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Some people are good at taking decisions. I am not one of them. Some people fall asleep quickly at night. I am not one of them either. It is three in the morning. I have tossed and turned in bed for two hours. I am to get married in fifteen hours. We have two hundred guests in the hotel, here to attend my grand destination wedding. I brought them here. Everyone is excited. It is the first destination wedding in the Mehta family.
I am the bride. I should get my beauty sleep. I can’t. The last thing I care about right now is beauty. The only thing I care about is how to get out of this mess. Because like what often happens to me in life, here I am yet again in a situation where I don’t know what the hell is going on.
“What do you mean not enough rooms?” I said to Arijit Banerjee, the lobby manager of the Goa Marriott.
“See, what I am trying to explain is…” Arijit began in his modulated, courteous voice when mom cut him off.
“It’s my daughter’s wedding. Are you going to shame us?” she said, her volume loud enough to startle the rest of the reception staff.
“No, ma’am. Just a shortage of twenty rooms. You booked a hundred. We promised eighty then. We hoped to give more but the chief minister had a function and…”
“What do we tell our guests who have come all the way from America?” Mom said.
“If I may suggest, there is another hotel two kilometers away,” Arijit said.
“We have to be together. You are going to ruin my daughter’s wedding for some sarkaari function?” my mother said, bosom high, breath heavy – classic warning signs of an upcoming storm.
“Mom, go sit with Dad, please. I will sort this out,” I said. Mom glared at me. How could I, the bride, be doing all this in the first place? I should be worried about my facials, not room allocations.
“The boy’s side arrives in less than three hours. I can’t believe this,” she muttered, walking to the sofa at the center of the lobby. My father sat there along with Kamla bua, his elder sister. Other uncles and aunts occupied the remaining couches in the lobby – in a Mehta takeover of the Marriott. My mother looked at my father, a level two glare. It signified: ‘Will you ever take initiative in life?’
My father shifted in his seat. I re-focused on the lobby manager.
“What can be done now, Arijit?” I said. “My family is all here.”
We had come on the morning flight from Delhi. The Gulatis, or the boy’s side, would take off from Mumbai at three p.m. and land in Goa at four p.m. Twenty hired Innovas would bring them to the hotel by five. I checked the time. 2:30 p.m.
“See, ma’am, we have set up a special desk for the Mehta-Gulati wedding,” Arijit said. “We are doing the check-ins for your family now.”
He pointed to a makeshift counter at the far corner of the lobby where three female Marriott employees with permanent smiles sat. They welcomed everyone with folded hands. Each guest received a shell necklace, a set of key cards for the room, a map of the Marriott Goa property and a ‘wedding information booklet’. The booklet contained the entire programme for the week, including the time, venue and other details of the ceremonies.
“My side will take fifty rooms. The Gulatis need fifty too,” I said.
“If you take fifty, ma’am, we will have only thirty left for them,” Arijit said.
“Where is Suraj?” I said. ‘We will manage last minute’ is what he told me. Suraj was the owner of Moonshine Events, the event manager we had appointed for the wedding.
“At the airport,” Arijit said.
My father ambled up to the reception desk. “Everything okay, beta?”
I explained the situation to him.
“Thirty rooms! Gulatis have a hundred and twenty guests,” my father said.
“Exactly.” I threw my hands in the air.
Mom and Kamla bua came to the reception as well. “I told Sudarshan also, why all this Goa business? Delhi has so many nice banquet halls and farmhouses. Seems like you have money to throw,” Kamla bua said.
I wanted to retort but my mother gave me the Mother Look.
They are our guests, I reminded myself. I let out a huge breath.
“How many from our side?” my mother said.
“Mehta family has a hundred and seventeen guests, ma’am,” Arijit said, counting from his reservation sheets.
“If we only have eighty, that is forty rooms for each side,” I said. “Let’s reallocate. Stop the check-ins for the Mehtas right now.”
Arijit signaled to the smiling ladies at the counter. They stopped the smiles and the check-ins and kept the shell necklaces back in the drawer.
“How can we reduce the rooms for the boy’s side?” my mother said in a shocked voice.
“What else to do?” I said.
“How many rooms are they expecting?” she said.
