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Srestha opened the door when Snigdha rang the bell; she had been waiting anxiously for Snigdha to return home. As soon as she laid eyes on Snigdha her anxiety burst forth and she deluged Snigdha with her queries. “Why did you get so late? Your dad was so worried. Has Sameer gone home? Did you get into any trouble?”

Snigdha said tiredly, “Relax, mom. Sameer went home. We were roaming around. Why did you expect us to run into trouble just because we went pandal hopping late at night? Please stop worrying so much.”

Srestha frowned. “Romita and Neelu returned much earlier. She said you two will get late. That’s what had us worried. The four of you left together, so you should have returned together. All these days you were shouting to get your wedding cancelled and now you are roaming together late at night. But I’m glad you two saw some sense and came around. Sameer did take care of you tonight, didn’t he? He is a good boy. I actually got the feeling he was protesting only because you were against this marriage.”

Snigdha was a bit taken aback at her mother’s words. She had no idea that her mother had such a good measure of Sameer. She hastened to reassure Srestha, “Yes, mom, your precious Sameer took good care of me. When did Romy and Neelu come back?” She couldn’t wait to go and pounce on Romita.

Srestha said, “Oh, they came back two hours ago. They have gone to bed. You look tired. You should go to bed, too. Tomorrow is another big day. You need some rest.”

Snigdha suddenly felt sorry for all the trouble she had been causing for the last few days. She hugged Srestha and said, “Mom, you also need to sleep. You have been working hard all day, and yet you didn’t sleep. I never thought you would be awake. We should have come back earlier.”

Srestha cupped her daughter’s face and said fondly, “No, sweetheart. Don’t feel sorry about this. I know you both need time together. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I couldn’t sleep. It’s not your fault. I’m so happy that things are turning out great between you two. Now, go to bed.”

Snigdha hurried upstairs to her room with the full intention of getting some sleep. The day had been very, very long and hectic. As she entered the room, she found Romita fast asleep. Romita was sleeping with her as the other rooms were occupied by their relatives. She tiptoed up to her wardrobe to take out her night dress, but the creaking woke Romita. She was disoriented at first, but as the drowsiness dissipated, she became aware of Snigdha’s presence. She sat bolt upright on the bed and gushed, “Oh, Snig! I’ve been dying to talk to you. How was it? How did the night go?”

Initially, Snigdha felt bad about waking Romita up, but curiosity got the better of her and she went to sit beside her friend after getting into her night dress quickly. She said wryly, “So you have been waiting to hear about my night? What about your and Neelu’s night then? How come you never mentioned it to me?”

Romita replied impatiently, “You can be so dumb at times. There’s nothing between Neelu and I. I wanted Sameer and you to spend some time alone. But if I had refused to go with you, you would have refused his offer to take you out. So, I had to use Neelu. I lied that I wanted to spend time with Neelu. Umm, there was another ulterior motive, I admit. I wanted a partner to watch a late-night show.”

Snigdha was flabbergasted. Her eyes went wide in surprise and disbelief. “You planned all that? And Neelu helped you? Yeah, I really am dumb. I should have realised what you were up to.”

Romita asked carefully, clasping Snigdha’s hand tightly, “Hey, Snigy, are you angry? I did it for your own good.”

Snigdha kept silent for a bit. “No, I’m not angry with you.” Snigdha smiled at Romita reassuringly on seeing the fear and discomfort on her best friend’s face.

Romita relaxed visibly. Pulling the pillow on her lap enthusiastically, she settled herself comfortably and sat cross-legged. “So, tell me what happened. All of it.”

Snigdha said warily, “Romy, I’m just so tired. Can’t we talk in the morning?”

Romita adamantly shook her head. “I want to hear it now.”

Snigdha recognised the lost case and started regaling her best friend with all the details.

Romita mused after listening to the whole episode, “That guy is so caring. How are you actually resisting him?”

