Thursday, 9 January 2014

White

     The Texan Sun was unforgiving; its excoriating heat relentless, much worse than the stifling humidity of my hometown, Visakhapatnam. The El Paso Botanical Gardens looked unusually verdant against the arid landscape stretching endlessly to the horizon. The floor was being swept, tables were being moved, cutlery was being set, flowers were being brought in.This flurry of activity was punctuated by instructions delivered in English, Spanish and a garbled mixture of both. There were a few hours remaining before I stood by my brother's side at the altar. I sat on a stool languidly, leaning against the wall, my legs moving restlessly of their own accord, pondering the extremely long odds that brought me here.

     I was in Texas for my brother's wedding, an elaborate celebration that spanned three continents and four countries. A few months ago, my brother announced that he was engaged. His fiancee was exceedingly pretty, charmingly effervescent and eminently likeable. She was also Mexican. The announcement was received with much less palaver than I, as someone preternaturally attuned to our family dynamics, expected. I was not expecting earth shattering tectonic shifts but the calm almost resigned acceptance was decidedly out of character for my traditional family and a tad too anticlimactic.

     The ensuing months were a whirlwind of planning; the specifics of which were relayed from the UK, where my brother lives, to India where the wedding took place, through Abu Dhabi, where my parents live. All the preparations culminated in a boisterous, unapologetically grand celebratory spectacle that was my brother's Indian wedding.A little more than a month later, my family and I packed our bags and made our way to El Paso, the site of my brother's wedding - part deux.

     When my brother asked me to be his best man, I accepted without giving it a moment's thought. It was quite possibly the nicest gesture directed towards me. Upon further reflection, I started having misgivings. To put it mildly, I am not the most prepossessing of individuals. Add to that my utter lack of charm, my maladroit, accident prone, klutzy, disaster magnet of a body and my morbid fear of public speaking, you have a decent comedy movie plot but not the requisite elements for a best man at a wedding. With my mind visualising disaster scenarios ranging from my accidental burning of the church to misplacing the wedding rings, I watched the cater-waiters setting up the reception area.

     I looked at my watch and saw that I only had an hour to get ready. I walked at a brisker than normal pace to the hotel, showered and changed into my tuxedo. I checked myself out in the mirror. " Not too shabby", I remarked to myself. I joined my family and took a cab to the Church. My mom looked resplendent in a beautiful green sari, my dad respectably decked out in a dark blue suit. We talked about trivial stuff as the cheerful cabbie took us to the Church in about twenty minutes.

    I checked my pockets - the rings- check,

                                  - my wallet - check,

                                  - my phone - check,

                                  - a pack of gum - check,

                                  - some tissues - check.

     I had everything I needed or so I thought. We were intercepted by one of the other groomsmen at the entrance and whisked away to one of the rooms to the right of the altar. My brother was sitting in one of the chairs with his coat off, checking something on his phone. He looked up as we entered, shot a smile in our direction. I noticed that my brother was smiling a lot more these days. He had about him an air of bewildered joy, an expression that indicated he hadn t quite processed his emotions. He confided in me earlier that he was surprised by the depth of his feeling and that the myriad shades happiness can manifest in had taken him all unaware. I am genuinely glad he found someone who appreciates him for the person he is. Our reserved self effacing family sat close together in silence basking in the warmth of the love of our unvoiced endearments, our undemonstrated affections - a perfect moment of intimacy, a calming spiritual instant, that revealed to me the true meaning and strength of family. I will forever cherish that memory.

