Monday, August 24, 2009

Sujata Ki Shaadi (Sujata’s Marriage) – Colliding with the ‘Su’ Family

My blog is about climbing, travel and impossible dreams and most certainly about people who has touched my life. The people I feature in my blog are normally extraordinary doing the impossible, or ordinary doing the extraordinary, or normal aspiring to be abnormal, or simple stark crazy insane people. I love such people. Last night I met one such family and one such specimen (who is a dear friend; obviously) that belong to one of my favored categories as mentioned afore. After you have read this post, you would perhaps be able to pin them under one though I can’t for the simple reason that they had shades of all. Here’s the story.

I first spoke to Sujata when she interviewed me for her radio show ‘Big Chai’ on BIG FM. Till then I had no clue that she existed. She quizzed me about my adventures, specifically about Antarctica and South Pole and clean stumped me with questions that I had never been asked before by anyone on Mother Earth. We spoke over the phone. I liked her style, her spontaneity, her laughter and her crazy questions in that order and started listening to her show. Though I never heard my own interview being aired. Few emails followed and soon I found her wanting to go to the mountains insisting that she was fit and capable enough to go with me anywhere. I don’t think we were friends then, just acquaintances. Then suddenly her show stopped and she disappeared without a blink. To me it seemed natural, after all people do disappear all the time.

Then suddenly as she had disappeared like a falling star, she appeared out of nowhere. We collided in Facebook and soon became friends. And then she told me that she was about to get married to her sweetheart and before that wanted to do one crazy adrenalin charged stuff. She seemed obsessed despite my cautioning that she had every chance of not returning, breaking her bones, becoming darker… not the best options before one gets married. But Sujata was hell-bent. Well, though I offered her one of my trips she never could make it, since when she discussed it with her fiancée, Sumeet, he rejected it outright. Thank God for that. For him to agree to her coming with me for something that crazy, Summet needed to be crazier than I. Mercifully he has been able to usher in some semblance to sanity in Sujata’s life.

Then few days back Sujata hyperventilated down the phone, ‘I am coming to Delhi to finalize the menu, order my dresses, etc etc for the marriage and we must meet.’ So a pact was made that our first meeting had to happen no matter what. First we thought of a coffee shop as the venue but then Sujata wanted me to see her marriage shopping so I dropped in at her in-laws place. I rarely visit anyone’s home or families at all unable to mould myself to a typical family setup. As the lift to her building carried me up to the fifth floor I realized that in the last few years (as far back as I could remember) this was only the third home and family that I was visiting.

The black warning plate (Beware of Dog) outside the apartment door caught my eyes. Hmm, I wondered, a family with a dog that one should be beware of… how bad that family can be! I love dogs and any animals for that matter so a household pet is definitely a plus with me. Though I also ruminated that if I did not find the family as appeasing and appealing as the dog then on my way out, I could always add on the warning plate (Beware of Dog and the Owner).

A sweet smiling girl of perhaps twenty and five opened the door. Having seen her pictures before on Facebook I knew that she wasn’t Sujata. She was Neha, she said, Sumeet’s sister. What struck me first as I followed Neha inside was the simple stark elegance of the sitting room. I seemed to have entered one of the TV serial studio sets. All the white walls were set off with curved mahogany settees and tabourets and laid back chairs. The cushions were soft yet firm with the pallor of grey. One wall of the room was taken up entirely by a 3-seater swing. There was not a single fancy wall hanging or cluttered up art deco’s anywhere. It was a perfect example of ‘simple can be beautiful’. Whoever had done the interiors knew her job well. As I took in my surroundings with Neha hovering close by, Sujata suddenly appeared from nowhere. I swear, she wasn’t there a second ago. I barely blinked and well there she was plonk in front of me as if by magic with her terribly tousled tress girdling the smiling countenance.

Sujata’s dominant feature is her excitability. She is excited and excitable about anything and everything and her mind and words flutter between and from one topic to another like a restless butterfly. It’s nearly impossible to keep pace with her mind or her words. She gets notions, usually crazy ones, dozen per second and she can speak fifty words easily in that same span. I thought of Sumeet. Either the guy was a genius or had a clandestine Dictaphone on his person to record and replay (in slow motion) everything that Sujata would utter. How else could he follow her and her whims! But then another good thing about Sujata is that she also forgets equally fast so one moment she could be telling you her plans to invite only ten people for the marriage and in the next she could be crying foul over the broken flyovers in Delhi. I guess Sumeet was smart enough to hold his ground and mouth for that one single second to get his way through.