Snigdha lay down on her side of the bed and scoffed, “Romy, I’m going to sleep. You can continue with your comments later.”

Romita grinned and teased, “Can’t wait to start dreaming about Sameer, can you?”

Snigdha said exasperatedly with a huff, “Oh, Romy, give me a break.”

Romita lay down beside Snigdha, smiling widely.

But no sooner did Snigdha start getting drowsy than she suddenly got up and fished her mobile out of her purse. She called Sameer. When he picked up his phone, she asked, “Did you reach home safely?”

“Yeah, I’m just locking the garage after putting the car in.”

Snigdha asked, “Who opened the door for you then? Mom couldn’t sleep tonight because of us.”

“Nitesh Da did. Don’t worry. He is a night bird. My late night didn’t disturb anybody. But I’m sorry about your mother. I’ll apologise to her when I meet her later. But you should go to sleep now.”

“Hmm. I’m in bed. I just wanted to make sure you reached home safely. Goodnight then.”

Sameer said, “Bye. Sweet dreams.” He disconnected the phone.

Snigdha kept her phone on the bedside table and closed her eyes. Romita said, chuckling, “I was right about the dream bit.”

Snigdha didn’t respond. She was thinking about the obvious glee in Sameer’s voice on listening to her concerns for him. She didn’t know how long she could keep him happy. This night was a one-time thing. It couldn’t happen again. She couldn’t be a happy person again. How long could Sameer keep up with her mood swings? If she could have been with Abir tonight, she would have been on cloud nine. Maybe Abir was busy taking someone else to cloud nine. At this thought, she felt the familiar painful clenching of her heart. Abir. She wanted Abir.

Later that morning, Romita again took the responsibility of dressing Snigdha up. Both of them were struggling to drape the sari around Snigdha. Snigdha was cursing the person who had invented saris under her breath.

Suddenly Srestha came in, looking jubilant. She had a wrapped package in her hands. “Girls, Sameer’s mother has sent some clothes for Snigdha. She wants her to wear this today.”

Romita took the package excitedly and tore off the wrappings. There was a beautiful ivory lehenga inside. “Wow! They have good choice. All the jewellery they gave her yesterday are also beautiful.” Romita took a look at Srestha’s furrowed brows. “Don’t you like it, aunty?”

“No, it’s beautiful. But Bengali brides wear saris and this…” Srestha was looking really worried.

“Come on, aunty.” Romita rolled her eyes. “Times are changing. Cultures are merging. A bride needs to look pretty. That she can do in a sari, in a lehenga, in a gown, whatever she chooses.”

“I guess so. I hope no one gets offended by anything.”

Romita placed her hands on Srestha’s shoulders and said insistently, “Nothing will happen. I know you and uncle are worried. But relax, one dress won’t bring in a tsunami.”

“You never know when disaster strikes.” Srestha went towards the wardrobe to take out some matching jewellery for the new dress. “Sameer has an old grandmother. Will she like the new bride to break tradition?”

Now Snigdha was getting irritated by her mother’s negativity. “Mom, chill. They have sent me this dress. I didn’t ask for it. If his grandmother says anything, the blame will lie on Rimsha aunty, not me.”

“Yes, yes, I know. I just can’t stop worrying, that’s all.” Srestha took out some jewellery boxes from the wardrobe and kept them on the bed. “Choose something matching and get ready fast. Hurry, Romita. We have to leave soon.” With that Srestha walked out of the room, leaving the two girls alone.

Snigdha sighed. “It seems like I have become a puppet to the Sinhas’ wishes.” There was a note of bitterness in her voice that Romita noticed.

Romita tried to reason, “You are taking the whole thing wrong. The Sinhas are doing so much for you. You are a lucky girl.”

Snigdha said sarcastically, “It’s pathetic and not lucky. My parents are dancing to their tunes. This is not lucky in my opinion. We are still stuck in such medieval times. It makes me sick. I have to wear what they choose for me now. I was always the princess, but as soon as they get a son-in-law, I get pushed to second-class status. How nice! Suddenly everything is about pleasing Sameer and his parents. My emotions can go to hell!”

