She woke up quietly, careful not to disturb her sister sleeping beside her, even hushing the silken cover of the quilt that had the habit of rustling like the wings of a restless bird. Pulling at the mosquito net tucked under the mattress she gingerly placed one foot on the cold floor, holding in her gasp as the chill ran up her leg. Bundling herself in a shawl she flitted out of the room, closing the door softly behind her, gritting her teeth as the old hinges squeaked in the stillness of dawn. The alarm had been switched off. The dripping tap had been shushed. She needed her sister to be sound asleep; at least till she had gotten ready and left the house.
Today was not the day for a leisurely cup of tea on the back porch. Kish-mish, the ancient family dog, now truly as wrinkled as a dusty raisin, did not get his usual share of attention. The red and yellow rose bushes were told to bear their thirst a little longer. The glitzy glamour supplement of the daily paper was given all but an unceremonious glance. Even the tall mirror in the hall was kept waiting for the everyday spectacle of a dancing, prancing reflection.
She didn’t have much time and tackled all her tasks with swift efficiency. Water was heated in the old, rusty boiler standing in the middle of the earthen courtyard like a relic from some lost era. Steel buckets were carried by feminine yet surprisingly strong arms. Steam wafted out of the small ventilator high up on the wall along with the intoxicating perfume of the latest crème and avocado soap that was being advertised as a favourite among bollywood stars. Long tresses were quickly dried and laced with a few drops of jasmine scented oil. Skin was softened with rich creams and the face was spruced up with snowy white talcum. Ittar was dabbed onto a graceful nape and translucent wrists.The kohl clung to the almond shaped eyes as lashes were demurely batted. Glittering jutis showed off their arrogant beauty under the mischievous rays of the pale early morning sun. Now there was just one thing left to do before she could run off to her friend’s wedding, being held in the most lavish hotel in the town.
She scrunched up her eyes as she braced herself against the inevitable squeak of the door. Opening it just a crack, she tip-toed into the room. She took a jingling bunch of keys off the hook next to the switchboard, deftly separating the right key and holding the others tightly in her fist to muffle their chatter. The lock on the green-blue Godrej almirah opened with two twists of the key. She couldn't help but stare. She ran her fingers over the fabrics – sheer georgette, silky satin, slippery chiffon. She took in the shimmering stars, the heavy brocade and the intricate embroidery. Then with a furtive glance at her still sleeping sister she slipped the last hanger off the rod. Though it was still covered in crackling plastic she could instantly tell the smoothness of the fabric. It looked like she held a chunk of the midnight sky, purple-black, in her hands. The stars twinkled, some turquoise, some silver, arranged in eclectic patterns. But just as she slipped the plastic cover off, the hanger fell with a loud clatter. Her heart stopped as her sister awoke with a start.
Even through the criss-crossing haze of the mosquito net she could see the anger in her sister’s eyes. “What the hell are you doing?” her sister demanded. She looked to the ground and replied meekly, “Didi. It is Naseem’s wedding today... I just...” “So? You thought you could just steal the best thing from my wardrobe, something even I haven’t had the chance to wear yet, and run off?” Her sister seemed livid. Only if her sister hadn’t woken up, by evening the anger would have simmered down. Big, fat tears started welling in her eyes. But then suddenly, out of nowhere, her sister started laughing. “Oh my God. Look at your face. Please don’t cry. It’ll only spoil the kohl you have so carefully applied. I was joking. I know it’s Naseem’s wedding. Take it. You’ll look so beautiful in it. The turquoise sequins will set off your charcoal eyes. Mine are too hazel for this one anyway.” She stared at her sister, bewildered. “Really?” she finally managed to croak. “Of course. Why go through all this trouble? All you had to do was ask.” She ran to her sister and hugged her, bringing the mosquito net crashing onto their heads. They burst into uncontrollable peals of laughter as they tried to disentangle themselves.
As she sat in the rickshaw, on her way to Naseem’s wedding, her fingers gently caressed the tiny, diamond like turquoise sequins bordering the delicate lace veil of her new burqa.