The two of them were soon ushered out of the room without either girl speaking more than a few words, and the two fathers continued with more formal discussions of marriage over tea and a game of chess. The bride's father telling of the dowry he had kept aside for his daughter, and Rahul talking of his job in the Maharaja's service and Aakash's prosperous farm in the hills. They could have been any two ordinary men arranging a marriage, except that each of the chess characters they wielded had secret motives moving them across the board.
Krishna won the game, but nonetheless Rahul went away feeling elated with his own success and full of great anticipation on behalf of his son. He felt sure that this would be a match that would bring Aakash's attentions fully into the world. That he would be overcome with love for the gentle beauty who was soon to become his wife.
When Aakash was brought to the wedding, fully veiled by garlands of flowers in his sehra bandi, he stood veil to veil with his future wife, Jyoti Ma. The two of them, decked in marigolds and moongra, walked barefooted around the havan fire seven times, tied together by their garments. The union was made according to the Scriptures, and according to the Stars, and only after the ceremony, when they were bonded as man and wife, did Rahul realize that there had been a bride "switch." That Jyoti Ma had not been the woman he had been led to believe would marry his son.
The moment of truth dawned when the bride's veil was dropped, revealing the expression of someone caught between a bullfighter and a bull - angry, fearful and cross-eyed. Her warrior's wide nostrils were exposed. So too was her thin hair and the layers of ghee-filled flesh that fought their way over the hem of her sari blouse.
Rahul felt his heart gulp at his own blood. Gulp at the terrible mistake. He saw people whispering. What would they think of him for making such a choice?
He looked over to witness his son's disappointment, but saw only serenity. Aakash's eyes showed total acceptance, because his father's wishes were being fulfilled. Had Aakash turned his face to look at his father, on the other hand, he would have seen a helpless bystander, wiping the shameful sweat from his brow, panic in his eyes. A victim of a humiliating and heartless crime, looking around for the beautiful woman he had intended for his son.
He saw her, standing at the back of the shamiana with another man.
Later, Rahul enquired with guarded politeness about Pyari, Krishna's other daughter. Her father brushed him off, knowing that this was no time for lifting the curtains on the backstage drama. Pyari, he said, was betrothed. Krishna didn't want to reveal that she would soon be marrying a Christian, Anthony - a man of her own choice. It was shameful enough that she had found her own match, but more shameful still that she had reduced her father to such poor strategies to marry off Jyoti before any further scandals arose.
Krishna knew that Heaven had been their witness. The marriage was done. Over. It was meant to be. That was the way of destiny. And Rahul, after he had recovered from the shock of such a deceit, actually found himself quite relieved. If his wife had still been alive, maybe he wouldn't have been. But as things stood, there was nobody to object. Aakash, after all, accepted his fate as he accepted whatever was cooked and placed in front of him at suppertime. There was no question of wanting better or different.
Jyoti Ma was brought back to Prakriti wearing all her marriage bangles, and each day another of her new wedding saris. She did not look up at the hills, but concerned herself only with the farmhouse, carving her way around the land it occupied, making it her own.
She might not have been intimidating in her beauty, but she had a domestic austerity that terrified and humbled the servants when she appeared at Prakriti as a new bride. With her arrival in the house, the comfortable familiarity between master, chef and cleaner was doomed.
This is a complete excerpt of Chapter 1 from The Seduction of Silence by Bem Le Hunte. Copyright 2003 Bem Le Hunte. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, HarperCollins Publishers.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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