Romita rolled her eyes at her best friend. “You don’t like the dress?”

Snigdha was pulled up short by the question. “No. No, I didn’t mean that. It’s beautiful.”

Romita grinned. “Then what are you complaining about? Your in-laws are so broadminded and open. You should be happy.”

Snigdha didn’t want to argue further, so she set to the task of choosing a necklace to go with the new dress. Romita also started picking and choosing with her. Half-an-hour later when Snigdha was ready in her new clothes and jewellery she was a sight to behold. The two girls couldn’t stop ogling Snigdha’s reflection in the mirror. Romita whispered in awe, “Those people have choice, Snig.” Snigdha couldn’t agree more.

When the Basus reached Sameer’s house, they were warmly welcomed by all the Sinhas. Rimsha wound her arm around Snigdha and led her in. Sameer was waiting inside for them. He was wearing a white and pale pink panjabi with a white dhoti having a golden border. As usual he was pulling off the Bengali look with stunning effect. He came forward to greet everybody. The puja before the aashirvaad ceremony started in a short while.

The same process of blessing and giving gifts ensued after the puja ended. But this time, Sameer was at the receiving end. Snigdha noticed how happy Sameer looked. She was sulking yesterday and feeling tormented, whereas Sameer was enjoying every bit of it. It was evident from his face that all this was very important for him.

After the ceremony, the photographer who had been clicking away on his camera since they had arrived, asked Snigdha and Sameer to stand together for some snaps. Romita pulled her up and led her over to Sameer. They were made to smile and pose for pictures. Slowly the whole family came to stand with them for photos.

After the photo session had gone on for more than ten minutes, Shefali suddenly pulled Snigdha’s hand and said, “Boudi, come on, we have some special plans for you.”

Snigdha looked back so that she could gesture Romita to accompany her. But Sameer was standing with Romita and Shefali thought Snigdha was looking for Sameer. Shefali grinned teasingly and said, “Aww! How sweet. You can’t stay without dada even for a few seconds. Okay, we will take him to you later. But now you have to come with us.”

Snigdha got highly irritated. Now she would have to put up with this interfering girl. She called Romita and when Romita came towards her, she said resignedly, “Let’s go, Shefali.”

Shefali led them to a room upstairs. All of Sameer’s cousins were gathered there. Shefali looked around once. “Hey, didn’t you call boudi’s cousins yet? They can’t miss out on the fun.”

This pleased Snigdha in spite of her annoyance with Shefali. Sameer’s family was accepting her family; her cousins were not being left out of the fun. Right then Neelu came in with Medha and Kartik.

Once everyone was settled on the bed, on couches, and pouffes, Shefali clapped her hands to get everybody’s attention. “Okay, everyone, I’ve brought boudi with me. Let’s start.”

Snigdha was feeling very apprehensive by now. What had these people planned for her? The gleeful faces around her gave the distinct impression that they were up to no good. She looked nervously at each face, trying to guess what was going on in their minds.

Shefali said with the air of Santa Claus pulling a gift out of his sack, “Boudi, yesterday dada revealed that you are a fabulous dancer. We would like to witness that for ourselves. You have to dance for us on any song of your choice.”

Snigdha heaved a sigh of relief. She was dreading something highly mortifying like yesterday. This was easy. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders in acquiescence. “Bring it on!”

Pravin asked excitedly, “What song do you want us to play?”

Snigdha thought for a while and then suggested, “Play Ao Kabhi Haveli Pe. That’s a fun song.” She removed her jewellery and gave them to Romita.

Everyone cheered and Pravin pulled out the song from the internet quickly. As the music started Snigdha began her moves. This was what she loved doing—dancing for a crowd. Everybody cheered her. They clapped very hard when she finished and demanded for an encore. So, she gladly started again.

