Published at 12th of January 2019 07:14:32 AM

Chapter 8

A knock on the door brought Rupert from his work . It was difficult to run a multibillion-dollar business from an upper-middle-class Bengali home in a metropolitan city in India . Despite all the promise that Mukherjee realties held among its nationalities it was a wannabe while Phoenix Group of Companies owned by Rupert was a living legend .

More rituals were to take place . Rupert was to symbolically take over Shimonthini's responsibilities as if he hadn't done so in taking her father to the hospital or spending the night allaying her fears . Taking responsibilities was always Rupert's forte, whether it be of a brother who was not related to him, of an autistic sister he had nothing to do with, cancer struck mother who wasn't his mother, a daughter who refused to acknowledge him or a father who spent his last days hating him . Now it was just another name to the list only this time it was a stupid Indian girl who actually needed him .

Rupert's true feeling for Shimonthini was compassion . He knew that she was still in mourning . From her story, he knew she wasn't so much in mourning for a person but rather for a life she had envisioned herself into . Shimonthini had been living on her own in a life of her own for a long time . That included a lifestyle, a set of beliefs as well as a set of prejudices . Shimonthini was not a young maiden out discovering the world . She was a tried woman, cautious and anxious about what the world could do to her . Rupert also understood the insecurities that his wife had, especially in regards to her past . He had too .

Rupert took a comfort in the fact that his scandalous past actually made him acceptable for her, turned him into something she need not hide from . More importantly, though he was settling down he wasn't really settling for something beneath him . When his mother had given him orders to marry the woman of her choice he actually expected to be unhappy . Something about Shimonthini couldn't let him be disappointed . Despite his wide experience with women, his wife intrigued him .

All the family had gathered there in the central hallway of the Mukherjee villa . At the head of it stood the septuagenarian Damyanti Devi, beside her stood her widowed sister in law Vishakha followed by her three daughters Priya, in her fifties wearing a white cotton saree, Puja who refused to be in her fifties wearing a magenta salwar kurta few sizes less than herself and then there was Tanaya, youngest yet most matured in a blue bordered chiffon saree pinned into perfect pleats . Each had a different history . Vishakha stood with a reluctant expression on her face . She was of the generation that firmly believed that a widow should not grace an auspicious occasion . If the occasion had anything to do with the Mukherjee family she would have perhaps succeeded in excusing herself . But Shinjini's ritual was to be performed a few hours later for the bride was being prepared by some beauticians who had been ordered in .

Priya, Puja and Tanaya each were married by the time they turned eighteen . Each was married to a well to do Bengali Brahmin having a lucrative Government job . Priya was the eldest and was married to a civil engineer who had given her three sons . Each son had settled abroad and she lived alone with her husband in his retirement home, which wasn't much of a home than an apartment . Puja was married to a police officer who had since then been transferred to several states because of his one flaw of character, he could never learn to stop himself from taking bribes . Those bribes are what afforded Puja the money for buying the designer Magenta suit which was unfortunately not made for her size . She had a daughter who was married and with a child due any day, reasons enough for her to miss the wedding . Tanaya was married to a doctor who had a few years left till retirement . Her husband made her finish her education and she herself worked in a reputed girl's college as a lecturer of Indian History . Her financial freedom afforded her the confidence she reflected on her face . Tanaya had a son and a daughter both with upcoming exams who decided to skip the event and join in at the feast in the evening with their father .

The Matriarch stood next, still displeased with the woman she had chosen for her son . That woman in question was seated at the floor dressed in a cotton sari similar to what she had on since the previous evening . It was a contrast to the ornate silk robes her sister had put on since she had stepped inside the house . Perhaps the differences lay in the daughter in law of a household and a guest . Perhaps the difference lay in the carvings of a stone and the simplicity of a pearl . The Matriarch observed her son's eyes roaming his wife's form . She shook her head in pity . What had she done!

Rupert was asked to hand over a plate full of food to his wife along with another bundle of woven cotton cloth and mouth some words he did not understand . Ritualism seemed to be a part of the Indian culture . It offended the rational part of his brain . How would he make a promise that he did not understand?

"I won't repeat a single word before I know what it means," Rupert said obstinately . Tanaya tried to paraphrase which made it hardly any better . It was then that Shimonthini spoke .

"May I interrupt . ", she said, "You are just making a vow and it is like any other wedding vows" she explained . "Repeat after me 'I recognize that God has blessed me and entrusted to me your life as a free gift that I have not earned . In recognition of these things, I purpose to provide for your needs through His enablement, and to lead you as He leads me, as long as He gives us to live together, regardless of the circumstances . '" Then she added after he finished, "It was a part of a vow I once read and liked but it fits the situation . "

Rupert nodded and smiled . Tanaya had both her brows raised and the matriarch seemed to realize why Rupert had taken such an instant liking to her . She removed his sense of alienation among the strangers . The matriarch doubted her choices all of a sudden . Did she actually make a good choice for her son? The words sounded strange coming from her . After all, she was the same woman who had let her son be carried off by strangers while she hid behind the confession box hoping that they would be able to give him a life far better than she ever could . She was successful in that her son was alive, healthy, even educated and well off .

