“The world of men and women, united in the bond of marriage by Saptapadi, to further promote the joy of life, together listen with triumph.”
“Oh, you who feeds life-sustaining food, nourish my visitors, friends, parents, and offsprings with food and drinks. Oh beautiful lady, I, as a form of Vishnu, take this first step with you for food.”
“Yes, whatever food you earn with hard work, I will safeguard it, prepare it to nourish you. I promise to respect your wishes, and nourish your friends and family as well.”
“Oh, thoughtful and beautiful lady, with a well-managed home, with purity of behavior and thought, you will enable us to be strong, energetic and happy. O! beautiful lady, I, as Vishnu, take this second step with you for the strength of body, character and being.”
“Yes, I will manage the home according to my ability and reason. Together, I promise, to keep a home that is healthy, strength and energy giving.”
“Oh, skillful and beautiful lady, I promise to devote myself to earning a livelihood by fair means, to discuss, and let you manage and preserve our wealth. Oh dear lady, I, as Vishnu form, cover this third step with you to thus prosper in our wealth.”
“Yes, I join you in managing our income and expenses. I promise to seek your consent, as I manage our wealth, fairly earned, so it grows and sustains our family.”
“Oh, dear lady, I promise to trust your decisions about the household and your choices; I promise to dedicate myself to help our community prosper, the matters outside the house. This shall bring us respect. Oh my lady, I, as Vishnu, take this fourth step with you to participate in our world.”
“Yes, I promise to strive to make the best home for us, anticipate and provide the necessary things for your worldly life, and the happiness of our family.”
“Oh, lady of skill and pure thoughts, I promise to consult with you and engage you in the keep of our cows, our agriculture and our source of income; I promise to contribute to our country. It shall win us future. Oh my skilled lady, I, as Vishnu form, take this fifth step with you to together grow our farms and cattle.”
“Yes, I promise to participate and protect the cattle, our agriculture, and business. They are a source of yogurt, milk, ghee and income, all useful for our family, necessary for our happiness.”
“Oh, lovely lady, I seek you and only you, to love, to have children, to raise a family, to experience all the seasons of life. Oh my lovely lady, I, as Vishnu, take this sixth step with you to experience every season of life.”
“Feeling one with you, with your consent, I will be the means of your enjoyment of all the senses. Through life’s seasons, I will cherish you in my heart. I will worship you and seek to complete you.”
“Oh friends, allow us to cover the seventh step together, this promise, our Saptapad-friendship. Please be my constant wife.”
“Yes, today, I gained you, I secured the highest kind of friendship with you. I will remember the vows we just took and adore you forever sincerely with all my heart.”
A dot of vermillion is put on a hair partition.
“I love you, Nandini.” He whispers.
I jumped up with a jerk. I looked around but couldn’t find anyone; neither the familiar square-shaped jaw nor those intense dark brown eyes that glistened when he smiled at me. It was true that Nikhil left me, forever.
It was still 2:30 in the morning and the baby inside me was hungry. I couldn’t blame him because I didn’t have my dinner the previous night either. I was growing harsh on the one person that kept me alive. I adjusted my posture on the bed, rocking back and forth as to comfort the little one.
I watched as the stars shone brightly through the small window, which was facing my bed. I stepped off my small single-sized bed that seemingly restricted my curiosity. Pushing the balcony door open invited a cool, humid breeze to hit my face. Mangalore–my hometown–was one of those pleasant suburban cities, with a simple and inclusive lifestyle. Somehow, I could never part from here.
Those stars were a representation, a form of hope within that whatever happened couldn’t be the end. I believed he would be looking at me from up above, suffering every second of my life henceforth because of his absence.
Losing a loved one is a kind of pain that kills you. It consumes you slowly and torturously, making you yearn for them while depriving you of the complacency that things will get better. At least for me, everything has only been downhill ever since.
I stood there for a while, feeling my little one buckle up in me. Every time I questioned my existence, he knocked some senses into me with a little dab. Two arms bound around me, and a chin was placed on one of my shoulders. Well, that adds another person to my ‘reasons for existence’ list. Those hands wiped my tears and made me look into the person’s eyes.
“Nandu, everything’s going to be okay. Don’t cry please?” Every time she mentioned I was crying even when I wasn’t triggered the last string of tolerance in me. I erupted like a volcano, surrendering in my best friend’s arms.
