Anju was fascinated by the sight of Mrs Broota popping in one scrumptious laddu after another into her garishly painted mouth in quick succession. She then proceeded to mercilessly masticate down the poor little boondis, till they all but disappeared to make way for the next laddu.
“I wonder why I’ve suddenly lost my appetite”, Anju murmured to herself as she tore her eyes away from Mrs Broota’s steady sequence. Placing the laddu, that she so longed to eat a moment ago, back into the platter, she walked towards her sister who was perched on a beautifully carved antique swing, having her hands and legs covered with intricate swirls of henna.
Anju was back home in Delhi after 5 long years, for her little sister’s Dipti’s wedding.
Being back after so long made her realize how much she missed India and her home.
Yes, New York was where she had always wanted to be, but home was home after all.
On the flight to Delhi, Anju was a tad nervous, imagining how it would feel to be among family after such a long time. For 5 long years, Anju gave all that she had to her publishing career with a single-minded dedication. Family and friends remained in touch via email and telephone and the occasional visits from her kin had soon dwindled down to none.
When her Mum called up one morning, asking her to get her tickets booked to attend Dipti’s wedding, she realized just how disconnected she was from everyone she had known.
Well, it was time to remedy it all. For someone who hadn’t taken a single day off for the past 5 years, Anju put in an application for a month long leave and her shocked boss was more than happy to sanction it.
Sandy was unreachable, as usual, and she left a message on voicemail asking for her call to be returned immediately.
A tired Anju was just walking towards her boarding gate when a call from Sandy surprised her and put a spring back into her step. She cut the call only when the final announcement was made for the passengers to board the flight to New Delhi.
“I’m going miss you, Sandy” she sighed aloud, as the aircraft wheels left the tarmac.
All of Anju’s apprehensions vanished at the sight of her eagerly awaiting family. Dipti ran forward and hugged Anju squealing ‘Didiiiiii” just like she did when she was little.
Her parent’s eyes misted over as they enveloped their first-born in a warm embrace. Raghav, her kid brother was a strapping young man and she beamed at him with sisterly pride.
“You’re next, Anju”. Anju snapped out of her reverie at the sound of her Aunt Kamayani’s voice in her ear. Dipti’s henna was almost done, and it was Anju’s turn to have her palms adorned. Walking towards her sister, Anju rolled her eyes at Dipti and they exchanged a smile.
She was getting a little tired if this “You’re next!” business. Old aunties nudged her till she thought she surely must have bruised a rib or two. She was enormously tired of being introduced to so many “nice boy’s” that kept popping up wherever she went.
“I think Anju surely has someone tucked away. Isn’t that so Anju? Tell us if you do, come on, do tell us” guffawed her other aunt Urmila, with a lewd wink following this remark.
Anju was sure Aunt Urmila had been eavesdropping on her phone conversations with Sandy, and that’s why she wanted to embarrass Anju into confessing the truth.
She was so tempted to tell them all about Sandy, just so that they would leave her alone, but it wasn’t the right time now.
“Tomorrow is the wedding Anju. Pick any of the nice boys from around here and we’ll get both you and Dipti married in the same mandap”,called out Aunt Urmila “ if you don’t have anyone special whom you left behind and are pining for” she concluded guffawing.
“Yes, Urmila Bua. There is someone back home!” spat out an exasperated Anju, regretting it immediately.
There was a pregnant silence in the room with each and every eye on her.
“Who” asked a voice, and Anju turned around to look into the perplexed eyes of her mother.
“You’re joking right, Didi?” questioned Dipti, accusingly adding “you would have told ME if there was someone, wouldn’t you have?”
Anju didn’t know where to look and what to say. She stood alone in the middle of the room surrounded by questioning eyes.
“I was, err, joking” she managed to murmur, lamely trying to laugh the whole incident away.
“No you are not! I have heard you talking on the phone. Sweet nothings that too!” boomed Aunt Urmila’s voice, breaking the awkward silence.
