Driving around the bend…– Wedding crashers

By Venkatraman Sheshashayee

 

 

The narrative so far…

 

Young, besotted husband makes second biggest mistake of his life and agrees to teach his wife how to drive. On the first day out, the wife and car disappear into the distance with the husband in hot pursuit in an auto rickshaw...

 

I drove in silence. My wife sat next to me, her jaw more stony than when one of my colleagues of the distaff (and inebriated) variety had planted a kiss on my lips during the last office Christmas party. My silence was an aggrieved one, as in both cases, I was not the one responsible for the events that caused Mount Rushmore to move to India.

 

The car purred along. The silence drew. I glanced sideways. I had seen softer granite quarries. I kept my eyes on the road, pretending to be totally involved in making our way through the traffic, which act would have been more convincing if there were more vehicles on the road than the one scooter in the distance. I tried my best to drive exactly one meter away from the yellow line.

 

“I hate you.” These words were delivered through gritted teeth and a clenched jaw. I turned to my wife, unbelieving. She was still facing the windscreen, but the object of her disaffections was unequivocal. Me? Me? What did I do? She was the one who stopped a wedding party and interrupted a Sunday market all by herself.

 

“What?” I exclaimed, “What on earth did I do?” I echoed the plaintive call of husbands down the ages.

 

“Do you realize how embarrassed I was? Surrounded by so many people? And not being able to do anything there but sit and be stared at through the windows like, like... like an animal in the zoo?” My wife was now looking at me, and I could feel the heat of her gaze scorch my already tanned skin. The car moved to two meters from the yellow line.

 

She wasn’t done. “Then the old lady started crying and said that they would miss the muhurat, and that her daughter would never find happiness. And the other relatives started pushing the car and rocking it! I was never so scared in my life! And it is all because of you!” Her voice slid across the emotional register, and ended with a catch, which I recognized as a prelude to something much worse than anger.

 

At this point you are probably feeling that you have skipped a page inadvertently. What happened, you ask, with my runaway car and bride? What is this muhurat that is being bandied about?

 

Time for a flashback…

 

I was not in good shape when we reached the jam. Though “jam” is not an accurate description. It was more of a sauce, really. A viscous movement could be discerned around the peripheries, and one could feel the tang of curiosity rather than the blandness of acceptance.

 

The auto screeched to a halt. I jumped off and moved forward. I shouldered my way past itinerant passers by and aggravated drivers, all of whom seemed to be agog. Their gazes and attention seemed to be focused in a particular direction. I moved passed a red Maruti, from whose innards the heads and upper torsos of a family of fourteen protruded through the windows.

 

“Four or five dead!” said one of the heads, in ghoulish tones. It belonged to a healthy lady of indeterminate years, and the eyes fairly glistened with excitement.

 

“Really?” said a more aged voice, “let me see!” and yet another disembodied head popped out of the straining window, placing more stress on the car’s trusses than the Japanese ever intended.

 

“May be even more!” said the first lady, with genuine relish. “May be two or three families.”

 

“Poor things,” said the elderly head, “are there children?” Her eyes threatened to bore through the crowds.

 

While the dialogue seemed to be developing well, I had no time to stand and stare. I had to find my wife. While my heart bled for the two or three families who seemed to have met an untimely end, I had more pressing things on my mind.

 

I pushed my way through the masses of people and vehicles. Stertorous breathing behind me informed me of my auto driver’s dedication to his fare. I moved pass a red bus. Then, a large tempo. Jinked this way to avoid a bullock cart, and then swiveled that, to avoid the bullock. And then came to an abrupt halt.

 

I had found my wife.

 

There are some sights that are easy to describe. The glory of the Grand Canyon on a sun-swept morning, for instance. Or the emotions that play across a woman’s face as she holds her first born in her arms. Or even the ferocity of a force ten hurricane ravaging a cowering town. The sight that greeted me, however, cannot be so easily put into words.