She screamed—in delight I would prefer to believe—and manhandled me right into the kitchen where her mum (in law) was engaged in some culinary concoction that smelled simply divine. Aunty was a sprightly lady with short hair and a huge grin to go along. Quickly the table was set as food was uppermost on everybody’s mind. When I saw the spread and the stainless steel utensils to go along I liked the family even more. Simple daal (lentil), cauliflower curry, rice and chapatti all blended just the way I love. No fancy spicy stuff. The sure winner was of course aunt’s patent banana yoghurt with Indian spices. I had never before eaten anything like that. There were no pretensions, no formalities at all, we ate with our hands as all Indians should, took whatever we felt like, no one serving anyone and all accompanied with banter and silly foolish fun talks. The main conclusion that emerged out of our talks was that all woman car drivers should be banned from the roads of India. It will not only reduce the number of accidents but also reduce global warming and help climate change (Sujata’s conclusion). What really made my day (or night rather) was the fact that I was surrounded by three beautiful women and I happened to be the only male around sharing their attention. I wondered, as I laughed and ate, did I really meet these three women just a while ago! Post dinner we retired to the bedroom for the highlight of the evening.

I was told to sit up on the bed and observe. Sujata flung open her cupboard with a flourish befitting a royal entourage. Out tumbled the goodies. Chunnis and saris, georgettes and crepes, chiffons and silk, mirrored filigree and motifs, and finally a red suitcase made of plastic. Sujata carefully opened it as if she was opening one of the treasure chests in Aladdin’s cave. The top lid lifted to reveal gold-netted gossamer that was unfurled to divulge the bride’s wedding dress or Lehenga (as it is called in India). It is supposedly to be worn only once at your wedding hence Sujata did not wear it for us but displayed it nevertheless. I was dumbfounded when told that it weighed a whopping 8 kg. Sujata would have to wear it through the day. Add it to her high heel shoes and heavy jewelry and other accessories, she could easily be carrying close to 15 kg extra on her person on her wedding day. Compared to this when I climbed I normally had around 20 kg on my back. Suddenly my respect for Indian women went up by several notches.

The colorful ensemble dazzled my eyes and I discovered that Sujata preferred parrot green. Aunty showed me one sari that came only from kerala, her native state that had been woven with real gold threads. What would they come up with next, I wondered. Sujata though told me the benefit; in dire emergencies you could actually sell that sari to a jeweler. Only at this point did I finally see the ‘Su’ family in its entirety. Sujata was getting married to Sumeet and all her dresses had come from the famous Sudhir Bhai of Chandni Chowk. For some insane reason, the famous Phil Collins song, su su sudio…, jingled in my head right then. Sujata finally handed me the wedding card… it weighed at least a kilo if it weighed a gram. Beautiful, elaborate, gorgeous and striking, all in one the card was but I couldn’t understand it’s purport as I didn’t about all that I was being made privy to.

It was getting late and aunty retired while Sujata and I sat down with her much abused laptop to plan her honeymoon. Neha stayed close by as a neutral observer and punctuated our much animated discussions with her observations once in a while. Why I was roped in as the honeymoon counselor was the fact that for their first outing as wedded couple, Sujata and Sumeet were heading for my second home, Ladakh. She opened the word document of her itinerary. Was I impressed with Sujata’s in depth planning! Though she never plans anything in life, but then she was getting married for the first time hence it could be ignored.

Her plan was audacious, arduous and ambitious. If I already did not know her purpose, I would have thought that she had planned a boot-camp for her worst enemy. Interestingly her plan included smiley’s and footnotes about certain activities that she quickly deleted (I guess from the laptop but not from her plan). We deliberated and debated on what all they could or should do in an all inclusive seven simple days. Finally we zeroed on to a trip to the pristine lake of Tso Moriri and overnight camping by the water, a night at the base of Stok Kangri massif, a journey to Nubra across Khardung La, diverse food and moonlit walks and the most expensive and luxurious hotel in all of Ladakh. Now all that was left for me was to call up my friend in Leh and set Sujata’s plan in motion.

Finally I took my leave with Sujata and Neha seeing me off till the gate. My bag contained a heavy box of motichoor ladoos (an Indian sweet) and my head contained memories of an eclectic evening. I may or may never again meet Sujata or her family, I would certainly not be able to make it to her wedding on the first week of September, as I would be away on a glacier then but it felt nice to have met her and them finally. It was and should be a happy and exciting time for all of them and it clearly dominated the evening. I did not belong to their world or such world, never will and I was happy to have only a glimpse of it. As I started my car and switched on the FM radio the evergreen song of Kishor Kumar, ‘Yeh jo mohabaat hai, yeh unka hai kaam, mehboob ka jo bus lete hue naam, mar jayen mit jayen…’ (only those can be in love who can die and sacrifice their own identity in the name of their beloved…) filled in the interiors. I rolled down the window allowing the cool breeze waft in. I backed out the car from the parking and swiftly avoiding a sleeping mangy dog sped off into the dark night.