Anju flushed a deep red, the basket of flowers she was carrying, slipping from her hands onto the floor.
“His name is Sandy. Isn’t it Anju?” questioned Aunt Urmila, a note of triumph in her voice.
Anju’s head snapped up at the mention of Sandy’s name. What else did Aunt Urmila know, she wondered. How much had she overheard?
“Beta, is it true?” her mother asked softly. She was by Anju’s side, helping her pick up the scattered flowers. ”Tell us whatever it is. Is he a foreigner? Be honest. We can talk about it, beta” implored her mother.
Anju felt like her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. Words refused to come out. She felt tears sting her eyes, threatening to spill over.
This is not how she had wanted her family to find out. This was definitely not how she wanted to let them know.
“He is coming to Delhi tonight, this Sandy” finished Aunt Urmila triumphantly. The final nail in the coffin.
There was no way out now. She would have to let them know.
“Anju Beta? At least tell us if all that Urmila is implying is true or not” beseeched her mother.
Taking a deep breath Anju stood up, with the basket of flowers in her hand.
“Yes Mum, it is true”. she replied giving Aunt Urmila a piercing stare.
“What!?!” gasped her mother, thunderstruck. “Why didn’t you tell us Anju? All this time? Why?”
“I was going to, Mamma”
“When?” interrupted her mother, close to tears now.
“After Dipti’s wedding, Mamma”, continued Anju.
“But why hide it all this time Anju? What’s the point? You are 31 years old. Isn’t it high time you got married?” intervened Aunt Kamayani.
Every eye in the room was on Anju, asking her the same question.
“I …err….I…just didn’t feel the time is right” she muttered awkwardly.
“As long as the boy and you like each other and he is well settled, we wouldn’t have minded him being a foreigner Anju Beta. Isn’t that so Bhabhi?” questioned Aunt Urmila, sneaking a sly look towards Anju’s still shocked mother.
“Yes Anju…. yes. Urmila is right. You should have told us. We wouldn’t have minded at all,” said her mother.
“ So, is Sandy coming here today, Didi?” questioned an excited Dipti.
“Yes Dipti, Sandy is going to be here tonight”, sighed Anju.
“Since when have you known this Sandy” questioned Aunt Kamayani.
“Four years” replied Anju.
“What does he do?” “How old is he?” “Is he a foreigner?” “Is that why you hid it from us?” “Are you both living together?” “Have you got married to him?” “Is that why you used to say a flat no to all the proposals we sent you?”
The questions flew thick and fast. The room that was silent a few minutes ago now buzzed with energy. The questions felt like bullets being shot from all sides.
“No Sandy isn’t a foreigner and yes we are married, is all I’ll say”, a collective gasp went up here, “please do not ask me anything more. You can all meet Sandy for yourselves tonight” said a visibly distraught Anju, holding her hands up in the air.
Before another question was directed at her, she fled to her room and locked herself in.
This wasn’t the way she wanted to break the news to her family. At their spur-of-the-moment wedding in Vegas, Sandy had asked her to let the family know, but Anju, giddy with contentment wanted to keep the news to herself for a bit.
She wanted to revel in marital happiness for some more time before she shared the news with anyone else. Sandy understood perfectly and went along with Anju’s wish.
The ‘right time’ never came and it was 2 years now that they had been married. Sandy gently reminded Anju to let her family know, but Anju kept putting it off, till this is how the news broke out.
It was dinnertime when Anju finally came out of her room. She was dressed to leave for the airport to pick up Sandy. She refused to take the chauffer and declined Raghav’s offer to drive her there.
Two hours later, as Anju’s car turned into the driveway of her house, she saw that each and every window was lit up, in spite the late hour.
She turned to look at Sandy, who gave her an encouraging nod and together they stepped out of the car.
They both walked into the open front door, beyond which eager eyes awaited them.
As they stepped in the living room, hands firmly entwined, where the whole family was seated, Anju introduced everyone to the love of her life, her soul mate.
“Meet Sandhya Misra. Known as Sandy to all”.