The astrologer said, ‘If you marry between 20th Jan and 19th Feb, your father will die’. Anupam is deeply disappointed. He loved Moumita and wanted to marry her someday. But the astrologer has prohibited marriage exactly in the month which suited him. This period corresponds roughly to the period of Magh month according to the Hindu calendar. In this month the weather in Kolkata is pleasant. The days are pleasant and the evenings cool. There are usually lots of dates mentioned in the almanac which are suitable for marriage. The extreme cold of January is gone by the beginning of Feb and in the summers it is too hot. Anupam asks the astrologer how he could be so sure about the dates. The astrologer explained, ‘Saturn is moving through the seventh house now. It will cross the Sun in this month. Before 20th Jan there is no date for marriage and after that the Sun enters your seventh house. Your ascendant is Leo and Aquarius is in the seventh house. Saturn is the lord of Aquarius and Sun is the lord of Leo. The Sun would be weak in Aquarius and Saturn in conjunction with the Sun will kill your father according to the Gocharphal. Have you followed?’ Anupam obviously does not follow. He looks annoyed as he has promised Moumita that he would make it possible in this year. It was she who had insisted that the month of Feb would be lovely. She said, ‘Everybody celebrates spring in this season. We could marry on Valentine’s Day. Why don’t you speak with your father about it?’
The astrologer smiles indulgently at Anupam. He has known him ever since he was born. He has been consulting him at every step of his life. When he was appearing for the competitive exams, he had consulted the astrologer before finding out the results. The astrologer had said, ‘If your results come out before the 21st of July, you may not fare well.’ So Anupam prayed to god that the results should be declared after 21st July. His father did not believe in such stuff. He jestingly asked, ‘What is the point of praying after you have attempted the test?’ He replied, ‘I want god to manipulate the result which is not in my hands. Until the test was conducted, everything was in my hands; I was studying and preparing for it. Now it has gone out of my hands.’ ‘I thought one prays for an easy question paper! Anyway, it’s fine if you are praying; just don’t indulge in astrology; it’s no good.’
Anupam loves his astrologer uncle. He is always there to show him the right way. He was the one who told him that he would have a love marriage. Since he was already in love with Moumita, his class mate since childhood, he was hugely encouraged. Moumita belonged to a Brahmin family and Anupam was a Kayastha boy. When Anupam’s mother first learned that he was in love with a Brahmin’s daughter, she had warned him that the father of the girl would object to their marriage. It had made the teenaged Anupam sullen and woeful.
He kept distance from Moumita and concentrated on his studies. But he could not get her out of his mind. He prayed to god that he should become so qualified and coveted a bridegroom that no girl’s father would ever refuse him the daughter’s hand. The prayers worked and Anupam became a student of IIM, Joka. Now he has a good job.
Moumita never bothered about his caste. Probably she would have not even cared about his qualifications. She admired his intelligence right from the first time when he won a debate contest. She waited for him all through his long stay in Joka for higher studies. It was only after a wait of eleven years that Anupam mentioned marriage. As she was sitting in a restaurant facing him, she looked at her hands lying on her lap. She was so shy that it took Anupam a lot of cajoling to extract a ‘yes’ from her. Later on when she began talking a little more openly with him, he asked her to let him talk to her father. Moumita said, ‘no, I will talk to him first. He believes in astrology and it may be difficult to impress him unless our natal charts match.’
Anupam ran to his astrologer uncle. He advised him to wait for two more years. Saturn was not in a good position now. Anupam dated Moumita for two more years until now. Then the astrologer gave him the green signal to talk to her father about marriage. Moumita broached the topic first. She had no siblings to help her face her father in this matter. Her mother was also afraid of his temper. He was a difficult man to live with. He also had the bad habit of going wild after drinking. He was the owner of an iron foundry and maintained no routine about his diet. He was potbellied and spent most of his time outside home with his employees, cursing one here and throwing abuses on another there.
The problem with this kind of a man is that he is not amenable to reason. He cannot be told that his daughter loves the boy for more than a decade now and he has become the zonal manager of W L Industries which makes him an eligible bachelor and compared to his daughter’s achievements he is far better so he might not get a better groom for her even if he tried elsewhere. Moumita knew all this. She told her father the date, time and place of Anupam’s birth. She believed that if their hearts matched so well, the charts would also match.
