It was Sipra’s and Ajoy’s Wedding Anniversary. Sipra wracked her brains on how to celebrate the occasion. She wanted to have something special---not just calling the guests to a restaurant, or inviting them over for a splashy banquet at home. After all it was their tenth anniversary, and it was quite an accomplishment on their part to have lived happily, and contented for a decade! Sipra nursed many unfulfilled dreams, and craved for the wondrous experiences which all her friends indulged in, but she did not, as they were not very well-off, and her husband always explained that they were beyond his means, but he would let her have all that she desired when he was in a better position.
Her mother-in-law Nandita Roy came up with an exciting suggestion. Sipra welcomed the idea with alacrity. But Ajoy was taken aback and seemed embarrassed, and hesitant. Nandita knew Ajoy’s childhood school friend, Vikas, was in the tourism business. He used to take out tourists on pleasure trips, down the Ganges River. These tours in his boat had become very popular. Her suggestion was that Ajoy and Sipra should invite their friends for a river- cruise. The boat would leave the dock at seven in the evening. They would have their dinner on the boat, accompanied with music, and followed by games, contests and other entertainments, such as magic and puppet shows. It would be a good thing if they would also renew their marriage vows in front of the assembled guests. This would act as a special boost to their marital relationship.
After that they could exchange garlands, and gifts. The dinner would be catered by the management in charge of the cruise. Sipra loved the idea, and her excitement knew no bounds. Ajoy looked worried and perplexed. They sent out invitations to two hundred of their close friends, and relatives only. The cards were beautifully embossed with two golden birds, carrying a red rose between them.
On their special day, Sipra dressed up in her gorgeous red wedding sari, looking like a new bride. She had gone to the hair dressers, and they had done up her hair in such a way that she looked chic, and sophisticated. The guests poured in, each with bouquets of brightly colored flowers, and redolent with the most expensive perfumes.
The party started with a flourish. The entrance was artistically decorated with flowers, and the music was flavored with romance, reminding the invitees of their own good times. Sipra looked radiant. At last she could feel that she was at par with her friends. Though she had tried to associate with them on equal terms, but there was always the nagging thought that a wide financial gulf separated them. That self-deprecating feeling would be for ever erased.
The party reverberated with music and laughter. Ajoy looked relaxed and complacent, the worrying furrows from his forehead had disappeared; he laughed and he joked with his guests. But somehow Sipra was not at ease. She was constantly on the look-out, as if something was amiss. She whispered something in Ajoy’s ears. He also looked round. After surveying, he assured her rather loudly, ‘Sipra there is no reason to panic. Those men are all employees of Vikas’.The men though in their uniforms, looked downright suspicious. They had the uncouth, uncultured air about them. Besides they were not the courteous, and polite staff, as expected in a hospitality undertaking; something was really odd! They were not very efficient in their work either. One dropped a tray full of glasses filled with drinks on one of the guest’s expensive dress. This created quite a sensation. Vikas apologized for the incident and gave the explanation that he was a new recruit.
The drinks went round. The mouth-watering aroma from the piping hot snacks, made the gastric juice of the invitees flow uninhibited. The guests were chit-chatting; at intervals there were peals of laughter. It was announced that the couple would renew their marriage vows. Ajoy put the sparkling diamond necklace round her dainty milk-white neck, and there was a loud applause. Sipra beamed with happiness. Ajoy gave a broad smile to all assembled. He looked like Little Jack Horner after he had pulled out a plum, and had appreciated his own action saying, “What a good boy am I.”
The three tiered cake was brought in, but as the couple were about to cut it, the unthinkable happened. The lights of the boat went off. Vikas lighted the flash light of his mobile phone, and ordered his staff to find out what had gone wrong. The air- conditioning went off, and the boat became hot and stuffy. Everybody became restless and irritable. They demanded that the electricity should be turned on immediately. But the inefficient staff added to the confusion. They banged against each other and shattered crockery on the floor. This became an added risk for the guests. In the darkness it was not safe to move from one’s place, for fear of stepping on the shards of glass. The inefficient men were bellowing from one end of the boat, asking where the mop was kept. On the whole there was confusion confounded. The electrician was also no better than the rest of the employees. He was using all the tools available, screwing up his eyes to see clearly, instead of using screws for repairing, but with no results. At the end of a harrowing three- quarter of an hour, the lights came on.