Shimonthini refused to have the entire pile of rice all by herself . Though the elders tried their best in persuading her that the excess rice was a good omen for the family Rupert saw her point and agreed to share the plate . The elders cried sacrilege . Still, there was little they could do to affect the couple . The tragedy lay in the fact that the groom was more alien to them than the bride and they had no leverage over either . The only significance they held to them was the same that society in general holds over humanity which is very less for those who care less about society and more about humanity . So the horrified pillars of society left the room crying out foul only to be gathered for the next ceremony a few hours later .

Shinjini was busy getting dressed . It took her two more hours to be presentable . Yet she was more punctual than her husband . By the time Rahul showed up the crowd had disappeared into the dining room . Everyone was busy eating except Shinjini . The moment Rahul presented the beautiful Shinjini, dressed in a designer silk saree with a plate of food and an expensive lehenga she threw it at his face . Anyone who had judged Rahul's fitness by the number of his love handles had to be alarmed by the agility with which he ducked his wife's assault . His eyes flared and Shinjini was seen putting a hand to her wounded cheek, her concern being that her concealer wouldn't be able to hide the impression of a human palm pressed against her face by the coming of that very evening . The matriarch by this time had stormed out of the room at her daughter in law's indignant behaviour . Shimonthini at that particular moment lay blissfully ignorant of the horrendous words being used for her parents at the Mukherjee home at that very moment . Rupert who had taken the responsibility for all her provisions had decided that Shimonthini needed a better dress to wear for the evening's reception than the cotton sarees she kept making her appearances in . So they were standing at an expensive boutique in a high-end mall selecting sarees over lehengas and evening gowns over salwars . What Shimonthini set her heart on was a pleated mauve saree gown which was a stitched up saree over a full sleeved lace blouse . While Shimonthini patiently fitted on the dress Rupert excused himself . When he returned his wife was back in her saree and the dress folded in a bag . He paid the bill and took her off to the next destination he had planned . It was a beauty spa where he admitted her for the afternoon giving strict instructions that she was to be pampered from head to toe and dressed in the dress and handed over a bag of jewellery she was to put on and left to do some personal work . He promised to be back in time and he was .

When Rupert returned he was himself dressed in an expensive Armani suit . He paid the bill and waited to have his wife handed over to him . He didn't find the woman he was expecting . With her hair swept back by the diamond tiara and with the chandelier earrings dangling of her ears Shimonthini looked more like a princess than an Indian bride . The dress, though reminiscent of an age-old saree accentuated her curves the nude shoes the boutique provided made her look even taller . The diamond necklace around her neck managed to beautifully undermine the off-shoulder blouse and the pleats draped around her arms made her look commanding in her presence . Rupert bowed down in a courtesy and asked for her hand . Shimonthini put her head up and accepted . If a stranger were to see he would have mistaken her for Monique .

Rupert had a Mercedes waiting in the driveway . He opened the seat to the passenger side for her to get in . Then he proceeded to the driver side himself . Shimonthini tried to say something but Rupert explained that the car had an inbuilt GPS system so he need not know where he is, just where he is going . The reception was to be held at a park which was enough to accommodate the innumerable guests of the Mukherjees .

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A large number of those guests happened to be the politicians and disreputable industrialists with whom the Mukherjees had no connection . But even strangers couldn't be left out on the grand occasions and so they were seen munching on chicken lollypops and prawn kebabs with a glass of champagne in the other hand . The front gate was still adorned with ladders, wires and workmen for someone had forgotten to inform them that the wedding had occurred between Rahul and Shinjini . No one seemed to have the fortitude to take down the name of the younger brother who despite all his discomfort was sporting enough to point out the folly . The elder brother and his wounded wife were still absent .

When the expensive black sedan pulled at the gateway there was a bustle among the security to receive the honoured guests . Many came forward not knowing who the handsome European couple were . Only after a while did they find out that they were American . The few acquainted with the region recognized the man very readily, more from his scandals than his fame . The woman in the arms of the touted Casanova was assumed to be a supermodel though with a questionable height . Many shook hands with the man they assumed to be a special guest of the Mukherjees . When the Matriarch saw the crowd forming at the gate she came forward to inspect the matter and found her son in the midst of it with an attractive woman in tow . It even took her a second glance to recognize the woman to be her eldest daughter in law . She took in a ragged breath to steady herself .

