Read An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding Online

Authors: Christina Jones

Tags: #Fiction, #General

An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding (6 page)

Erin squinted sideways at Nalisha. This, surely, was the point where she giggled a bit and denied it.

Nalisha didn’t. She merely smiled and slowly crossed her supermodel legs. All the men in the restaurant stopped eating and watched.

Jay grinned. ‘And even if there was such a man, he’d have to be very brave to take Nalisha on. She certainly has a mind of her own. I can’t see her settling for domesticity.’

Nalisha, now studying her menu, still said nothing, but her sleepy pussycat smile spoke volumes.

Huh, Erin thought. No need to spell it out. There’s Amazingly Clever and Stunningly Beautiful Independent Nalisha – and then there’s little non-corporate, not-been-to-uni me, who simply can’t wait to be married, and work for a year or so, and then have babies with the man I love more than life.

Nalisha was clearly a glorious Indian role model for the sisterhood and Erin now decided she and Nalisha would have absolutely nothing in common and couldn’t wait for her to be taken back to Birmingham – ooh, no, sorry, Solihull – by Tavish and Deena.

Then she wouldn’t have to see her again until Nalisha was just one more very beautiful Indian woman at their wedding. Another immaculately manicured hand to shake in the greeting line-up. Another bejewelled and sensuously sari’d guest.

It couldn’t be a minute too soon.

Oh, Erin thought miserably as she stared at the menu, why the hell had Deena invited her today?

Having eventually ordered, and
by now exhausted the discussions about Tavish’s business meeting in Reading, interviewing a new supplier for his small pharmacy, and Deena’s sourcing new products for her salon, along with Nalisha and Jay exchanging general chit-chat about people Erin had never met, it was as if no one actually wanted to make that first opening gambit regarding the wedding, just in case.

Lunch-time conversation hummed from the other tables, but not from theirs. Erin stared out of the wall-long ranks of floor-to-ceiling arched windows, open to the drowsy midday heat, across the glorious view down to the river. In six weeks’ time, this centuries-old room would be transformed for their wedding breakfast.

It would be so amazing, and incredible to think that when they next sat in this fabulous dining room, she would be Mrs Jay Keskar and the happiest woman in the world.

She simply couldn’t wait.

But …

Erin pleated the white linen tablecloth between her fingers. She and Jay had spent ages with Abbie, the Swan’s wedding planner, and the chefs and the restaurant manager, explaining what they wanted, and it had all been so exciting. Now, she felt a little knot of anxiety in the pit of her stomach, and it wasn’t
all
to do with the beautiful woman now sitting between her and Jay.

Surely Deena Keskar couldn’t start playing the cultural heritage card and
interfere
, could she? And even if she tried, it was far too late to change anything, wasn’t it?

The wine waiter arrived, dispensing
the bottles of mineral water they’d ordered, as they were all either driving, or returning to work, or both – or in Nalisha’s case, because she was apparently
dieting
.

Tavish poured drinks all round.

Deena raised her glass and smiled. ‘Well, I must say this place is absolutely gorgeous. Very clever of you two to have found it. I love it.’

Phew. Erin exhaled, let go of the tablecloth and smiled across Nalisha at Jay. It was going to be OK.

‘Yes –’ Deena nodded as their first courses arrived ‘– it’ll be perfect for either the
sagai
or the
sanji
.’ She looked across the table at Jay. ‘Which of them are you holding here?’

‘Neither,’ Jay said shortly, his forkful of goat’s cheese tart suspended. ‘We’ve explained all that. We’re having our wedding here – our entire wedding day: our marriage and the reception and –’

‘What or who is a
sagai
and a
sanji
?’ Erin frowned over her untouched mushrooms. As Jay and his parents were vegetarians, she’d already decided to forgo the bliss of the Swan’s fabulous pâté today. Now she didn’t even want the mushrooms. ‘They sound like an Indian double act. Like an Eastern Ant and Dec.’

Both Tavish and Deena looked at her doubtfully. Jay stifled a chuckle.

‘Oh dear,’ Nalisha said softly, slicing a tomato into skin-thin slivers.

‘Surely Jay’s told you? The
sagai
–’ Deena leaned forwards ‘– is the Indian engagement party. The ring ceremony. A celebration of your betrothal. It’s held a week before the wedding ceremony.’

‘Oh, we don’t need to
worry about that, then. We got engaged on my birthday – as you know – and we didn’t bother with an engagement party,’ Erin said, watching the sun dance in prisms from her diamond solitaire. ‘We just had a few drinks with our friends at the Merry Cobbler in Nook Green and then we went all out for dinner and –’

‘But you must be having a
sagai
.’ Deena looked shocked. ‘It’s traditional.’