 

My wife seemed to have met a large wedding party. The kind of wedding Hindi movies are made of. Consisting of a cast of thousands, so to speak. What was very different however, was that the people belonging to this wedding party, instead of scattering flowers and incense, dancing to popular songs being massacred by an eclectic band and sobbing at the prospect of losing a daughter (or gaining a son), were massed about our car, with their faces twisted in emotions distinctly different from happiness and pleasure, their voices not so much cheerfully ululating as much as rising to screeching crescendos, much like those large women who sing in Italian operas.

 

While our car seemed unharmed in any way, though looking cowed and overcome, it was positioned rather unfortunately - in between the flower bedecked bridal car and the gates leading to the wedding hall. In addition to being at the wrong place at the wrong time, somehow my wife had attracted the attentions of a large a truck carrying bales of straw, bracketing her on one side and a mofussil bus carrying hordes of people, all of whom seemed to be hanging out of the windows, on the other.

 

In addition to these primary complications, the entire Sunday market seemed to have gathered around this interesting spectacle, offering advice, sharing opinions and discussing other similar situations they had the good fortune to be spectators at.

 

My first reaction on seeing this spectacle, was to turn around, go back home, and forget that I had a car, or even a wife. I am a meek person, and crowds larger than three people make my head swim. The prospect of wading through this humongous mass caused my knees to buckle and my bowels to loosen. I turned around. And met the fiery eyes of my faithful auto driver. What I read in his I eyes, I cannot say – was it scorn for my feeble mind? Or open contempt for my cowardice? I steeled myself and turned back, realizing that I had to reach my wife. Not only did I love her more than life itself, she also had all our money in her purse, and I needed to pay my large and annoyed auto driver his fare.

 

Another thought struck me, causing my already fluttering heart to stutter and nearly stop. I do hope, I said to myself, that she has not run over any of the critical members of the occasion. A distant uncle or cousin-in-law may be glossed over, as they do not actually contribute to the festivities in any way, but anyone closer than that may lead to serious unpleasantness.

 

I timidly shouldered my way through silkily and voluminously clad women and starkly attired men, and reached the car just as the bride’s mother was hysterically telling her husband that she would throw herself in front of the car and die, she was so embarrassed. I ignored her (nothing less than an all terrain vehicle could have driven over her massive form) and quickly looked around and under the car, and sighed hugely when I could not find a body sprawled nearby with tyre marks running across it. I looked into the car and saw my wife looking glassily ahead, her hands white knuckled on the steering wheel, refusing to acknowledge the crowds outside…

 

It took all my diplomatic ingenuity to extricate my wife and car. The beginning was rather bumpy and threat of physical violence hung in the air. An old lady who we believed was the bride’s great aunt heaped curses on us in a language beyond our ken. A burly man who we believed was the groom’s elder brother asked if I were a man or a pajama. The bride’s uncles thrust their sweating faces against mine, and asked me what did I mean by this, and did I have no shame, and what would I feel if somebody did this to my sister. The groom’s nephews kept pulling at my pants and asking me where the rear doors of the car were. A plump, bald man in a dhoti kept wringing his hands and muttering about the ephemeral nature of muhurats. It all felt like I was getting married again.

 

It took me and the trusty auto driver about half an hour to finally convince everyone that the matter would be best resolved if we could move the bridal car a few feet back, and ask the truck to move a few feet forward, so that our car could back up and sharply turn out and move away from the gates of the hall. Once the bride’s father realized that I was not from the underworld, and was not part of a vicious plot to extort a small fortune from him, he became cooperative. Soon, the crowds were cleared and the bridal car ground its gears and moved back, allowing enough space for our car to squeeze through and stand next to the mofussil bus. The bridal car, finally seeing a clear path to its destination, revved and jumped forward sharply, causing the groom’s head to whiplash and almost running down two young women who were occupied in sprinkling rose petals and scented water. As the car disappeared through the gates and the priest scurried in after it, the mood changed and anxious expressions gave way to huge smiles and relieved laughter. Apologies were waved away. Diverse male members of the wedding party embraced me as if I were a long lost brother. I ended up shaking hands with about forty people and wishing complete strangers a wonderful married life. Our exit was almost tearful. Using the good offices of the hundreds of people gathered around, we push-started the car, paid off the loyal auto driver, waved our goodbyes to our new friends and started our journey back home, coming to the end of the flashback…

 

I swerved across the road, and parked under a margosa tree. I turned to my wife. Sure enough, her eyes were filled with unshed (as yet) tears.

