Shoe Away

It was the last auspicious day of the wedding season, and the first day Ranjit wore his new suit. One of his friends was getting married, which gave him the opportunity he was waiting for. The garment was of a hue of grey more suited for old people, but his innocent face and clueless eyes conquered that minor obstacle. He had approved of what the mirror reflected, and so had Vipin, his roommate. But the moment he entered the traffic-laden areas of outer-Delhi, his mood soured.

Tattered eucalyptus trees were lined on either side of the road. Vehicular lights highlighted their paleness. All travellers tried cutting in through any pocket of space they could find. It twice resulted in a vehicle nudging Ranjit’s motorcycle. But such was the urgency in the air that nobody apologized. Tyres kissed bumpers and mudguards all around, but no one paid any attention. It was rather strange, for traffic blocks have a knack of bringing out the anger of even the most equable souls. On that day, everyone was busy trying to yell louder than the blaring horns.

One sound roared louder than the rest. It wasn’t the whistle of the traffic policeman, but his swearing. He gesticulated frantically and screamed piercingly. Some were audacious enough to ignore his command and have their own way. He only bellowed and pounded his fist on their car. Some tried arguing with him. They were thwarted by his two subordinates. But only one was innocent enough to ask him the way to a marriage garden. The officer removed his cap and pointed to his head.

“Here is the garden! The food is within! Be careful, for it is boiling hot!” he screamed, glaring at Ranjit. It briefly lightened up the tense atmosphere, but Ranjit’s cheeks doubled in size as he sulked and throttled away. Fortunately for him, the road he chose led him to his destination.

The marriage garden was located in an abandoned area. Muffled sound of music reached him as he tidied himself and walked towards the entrance. With no structure but thick vegetation on either side, the crisp December wind crashed the wedding.

“You sure did take your time! You’ve arrived later than the groom’s procession!” said Smruti, the bride’s sister, on meeting him at the entrance.

“Traffic was murder,” said Ranjit, holding out his hand.

“Why are you wearing such a crumpled suit? Well, it can’t be helped, given your structure. Come on, let’s not wait for the grass to grow,” she said, turning and walking away, ignoring his outstretched hand and not waiting for his response.

“It’s a nice suit. The road was bumpy,” mumbled Ranjit as he followed her in sheepishly.

It was so late that only the members of the two extended families remained. Everyone else had had their share of the food and left. But Ranjit had taken all that into consideration before leaving from home. He wanted to attend his friend’s wedding, which meant he was in for an all-nighter.

“The thought that you wouldn’t make it never crossed my mind,” said the bride as Ranjit hugged her on the stage.

“You look good, Ankita.”

“You don’t look too bad yourself! If only the suit wasn’t so wrinkled,” said the bride, chuckling.

“Didn’t want to steal your thunder,” returned Ranjit.

An hour passed by as everyone dined together and had a merry time. Ranjit saw the bride’s sister sneaking away the groom’s shoes as part of the tradition. She saw him watching and signalled him to look away. He looked away at once but managed to see her put them on herself and hide them under her long lehenga. He didn’t think it was a good hiding place.

Everyone settled around the priest at the mandap for the wedding ceremony and listened to him chant verses. The bride and groom sat next to each other, smiling every time their eyes met or they caught someone looking at them. Sitting at the back, Ranjit caught two men from the groom’s side busy in conversation with Smruti near the stage.

“Would you go and keep an eye on Smruti, Ranjit?” requested the bride’s father. Perhaps it was his large frame, or perhaps he was the only one deemed unimportant at the time, but Ranjit didn’t spend time thinking why such a thing was requested of him. Her father wanted to make sure she was fine. Ranjit understood and readily complied. Besides, he had never learned to say no to anyone’s parents.

Ranjit straightened his coat and covered the short distance with firm steps. He had to be savvy.

“Come on, just give us the damn shoes and let’s call it quits. The priest is almost half-way through the ceremony,” said one of the two men seated restlessly.

“Well, time is of the essence then. Just hand me the cash, and you’ll have your shoes before you blink!” said Smruti.

“She’s not joking. You most definitely will have them before you can blink. She’s quick on her feet,” said Ranjit. Smruti scowled at him but was quick enough to change her expression lest anyone look at her feet.

However, she wasn’t quick enough, and Ranjit wasn’t savvy at all. The two men cast their eyes to the ground and smiled. Ranjit didn’t have the nerve to turn his head to the right.

“How come I don’t know who you are? Are you a friend of the groom’s?” asked one of the men.

“No, he’s friends with the bride,” said Smruti through gritted teeth. The two men laughed riotously, causing a few eyes to turn their way. Smruti kept hers fixed at him as she took off her footwear and handed it to the gleeful men. Ranjit stood and backed away. Something in her eyes told him to put some distance between him and her. She picked up one of her sandals. When she pushed her chair away, he turned and sprinted.

“I didn’t mean it!” he said in a hushed voice as he ran.

“What? That I’m quick on my feet? Time you found out!” she hissed. Both of them were careful enough not to attract attention.

“I thought lehengas are really heavy!” uttered Ranjit agitatedly.

“Not as heavy as the baboon in front of me!” yelled Smruti. It was then that all eyes turned to them. Even the priest found it impossible to continue chanting and snickered.

The cameramen failed to capture that scene, but it was what everyone remembered the wedding by.

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