In match making there are only two planetary positions that matter: one is the position of the Moon and the other is that of Mars. Moumita’s father asked his astrologer friend to draw the natal chart of Anupam. The positions of the Moon and Mars matched with those of Moumita’s natal chart. The queer thing was the position of the Sun. The father was not happy with the position of the Sun in the third house. He told Moumita that he wanted to see Anupam.
In all these years Anupam had only seen photographs of his would be father-in-law. Now seeing him in the real was a mild electric shock. The man is a bloated, dark skinned giant. Anupam wonders how old the photographs were. He dips a pranam to both the parents and sits opposite the father. The father asks, ‘What do you do?’ ‘I am working in W L Industries as Zonal Manager’. ‘How long have you known Moumita?’ ‘I have known her since we were in school. She was my class mate’. ‘No, I mean, when did you meet her now?’ ‘Now? Well, she has been my friend, so we kept seeing each other’. ‘Moumita told me you studied in Joka. Then too you were meeting her!’ ‘Yes, I love her’ Anupam says because he wants to end the interrogation. ‘Show me your hands’. Anupam gets up to kneel before his presupposed father-in-law. He rubs his hands on his thighs to be certain that there is no dirt on them and extends them in front. The father grabs them and pulls them closer to his eyes. Then he raises his eyes towards the mother and says, ‘Please switch on the light; I can’t see clearly’.
He examines the lines of Anupam’s palms for about fifteen minutes. Then he says, ‘okay, you can sit there’ pointing to the chair Anupam had occupied previously. The father goes indoors and does not return. In two minutes Moumita comes out smiling shyly. She sits in the chair her father had just vacated and folds her arms in her lap, tucking her face down in her breasts. Anupam is amused by this. He looks at her mother for reassurance and says, ‘Moumita, what did your father say?’ ‘Okay’.
Anupam stands up and begs to leave. The mother sees him to the door and for the first time she utters a few words as if her interaction with this suitor had waited for the license from the father. She says, ‘Moumita’s father is not very well. He is a diabetic and he has contracted pneumonia a couple of times. We had to hospitalize him for weeks. If you marry her he would be relieved of his kanya daye. God bless you my son’.
Anupam heaves a great sigh of relief. He goes straight home and tells his parents he has chosen a girl for marriage. His father says, ‘Is she the same girl from your school time or someone else?’ ‘O what father! You think my heart is fickle? It’s she. I have been to see her father and he has accepted me.’ ‘So you have made the job easy for me!’ His mother says, ‘She is a Brahmin’s daughter. It would be so difficult to adjust her in the household. We would have to ask her not to touch our feet and tell every relative the fact.’ ‘What fact? That I loved her ever since I was in school? Or that she is untouchable!’ ‘Nonsense’, says his father and leaves the room.
Anupam says, ‘You heard him! Now don’t grumble about such trifles. I am going to marry her soon. You will have to go to see them one day.’ His mother says, ‘Let your father take the lead now; you have done enough already.’ Anupam leaves the house and goes straight to his astrologer uncle. He tells him that he should find the earliest possible date for marriage. Uncle says, ‘Marry tomorrow if you like! She is yours forever. What are you asking me?’ ‘Uncle, give me a suitable date. Give me a date on which everything will go all right. Fix it according to your astrology; the way you calculate shubha/ashubha’. ‘Give me one day then; I’ll tell you tomorrow’. Anupam goes into the kitchen and asks Aunty to make him some tea.
Aunty talks affectionately to Anupam as if he is still a five year old boy. She says, ‘so you are impatient to get married, my boy! Will you invite your Aunty to the wedding ceremony or simply have the cake all by yourself?’ ‘Aunty, stop teasing me!’ ‘Okay, what does your father-in-law say about you?’ ‘O he is only getting rid of his daughter; shedding off kanya daye!’ ‘Ha, ha, is that what he said to you?’ ‘No actually, the mother said, he would be glad to finish off kanya daye’. ‘My dear boy, it is a huge responsibility and every girl’s father is aching to marry his daughter off so that he can go up to heaven without qualms’. ‘What qualms? What if I had not been around? What if he’d have hurriedly married Moumita off to someone else merely because he was about to die soon? Moumita’s life would have been hell and then too could he have said that he unburdened himself of kanya daye?’ ‘Ha, ha, you are so concerned about Moumita’s happiness! What more can a father want from his son-in-law!’
