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Authors: Vikram Seth

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Fiction

A Suitable Boy

BOOK: A Suitable Boy
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I

 

 

1.1

 

 

'YOU too will marry a boy I choose,' said Mrs Rupa Mehra firmly to her younger daughter.

 

 

Lata avoided the maternal imperative by looking around the great lamp-lit garden of Prem Nivas. The weddingguests were gathered on the lawn. 'Hmm,' she said. This annoyed her mother further.

 

 

'I know what your hmms mean, young lady, and I can tell you I will not stand for hmms in this matter. I do know what is best. I am doing it all for you. Do you think it is easy for me, trying to arrange things for all four of my children without His help ?' Her nose began to redden at the thought of her husband, who would, she felt certain, be partaking of their present joy from somewhere benevolently above. Mrs Rupa Mehra believed, of course, in reincarnation, but at moments of exceptional sentiment, she imagined that the late Raghubir Mehra still inhabited the form in which she had known him when he was alive : the robust, cheerful form of his early forties before overwork had brought about his heart attack at the height of the Second World War. Eight years ago, eight years, thought Mrs Rupa Mehra miserably.

 

 

'Now, now, Ma, you can't cry on Savita's wedding day,' said Lata, putting her arm gently but not very concernedly around her mother's shoulder.

 

 

'If He had been here, I could have worn the tissue-patola sari I wore for my own wedding,' sighed Mrs Rupa Mehra. 'But it is too rich for a widow to wear.'

 

 

'Ma!' said Lata, a little exasperated at the emotional capital her mother insisted on making out of every possible circumstance. 'People are looking at you. They want to congratulate you, and they'll think it very odd if they see you crying in this way.'

 

 

Several guests were indeed doing namasté to Mrs Rupa Mehra and smiling at her ; the cream of Brahmpur society, she was pleased to note.

 

 

'Let them see me!' said Mrs Rupa Mehra defiantly, dabbing at her eyes hastily with a handkerchief perfumedwith 4711 eau-de-Cologne, 'They will only think it is because of my happiness at Savita's wedding. Everything I do is for you, and no one appreciates me. I have chosen such a good boy for Savita, and all everyone does is complain.'

 

 

Lata reflected that of the four brothers and sisters, the only one who hadn't complained of the match had been the sweet-tempered, fair-complexioned, beautiful Savita herself.

 

 

'He is a little thin, Ma,' said Lata a bit thoughtlessly. This was putting it mildly. Pran Kapoor, soon to be her brother-in-law, was lank, dark, gangly, and asthmatic.

 

 

'Thin ? What is thin ? Everyone is trying to become thin these days. Even I have had to fast the whole day and it is not good for my diabetes. And if Savita is not complaining, everyone should be happy with him. Arun and Varun are always complaining: why didn't they choose a boy for their sister then ? Pran is a good, decent, cultured khatri boy.'

 

 

There was no denying that Pran, at thirty, was a good boy, a decent boy, and belonged to the right caste. And, indeed, Lata did like Pran. Oddly enough, she knew him better than her sister did - or, at least, had seen him for longer than her sister had. Lata was studying English at Brahmpur University, and Pran Kapoor was a popular lecturer there. Lata had attended his class on the Elizabethans, while Savita, the bride, had met him for only an hour, and that too in her mother's company.

 

 

'And Savita will fatten him up,' added Mrs Rupa Mehra. 'Why are you trying to annoy me when I am so happy? And Pran and Savita will be happy, you will see. They will be happy,' she continued emphatically. 'Thank you, thank you,' she now beamed at those who were coming up to greet her. 'It is so wonderful - the boy of my dreams, and such a good family. The Minister Sahib has been very kind to us. And Savita is so happy. Please eat something, please eat: they have made such delicious gulab-jamuns, but owing to my diabetes I cannot eat them even after the ceremonies. I am not even allowed gajak, which is sodifficult to resist in winter. But please eat, please eat. I must go in to check what is happening: the time that the pandits have given is coming up, and there is no sign of either bride or groom!' She looked at Lata, frowning. Her younger daughter was going to prove more difficult than her elder, she decided.

 

 

'Don't forget what I told you,' she said in an admonitory voice.

 

 

'Hmm,' said Lata. 'Ma, your handkerchief's sticking out of your blouse.'