The whole atmosphere had changed. The guests looked spent and uncomfortable. The makeup of the elegantly dressed ladies was smudged and streaked. Their dresses stuck to their bodies with perspiration. When at last the lights came on, they looked at each other and smiled in relief. But when Ajoy turned to look at Sipra, his mouth fell open, and remained so, with consternation and alarm. Sipra wondered what had happened and regarded him questioningly. Just some minutes back he had placed the diamond necklace on her, but her neck was bare. Immediately his pressure went up, and frantically he started looking for it. He requested all his guests and the employees to search for it on the floor and under the table. He knew that even with his salary of his whole life-time, he would not be able to replace it! Sipra , on realizing that the necklace was missing, went ashen white, swayed a few times, then articulated something under her breath and collapsed on the floor.
After a search of five minutes, when the necklace did not materialize, there was a unified suggestion to call the police. Ajoy did that and within another five minutes, the police were there. Some of them started to search the boat, whilst others, cross-examined those present. After they completed taking down the addresses and other details, they asked them to leave as they would seal the boat. At the end of harassing two hours of investigation, the necklace did not show up. The Police said they would pursue the investigations the next day. Vikas came to Ajoy when all the guests, employees and the police had left. He put his arms around him and said, “Remember I am your childhood friend. Nothing can go amiss; I will always be there for you.”Ajoy replied “Yes I know Vikas, that’s why I am not getting flustered. Your friendship is more precious than the diamond necklace.” These words were the parting words of the two friends.
As Sipra and Ajoy drove home at night in their red Wagon-R, anxious and solicitous about his wife’s happiness, pressed her hand and asked her whether she was as devastated as he at the outcome of their Anniversary Celebrations. His wife’s answer was a soothing balm to his shattered spirit. Sipra replied that what really mattered to her was being able to look her friends in the face, not feeling inferior in any was now they knew that she could also afford to throw a lavish party, and she could also flaunt a diamond necklace like they. She was not so much disturbed about the loss of the necklace as they would get the money back from the insurance. Anyhow the diamonds would not be of much use to her as she would have to put it in the Locker. It was not practical to wear a diamond necklace to parties, knowing the risks involved. Ajoy was much relieved at her answer.
The next day early in the morning, the two friends Ajoy and Vikas met near the boat. They both hugged each other in a spirit of camaraderie. Then without exchanging words, as if Ajoy knew what he had to do, he climbed on to the boat, though the Policemen had sealed it the previous night. He negotiated the entire length of the boat, on the outer frame, right down to the front part, then round the other side, till he came to a thin back synthetic twine, which was suspended into the water. It was hardly visible. He gingerly pulled it up. At the end was another black plastic packet. He took it out, and slipped it into his backpack . In the meantime, his friend was keeping guard, and observing whether anyone was around to witness what Ajoy was doing. As it was four o’clock in the morning, there was hardly anyone around. Both of them gave a cheer of success as they hugged each other again.
Ajoy’s and Vikas’ plan had worked out to perfection. The main objective was to make Silpi happy. The lavish invitation had been extended to all her friends as per her desire. But Ajoy could not afford to pay the huge amount of money to cater for them. So Vikas arranged it so, that just after the drinks and snacks, all the confusion would ensue, and the police would be called, and the guests would have to leave. Silpi longed to show her friends that she also had expensive jewelry like they. So both the friends, Ajoy and Vikas had gone to P.C. Chandra and Sons Jewelers, belonging to Vikas’ uncle and asked to let them have the diamond necklace for a day, with the understanding that they would return it the next day. They had to pay only a few thousand for the favor.
The next day, in all the newspapers it was mentioned that there was a burglary of a diamond necklace, from the person of Sipra Nandi. The incident had happened on the boat during a river cruise, hosted by Sipra and Ajoy Nandi. When Sipra saw this news item, she felt that she had got the social status, and acknowledgment, which she had been craving for all her life, and was more than happy. On the other hand, Ajoy was elated that he had been able to bring a smile on his wife’s lips, despite his financial crunch. He loved Sipra very much and hated to see her disgruntled, and depressed. A radiant, happy wife meant the world to him!