‘Um,’ Erin said, ‘maybe for Hindu weddings, but ours isn’t one of those, is it? Although, because it’s a
fusion
wedding, we’ve incorporated loads of Indian stuff into our day. It’s very important to us to have a celebration of both cultures, but we’re not telling anyone the details because we want it to all come as a lovely surprise.’

‘Everything’s coming as a surprise to me at the moment,’ Deena sighed. ‘I really can’t believe that you haven’t organised a
sagai
. Still, never mind – leave it with me. Your parents will be here a week before the wedding won’t they, darling?’

‘Yes,’ Erin said with a nod, ‘but –’

Deena smiled. ‘Then that’s settled. We can have the
sagai
when they arrive. No, no, I don’t want to hear any arguments on that front – humour me, Erin. Please.’

‘Best just nod and say nothing,’ Nalisha whispered. ‘When Deena is in full Indian Mamma mode it’s the only way. Trust me.’

Erin stared at Nalisha in surprise. Maybe Nalisha
was
going to be a friend after all. However, nodding and saying nothing simply wasn’t Erin’s way.

She looked across the table at Deena. ‘But, honestly, we haven’t got time for a saggy, er,
sagai
and nowhere to hold it, and no one is going to want to come to another party just a week before the wedding anyway, and we’ve got our hen and stag nights too.’

Nalisha shook her head sadly.

‘Why on earth wouldn’t everyone
want several parties? Everyone loves a party.’ Deena beamed. ‘Anyway, let’s not worry about that now. You can leave the
sagai
to me. Right now, we seem to have far more important things to talk about. I’m very disappointed that you haven’t incorporated a
sanji
in your plans.’

‘Told you to say nothing.’ Nalisha played with her salad leaves and laughed quietly. ‘You’ll regret it …’

Jay shook his head. ‘Please don’t interfere, Mum. I know you’re doing all this with the best of motives, but–’

Erin, delighted that Jay
was
on her side, gave him a ‘no, it’s OK, leave this to me, please’ look across Nalisha. She really, really didn’t want a stand-up Keskar family row in the Swan’s hushed and illustrious dining room. Diplomacy had never been one of her skills, but she felt she had to at least try.

‘This, er,
sanji
? Is that right? What is it?’

‘It’s a Hindu wedding reception,’ Jay said quietly. ‘A lighthearted evening of dancing and music and lots of food. It’s supposed to be a chance for the families to get to know one another better.’

Erin nodded happily. She could cope with this. Diplomacy was much easier than she thought. ‘That’s OK then. We’re having one of those. A bit of fun for everyone after the formality of the ceremony and the meal and the speeches.’

‘Oh, thank goodness for that.’ Deena looked mollified.

‘But ours is an evening reception, here, straight after the wedding,’ Jay said. ‘As in all normal British marriage ceremonies.’

Erin wrinkled her nose. ‘Well, yes, of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?’

‘Because,’ Nalisha said quietly, ‘Indian weddings have the reception the day
after
the wedding.’

‘Wow.’ Erin chewed and
eventually swallowed a mushroom. ‘That must be exhausting. Well, we couldn’t do that anyway, because the day after our wedding we’ll be at Heathrow to go on honeymoon and –’

Deena frowned slightly. ‘Oh, really, it’s such a shame you and Jay weren’t a couple when any of our family have been married, darling. Then you’d have been to their weddings and know exactly what we expect a wedding to be. Nalisha would have known
exactly
what to expect, wouldn’t you, darling?’

Nalisha held up an elegant hand. ‘Please don’t involve me in this. You can’t expect Erin to know about all our cultural celebrations, can you? Yes, of course I’d have known, but then I’m a Hindu, and Jay and I have been to so many Indian weddings together …’

‘Have you?’ Erin said sharply.

‘Masses.’ Nalisha smiled. ‘We were always one another’s plus-ones.’

Bugger, Erin thought, this just gets better and better.

Deena pushed her plate away. ‘But surely Erin, you must at least know that our cultural heritage is one of strictly observed traditional rituals? And none more so than at a marriage?’

Tavish put down his fork with a clatter. ‘I think there are a lot of things we need to talk about here, Deena. And possibly privately. It seems to me that Jay and Erin have organised their wedding day to include something of both cultures – which is wonderful – and maybe we should leave it at that today.’

