The wedding card was unusually simple. And it bore Hemant’s forty eight years old batch-mate Nitin’s name as the groom. “Did the bugger give his son an identical tag, there must be a mistake”, he turned the invite around, reading it several times over. “What an idiot, getting married when it is time for us to settle our kids! Has he lost his wife, divorced her….this is very strange!”
At the evening’s course reunion, the story grew steadily bigger. No one seemed to know. “I was local guardian to his daughter during her Vellore tenure, everything seemed fine,” the anecdotal exchange flowed thick and fast. “Hope he is not getting naughty at forty,” this light hearted observation was met with a pensive, “How is Tara keeping, any idea? I heard they have been living as a joint family ever since his premature retirement.”
Hemant struggled with his feelings over the event, just a week away. There were the usual logistic ends to tie up but there was also a faintly irritated concern. The two had been close until life took them on different paths with Hemant progressing professionally and Nitin deciding to quit for greener pastures outside the Navy. With the unintended callousness of the busy, the rest of their batch had forgotten him, barely responding to his attempts to stay connected. Briefly debating a phone call for clarification, Hemant decided to just show up, he would be the solo serving officer attending the wedding.
The car waiting outside Raipur’s award winning airport carried Hemant to the Byron Bazar, dislodging him at the familiar yellow, two floor building. He alighted tentatively, the home exuded stillness, quite unlike a marriage venue. He joined a small knot of people at the door, slipping off their footwear. The ceremony was already underway!
Hours of mantra chanting, incense burning and ritual relays later, Nitin’s brother escorted Hemant to the terrace where his bridegroom friend sat waiting. Unsure of how happy an expression to wear, Hemant pulled a chair close “Where do I begin? Tara and my mother had one of their more serious fights and Tara walked out of the home in a huff. I had to lodge a missing person report at the end of twenty four hours. The police turned up a day later with news of a body fitting the description, found near the Junction railway tracks. I went to the morgue and identified her, the cadaver was in a bad shape.”
Hemant got up to place his arm awkwardly around Nitin’s shoulders. “We went through with the period of mourning and cremated her,” the groom resumed his narration. By now they were coming unbidden to Hemant, images of Tara as a young bride in their parent unit and her rocky period of settling in. A typical civilian, she had taken a while to fit into the regimented rhythm of the station. “Poor thing, she must have been shattered inside to have taken her own life,” Hemant felt heavy with grief.
“Hemu Dadaaaa,” he poked his ear violently with the index finger at the familiar lilt, shaking his head. “Good lord, I am hearing her voice. Is it Tara’s soul?!”
His travel weary vision began to blur at a figure advancing in ceremonial red, holding out a tray of snacks and tea. The arm fell away from Nitin in confusion, grasping for a chair. He gaped at the bridal countenance in horror, sifting the face paint frantically….yes, it was, no doubt in his mind, the well-remembered moon face of Tara!
He only partly heard Nitin’s voice drone on, “Imagine our plight Hem, she turned up back home after a week of sulking at her mother’s. I had identified the wrong body. With the bereavement rituals all done, my mother insisted we remarry.”
Hemant was not listening. He had gone cold turkey.