Bhanumurthy came to the bus stand with Chitti to receive Geetha. Geetha was elated to see Babayi and Chitti. Chitti wound around her legs, “Akka!” She patted him on the shoulder lovingly, and introduced Jagadeesh to them. At that moment, he looked like not as a protector but a little brother to her. She felt one notch grown up as a young woman!
Bhanumurthy went and returned with a rickshaw. Geetha and Chitti got into the rickshaw. Jagadeesh sat on the backseat of Bhanumurthy’s bicycle. Both the vehicles headed toward home.
At home, Kamakshi told Geetha about the prospective groom and his family. Geetha staring at the floor, said almost inaudibly, “I want to complete the B.A. studies.”
“So what? Is there a rule you must not continue studies, if married?”
“We don’t know whether they would let me continue the studies.”
“Don’t you remember? Your younger aunt’s daughter finished high school and college after her marriage.”
“Yes, but older aunt’s daughter’s studies bit the dust because of her marriage, isn’t it?”
“Let’s see what their thoughts are. He comes from a respectable family; is studying medicine. They are not asking for dowry. ‘If the boy and the girl like each other, we are set,’ they said.”
Geetha spent all night thinking about a young man, who was studying medicine, well-behaved, had a prospect of making good money, and did not want dowry.
The expected Sunday was here. The entire house was bubbling with excitement and teasing.
“Keep an eye on this poor Babayi. I can’t pay high fees,” Bhanumurthy teased Geetha.
“Akka, if you get married and go away, will you be back to see me?” Chitti asked, soundling sad.
“Wife of a doctor, wow! You may forget little people like me,” Doramma, their neighbor poked fun at her.
All those jokes threw Geetha into an inexplicable mix of emotions–fear, anxiety, and maybe, even slight bitterness.
She got up, went into the backyard, and stood under the Parijatha(Night Jasmine) tree.
The braches from above showered Parijatha flowers, sending her reeling into a pleasant feeling. A little bird cooed at a distance. She was enthralled for a moment. She put her hand on the tree trunk. Caterpillars moved. She cringed, pulling back quickly. She tiptoed back into the house.
Kamakshi rebuked her mildly, “You are still in the same saree? Go, change. It is almost time for them to arrive. Wash the face and wear thr violet Georgette saree. I made jasmine garlands and put at the Goddess’ seat in the kitchen. Pray to the Goddess Gowri, and wear the garland in your hair.”
“what is the hurry? It is not even 3:00 yet. They said they would not be coming until after 5:00 because of varjyam[ Virjyam: Inauspicious period in a given day according to Lunar Calendar.],” Geetha said, walking toward bathroom.
She washed her face with soap, changed into the Georgette saree, and looked at herself in the mirror. The carefully applied red dot on the forehead, a dab of Collyrium[ Collyrium, a paste made of lampblack and oil and applied to the lower eyeline. In addition to enhance the beauty of the eye, also supposed to have medicial value. ] on the lower eyeline, the glimmering lips, and the saree slipping off of her shoulder–all made her blush.
She did not notice Nagamma atta behind her. “That is not the way to wear a sari, girl,” she said, and pulled it off, and wrapped it on her again, and said, “See, this is how you should wear it, like a college girl, not like a grandma.”
Geetha was embarrassed, “Go away, Atta.”
“Ah, would you say ‘Go away’ had I had a son of suitable age,” Nagamma said with a teasing smile, pinched her cheek, and went into the kitchen.
Paramesam returned from store, handed a bag containing pan leaves, betel nuts, fruits and flowers to Kamakshi.
Bhanumurthy came in and announced that the grooms’ family had arrived. Paramesam went to the front door and welcomed them courteously.
The groom and his parents got out of the car. In addition, they thought 3 was not a good number, and so, invited the groom’s brother, and another woman for moral support, the mediator, and two children who refused to be left behind. In all, six adults and two children arrived.
“It looks like the entire groom’s wedding party is here, you might as well perform the wedding,” Nagamma commented.
“Sh, be quiet. They may take offense, if they hear it,” Kamakshi said, with concern. She returned to the living room, with snacks and coffee.
While the guests were sipping coffee, Kamakshi went in and returned with Geetha.
Geetha sat on the edge of a chair, looking down.
“Don’t be shy, Ammayi. Nothing to worry about. No strangers here. Look up,” the mediator said.
“What did she study?” the groom’s mother asked.
“She has completed high school. Also, she learned to type, and attended a few Hindi classes,” Paramesam recounted her qualifications.
“We were told that she was attending college in Guntur. Why Guntur?” groom’s brother asked.
“Because there was a women’s college.”
“There is one here too.”
“Never mind that. Apparently, you are inclined to see her getting married. Does that mean she will quit college right after she is married?”
“Whatever you say, Sir. Let’s say for the sake of argument, you would prefer to postpone taking her in until after the young man completed his medicine studies. Then she will stay here with us and complete the B.A. degree course,” Paramesam said, suggesting a compromise.
Kamakshi did not relish the suggestion but kept quiet. Nobody asked for Geetha’s opinion.
“Can’t we talk about it later,” the groom said coyly.
“True. No need to talk about it now,” the ‘moral support’ woman said.
“Alright. Just one more thought. Can you perform the wedding next month? The following month is not auspicious to perform weddings,” the groom’s mother asked.
“We too want to perform the wedding as soon as possible. We want to have it performed while Bamma garu is around. She is getting old, you know,” Paramesam said.
The guests stayed for another 30 minutes, chit chatting about this and that, not necessarily relevant to the occasion.
Paramesam walked them to their car, and came back.
“What did they say?”
“They will let us know in a day or two, his father said.”
“I am going to Saroja’s house, Amma,” Geetha said.
“Why now? You can go tomorrow,” Kamakshi did not want her to go out as it was getting late.
Geetha was disappointed. She changed into an ordinary cotton saree and sat on her bed with an old magazine.
Geetha and Jagadeesh returned to Guntur the following day. Siva Rao came to the bus station, picked them and took them home.
It was too late to go to college. Geetha skipped classes for the day. The next day she went to college.
“Why didn’t you come yesterday?” Satyam asked.
“Just. Didn’t feel like.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Went home.”
“You could have returned Sunday evening.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
Geetha was startled by the question. “How did you know?”
“What else girls like us will have? It is not like we have earth-shaking issues to resolve. Your face is showing; and also, I think this is the first time for you,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Her apathy toward marriage was puzzling to Geetha.
“What is he doing?” Satyam asked.
Satyam was quiet for a few minutes. She said, “I don’t even remember for how long this farce of pellichupulu is going on.
“My oldest sister was sick of this farce and ran away with a good-for-nothing fellow. She said that was a better option than this stupid tradition. My parents learned nothing from the step she had taken. The story with my second sister started all over again.”
That was horrible, Geetha felt sick in the stomach. “Time for class, let’s move,” she said, walking toward the classroom.
(June 24, 2022)