“Ladies and Gentlemen, May I have your attention please?” announced Jaspal Rana from the stage.
“This occasion deserves special cheers. Everyone please raise a toast to welcome Mr and Mrs. Malvinder Singh.”
Indeed the occasion was special. Everyone had gathered to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the wedding of Jaspal’s best buddy of fifty years Malvinder and his sister Gurvinder Kaur.
There was a loud cheer from the guests after Jaspal’s announcement. The guest list included Mr Malvinder Singh’s close business acquaintances over the past many years, relatives and family members, and last but not the least, their two sons and daughters-in-law, daughter and son-in-law, and seven grand children, and even a great-grandson.
As the 76-year-old Malvinder Singh walked up to the stage, the cheer and clapping increased into a crescendo. Everyone stood up as he was joined by his 71-year-old ‘bride’ Gurvinder on stage. Amidst the clapping, Malvinder Singh started speaking.
“Thank you all today for joining us in celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our wedding. It has been a very enjoyable journey. And in all these years, so many things have changed. Business has changed, India has changed. Culture and Way of Life has changed. Our surroundings have changed.”
Taking a pause, he looked at his wife and friend on stage. “What has not changed is Love. What has not changed is Friendship.”
The guests broke into a huge applause, as everyone gave a standing ovation to the old couple. Malvinder Singh and his wife were overwhelmed by the occasion. With a few tears in his eyes, he continued, “My heartfelt gratitude to all of you, many of whom have been with us in this journey. And our love to the joys of our life – our children and grandchildren. May peace and happiness be with you. God bless you all.”
With that, the old couple walked off stage slowly, helped by their eldest grandson. Before walking behind them, Jaspal Rana, who at a sprightly 75 years, still had lots of energy, took the mike and announced, “Let the party begin.”
After that, the music blared, the dancing started, the food and drinks flowed. Jaspal who had made all the arrangements for this occasion asked the event managers to take over, and joined his friend and sister at the dinner table.
Born in what was now the Pakistani Punjab, Malvinder Singh had moved to Amritsar (and later Delhi) just after partition, and had built a successful business over the past five decades. Jaspal and Malvinder had met in college and during that time had grown to be close friends. After Malvinder had fallen for Jaspal’s sister, with their parents having expired early, Jaspal was instrumental in getting his sister and Malvinder married. Post the marriage, their personal friendship had got converted into a strong relation. Since they moved to Amritsar in the aftermath of the partition, they had also become business partners. Their personalities complemented each other well, and they had built their business together through ups and downs. The fifty years had been as much about Malvinder and Jaspal’s friendship as about Malvinder and Gurvinder’s marriage.
“Get me my whiskey” Jaspal told the waiter, as they settled at their table.
Then turning to Malvinder, he said “Nice speech. So – fifty years?”
Malvinder, already a bit overwhelmed, said “Yeah – I got a bit emotional.”
“You have always been the sentimental type” Jaspal poked Malvinder.
“Well maybe. But today I think I got a bit more sentimental.”
“No, no. You have always been like this.” And then turning to his sister, Jaspal asked, “He has always been like this – isn’t it?”
With a smile on her face, Gurvinder said “Yes. He cried when each of our children were born. And he had tears even when our grand children were born.”
Holding his wife’s hand, Malvinder smiled. “Yeah – that’s right.”
“See – I told you” Jaspal pulled Malvinder’s leg again. They were both in their seventies. In fact all three of them. But they still had the spark and the camaraderie of their youthful days on.
For the next 2-3 hours, Jaspal and Malvinder sat at their dining table, having small chunks of chicken and large pegs of whiskey. Gurvinder watched on and helped herself to some food from time to time. She was accustomed to this routine for the past fifty years.
All through the evening, guests kept visiting them presenting their table with anniversary gifts. The old couple kept thanking every guest, and asked them if they had dinner and a good time. Every time some one from the guests came, they would touch the old couple’s feet. One by one, the guests finished their dinner and started leaving. Eventually, the old couple’s children and their families also started having their dinner.
