"I consider myself a student of modern science," Jai Krishna had explained, "and because I am a student of modern science, I cannot reject any theory until I test it." And so far, the tests had all turned out positive. His two older daughters, seven and nine, were successfully married and would soon be moving to their husbands' houses and living as wives, then as mothers. They were placid and obedient daughters who would make loving and obedient wives. Tara Lata, his favorite, would be no exception.
In the wintry bright hour just before twilight blackens Mishtigunj, the decorated bajra from the Lahiri family finally sailed into view. The bride's female relatives stood at the stone bathing-steps leading from the steep bank down to the river as servants prepared to help the groom's party of two hundred disembark. Women began the oo-loo ululation, the almost instrumental, pitched-voice welcome. Two of Jai Krishna's younger brothers supervised the unrolling of mats on the swampy path that connected the private dock and Jai Krishna's two-storied brick house.
The bajra anchored, but none on board rushed to the deck railings to be ceremoniously greeted by the welcoming party of the bride's relatives. The bridegroom's father and uncles had a servant deliver a cruel message in an insulting tone to the bride's father. They would not disembark on Jai Krishna's property for Jai Krishna and his entire clan were carriers of a curse, and that curse, thanks to Jai Krishna's home-destroying, misfortune-showering daughter, had been visited on their sinless son instead of on Jai Krishna's flesh-and-blood. They demanded that Jai Krishna meet them in the sheltered cabin of the bajra.
Jai Krishna ordered the wedding musicians to stop their shenai playing and dhol beating. His women relatives, shocked at the tone in which the servant repeated his master's message to Jai Krishna babu, the renowned Dacca lawyer, had given up their conch shell blowing and their ululating on their own. For several minutes, Jai Krishna stood still on the bathing-steps, trying to conceal at first his bewilderment, then his fury, that the man who was to have full patriarchal authority over his beloved daughter had called her names. Then he heard a bullying voice from inside the cabin yell instructions to the boatmen to pull up anchor.
"They're bargaining for more dowry," muttered one of Jai Krishna's brothers.
"No beggar is as greedy as that Lahiri bastard!" spat another brother.
Two boatmen played at reeling in ropes and readying the bajra to sail back.
Excerpted from Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee. Copyright © 2002 by Bharati Mukherjee. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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