Deena shook back her glossy
black hair. The emerald earrings danced with green prisms. ‘And risk being a laughing stock? And risk everyone saying afterwards that the poor couple didn’t have any
poojas
or a Mandap Mahurat, not to mention the
pithi
? And risk being accused of allowing our only son to have a cheapskate wedding?’

Chapter Six

‘Excuse me.’ Erin’s brief sortie into diplomacy was instantly forgotten. She pushed her mushrooms away. ‘Clearly unlike Nalisha, I have no idea what any of those things are, but whatever they are, we’re not having any of them. And Jay and I have saved like mad for this wedding. We haven’t asked you, or my parents, for any financial input at all, because it’s our day. It’s going to be the wedding we want, the way we’ve planned it. I can assure you there’ll be absolutely nothing cheapskate about it.’

‘Sorry, darling.’ Deena smiled. ‘Of course there isn’t. Not for a British wedding – it all sounds rather lovely. But Jaimal is Indian and –’

Nalisha laughed.

‘Mum!’ Jay clattered down his knife and fork. ‘You haven’t called me Jaimal since I was eleven years old! And …’

‘But Jay’s British,’ Erin
said, with an awful sinking feeling that things were once again spiralling way out of control. ‘He was born here. In Britain. In Birmingham.’

‘Solihull, darling,’ Deena corrected quickly. ‘Not Birmingham.’

Nalisha laughed again.

‘And you’re British, too.’ Jay looked at his parents. ‘Both my Naanis and Daadas were already living in Britain when you were born. You’ve told me the stories often enough. How they scrimped and saved and made enough money to leave Gujarat.’

Erin took a gulp of her ice-cold mineral water. Despite the Swan’s tables being well spaced, she was aware that their conversation was causing a certain amount of interest amongst the other diners. She really couldn’t blame them for eavesdropping. If she weren’t so painfully involved, she’d be riveted herself.

‘Exactly,’ Deena said in a placating voice. ‘That’s exactly why you have to acknowledge your roots. My parents, and your father’s, sacrificed everything for us, as we did for you. The marriage ceremony, especially the marriage of our only child, is a time for repaying those sacrifices.’

‘Look,’ Erin put in, ‘and I know how grateful Jay is for everything you’ve done for him. But really, without being rude, for us, the wedding is a confirmation and celebration of our love and our commitment to one another, and the opportunity to be able to show that love and commitment publicly in front of our friends and family.’

‘Dangerous ground,’ Nalisha whispered. ‘I’d back off now if I were you.’

Erin shook her head.

Jay nodded. ‘Erin’s absolutely
right, Mum. Oh, I’ll never forget what you’ve sacrificed for me, which is why we want everyone we know and love to be here to share our day. But when Erin and I get married, it’s just that. Our wedding day. Our day. No one else’s.’

Nalisha sighed.

Erin wanted to cheer and stamp her feet and hurl her arms round Jay and kiss him. With Nalisha in the way it’d be tricky but she was sure she’d manage it somehow.

Deena pursed her lips but mercifully remained silent as the waiter removed the empty starter plates, which were immediately seamlessly replaced by their main courses.

‘Oh, this looks and smells delicious.’ Tavish wafted the steam from his vegetable linguini towards him.

‘It is,’ Erin said quickly. ‘The food here is out of this world. As you’ll discover at the wedding breakfast. We’ve chosen a menu to suit everyone, again a fusion of East and West, and plenty of veggie dishes, and –’

Nalisha, who had hardly touched her first course, leaned towards Erin. ‘I’d give up if I were you. You’re flogging a dead horse, as they say. Deena has her own agenda. Honestly, just agree with everything and then go your own sweet way.’

‘But …’

‘Seriously,’ Nalisha said softly, ‘leave Deena to me. We have a lovely long car journey home to Solihull. I’ll talk to her then.’

Erin smiled. She suddenly decided she liked Nalisha. A lot.

‘Thanks.’

‘No problem.’

Jay beamed at them both, clearly delighted that they were getting on so well.

‘Anyway,’ Deena said with a smile, ‘let’s get back to the matter in hand while we still have time, darlings.’

Jay and Erin exchanged raised eyebrow looks of
Oh, Lordy, do we really have to?

Deena smiled. ‘You see, Erin, from
our point of view, this fusion wedding will just be a watered-down version of yours and Jaimal’s backgrounds, won’t it? Neither one thing nor the other? Erin, darling, I love you. I’m delighted that you’re going to be my daughter-in-law – I couldn’t be more happy with Jay’s choice of a future bride, but –’

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