The Matriarch invited them over to the dais where Shimonthini was introduced as elder sister of her daughter in law and Rupert Mornington as her husband . The media was present there to broadcast the news the world over . A few of Rupert's acquaintances must have spilt their morning coffee over the news . Still, the groom grinned and the bride posed for the cameras every bit the socialite her husband required her to be . Rupert had one hand kept firmly across her waist in a possessive grip .

The guests started to move to the rhythm of the band that was playing . Rupert asked a waiter to send over a list of his favourite songs . Most of the tunes he suggested were before their time but a few classics the band caught on . Soon the couple were waltzing through the dance floor . They spent the evening hand in hand moving to each other's body . The evening was coming to a close . Rahul and Shinjini were still not there . The guests started to move towards the dining space . Rupert led Shimonthini to dine as well . There were several menus for the esteemed guest . Rupert selected the continental menu and Shimonthini followed suit . They finished their dinner in silence . By the time they had finished Rahul and Shinjini entered the venue . Shinjini's face looked made up which was perhaps a result of all the concealer she had used . Rahul looked chastened and tamed by Shinjini's retaliation . Shimonthini and Rupert who had no information of the event felt their obligation to congratulate the couple they had been sharing the roof with .

"Welcome . Sorry, we have been stealing your show for all this while . " Rupert said .

Rahul looked at Shimonthini, poised and composed beside Rupert and an unknown animosity formed in his heart . As if on instinct Rupert pulled his wife closer . He leaned into his half-brother and whispered into his ears, "Sorry brother, she is taken . " So saying he smirked and turned to leave throwing an imperceptible nod at his porcelain sister in law . As they turned to leave Shimonthini couldn't help but heat up with the memory of the kiss they shared in the morning . She knew he had every right to kiss her again and not just kiss .

Soon after Rupert excused himself from the guests the crowd started to thin . The educated ones had little to do with Rahul, the sophisticated ones even less to do with Shinjini . In a little while, even the Matriarch and her husband's first wife chose to excuse themselves . The music band was summoned again against their will and asked to play raunchy Bollywood tunes which were beneath their standard . In a while, Rahul's friends, half his age and accomplishments, took over the Disc and the party started for the rest of the night . Shinjini thought he was perhaps the coolest forty years old around .

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Back at the Mukherjee villa, Rupert had led Shimonthini up to his room which in their absence had been cluttered with withered flowers and crumpled ribbons . Rupert took a deep breath and shook his head . Shimonthini went over to the bed and took off the sheet which was already stained with the crushed flowers . Rupert requested her to change and went down to the kitchen feigning to get a drink . Shimonthini found her luggage kept in a corner of the room and took out a silk night robe . She wanted to be a good wife . She wouldn't disappoint Rupert in any way . When Rupert returned he had a bottle of champagne in his hands . He had kept off alcohol all throughout the reception and it was probably because he wished to drive home, or whatever the place was to them . Shimonthini sat at the edge of the bed as Rupert placed the champagne on the bedside table on the opposite side, his side she gathered . He carried two flutes, one for either of them . Rupert poured out the two glasses and offered her one . She took a gentle sip . The bubbly liquid relaxed her tired nerves . She breathed easy . When she finished and asked for more Rupert refused . He took the glass from her hand and placed it nearby . He then gripped her hands and brought them to his lips . Shimonthini closed her hands only to feel her hands return to her lap . When she opened her eyes Rupert was kneeling on the ground on one leg and held open a box with a beautiful diamond ring . "Till we say our vows promise not to change your mind . Be my, forever . Make me an honourable man . Marry me . "

Shimonthini bit her lips . She remembered getting on a knee herself to coax Rishi into saying yes . He refused at first . He only agreed when she refused to work with him further . Tears came to her eyes and she nodded in response . Rupert placed the ring on her finger and hugged her . They decided it was not safe to share the same bed and asked Shimonthini to take the couch because of her shorter height . For a second there Shimonthini wondered if she was fooled by an act and then found out that the sofa had just been delivered and it got pulled into a double bed . Shimonthini acknowledged that while the double bed was a luxury for her five foot five it was a little less than torture for Rupert's six foot something . They wished each other goodnight . Rupert turned off the lights and they went to sleep tied in a new, more familiar relationship .

Rupert thought himself a fool for imagining he would be able to sleep a few feet from his fiancé . He crossed his arms and started counting sheep . By the time he reached five thousand Shimonthini tossed and turned on her own couch . Rupert decided that it was worth the risk . Rupert crept out of his own bed and tapped Shimonthini on the arm . Despite all pretensions, Shimonthini was fast asleep . Rupert sighed and turned for his own bed .

