impatient and tells you to get the hell off the stage. I didn’t get shooed off, I kept it short, went straight to the groom, shook hands, pushed the envelope containing a hundred bucks, contribution for the meal am going to eat, smile at the camera and walk away to the dining hall. Yet another queue at the buffet.It’s gonna be a long sultry evening.
The dinner buffet is a mess, the children at each other’s throat for the ice cream and the adults making a killing of the fruit salad. We live in flourishing times, no famine in the recent past, the trees full of fruit, boatload of fish, fields of sheep and goats to be devoured. The plates always full and no guilty pangs when half of the food finds its way to the dump. So, it’s difficult to assess the rush, hard to imagine the beeline and shoving for a measly looking papaya and overcooked paneer.
I don’t want to be here, but I need to. Friendly obligations from a long past, it is required that all don’t find out what a rogue of a son the gentleman had. True, am not my father’s reflection of being the most humble, respected person the town had seen, I try to be, but it’s a hard job to fill into my father’s boots and it is harder not to be quirky and slapstick to certain individuals. There was a gentleman once, a close friend and an aid of my father’s. He didn’t see it unusual to pick on a kid 30 years his junior and call me funny names just because I was real tall and lanky. There were comparisons to a tall Indian actor, lampposts, ladders, all the gentleman could conjure up were comparisons, so much for being 30 years older. No imagination. It wasn’t that I was sharp-witted, but I grew up among classmates who called each other flies, flies buzzing over a rotting corpse or a big fat house fly on a pile of dung. They went further and back-slapped each other when they referenced the stain on a toilet bowl to someone’s face. Full marks for the imagination there. So, being called a lamppost felt silly, I was too thick-skinned by now. That didn’t mean I didn’t sledge this guy, but calling him a pile-of-dung-with-a-fly just didn’t cut it. He never understood. I saw my game of calling him interesting nicknames fall flat on its face. So I had to stoop down to his level and give him a beating without my father extending the same courtesy to me.
So this particular gentleman was gifted in a unique way, he was cross-eyed, short, balding and walked with a peculiar gait and I decided to compare him to a famous Bollywood comedian called Mehmood. Mehmood was the punching bag of most of the movies he ever acted in during the 70s and When I decided to retort with a comparison to Mehmood as soon as he bugged me, there was a silence, too much of a silence, edging on eerie. For a minute I thought his eyes rolled over and aligned, the gait corrected and ready to lunge, chase and hunt me down, I tensed up, ready to bolt, the pupils pointed out and the stance dipped, there was no chase, just that towards late evening, I found myself all alone in a corner with my father.
And today the gentleman stood there in all dazzling white. Shirt, trousers, sandals, the whole white deal. A common friend’s wedding and it was the beginning of a long list of people I was really not keen on meeting. A fake smile here, a dead handshake there and I was taking a tangent detour to avoid the man in white, but his crossness came into play and I quickly found myself in some unpleasant company. The brashness of two decades was gone, it was unlikely he would call me a lamppost again, I towered over him back then, I did now too plus I outweighed him too. I didn’t feel like teasing the old man either, just wanted to stomp him out of his misery. The welts on my calf were never avenged. I steered clear of him after that beating and here I was talking cordially to this snitch.
He asked where I worked and the normal follow ups and follow ups normally pause a while longer and hover around the salary. Sharing your salary figures is a trick and a pain, you quote too low, you’ll look like a clown, you quote too high and there’s a beeline of borrowers and he hovered longer than usual and the question dropped itself on me. I couldn’t get away from this one, there were too many people around, a few I respected so there was no mowing down poor Mehmood. His eyes twinkled liked a stalker closing on its prey, I knew I was imagining things, his cross-eyed highness was just curious and I was lamenting an ill-fated detour. I work for an IT company and I decided I’ll give the guy a small walk through of my job and did I have fun or not, I started off that I don’t get a salary, that caught everyone’s attention and I slowly cooked the broth till it was inedible. Starting off on my compensation being a string of benefits and how the benefits measured up based on the sales made a lovely tale and a rather drab dinner longer, now Mehmood wanted to get away, the discussion was too boring, I didn’t get a salary after all, there weren’t too many questions to ask after that. More importantly, he was interested in someone down the hall behind me, he seemed to have caught a glimpse of an old flame, I let him go, he wasn’t even paying any attention, I was almost just talking to myself. He walked away, no excuses nothing. I let it be and helped myself to the second gulab jamoon of the evening. What the hell, be a Roman in Rome, I jostled and elbowed for the second helping. Meanwhile, the children were really having a go at the ice cream now, they figured out fruits with a dollop of vanilla makes a fantastic slime to eat and to haul.
The cup emptied, the sugar syrup reduced to a drop, I needed more dessert and some company. I looked out for my old friend and made a straight line to him. He was in the company of some pretty ladies and a few old neighbours, I still liked my “old flame” theory and stuck to it. Time to throw in a spanner in the works. Pretty ladies, decked in Kanjeevaram and lots of gold, our old man seemed to have some casualness to the lady in the middle, the one bejeweled the most and I stood chuckling in my head when I saw him purposely steal a chance to brush against her. What fun! It was like being back in college. Well the Jewel deserved it too, middle-aged and taut, taut and rounded, and flaunting it. A rush of black hair tied back in a bun. The shadow of the eye, matching her saree, the saree that precariously held onto the corner of the shoulder with a butterfly broach on the deep necked blouse. The yoga definitely radiated off along with the parlour visit.
So Mehmood is out there, his bunch of twenty yellowed teeth, a pair of cross eyes and a set of root canals, rooting for the ladies. He has smartened out in the past decade, he was using the guise of his cross eyes to good use now, me with my big, almost bimbo eyes, was a useless asset right now. I tried not to gaze for too long. He refused to talk to me now, and I stood there like a lost puppy and feeling all defeated and then I chanced upon the pretty ruby, set in gold, adorning the lady’s deep neckline. Ahem. Now, somebody close to me got a pretty finger ring made of rubies, set in gold and we had at length discussed the shades and transparency of a good set of stones, backed with a little knowledge I launched and directed my first compliment to the woman, pointing at her chest and told her it was a pretty ruby. Cross eyed root canal now was in unknown waters, what Ruby he asked? The only ruby he had heard off was a “Ruby Wines” down the road, precious metals and stones were Gold, Silver and diamonds, colored stones were passe and he suddenly didn’t have too much to say.
So I continued, still pointing at her chest, about the opaqueness and transparency. Opaque was a new word and we discussed about it for a while and I threw in translucency as well. The stained glass paintings along the ceiling made for good examples of light play and the way it bounced off the stone. We were almost walking around the banquet now with our eyes to the ceiling and back to the chest drawing comparisons. Old man in white stood, waiting for a comeback. His eyes shot back and forth, at me, at the ruby, at the neckline and the ceiling. He tagged along as we dived into details of how the stone was set into the gold. Was it open on the underside for the stone to make contact with the skin? Mehmood stared on. Asking the lady about the colour play of her bindi, ruby, eye shadow and saree, all shades of crimson, was the last straw; The lady blushed to the colour of her attire and slapped my elbow with a flick of the wrists, a flick that only the ladies can do, a flick that made Mehmood’s eye roll over and realign like a decade ago. Mehmood defeated. I could feel all the chocolates the guy had stolen, return to my pocket. The welts on my calf disappear. What a useless victory for me. I took my leave of Jewel and Mehmood. Mehmood grunted and nudged forward, probably chancing up to brush against.
As I left them I turned around to see an old friend pointing animatedly at the ruby and further and cross-eyed in happiness and guile.