They badgered her to dance on more songs and she complied gladly, completely in her element. At last Snigdha was exhausted and she wanted to wash her face, so she asked Shefali where the washroom was.

Shefali suggested her to use the one in Sameer’s room, which was two rooms to the left of where they were gathered. Snigdha left and headed for Sameer’s room.

As she entered, she found Sameer playing with Riddhita. He was tickling her waist and she was shrieking gleefully and trying to wriggle out of his arms. She stopped, astonished to watch Sameer play with her niece. He was throwing Riddhita up in the air and catching her as she fell. They both looked delighted at their game. Suddenly Sameer noticed Snigdha at the door. “Your niece has decided to call me Maach. Nice name what say?”

Snigdha asked, perplexed, “What sort of a name is that?”

Sameer laughed, “Your dad introduced me as her meshomoshai. Now, she couldn’t pronounce that. So, she came up with the short form—Maach. Smart girl!” Riddhita was now trying to climb on his shoulders. He lovingly obliged and placed her there. Riddhita clapped happily, giggling.

Snigdha was delighted at this endearing scene. “You are so effortlessly good with kids. You both look so cute.”

Sameer asked her, “What are you doing here? Didn’t Shefali plan something for you?”

Snigdha said happily, “Oh, yeah. Your cousins wanted me to dance. I just came for a quick wash. I’m tired after all the dancing.”

Sameer sounded wistful. “Oh no! I would have loved to see you dance.” But then he turned his head to look up at Riddhita. “That’s okay though. Your niece also needs company.”

Snigdha smiled. She quickly excused herself and went to the washroom.

When she came out, Sameer was with Shefali and Riddhita was nowhere to be seen. Sameer explained when he saw Snigdha look around quizzically, “It’s Riddhita’s lunch time, so her mother took her downstairs. Shefali wants me to accompany both of you.”

Snigdha nodded and together they went back to their gathered cousins.

As soon as they entered, Pravin jumped up and announced, “Now dada is going to dance with boudi.”

Snigdha got startled at this. She stared first at Pravin and then at Sameer, who too was taken aback. Sameer took one look at Snigdha and said, “No, Pravin! Leave me out of it.”

Shefali was not one to budge from her demand. “Nope! You two are dancing.”

Snigdha had never felt so awkward on being asked to dance. She had done duets before. But suddenly she couldn’t make herself look at Sameer. Being that close to him—the thought tensed up her body. Her feet felt frozen on the spot. Her heartbeat accelerated.

The song Khuda Jaane started. Sameer slowly moved towards her and whispered, “May I?” He extended his hand towards her.

Snigdha looked into his eyes, which had suddenly become smouldering. She nodded slowly and tentatively placed her hand in his. He took her in his arms and started moving. He was not a very graceful dancer. He was prone to missing beats, but Snigdha matched her graceful steps with his awkward ones and let him lead her, for once Sameer’s guiding steps overwhelming her natural instinct to move with the rhythm. Wherever Sameer touched her felt alive.

Somebody knocked at the door. The spell was broken and Sameer hastily let go of Snigdha. Snigdha breathed in deeply, trying to clear her head. She didn’t even notice who opened the door. She was still reeling from the sudden unexpected intimacy with Sameer. Rimsha came in and told everyone to go down for lunch.

Later when the Basus were leaving and Rimsha was escorting Snigdha out, Rimsha said quietly to her, “Did you like the lehenga?”

Snigdha said happily, “Yes, aunty. It’s beautiful.”

Rimsha smiled at her tenderly. “Sameer bought it for you yesterday while we were coming back from your place. My son has taste, isn’t it? This colour looks so nice on you. And, call me mom from today. I’ll like that very much.”

Snigdha smiled shyly to herself, a little surprised. She ran her fingers lightly over the netting in her lehenga. Suddenly, the dress felt like the most special gift she had ever got.

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