The Henna Wars(6)

“I know people do get panicky. I know why. But I just didn’t think she would be.” I lower my voice further.

Priti doesn’t get the hint. She shrugs and says, “It’s normal. Just because she already knew Bhaiya—sorry, Dulabhai—before the wedding doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be nervous.”

Except, that’s exactly what I thought would be the case. She’d known him for so long, since they were kids. If you could know someone for that long and still get nervous at the wedding, what hope did the rest of us have?

I try not to let my dejection show on my face. She looks happy now, I think, looking up at the stage. She looks happier than happy. She looks exuberant. It brings out a kind of beauty that I hadn’t seen in the back room, a beauty that has nothing to do with her red and gold dress or the intricate henna pattern weaving its way up the length of her arm, or with the heavy set makeup that makes her skin twice as pale as normal and her red lips as dark and voluminous as Angelina Jolie’s. It’s more like a spark of happiness inside of her that’s now shining through on the outside. I wonder if Dulabhai can see it too. I think he must, from the way he looks at her.

When I look away, I catch a glimpse of the girl from the back room, the one with the curly hair. She’s speaking with someone she bears a striking resemblance to.

I frown, realization dawning on me.

It wasn’t her that I recognized, but this other girl with the same sort of curly hair and dark brown skin. I went to primary school with her a few years back. As soon as I catch a glimpse of her, that part of my life suddenly floods back.

She turns her head all of a sudden, like she can sense someone watching. She catches my eye, and for a moment it’s just the two us taking each other in from across the wedding hall. If I didn’t know better I would call this my own Bollywood moment.

But I do know better, so I turn away quickly, before our gaze becomes something longer than I can explain away.


MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE PART OF THE WEDDING DISTRACTS me from all of my worries. It even perks Priti up from her bridesmaid melancholy. Food!

For starters, the waiters bring out kebabs and sticks of chicken shashlick with green and red fried peppers stuck between the pieces of chicken. I start piling food onto my plate before the waiter has even set everything down. The Auntie sitting opposite us looks at me fearfully, like she didn’t think Priti and I could be so ravenous in our hunger. I smile back at her, hoping that she’s not too closely related to Sunny Apu.

I’m about to start eating when Priti stops me with a tap on my shoulder.

“You can’t eat with your hands,” she says with a frown.

“Why not?” But I realize the answer as I look around and notice that everybody else has picked up the cutlery next to their plates and is politely cutting into their kebabs. Like we’re Westerners and not Bengalis.

“I can’t believe we’re supposed to eat like white people even at a Bengali wedding,” I complain in a whisper.

Priti rolls her eyes, but says nothing, probably hoping I’ll get fed up with complaining and just shut up. I have more to say, but I’m far too hungry, and the Auntie at our table has piled so much food onto her plate already that I’m afraid I won’t get to seconds unless I start stuffing my face right now.

I reach out for my knife and fork, but knock them over in my hurry to get to the food. They make a loud clanking noise on the way down. I catch her looking over out of the corner of her eyes, and my cheeks heat up with embarrassment. Does she remember me?

“This is what happens when we give in to Western traditions,” I whisper to Priti before ducking underneath the table. Grabbing hold of the knife and fork, I try to stand, but due to the pencil heels I never wear, I underestimate my height and bump into the table with a loud bang.

“You’re making such a scene!” Priti says in a delighted way. Like she couldn’t have asked for anything better.

“Shit, shit, shit,” I mumble. Priti’s head appears under the table, and she extends an arm adorned with clinking gold churis. I take it, muttering, “shit, shit, shit,” all the way up because my head is throbbing. This is definitely not what I need before sitting down to a lovely wedding dinner.

The Auntie opposite us gives me a filthy look as I take my seat, and I feel my face heat up all over again as I realize she must have heard me curse.

“Siss!” I cry this time. “The floor of this wedding hall is so gross, Auntie! You wouldn’t believe it.”

She doesn’t look like she does believe me but I give her a smile nonetheless. Priti is in a fit of giggles beside me. I shoot her a grin before enthusiastically digging into my kebab. All of the embarrassment, and the Auntie’s judgment, will be worth it if the kebab is good.

“Mmmmmm,” says Priti, when she has finally gotten over her giggling fit for long enough to put some food into her mouth. I’m too busy piling more kebabs onto my plate to reply.

“You know there’s a main course, right?” Priti grins after I’ve eaten my fourth kebab.

“Will the main course have these kebabs though, huh?” I’m feeling pretty glad that we managed to find seats separate from Ammu and Abbu.

“I wonder what the main course will be?” I ask Priti. I’m hoping for biryani. That one’s easy enough to eat with cutlery. Priti rolls her eyes. As if she’s not thinking the exact same thing as me.

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