The next day, Anupam visits his astrologer uncle again. Uncle says, ‘Anupam you must wait for two months. The following month is Poush Month, when there is no date for marriage and in the next month there is a hitch’. ‘What hitch?’ ‘If you marry in this period, your father may die’. ‘What!?’
Uncle says, ‘In Phalgun Month there are many suitable dates; you can select any one. Just take the list and show it to your father. You must take his convenience also into account. Don’t be so impatient.’
Anupam leaves with the list of dates and shows it to his father. He says, ‘Your astrologer is so quick! Since you are doing everything yourself, why don’t you just go and show it to your other father as well? He is the bride’s father, he may need time to prepare for the wedding. As for us, we shall accompany you the moment you take out your chariot!’ ‘Bapi, stop teasing me! You decide a date and let’s go to see Moumita’s parents to discuss the wedding.’ Mother says, ‘No. They should come here first.’ ‘Okay, I’ll tell that to Moumita tomorrow’. ‘As if they do not know how to proceed with a daughter’s wedding! Go ahead son and despoil your father’s prestige!’ ‘Aha, why are you taking the matter to heart, Anupam’s mother? He is still very young. Okay, son, you do one thing: you said your new father believes in astrology. Just give him a chance to decide on a date and propose it to us. That way he would neither notice our eagerness nor defy the norms.’ ‘O no! The norm is just the opposite! The groom’s parents decide the date of marriage. Are you out of your mind?!’ ‘Jyotsna, I was only trying to help the boy. And in any case, I am not so sure about the norms. It’s all confusion. In some societies it is this way; in others it is the other way. In any case nothing is wrong when the couple has decided by themselves to marry each other.’
Thus encouraged by his father, Anupam meets Moumita again and tells her the dates. Moumita sits there looking at his shoes. ‘What are you looking down at?! Are you not happy?’ ‘I thought it would be in February. The time is so pleasant!’ ‘March is also pleasant enough’.
A week passes and Moumita cannot tell what her father has been thinking. She can only wait for his command. Finally one day in January, when nothing has been arranged and no one is ready for anything as big as a wedding ceremony, Moumita’s father suggests to his wife that they should visit Anupam’s house to finalize the date of marriage. The message is conveyed and they arrive on a Sunday afternoon. Anupam goes downstairs to receive them. He has to support the heavy old man to help him climb up the stairs. Anupam’s parents greet them at the landing and welcome them indoors.
Anupam introduces them and Moumita’s father takes the lead in speaking up. He says, ‘I have only one daughter and I try my very best to get her whatever she wishes for. I am very happy to know that she has chosen your son Anupam – has he any siblings? – as her life-partner. Anupam came to see me once and I assume that you know about it. He is quite eager to tie the knot and with your permission I would like to see this through by the end of January.’ Anupam stares back in silence. His managerial training prompts him to control his reaction. His father replies, ‘Anupam is indeed very keen to marry your daughter and I have nothing to object. Usually it is the bride’s parents who have to make all the arrangements so if January suits you, let it be January’. Now Anupam starts walking up and down. His mother says, ‘I didn’t get to see the girl, yet’. ‘O madam, that will be arranged. You can come for the Ashirvad ceremony won’t you?’ ‘I think, well, isn’t it rather too short a time for all that?’ Anupam’s father says, ‘Madam means that you may find it difficult to arrange everything so soon’. ‘And you are perhaps not so well now’ she adds. Moumita’s mother explains, ‘He has been ill for some time now. We are all concerned about his health. But this should not delay an arakhaniya daughter’s marriage. I assure you there won’t be any errors in the arrangement for the ceremony. My brothers will gladly help us in the preparations’.
‘Actually, once we have learnt that our daughter is seeing a young man, it is better that we send her off with him as early as possible’. This argument puts a stop to further negotiation. Anupam goes to the balcony fuming. He has not told anyone his reason for the delay he was hoping for. Now that Moumita’s father has brought forth a proposal for an early marriage, way beyond his expectations, he is unable to state a valid reason. He considers delaying the date by creating fake problems in the way and keeps quiet.
