‘Betrothed’ by Juanita Kakoty

Short story selected for the 2013 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology

The flowery chiffon dress left a soft warm sensation every time it touched him. He pulled her close to him, his strong hands around her soft stomach, cheek against cheek, breathing in the sweet smell of her hair; of her perfume. Then twirling her around, as she turned to face him, he gave her a hug, whispered something in her ears and both of them laughed. Rishu loved the way Mandakini’s beautiful face glowed with affection every time they were together. He held her tightly; he wouldn’t want to let go of this woman ever. She brought so much beauty to people’s lives.

As the Ali Farka Toure blues number playing loudly on the speakers gave way to a popular Hindi film song, the rest of the people took on the floor as well and followed Rishu and Mandakini’s moves. Those dancing as well as those watching were enjoying themselves. Pragya, sitting in one of the corners with the wife of somebody who was busy clicking pictures of the firang crowd, clapped her hands in rhythm, a smile perpetually on her face. “Come, dance!” someone called out to her in a high octave voice. She merely shook her head to indicate that she would shortly. She had been in Delhi for the last eight years, yet, she did not understand the city’s logic of night parties at someone’s house; flooded with people more than half of whom the host was not acquainted with. She looked around and saw that of about the fifty people present in the room, the host must know only about ten personally. The rest came along with the guests the host had invited. This wasn’t anything like the parties she was used to at home in Jorhat, a vibrant town in upper Assam. There, the parties began by five or six in the evening; it meant helping the hosts with the food in the kitchen, eating it by 8 – 9 p.m., singing songs and dancing the Bihu together and going back home not later than 10 p.m. Food was the stuff parties revolved around. But in Delhi, parties began after 10 p.m. and there’s no saying till what time they would last. And parties meant, mostly, meeting new people and flirting in the name of ‘networking’.  No one cared about the food. There is no lack in preparing or arranging the food. But people hardly ate.

That day too, there was a lot of food in the house. Cheese from Europe collected by the host during one of his recent trips. Kebabs and chicken tikkas from Karim’s in Old Delhi for snacks; chicken biryani home-delivered from one of the most popular places at Okhla in South Delhi; mutton rogan josh prepared in the authentic style by a Kashmiri friend; shahi paneer, dal makhni and paranthas cooked at home lay on the table invitingly. And chilled ‘phirni’ picked from Nizamudin for dessert. Everything was niche. After all, it was a South Delhi party at one of the most posh locations in one of India’s foremost TV journalists’ house. Yet everybody was busy dancing, drinking or smoking and the food was turning cold.

Pragya was really hungry. She had eaten very less throughout the day. There was a lot of work at the office which left hardly any time for eating or to entertain any thoughts of having a sumptuous meal. She looked around her. Nobody seemed interested in eating. A firang woman, who was in her early forties but looked and acted like in late teens, was gyrating her flat belly to the Hindi film song ‘Munni badnam huyi darling tere liye’. There was a crowd around her, men mostly, and the Indians among them were furiously clicking away pictures of the attractive dancer.

Just then Pragya overheard two women talking. One of them was perhaps an East European going by the accent. “Karen is just so strange! She likes to behave like an artist at times, and then all of a sudden there are days when she is this normal everyday girl!” The Indian, at least she ‘looked’ Indian though her accent made it difficult to place her identity, remarked, “Exactly. She is a fake. She wants to be cool like us artists, yet at the same time she aspires for a stable life! Hypocrite! Have you seen how she has put on weight of late? Good lord, she looks like this lump of fat vibrating when she dances. Eeeks!”

Pragya sat restless in her seat. It was way past midnight, the food was turning cold on the table, and her stomach was now making weird embarrassing noises. Thank God for the blaring speakers for once! She quietly made her way to the table, bumping into Rishu on the way. He flew a kiss at her; she smiled a forlorn smile and inched towards the food. By the time she had eaten, relishing her platter, the party had almost deserted the dance floor and huddled together over some dope and analyses of how much truth was behind America’s claim to have ‘pooh-poohed’ Osama Bin Laden finally.

Then some ate and some still didn’t. And it was time to go home. Rishu and Pragya got into their second-hand Maruti 800. Pragya was a little worried, like always when he was drunk, as Rishu got behind the wheels.

“You know I love you,” said Rishu as he planted a sloppy kiss at the nape of her neck. She murmured a soft ‘yes’ and stretched her tired legs, thinking of when they would finally reach home. When both Rishu and Praya would go to their sides of the bed and fall dead asleep.


Firang- A local word for foreigners

Bihu- Assamese dance

 About the Author: 

Juanita Kakoty, 33 years old, is a freelance writer and journalist. She has written on the arts, cultures, travel, food, etc. for publications like The Deccan Herald, The Thumb Print, India Today Woman, The Assam Tribune, etc. She is from Assam, a northeastern state of India, and holds an M.Phil. degree in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Having taught at two Indian universities, she is now taking a break from academics and concentrating on feature stories and photo-documentation. Her published work is available at her blog juanitakakotywrites.blogspot.in

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