The door opened. Stefan had noticed it had been closed for a while, though he was comfortably couched on the sofa in the living room. He had assumed Tanushree to be taking a nap; after all, she wasn’t at her best today, skipping food and seemingly tired.
But his guess couldn’t have been more wrong, as in the next moment, she walked out of the room – dressed like one of the goddesses he had seen in the TVs here. Stefan wondered if the wedding, which was a fortnight away, had flashed back to the moment. She was wearing a glittering orange lehenga, his favourite colour, with matching accessories right from the forehead to the ankles. Her face still wore the day’s tiredness, but now there was a certain glow as well.
“Whoa!” Stefan exclaimed, as she stood close to him. She smiled – not just for the complimentary reaction, but also for the fact that he seemed genuinely impressed. It did not evade her eyes that he had been off-colour throughout the day, which was occasional about him; but her tiring day had a reason, and she was about to disclose it to him.
“What whoa?” She flashed a fake sadness, “You don’t even care!”
“Eh?” Stefan knew she was joking, yet he always bit this bait. “Where did that come from?”
Tanushree smiled, satisfied. She pulled his cheeks, leaning forward and said, “Did you even feed me today?”
Stefan was slightly irritated, especially because his day had been cranky enough. But he did not show it. Still smiling, he said, “I thought you weren’t in the mood. You didn’t have lunch, either?”
She straightened up, and not bothering about her fiancé’s lack of acknowledgement of her day-long strife, smiled and announced, “I kept a fast today.” She quickly added, “For you!”
Stefan frowned, his typically German blue eyes contracting in a pattern. Seeing his inanimate face, she laughed out loud and said, “Yes, Sweetums. Remember Karva Chauth? I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before.”
“Karva…” Stefan wondered. Tanushree suddenly turned and walked towards the kitchen. As he pondered over the word she had said, he heard clinking sounds from inside. She walked out holding a brass tray, which had multiple objects including a lit lamp.
As he sat clueless, she placed the tray on top of the table and sat beside him.
“It’s when we fast. And for your long life!” her voice was flavoured with sarcasm, but she was keen to let him know about the day too.
“That’s crazy! Why’d you do that?” His face had a natural disbelief.
“It’s a ritual, Sweetums. Done once in a year. We’d fast for the whole day.”
“And till what time? When can you have food?”
“That’s why I’m dressed up. You are part of breaking the fast.”
“Me? How?” He looked perplexed.
“I’ll explain. Get up now. We’re going up.” She nudged him.
“NO WAY!” His response took her by surprise. An awkward moment passed in silence. Stefan, realising his unprecedented modulation, quickly said, “I mean, I’m not in the best mood, Dear. Now…”
“But the fast…it’s incomplete without your presence!” She said in desperation. The tiredness was gaining prominence in her voice now.
Stefan did not want to be rude. He did understand what she had done, but he was reluctant at the moment. “Listen, Dear. I’m not even dressed properly. Surely that’s important, isn’t it?”
She wasn’t looking at him any longer. With her eyes fixed on the burning lamp, she said, “Listen. This is not even the right day. Mom said it’s after three days. But I observed it today because you’re leaving tomorrow. So it’s not about the custom, Stef. Just that I wanted to do it for you.” Her eyes sparkled now, he noticed. Damsel in distress.
“But…I really don’t want to. I’m not even part of these…” He couldn’t complete the sentence. She got up and walked away, now clearly weeping.
Stefan sighed deep. In the past year and half, he hadn’t seen her cry. Right from their first meeting in Cologne, his hometown, he had known how to keep her smiling. How her German trip had turned their lives! From the façade of a Gothic cathedral, the backdrop of their love story had evolved up to the city lights of Delhi. And everything pleasantly so. Why would he let the cadence be disturbed?
Minutes later, the door to the terrace opened; Tanushree and her “firangi fiancé” emerged from the stairs. The society’s terrace was huge, and empty. She led the way, glowing with a smile now. He followed, uneasiness written all over him, wearing a Tee and track-pants.
She looked up to the skies, having stopped at the exact centre of the terrace. The moon wasn’t seen. But soon she spotted the clouds that failed to conceal the glow beyond them. She was delighted.
“You know, I’ll look at the moon through this sieve. And then at you. That’s when you break my fast, okay?” She explained again. Stefan looked pale, but his eyes were fixed on her. He tried to smile and replied, “Sure. Now quick, finish it off.”
“Wait baba, the moon has to be out completely.” He sighed at her words.
As the clouds drifted above them, Tanushree gave her fiancé an expectant look and shifted her gaze towards the moon. The white orb was satisfyingly complete – the full moon seemed more excited than her fiancé, she thought. Some impatient, grumpy sounds were heard from him now. She smiled, eyes still on the moon, knowing he was intentionally, and in a rather cute way, testing her. The sieve textured the glorious moon, and she gradually lowered it to face him. His sounds had receded. As her eyes moved on to him, all she saw was a pair of deep yellow eyes staring at her, a wolf-like nose breathing heavily, and a hairy forehead, with starkly familiar wrinkles by the eyes.
Even before she could shriek, it pounded on her. The clatter of the tray hitting the floor went unheard in her shriek and its grumblings.