“Navya, why did he have to leave me? Am I such a horrible person? All those who were close to me, are now close to God. Amma, Appa, now even him... Ayyappa doesn’t love me na? Nobody loves me. That’s why everyone runs far away from me.” There was a power above me that I believed in. Indians have a distinct God each of their families pray to, find a tight connection with. South Indians even have a surname associated with one of these Gods. Ayyappa was my family’s God, who was believed to accompany us in every walk of life.
“Shhh... Nandu...” Navya wiped my rolling tears away, again. Navya and I met in college, and as the cliches say, we became the best of friends. You would never see her in anything but a salwar or kurti, with accessories matching her outfit. She was generally filled with joy but had a sensitive heart that broke every time a loved one hurt. All broken hearts love the same.
“I love you, Nandini. You are the best friend anyone can ever wish for...” Nandini... I’d forgotten that was my name–it meant joy because my parents were exorbitantly in love with me when they first had me, but lately that name was ironic of my personality. “...and you know what? Nikhil isn’t with you now, because God has someone better for you. Everything that happens is for a reason.”
“NEVER.” It was only after the words flew out that I realized my tone. I was an emotional mess, and my patience level has only exponentially decreased. “I love Nikhil, and I can never fall in love with anyone else, Navya.”
“Acchha... Okay fine. Did you have your dinner last night?” The baby squirming in me wanted to kick my ass for being negligent about him. She scanned the guilt on my face and unwarranted my reasons.
I was pulled out of the room and taken to the small kitchen in the cottage. It was my makeshift accommodation until the baby came, for which she willingly paid the rent. Though I would reject her help in any other circumstances, I didn’t have any money, clothes or shelter to nest in. It was gratifying to be pampered, and something I craved for those days.
She never made me feel like home was a far-away place. I was her ‘little baby’, who was going to have a baby which made her even more protective of me. Though she wanted me to abort my baby at first, considering the hostile environment I was housed at and the extensive responsibility that tagged with motherhood, she eventually came to terms with my decision. I was blessed in that one way.
I sat on a chair, while she mashed up some rice with sambar, rolled them into little morsels and fed me with her hands. I smiled, playing with a tissue I’d crushed with my tears in it.
“I don’t know what you’re going to do when your little one comes! You can’t even handle yourself!”
“But my baby is the only thing left with me. I have no home, no family, no friends...” She raised her brows at me, with pursed lips. “...except you, Navya.”
“Don’t you think the baby deserves some love and care?”
Wiping the left corner of my mouth with my thumb, I shrugged my shoulders strenuously. “I have none to give.”
I signaled her to stop. Navya shook the rice off her fingers and took the plate along with her to wash it. She would be a good housewife if she got married, to be honest. I sat quietly, not moving a muscle until she returned.
“Two tickets to Mumbai tomorrow...” I didn’t even start protesting when she brought up her speech. “You need to look at the world outside. Just because you lose your husband, doesn’t mean you need to stay isolated. The world’s a big place. So, tomorrow morning at 11:30, we’re flying to Mumbai.” I frowned but I knew, once Navya made her decision at least with anything concerning me, nothing could change her mind.
She advised me that she would help me pack my luggage the next morning and all I needed was a good night’s sleep. She placed her fingers at the two ends of my lips and molded them into a smile. I smiled genuinely for her, and she patted my cheeks gently and fled to her room, not before assuring–“If you need anything, I’m right here.” I nodded as the door shut.
I was back to the gloomy, dark confinement. The same creaky old bed, as damaged as me begged for me to approve of it. I seated myself, crossing my legs. On the nightstand laid my wedding album. Tears brimmed in my eyes as I ran my fingers over the happy front cover.
It was a daily routine to reminisce the old, joyous times before going to bed. When he was alive, he and I would lay in bed every night together commenting on each uncle/aunt that awkwardly hung around in our photos. I wiped the tear that plopped on one of the laminated pages before shutting and holding the book close to my chest.
Why did he have to be... gone? Why was there no possession of him that I kept in my custody? Okay, except for our baby... It hasn’t even been 2 months since Nikhil left me and perhaps I was just 6-7 weeks pregnant back then.
“This is the best thing you’ve ever given me, Nikhil,” I said, caressing my belly. I didn’t know how long I cried but soon later, I fell asleep again and our memories haunted me still.