Chapter 1

Written by: Hemali Ajmera

The hospital room was hot and stuffy though the air-conditioner grunted noisily. Akshay grimaced as excruciating pain racked his body.

He had hoped to meet Shweta one last time. It was risky but he wanted to do it for Salim. Before that opportunity could arise, Akshay was summoned by Swaminathan, Shweta’s maternal uncle, to a private room at the Oberoi Hotel.

After the thrashing, Akshay was unceremoniously dumped in a back alley flanking the hotel. A sanitation worker offered help and Akshay asked him to call Salim to inform him of his terrible plight.                                                                                     


The pre-wedding ceremonies had begun. Aditya’s eyes darted in anticipation every few seconds in the direction of where Shweta was to enter the wedding mandap. The presiding priest was visibly annoyed with Aditya’s preoccupation and the decibel level of his high-pitched voice mounted rapidly with each mantra. [1]

Lakshmi, Shweta’s mother, was busy welcoming the groom’s party seated around the mandap. There was a spring to her step, thanks to her brother who had managed to get rid of Akshay just in time.

Not long ago, Akshay was a cherished guest in the R. Swaminathan (IAS) [2] household; a place which Shweta and her mother had been calling home for the past 15 years.

Shweta and her twin brother were 10 when her parents ended their acrimonious marriage. To make life easier, each parent decided to raise one child. Patriarchy dictated that Shweta’s father be given first choice. He chose Rahul because a son was important to carry the family name forward.

After the divorce, Shweta’s wilful father cut off all contact with them but Rahul often visited his mother and sister. With time Shweta and Rahul grew closer. One day Rahul introduced Shweta to his best friends - Akshay and Salim, his classmates from engineering school.

Sparks flew and before long Shweta and Salim fell madly in love. Very soon the besotted couple realized that the barriers of religion and social hierarchy were impossible to breach. A middle-class Muslim boy and an affluent Hindu girl were not a match made on earth.   

Shweta’s extended family was especially unyielding. Family honour was very important to them and for its sake Shweta had to marry into a Tamil Brahmin family, just like theirs. Marrying outside the community was unacceptable but marrying outside the religion was sacrilegious.

Being a bureaucrat in the state machinery, Swaminathan was a man of considerable influence in his community. He asked the family astrologer to inform families of eligible grooms about his beautiful niece.

The family was jubilant when Shweta’s and Aditya’s horoscopes matched perfectly. Aditya was a pure TamBram [3] - impressive lineage, academically accomplished and lucratively employed in U.S.A. Moreover, he was a vegetarian and teetotaler. An ideal catch indeed.

Thus began the family melodrama. There was much cajoling and chiding to convince Shweta to agree to the marriage. The saga reached a climax when Laxmi threatened to end her life if Shweta did not concede. Incapable of protesting any longer, Shweta dispiritedly accepted her destiny.          


[1] Mantra – Religious incantation from Hindu holy scriptures or texts.     

[2] IAS – Indian Administrative Services - The Indian Administrative Service, often abbreviated to IAS, is the administrative arm of the All India Services. It is considered the premier civil service of India. People who pass the tough civil services exam are then posted as bureaucrats in various government departments/organizations. They often use this suffix behind their name to denote their position (and clout) as a public servant.

[3] TamBram – Short for Tamil Brahmin, or high-caste Brahmin people from south eastern India.  


You have set the scene really well Hemali. I look forward to see where this story goes. It has huge possibilities and already I'm wondering if love will win in the end. We will have to see.
The back story is very well done and I like the consideration you give to those of us who need to understand your culture by explaining the detailed points at the foot of the chapter. I also loved your descriptive work - ie the air-conditioner grunted noisily. Little things like that bring the story alive. Lovely work, Hemali.
I couldn't have asked for a better Chapter 1 Hemali. At first, it felt like a smooth, easy read but then it hit the bloodstream and ideas started pouring in. The piece is well-layered and intriguing. Love it.