All through the evening, Mr and Mrs Malvinder and Jaspal kept going back to some old memory that they had shared over the past five decades. Sometimes it was about some family event, others were about something to do with their children, few others were about something related to their business. Fifty years is a long time, and there were more than enough memories to fill an evening of conversation. And as memories filled the evening, the whiskey pegs filled the glasses.
By the time most of the guests had gone, Malvinder and Jaspal were several pegs down. And Gurvinder started doing what she had been doing on such evenings for so many years. She started asking her husband and her brother to stop. But like other occasions in the past, she knew that this was not going to work. Not when it had not worked so far. But this time, the occasion was special and she sensed that both her husband and her brother were way past their normal limits.
“I have a confession to make” suddenly Jaspal announced. People make confessions when they are drunk.
“So are you getting married?” asked an equally drunk Malvinder with a twinkle in his eye to Jaspal. “Have you finally found the woman of your dreams?” poked Malvinder. Jaspal had never married and Malvinder never knew why. Beyond an age, he had stopped asking him.
“Arre no. I had found her long time back” Jaspal mused. “But this confession is not about me, it is about you” he continued.
“About me? Did you mess up something in the business?” asked Malvinder unable to think what it could be. Though he was not in a state where he could think anyway.
“Arre no – it is about your marriage. And your wife. And a surprise!” Jaspal said in a jolly tone.
Gurvinder looked up when she heard that. Malvinder was already eager. They had reached a stage where there were no more surprises. It was their fiftieth anniversary, and surprises were things of the past. Nevertheless, Malvinder asked his friend “So what’s the surprise?”
Jaspal peered at his friend and gazed at his sister in drunken stupor, and announced “Arre yaar, you married the wrong woman!”
Gurvinder frowned at her brother on hearing that. She was the only one who was sober and she wasn’t quite sure what her drunk brother was saying to her drunk husband.
Jaspal stood up and started staring closely at his sister. “Arre – this is Parminder, not Gurvinder. You got it all wrong.”
Gurvinder got up from her chair to calm down her brother. She asked him to sit down. He was already quite unstable, unable to stand straight. But he continued blabbering.
“And I was the one. I, your best friend. I messed up your life” Jaspal said, and started crying. He walked towards Malvinder and putting his head on his shoulders, he continued crying. Malvinder, equally drunk, was surprised at this sudden emotional outburst from his normally stoic friend, and tried to console him.
Every drunken man feels that he is not drunk and the other one is. Malvinder who had heard Jaspal call his wife Parminder was convinced that Jaspal was drunk and needed his consolation. Holding his head, he said “No my dear friend. You made my life.”
Gurvinder, who by now was quite alarmed pinched her brother and asked him to sit down. She whispered in his ear “Sit down. What are you saying?”
At the same time, she also pinched her husband and asked him to sit down too. “Both of you are drunk. You are not young anymore. Now let’s go home” she ordered. And she asked their driver to get their car.
On hearing that, Malvinder told Jaspal “Jassie – your sister is telling us to pack up.”
And Jaspal obediently said, “Yes, we should listen to Parminder, sorry Gurvinder.” He kept his finger on his lips, and both of them started walking towards the car.
The next day, both of them got up with their customary hangover headache. And Gurvinder realised soon that both of them did not remember anything about last night’s conversation.
But Gurvinder – no Parminder – remembered everything. And she also remembered things that were embedded in the depths of her heart for the past fifty years. On her fiftieth wedding anniversary, she had managed to stop her brother from spilling surprises to her husband. She had prevented the spilling of secrets. A secret that only she and her brother knew.
That she was not the Gurvinder that her husband had originally loved. But she was Parminder – her identical twin sister.
That Gurvinder Kaur had been killed by rioters in the post partition mayhem a few days before the wedding day. A few days before Malvinder was to arrive for the wedding. And that Jaspal, his best friend, had convinced and coerced Parminder to become Gurvinder to save his friend from shock. And to set right all their lives. And that among the partition riot victims that day was also the girl who Jaspal was supposed to marry. And that this was supposed to be Jaspal’s surprise for his friend Malvinder. Best friends getting married together to the loves of their lives.
But fate had willed otherwise. And given a surprise to everyone.