After showing them the taxi homewards, Anupam climbs up the stairs and asks, ‘Which date did you fix?’ His mother replies, ‘24th Jan’. ‘I am going out for a while, maybe for about half an hour; okay?’ and he goes straight to Astrologer Uncle’s home. He storms in and furiously says, ‘Moumita’s father fixed the 24th of this month for the wedding! Please find a way to delay it, Uncle’. Uncle says, ‘Calm down my boy. Let me see the chart again’. He pulls out Anupam’s chart from his drawer. He studies it and says, ‘Does your father have any brothers?’ ‘Yes, one. For that matter, I can guess what you are thinking. Even my mother has a brother. They are all a ‘father’ to me in status. So you are trying to say that it may not be my father but one of my uncles!? And you think I should still allow it because they are dispensable! How can you say such a thing? Please find a way to delay the matter’.
‘I only uttered a word and you are shouting at me. Why did you, in the first place, allow your father-in-law to decide on that date? I gave you so many dates in March’. ‘He said, he did not want to risk his daughter seeing me before marriage. Or at least that is what I could make out. Gosh, I have been seeing her for more than twelve years now and we did nothing wrong!’ ‘Anupam, if your father is ready for the wedding and he has given his assent, then don’t make him lose his prestige by backing out now.’ ‘But as the groom’s father, he could take the upper hand and say that… that something has cropped up suddenly’. ‘You must say this to your father, not to me. I can only tell what is there in your chart’.
After Anupam left, Astrologer Uncle said to his wife, ‘Poor boy, the thing is definitely there in his chart. Nothing can avert it.’
Anupam frets and fumes for a whole fortnight. He argues with his father but he does not listen to anything. If Anupam mentioned astrology then he would have not listened even more adamantly, so Anupam tries other explanations. Moumita is also not happy about the date. She wanted it to be in February, not as early as in January. January was too cold for her. But she did not utter a word of complaint. She rather helped her mother in shopping. She respected her father’s decision as much as he cared for her happiness.
Ultimately, the marriage is conducted without any accidents, as Anupam had feared. Since all his fathers were in such good health that they could not have died of any illnesses, Anupam only feared that there might be some kind of an accident. Still not eased of his tension, he and Moumita move in together as a wedded couple and the next day they perform the ceremony of boubhat. Anupam hands her a large plate full of rice, payesh, chochchory, fish, pulses, curd and sweetmeats and says, ‘from now on your livelihood is my responsibility’. Then he hands her another plate which is topped with a silk saree and a jewelry set and says, ‘I will keep you happy always’. Moumita dips him a pranam. The gesture makes Anupam laugh as he had never thought in these terms regarding Moumita before.
In the evening the reception ceremony is also over and Anupam sees off his parents-in-law with a sigh of relief. He turns to his father and hugs him and hugs his uncles and aunties too and then he slumps down in the sofa with fatigue.
Two days after the ceremony Moumita’s mother sends a message that her father wanted to see her. Anupam’s mother is annoyed. It was a norm to send the bride and bridegroom to her parent’s house one week later but here every norm has been broken, she grumbles. But Anupam has to go and he does. He and his wife reach the threshold of his father-in-law and dip pranams to their parents. Moumita’s father looks extremely wrecked and cannot pronounce his words clearly. It occurs to Anupam now that he is also his father and he springs up with the recognition of this fact. This is one of his fathers who is indeed ill. He becomes emotional and asks which doctor he has been seeing and the rest of the details of his health.
For the next couple of weeks Anupam leaves no stone unturned to get medical help for his father-in-law. He leaves work in the office and neglects every other duty to attend to his father-in-law. He becomes so attached to this father that he weeps at the thought of his imminent death. But since it is god’s decree, no one can deny it. At last, he dies of high fever. Anupam begs permission to perform the cremation rites and does everything due to it.
In this way Anupam learns to respect the ties of matrimony. He comes to know that even in astrology one’s wife’s family members are included among one’s near and dear ones and after marriage their wellbeing becomes a necessary part of one’s own wellbeing. Matrimony is a conjunction of two families and not just a matter of ‘ridding off’ a daughter.
Dr. Anuradha Bhattacharyya is the author of the novel One Word (2016) that has won the prestigious Best Book of the year 2016, awarded by Chandigarh Sahitya Akademi. She has published 3 books of poetry, 2 novels, 2 academic books and has been featured in various international poetry magazines and anthologies. She is also an awarded short story writer. She is Associate Professor of English in a government college in Chandigarh.