“Fifty,” I said. “Call them now. They will readjust their allocations on the way here.”
“How can you ask the boy’s side to adjust?” Kamla bua said. “Aparna, are you serious?”
My mother looked at Kamla bua and me.
“But how can we manage in only thirty rooms?” I said and turned to my father, “Dad, Call them.”
“Sudarshan, don’t insult them before they even arrive,” Kamla bua said. “We will manage in thirty. It’s okay. Some of us will sleep on the floor.”
“Nobody needs to sleep on the floor, bua,” I said. “I am sorry this screw-up happened. But if we have forty rooms each, it is three to a room. With so many kids anyway, it should be fine.”
“We can manage in thirty,” my mother said.
“Mom? That’s four to a room. While the Gulatis will have so much space. Let’s tell them.”
“No,” my mother said. “We can’t do that.”
“They are the boy’s side. Little bit also you don’t understand?”
I didn’t want to lose it at my own wedding, definitely not in the first hour of arrival. I turned to my father. “Dad, it is no big deal. His family will understand. We are here for six nights. It will get too tight for us,” I said.
Dad, of course, would not listen. These two women, his wife and sister, controlled his remote. For once, these women were on the same page as well.
“Beta, these are norms. You don’t understand. We have to keep them comfortable. Girl’s side is expected to adjust,” he said.
I argued for five more minutes. It didn’t work. I had to relent. And do what the girl’s side needs to do – adjust.
“You and Aditi take a room,” my mother said, referring to my sister.
“Let her be with her husband. What will jiju think?” I said.
“Anil will adjust with other gents,” Kamla bua said.
Over the next twenty minutes the two women sorted out the extended Mehta family comprising of a hundred and seventeen people to thirty rooms. They used a complex algorithm with criteria like the people sharing the room should not hate each other (warring relatives kept in different rooms) or be potentially attracted to each other (mixed gender rooms were avoided, even if it involved people aged eighty plus). Kids were packed five to a room, often with a grandparent. Kamla bua, herself a widow, dramatically offered to sleep on the floor in my parents’ room, causing my father to offer his own bed and sleep on the floor instead. Of course, Arijit kept saying they will put extra beds in the room. But how can you compare sleeping on an extra Marriott bed versus the Punjabi bua’s eternal sacrifice of sleeping on the floor?
“I am happy with roti and achaar,” Kamla bua said.
“It’s the Marriott. There is enough food, bua,” I said.
“I am just saying.”
“Can you please focus on the reallocations? We need to be all checked in before the Gulatis arrive,” I said.
In the middle of this chaos, I forgot what I had come here for. I had come to change my life forever. I had come to do something I never believed in my whole life. I had come to do something I never thought I would do. I had come to have an arranged marriage.
Here I am, lost in logistics, guest arrangements and bua tantrums. I took a moment to reflect.
I will marry in a week. To a guy I hardly know. This guy and I are to share a bed, home and life for the rest of my life.
Why isn’t it sinking in? Why am I fighting with Suraj on chat instead?
Me: Major screw-up on rooms, Suraj. Not cool.
Suraj: Sorry. Really sorry. Political reasons. Tried. Really.
Me: You said it will be OK.
Suraj: I did. CM of Goa wanted rooms. Marriott can’t refuse.
Me: What else is going to get screwed up?
Suraj: Nothing. Indigo from Mumbai just landed. We are ready to receive guests. See you soon.
I went to the Mehta-Gulati check-in desk. All my family guests had checked in. Some did grumble about sharing a room with three others but most seemed fine. Mom said the grumblers were the jealous types, the relatives who can’t stand we have reached a level that we can do a destination wedding in Goa. The supportive ones, according to mom, are those who understand what it is like to be the girl’s side.
“Do not use this girl’s side and boy’s side with me again. I don’t like it,” I said. Mom and I sat in the lobby, ensuring that the staff readied the special check-in desk for the Gulatis.
“Can you stop waving your feminism flag for a week? This is a wedding, not an NGO activist venue,” my mother said.