 

“Sweetheart,” I said, my voice choosing the “soothing” option, “I understand that it was unpleasant. But other than the old lady cursing us and our progeny, I thought the rest of them understood.  It was just bad luck…”

 

“It was not bad luck!” she flashed. “You are the one who told me release the accelerator and press the clutch. And I did that again and again, but nothing happened!”

 

My mind reeled. “Release the what, and press the what?” I croaked.

 

“Release the accelerator and press the clutch. That is what you said. Then why didn’t the car start?”

 

That is when I made another mistake. “Darling, that is not what I said. I told you to release the clutch and press the accelerator. The clutch, when released, allows the gears to engage, and thus, start the car due to forward momentum…” It is always enjoyable teaching someone the wonders of science.

 

The temperature in car flared. “Stop giving me a physics lesson!” she snarled. “You didn’t say that! You said ‘release the accelerator and press the clutch’. Now don’t change your mind!”

 

“I am not changing my mind. I could have never said release the accelerator. I clearly told you the reverse!” I, too, was slowly losing my temper.

 

“No, you did not.”

 

“Yes, I did.”

 

“No, No, NO!”

 

“Yes, yes, yes!”

 

This stimulating and mature conversation gradually languished. The car engine cooled and so did our feelings to each other. Silently and wearily, I drove back home. When our son ran to us, his face showing his delight that he was not abandoned by his parents after all, my spirits lifted a little, but not by much. My wife got off, and stalked into the house without a backward glance or offering to push the car into the garage.

 

The next few days were cold. Everywhere I turned, I was greeted with cold shoulders, haughty chin lifts and monosyllabic responses. Even my mother harbored (briefly) suspicions that I had devised a novel way to end our marriage, without the complications of alimony. My father in law called from Poona and asked casually if everything was okay. He was always there for me, he said, even if I just needed to talk, man to man. My elder brother wrote us a long letter expounding on road safety and the need for constant vigilance. None of my protestations helped – and some of them had unexpected outcomes.

 

One day, I made an attempt to teach my wife the fundamentals of internal combustion engines and gear boxes, from a large tome called “How Things Work”. Just when I thought we were making good progress, and had reached the point where I was pacing across the room, explaining the difference between two-stroke and four-stroke cycles, my wife threw the book across the room. My reflexes being excellent, I ducked just in time and the book crashed into a painting by my wife’s sister that my wife had insisted should grace our living room wall in contravention to all conventions of taste, and tore the canvas irreparably. While this did little to heal the breach in our relationship, the whole house including the maid and my visiting cousins, celebrated the loss.

 

When finally, the thaw set in, neither of us discussed resuming the driving lessons. Not right away. A few days later, when bitter memories had faded to sepia tints, my wife broached the topic again. She had thought it over and decided, from the goodness of her heart, to give me another chance. This time however, she said, I would start the car, and then she would take over. No more plowing into bands playing Dilwale Dulhaniyan Le Jayenge, she affirmed. Never again would she be stared at like a goldfish in a bowl, she vowed.

 

My response was clear. I refused. No, I said, never. I am not going to go through this ever again. This was my final word.

 

The next Sunday morning, we set out again.

Venkatraman Sheshashayee has worked with the Merchant Navy, a financial institution and a manufacturing company before becoming General Manager Business Development and Marketing with the Great Eastern Shipping Company, Mumbai. He is married to Radhika and has two kids 16 year old Abhimanyu and 11 year old Damini.

‘Shesh” as he likes to be called demurred when asked for a picture to go with his Bangalore to Bombay migratory story, but insists that he has a startling resemblance to Brad Pitt or Robert Redford depending on the angle from which you look at him. It is indeed a true Bollywood story in the making.

He can be reached at vshesh@vsnl.com
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