Aunt Sharmila plans a wedding

Aunt Sharmila returns from New York
at midnight
and calls my mother.

Over a hour and a half,
she forgets her jet lag as
they wipe the dust off their childhood memories.

How different Kolkata has gotten, no?
You have even Uber and Zomato now!
But the air quality is terrible and there are still no jobs —
my aunt shakes her head with the air of mock tragedy.

Aunt Sharmila has two months
to hunt down an eligible bachelor
before her daughter returns to Boston.

So, she dives headlong into the morning paper,
circling and shortlisting matrimonial ads
with unfaltering energy.

Sheila’s MFA has only one semester left,
she’s not getting younger you know,
and with her hormonal problems,
she should have been by now —

 Aunt Sharmila trails off
as she feels on her puffed cheeks
the long-forgotten familiarity
of the warm moisture of the city;

in moments of sheer desperation,
she even swipes right for her on Tinder
to find an accidental match.

Within days, the shortlisting is done —
the men are all tall, handsome, 30, MBA,
who want a beautiful, educated, 25ish virgin
with culinary skills,

who does not smoke, drink or keep bad company
and is willing to be a good housewife.

Aunt Sharmila dresses up her daughter
with a sense of elaborate purpose —

a red sari to go with gold bangles, bracelets and a nose ring,
her anklets jingle in a merry dance
as she does the coy walk and looks up with a smile
at the face of the man she is meant to worship
till death do let us part.

After much deliberation and wise headshaking,
the deal is fixed
with Auld Lang Syne,
over a glass of scotch and a six-figure dowry.

Aunt Sharmila calls up the wedding planner
and waits for her turn —
Your call is important to us,
Please be on the line.

In the evening, she takes Sheila to their family astrologer
who however shakes his head in disapproval
as he matches the horoscopes.

Aunt Sharmila’s daughter is a mangalik,
so, a meeting is convened at midnight to discuss the crisis.

This is just a minor deterrence, Swami-ji has said,
she just has to marry a tree first,
besides the date has been fixed, the planner booked
and guest lists drawn up already.

But the boy’s parents are less forthcoming;
no amount of flippant banter or firm remonstrance
can persuade them to change their minds.

As the city gets its first thunderstorm
and night clouds hang low over the horizon,
they decide to call it off
with polite handshakes over untouched pakoras
and nonchalant  goodbyes.

Aunt Sharmila breaks down inconsolably
on the way back home.

Days later,
when the sunbeams caress their faces
as the plane is taxiing down the runway,

Aunt Sharmila hugs her daughter
with the newfound valour of hope
and promises to find her a good, Brahmin boy
when they come back next summer.

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