A Conversation with Chetan Bhagat
Chetan Bhagat is undoubtedly India’s biggest author, one who can easily boast about having the largest fan following garnered by any writer in this country. Whether it is dance or romance, history, politics or sports, Chetan has an opinion on everything. You can Love him or loath him, but you most certainly cannot ignore him, such is the kind of power he wields over the minds of millions, a feat that no other author has managed to accomplish in recent history. In his new fiction book Chetan presents his take on feminism, a subject both powerful and controversial, much like Chetan himself. We caught with him to discuss the importance of gender equality and know more about his new book, which is perhaps his boldest yet. An excerpt from an interview with the author.
Q. What is One Indian Girl all about?
Chetan Bhagat: One Indian Girl is about an Indian girl who is intelligent and successful, because of which she finds it difficult to get love.
Q. What does the book hope to achieve?
Chetan Bhagat: It hopes to question society, which judges women achievers. It asks why when it comes to love, being intelligent and too successful is almost a drawback for women.
Q. Why did you write this book?
Chetan Bhagat: I have wanted to write a book in female first person for the past several years. Not only that, I wanted that book to be about women, and deal with feminism. To do all this as a male writer was a huge challenge. I didn’t have the confidence earlier that I could do it. After writing for over a decade, I finally attempted One Indian Girl.
Why did you want to write in female first person? And why on feminism?
Chetan Bhagat: I have had a lot of female influence in my life. Whether it is my mother, girlfriends, wife or female friends, some of my closest relationships have been with women. Despite that, I often found women mysterious, particularly in the way they think. I felt it would be interesting to get in their head.
I wrote on feminism because it isn’t an equal world for women, and most men (and even several women) don’t even realize it. As a writer, I want to highlight issues in society that affect a lot of people. Feminism affects us all.
Q. What is your take on feminism?
Chetan Bhagat: Feminism is equal rights. There’s nothing too fancy about it. It gets a little complicated because men and women want different things out of life. Their core drives and motivations are different. Men controlled and designed the world earlier so clearly they didn’t keep women in mind as much.
One of the things I want to stress is the ridiculous choices we want women to make all the time. For instance, do we easily permit a woman to have a successful career and be a great mother at home? Both could be core needs for a woman, but we often ask them to make a choice. We feel we have done our feminist duties by giving women the ‘freedom of choice.’ Why? Why should they have to make a choice? Do we ever ask men to make a choice between their core needs?
I also feel we should understand the Indian woman better and listen to what they want and what is feminism to them.
Q. Are you a gender rights activist now?
Chetan Bhagat: Not really. My job as a writer is to tell a good story. However, if I am writing about a subject and I know it is going to be read by millions of people, there is a certain responsibility and even opportunity to drive the message home.
I have written stories about other issues – education system, inter-community marriages, corruption for instance. In all of those I try to do justice to the issue. Hopefully, I have done the same here.
Q. So it’s Chetan the gender rights expert now?
Chetan Bhagat: Not at all. I am no expert, even though, like anyone I am entitled to have views on a subject. I write columns on a variety of social issues, and all my books have a message. One Indian Girl is no different. It is my take on an issue, not an expert opinion.
Q. Are you worried about the feminists coming after you?
Chetan Bhagat: There is no reason to. If at all, the book is an opportunity to bring out their issues to the forefront. While I respect intellectuals and experts, no issue should be hijacked or appropriated by them alone. I have as much a right to talk about it as they do.
I also want to tell them to not pre-judge my work. One Indian Girl has been years in the making, and I am happy about the end result. Test readers have loved the book and call it one of my best works. Importantly, women feel it represents them really well.
Of course, everyone doesn’t have to like it, but at least don’t judge it without reading it. Also, let’s not get lost in the personal attacks so much that we lose sight of the big picture – this book, and the attendant publicity that will come with it, is a great chance to highlight the feminist cause. If you really care about feminism, that is a good thing right?
Making India Awesome
2 States: The Story of My Marriage
The 3 Mistakes of My Life
One Night @ The Call Centre
Five Point Someone – What Not To Do at IIT
ASIN : 8129142147
Publisher : Rupa Publications India (October 1, 2016)
Language : English
Paperback : 282 pages
ISBN-10 : 9788129142146
ISBN-13 : 978-8129142146
Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
Dimensions : 5.24 x 0.59 x 7.99 inches