"Don't go" a voice beckoned him from behind . Shimonthini was talking in her sleep . Rupert wondered if it were a bad dream . He also wondered how much it had to do with her ex-fiancé . Rupert couldn't forget the fact that Shimonthini was engaged to be married to someone else even a week ago . He couldn't stop himself from touching her sleeping form . She was soft and warm and inviting . Rupert smiled to himself . Yes, he was a fool . The next morning found Shimonthini spooned into her fiancé's chest and on his bed .

"How did I get here?" she asked .

"I carried you here . You were crying out to be not left alone . I figured I could do that much since I am to spend my entire life with you . Moreover, it was difficult to sleep a few feet from you and not be able to touch you . " He added sheepishly .

Shimonthini startled at the last admission . It was one thing to continuously chasten the wayward thoughts of her confused mind but a different thing altogether to have the attraction acknowledged from different lips . All she wished at that moment was to prevent her body from reacting to those words . She tried in vain but to Rupert's eyes, it was evident . Rupert jumped out of the bed and onto his feet . The electricity was too much too bear .

"We better get dressed . " He suggested .

Shimonthini nodded turning red . Rupert rolled his eyes noting his own reaction to his future wife . Couldn't wedding ceremonies be simpler? Did it really matter whether the priest that witnessed the wedding served God in one way or the other? If there was only one omniscient omnipresent God then did it matter what language the vows were repeated in? Shimonthini sat up and hugged the pillow now emptied by her husband, trying to breathe in his fragrance and soak in his warmth . Yes, she was grieving for Rishi still but Rishi was never her husband while Rupert, in a way, already was .

Shimonthini got dressed while Rupert went out for a walk . It wasn't possible for her to dress in front of her husband, though it should be . By the time he returned Shimonthini went to the kitchen to whip up an early breakfast . It was still dawn and the only people awake were the Matriarch and Damyanti Devi who spent their first few hours in the prayer room . Each perhaps had many sins to confess, sins that their pagan gods refused to forgive . Shimonthini went into the kitchen and found the basic ingredients to make some pancakes, some sandwiches and a carrot pie . Then she thought that the carrots were probably there for Shinjini to make a pudding and changed her mind to make a small one of apple . She very much imagined that the rest of the family would not be interested in her cooking . When Shimonthini was a child she had learnt to make the best rice pudding in the world, her mother's recipe . It is a wonder how every living being has a definition of the best recipe in the world and it is usually the mother's recipe . Shimonthini's intention of learning the recipe was a bit selfless though . She learnt it because her younger sister would ask for it almost every day and her mother was tired of making it . Shimonthini imagined that her sister would be more adept at the dish than her own inexperienced self . So she stuck to the age-old familiar pie and pancakes .

An hour later she filled a tray with a part of the food she made and leaving the rest on the dining table took the tray up to her husband's room .

When the matrons of the house came out of the prayer room with incense sticks in hand and the intention of waking up the household in their hearts the scent of the cinnamon apple pie assaulted their senses which they tried hard to return to their material gods . Finally giving up both the diabetics returned to the dining room to bite into a piece of the juicy apple pie with a quarter missing . That quarter was being gorged by Rupert and Shimonthini in the confines of their room and with sparks flying in every direction . To an outsider, it was implosive silence but between the two it was a fight of nerves against desire .

Then as every other day alarms started to go off at seven in the morning . There was the sound of windows being flung open, taps being started at full force, banging on the door to wake the ones who needed to be woken . It was around nine that Rupert and Shimonthini were summoned to the dining room . Shimonthini had explained to her husband beforehand that the new bride was supposed to prepare a sweet dish for the family . She had made apple pie . Rupert had chuckled at her choice of desserts, one of his favourites .

The entire family was waiting for the special dish . Shinjini appeared out of the kitchen at ten thirty with a bowl of burned carrot in one hand and that of split milk pudding in another . By that time the apple pie, pancakes and sandwiches were already finished . Had it not for them the patrons of the household would perhaps have gone hungry . The matriarch, whose perspective of her eldest daughter in law had started to change since her appearance the previous night did not praise her before the family . She gave her one of her bangles as a gift and to the younger sister she gave a key ring .

The key ring was important . It was what symbolized the inculcation of the daughter in law . The gift was made more out of tradition than desire . Shinjini shook the key ring in her hand, soaking the prestige and power that it held . She tried to show it off to her sister, only Shimonthini was having a silent conversation with her husband/husband-to-be . A few moments later Rupert had an announcement to make . The announcement was their departure in the coming weekend . They did not mention where they were destined, just that they were destined to go home .

The Matriarch looked at her son . She did not speak a word . The next time she knocked on his door she handed him a yellowed piece of paper, the paper that had brought him in search of her . The papers, that the Matriarch had procured for this very reason, to prove his legitimacy . And with that, this chapter of Rupert's life ended abruptly .