The slow humdrum of the mantras being drowned out by the boisterous dhol being beaten at the entrance. Men crowding around the bars and laughing while women giggled around tables at the opposite end of the lawn. Flowers. Fairylights. Live food counters. How original.
“Just give the envelope and leave…” Ruhi’s mom pleaded on the phone. It had taken her mom a full week to convince her to attend this distant relative’s son’s wedding in her college town. Two minutes in, Ruhi already regretted giving in as the pencil heels that she had borrowed from her roommate began sinking in the grass. And it’s not exactly like she had felt comfortable in them before this either- so she spotted the nearest table and sat down to take a breather.
Ruhi heard her before she turned around. The lyrical voice of the woman sitting behind her was rising and falling even when she spoke the most mundane sentences as if she was constantly reading inscriptions off castle walls. No, Ruhi corrected herself. Not reading. Creating. At first, she thought she was hearing wrong, but soon she couldn’t control her laughter. When the third man that had approached the table since Ruhi started counting left, she decided to turn around and whisper, “I know what you’re doing”.
If Jhilmil was startled, her eyes didn’t betray it even for a second. She tucked a loose hair strand behind her ear and leaned in as if they were co-conspirators, “And what is that?”
Her immediate abandonment of the space between them made Ruhi smile, “You are making your male cousins sneak alcoholic drinks to you in mocktail glasses in exchange for relationship advice.”
Ruhi wasn’t sure how she would react, but none of the options in her mind included the laughter that was coming her way now. Usually, her nerves would’ve kicked in by now and she would have started wondering if the person in front of her was laughing with her or on her. Not today, though. The sparkle in Jhilmil’s eyes gave off such warmth that Ruhi felt drawn in.
“Do you want some too? I’m Jhilmil, by the way.”
“I’m Ruhi. And what are we talking about here? Alcohol or advice?”
Jhilmil raised an eyebrow and smirked, “Alcohol. Because if the last two minutes have been any indication, you know how to begin a conversation with a woman, unlike my sorry cousins. What would I even teach you?”
“I don’t know”, Ruhi tilted her head, “I think I could use a little help when it comes to taking the conversation forward.”
Jhilmil giggled and patted the chair next to her.
“You could begin by asking about her interests.”
“Okay so, for example, Jhilmil what are your interests?”
Jhilmil shook her head and bit her lip, “No, that put the onus on me. You have to notice the other person enough to come up with a direct question.”
Ruhi squinted her eyes for a second and then said, “So what interests you about other people’s relationships so much?”
“Very good”, Jhilmil whispered and then continued in at a normal volume, “I like knowing what makes human beings click together…I’m a little bit of a romantic in that I believe that loving is the best thing we do, so I like knowing how we decide who to love.”
“And what have you found out so far?”
“No, no, no”, Jhilmil rolled her eyes, “This way it’ll become like an interview. And later when I replay this conversation in my head I will wonder if it was only interesting because it was about me. You have to contribute your opinion too!”
Jhilmil’s kohled eyes were wide in expectation and Ruhi resisted the urge to keep looking into them, and to avoid that she started gesturing wildly, “Well, I don’t know how other people make their decisions, but for me it’s about the vibe I feel when I interact with the person.”
Before Ruhi could continue, Jhilmil ran her index finger across Ruhi’s palm, “Like a spark?” , her tone had just a hint of mischief.
“Usually yes, but it has to be more than just that, right? A spark implies something that is there for a second.”
“Exactly. Which is why now would be the perfect time to change the dynamic a little…add a little movement. If this were a restaurant situation maybe we could recommend dishes or drinks to each other, if this was a pub you could’ve asked me for a dance, but here…” Ruhi looked around at the aunties and uncles clad in their bright wedding guest clothes and judgemental eyes, “You just might have to get a little creative.”
“Do you want to go for walk? This is a pretty huge resort and the poolside is gorgeous.”
“Lead the way”, Jhilmil smiled, but the moment Ruhi stood up her heels reminded her of why she had sat down in the first place.
“Such a small problem? Wait…have you met the lucky couple yet?”
They had known each other for less than fifteen minutes but Ruhi could tell that Jhilmil’s mind was bubbling with a plan from the way her face lit up.
“Okay great. So listen, I’m the bride’s sister. If I hold your hand on the way to their seats so that you don’t fall, people will assume you’re one of our distant cousins. There are so many anyway. You can give your envelope, and then, here’s what we’ll do…”
Jhilmil texted her cousins on their group chat with her plan so that they could each play their part. Ten minutes later Ruhi and Jhilmil were walking by the poolside, talking about their lives growing up in different cities, with the groom’s shoes on Ruhi’s feet.
“You’re brilliant, you know that, right?”, Ruhi stopped midway to look directly at Jhilmil.
“Thank you, yes I do know- we had to come up with a hiding place for those shoes anyway, so I thought why not…also, very good. That was a well-timed compliment. I had been thinking about how one was due any time now.”
Now it was Ruhi’s turn to laugh, “What about me? Am I doing well? Does this walk pass your movement criteria?”
“It’s great, but ideally by now you would find an excuse in the environment to come closer to me.”
Ruhi looked at the pool for a second and wondered about recreating the scene from cheesy movies where people sit with their feet dipped in the water and talk about why they are who they are. Then suddenly, it hit her. Traces of the slow song being played in the lawn were vaguely in the air, and she took Jhilmil’s hand in her’s. Feeling their fingers entwined was magic in itself, but Jhilmil squeezing her hand back made her blush.
“Okay good” Jhilmil smiled, “but what’s the excuse?”
“Will you dance with me? This is not an excuse. This is what I want.”
Jhilmil looked around to make sure no one was coming- this was still her sister’s wedding, and relatives could be counted in to snoop from anywhere- and then quietly draped her hands around Ruhi’s waist.
They had barely begun swaying two minutes ago when Ruhi’s phone rang.
“You were going to leave in ten minutes, Ruhi. You still haven’t reached and the warden is getting restless.”, her roommate whispered.
“I need to go. But will I see you again? Will you visit Bombay more often now that you sister is here? I would love a chance to show you how well I do on a date without play by play instructions. I’m a fast learner.”
Jhilmil nodded and pulled Ruhi close. Instead of aiming for her lips, she bent towards her ears and whispered, “can’t wait.”
Forty five minutes of Bombay traffic later, Ruhi entered her hostel room and began narrating everything to her roommate breathlessly, “there was this girl who was drinking alot…I mean not drinking alot she was like talking alot to her cousins and I was sitting on this chair and then we danced and oh my god..”
“Ruhi listen, I appreciate your excitement but you’ve got to slow down, okay?” Her roommate giggled, “let’s focus on one thing at a time. For starters, whose shoes are you wearing and what did you do with my heels?”