The first time I entered my room that evening, it smelled of jasmine.
I generally don't mind jasmine. Back when I was a kid, my cousins and I went jasmine-hunting for the temple festivals in Kerala. We tied the flowers up with threads to make garlands. Aunties wore them on their hair bun, uncles on their bikes and their sleeves, little girls had them arched across their scalp, and little boys went around snatching it away from all of them. Everything smelled like jasmine back then.
But that was back then.
I live at a cosy rented room in Trichy. The building is coloured like a poppy flower. There are tinted windows on every landing of the staircase, there are office spaces on the first floor, and the floor above that is where I stay. Room 106. Four walls, a faucet, a mirror, two cots, a shelf and several cartoon-ish wall-stickers oddly spread across the room. Home.
As I walked one day through the gates of the building, I noticed a commotion near the manager's office. Women dressed in colourful silk sarees and men in monochromatic white shirts bustled about everywhere. They seemed to be coming from or going through the door right next to the manager's little office.
The door lead to a large hall with chairs arranged. The manager stood beside the door sort of flustered. He is a dark man with kind, worn eyes. His usual white shirt and veshti seemed damp with sweat. I approached him casually, all the while trying to avoid stepping on people's feet.
"Hello, Sir!" I greeted him.
He smiled politely but mostly looked right through me. He seemed to be in the middle of something in his mind, probably something involving having a bad day.
"Sir? Are you okay?" I started to worry because he really didn't look okay.
"Huh? Oh!" The manager finally came to. "Hello, Sir."
For a second there, I wasn't sure if he was talking to me. "Uh, yes, Sir." I replied. "I would like to pay the advance for my room. I hadn't paid it yet."
"Yes," He said. "Just a moment." He then went into his office. As I stood there, I looked around. On a table placed a little further, an incense stick burned. On the same table, a silver plate full of roses, a bowl of laddoos and a 3 year old child also shared space. A group of neatly dressed women then appeared around the table. They arranged the table, placed more incense sticks and picked up the child. Then they faced ahead and stood still, posing for a picture. I suddenly realized that I was at some sort of a family gathering.
The manager returned. He had with him a receipt for my payment. I took it, thanked him and out of sheer curiosity asked, "What's the occasion?" I then looked at the commotion.
"Nischayadhartham" He said. And then explained, "Engagement ceremony."
I simply nodded and began to walk up. I really wanted to look inside the hall before leaving. New town, new people and on the third day there, I'm considering crashing someone's party. So much for culture shock. I decided not to though.
But the fates decided otherwise.
"Thambi, wait!" It's the manager. I turned around. "What happened, Sir?" Didn't I give him the money?
"You stay at 106, right?" the manager asked, sort of breathlessly. I nodded and waited for what comes next. I somehow figured that things are about to get interesting.
"Hah" He then smiled sheepishly. "The thing is, your room used to be a spare before you moved in. When we have functions at the hall down here, it used to be the room for guests to freshen up or dress up. Now the bride-to-be needs to get ready before the ceremony and she has no place to change." Then he shrugged.
And I said, "Oh."
I need better responses, I know.
"So," the manager continued, "for five minutes, do you mind if I give your room to them?"
That's when I laughed. "Sure, Sir. No problem" I handed him the keys.
I mean, I had to. It's not everyday you lend a room for a stranger's wedding stuff.
Plus, it gave me a reason to crash the party.
But I couldn't just waltz in. I've been standing around with the manager for too long now for the people to believe that I'm one of the guests. What I needed was a spell to charm my way through. And a charm I had. My camera.
Ever notice how that photographer friend of yours just walks in anywhere without permission? Seriously, it works.
I took my camera out of my bag and aimed at the first thing in sight. It happened to be the 3-year-old child on the table. I took the kid's picture and established myself in the scene. Then I entered the room.
It smelled of camphor and heaven. The room is brightly lit in fluorescent. About 50 people--most of them women or children--sat on chairs facing the wall near the doorway. The men in white veshtis sat in chairs on the far side. They too seemed to look at the wall near the doorway.
So I looked too.
Plates after plates of fruits, ornaments and clothes on the floor. Incense sticks on every side sending aromatic fumes all around. Two gold-plated lamps stood glowing. And in the midst of it, the ceremonial priest sat preparing the setting.
Beside him sat a small child, crying his lungs out. I went to him.
"Why are you crying?" I asked him, trying my best at child-friendliness.
"My brother is going to get married," He said, then cried again.
"Oh, it's your brother's marriage that is being engaged," said the party crasher. "Why are you sad about that?"
"Because," he said between sobs, "because after he gets married, he's going to go away."
He stopped crying for a second. "Don't you know? When you get married, you go away. My sister went away when she got married. Now even my brother is going to."
That put me in a very interesting spot. I didn't know what to say. So I just smiled at the kid and asked, "Where is your brother now?"
The kid wiped his face and pointed at the far side of the hall. A group of young men stood huddled near a door leading to the backside. One of them should be the groom. I waved at them. They stared at me. I walked away. But not before taking a picture of them.
I decided that I should leave unnoticed while I had the chance. I slowly walked to the door, only to be faced by the crying kid from before. He now had company. Three boys stood along with him, looking stern and determined.
They looked at me boldly and said, "We need our pictures taken."
Five minutes later, the number turned to five kids. Then seven. Then I stopped counting. If only they knew that they'll never get to see the pictures.
"Sir!" called the manager. "Here's your key! It's yours again!" And then he laughed, clearly doing better now.
I thanked him, took the keys and took that as my cue to leave. I bid goodbye to the kids and climbed to my room.
I opened the door. It smelled of jasmine. The bride-to-be had crashed my room and I had crashed her party. It's when things like this happen that I really start to appreciate life. I mean, who would've thought?