 

 

'Oh!' said Mrs Rupa Mehra, worriedly tucking it in. 'And tell Arun to please take his duties seriously. He is just standing there in a corner talking to that Meenakshi and his silly friend from Calcutta. He should see that everyone is drinking and eating properly and having a gala time.'

 

 

'That Meenakshi' was Arun's glamorous wife and her own disrespectful daughter-in-law. In four years of marriage Meenakshi's only worthwhile act, in Mrs Rupa Mehra's eyes, had been to give birth to her beloved granddaughter, Aparna, who even now had found her way to her grandmother's brown silk sari and was tugging it for attention. Mrs Rupa Mehra was delighted. She gave her a kiss and told her :

 

 

'Aparna, you must stay with your Mummy or with Lata Bua, otherwise you will get lost. And then where would we be?'

 

 

'Can't I come with you ?' asked Aparna, who, at three, naturally had views and preferences of her own.

 

 

'Sweetheart, I wish you could,' said Mrs Rupa Mehra, 'but I have to make sure that your Savita Bua is ready to be married. She is so late already.' And Mrs Rupa Mehra looked once again at the little gold watch that had been her husband's first gift to her and which had not missed a beat for two-and-a-half decades.

 

 

'I want to see Savita Bua!' said Aparna, holding her ground.

 

 

Mrs Rupa Mehra looked a little harassed and nodded vaguely at Aparna.

 

 

Lata picked Aparna up. 'When Savita Bua comes out,we'll go over there together, shall we, and I'll hold you up like this, and we'll both get a good view. Meanwhile, should we go and see if we can get some ice-cream ? iffëél like some too.'

 

 

Aparna approved of this, as of most of Lata's suggestions. It was never too cold for ice-cream. They walked towards the buffet table together, three-year-old and nineteen-year-old hand in hand. A few rose-petals wafted down on them from somewhere.

 

 

'What is good enough for your sister is good enough for you,' said Mrs Rupa Mehra to Lata as a parting shot.

 

 

'We can't both marry Pran,' said Lata, laughing.

 

 

1.2

 

 

THE other chief host of the wedding was the groom's father, Mr Mahesh Kapoor, who was the Minister of Revenue of the state of Purva Pradesh. It was in fact in his large, C-shaped, cream-coloured, two-storey family house, Prem Nivas, situated in the quietest, greenest residential area of the ancient, and - for the most part - over-populated city of Brahmpur, that the wedding was taking place.

 

 

This was so unusual that the whole of Brahmpur had been buzzing about it for days. Mrs Rupa Mehra's father, who was supposed to be the host, had taken sudden umbrage a fortnight before the wedding, had locked up his house, and had disappeared. Mrs Rupa Mehra had been distraught. The Minister Sahib had stepped in ('Your honour is our honour'), and had insisted on putting on the wedding himself. As for the ensuing gossip, he ignored it.

 

 

There was no question of Mrs Rupa Mehra helping to pay for the wedding. The Minister Sahib would not hear of it. Nor had he at any time asked for any dowry. He was an old friend and bridge partner of Mrs Rupa Mehra's father and he had liked what he had seen of her daughter Savita (though he could never remember the girl's name). He was sympathetic to economic hardship, for he too had tasted it. During the several years he had spent in British

 

 

6jails during the struggle for Independence, there had been no one to run his farm or his cloth business. As a result very little income had come in, and his wife and family had struggled along with great difficulty.

 

 

Those unhappy times, however, were only a memory for the able, impatient, and powerful Minister. It was the early winter of 1950, and India had been free for over three years. But freedom for the country did not mean freedom for his younger son, Maan, who even now was being told by his father :

 

 

'What is good enough for your brother is good enough for you.'

 

 

'Yes, Baoji,' said Maan, smiling.

 

 

Mr Mahesh Kapoor frowned. His younger son, while succeeding to his own habit of fine dress, had not succeeded to his obsession with hard work. Nor did he appear to have any ambition to speak of.

 

 

'It is no use being a good-looking young wastrel forever,' said his father. 'And marriage will force you to settle down and take things seriously. I have written to the Banaras people, and I expect a favourable answer any day.'
BOOK: A Suitable Boy
3.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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