      We were all brought out of our reverie by the abrupt opening of the door. " Ok people, the show's about to start.", the altar boy announced in an oddly informal manner. The ceremony that followed was beautiful, poignant and mercifully brief. I was feeling faint towards the end of the ceremony but thankfully nobody noticed. I hugged my brother awkwardly after the ceremony. To our mutual surprise, neither of us gagged or fell to the ground seizing. Before he joined my new sister-in-law in the car to the reception, he said the five words that sent me into a near apoplectic state, "Looking forward to your toast"

      I had downloaded a speech off the internet and modified it to suit the occasion, an unexceptionable if slightly boring collection of words that I thought adequately represented the message the occasion warranted. Unfortunately I left it back at the hotel. I raced back to the hotel and turned my room upside down looking for it, during the course of which I tripped three times and hit my head twice. I then realised that room service would have chucked it away with the trash. Dishevelled and disappointed, I headed to the reception after futilely trying to make myself moderately presentable.

      Battling trembling hands and an imminent panic attack, I made my way to the table where I was seated to the right of my brother. He shot me an enquiring glance to which I replied non verbally with a shrug and a half grin. I was busy shovelling the delicious red velvet wedding cake into my mouth when the maid of honour attracted our attention by striking a fork against her champagne glass. She must have delivered an emotionally stirring toast because I saw people dabbing their eyes with hand kerchiefs. I could not hear a single word because all I could concentrate on was my rapid heart beat, which drowned out the words. I was sweating, hyperventilating and my hands were cold and clammy. I could suddenly hear applause and then silence as people were looking at me. I realised it was my turn. I was handed the microphone.

      I spoke the very first words that came to my mind. " Umm... Tough act to follow." I observed while laughing nervously. There was polite laughter from certain quarters. A pause during which murmurs of the audience could be heard followed. I took a deep breath and composed myself.

     "People always talk about Love at weddings. It is appropriate, I suppose. Never having been in Love myself, I don t think I could wax rhapsodic about the alchemy that is love. As an introvert, I may not be particularly loquacious, but I am a keen observer of the human condition. I can usually tell with nary a doubt when I am in the presence of Love. And today, I am."

     There was a loud " Yeah" from somewhere within the tent.

     "No more Champagne for him, please." I remarked to one of the wait staff which elicited muffled laughter from the crowd. That was when the tension broke; my speech, from then on, did not falter.

      " I have been incredibly blessed to have the greatest parents in the world. I have watched first hand what love really is. People often mistake grand spectacular gestures as emblematic of love. I know better. It is always the little things. Remembering how thinly he likes the vegetables sliced or how much she appreciates a clean bed or the Bond movie he liked as a kid or the perfect shade of blue she likes. The cliches - Opposites attract, Birds of a feather - are patently untrue. I have always found that the best couples complement each other. They bring out the best in each other and they smooth out the rough edges. I called love alchemy and in a sense it is, it takes two individuals and makes them a golden couple like these two radiant people here." I said, pointing to the left.

     " A wedding is a celebration of love, the happiest of occasions and I am truly privileged to be a part of this one. This wedding is doubly special because it also marks the coming together of two families each bringing to this celebration a rich and vibrant cultural heritage. Wishing that this union is the start of a relationship that yields a lifetime of happiness, I invite you all to raise your glasses and drink to the health of the most beautiful bride in the world and the luckiest guy in the world, my brother and his wife, Mr and Mrs Alamuri."

     There was a respectably loud applause and clinking of glasses. My brother gave me an affectionate pat on the back as I sat down. I was shaking and utterly spent. I excused myself and ran to the men's room. I thought I acquitted myself reasonably well without embarrassing myself. I came back and was dragged on to the dance floor. I swayed to the music for a while and left for the hotel. I discovered my original speech in my wallet later when I left a tip for the maid who had to clean my room twice.

     The next day, I was sent a link to youtube which turned out to be a video of me on the dance floor and I was mortified by what I saw. I was moving with all the grace of a pregnant buffalo on roller skates having an epileptic fit.

     I have now been informed that the video went viral. My terpsichorean ineptitude has been recorded for posterity.

     So much for not embarrassing myself.




    This was my entry to a recently held Short Story Competition. It was my first attempt at writing fiction. It was a hastily written, poorly proof read work. Nonetheless, I am proud of this labour of love. I hope my sophomore literary undertaking turns out to be more successful..