Book House

“The Shotgun Wedding”: This hilarious romance novel is tangled up in the complex politics of rural Bengal

Author Suchandra Roychowdhury
  • The book “The Shotgun Wedding” by Suchandra Roychowdhury is a romantic comedy set in a college in rural Bengal.


  • When Dita Roy is appointed as an English lecturer in a college in the sleepy little village of Phulpukur, she puts aside all her doubts about the institution’s dubious credentials and accepts the position. In Phulpukur College, she meets the mysterious Raja, a tall, handsome man with startling grey eyes, who serves her tea on her first day on the job.


  • For Raja, Dita is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise claustrophobic environment. What the two do not know is that their chance encounter will soon gain them, and Phulpukur College, lifelong notoriety.


  • Read an excerpt from the book below.


Red dust swirled around the dirt track, and a veil of sand particles rose from the parched earth to envelop a small white car bumping along the uneven surface of the makeshift road, gingerly avoiding potholes before coming to a somewhat unsure halt in front of an old and crumbling brick wall. A window rolled down and a rather anxious face looked out, trying to figure out the lay of the land.

Behind the brick wall, two sets of eyes peered out with avid interest from a window on the third floor of the ancient school building to take stock of the intruder in the white car. The driver seemed to be undecided whether to step out or not, but the two men on the third floor leaned out even further to catch their first glimpse of the occupant of the car.

‘Don’t fling yourself right out of the window, Gopal,’ Raja reprimanded his over-eager companion. ‘You won’t get a better view if you fly out like a jaybird.’

‘Look who’s talking,’ Gopal grumbled as he stepped back. ‘You shouldn’t even be here today, considering the fact that the person in the car will create quite a ripple here in the village and your father won’t like it if you strike up an acquaintance even before he arrives on the scene.’

Raja’s gaze shifted from the motionless car and noted the look of apprehension that clouded Gopal’s usually cheerful countenance. Lines of anxiety made deep furrows on Gopal’s forehead as the overweight, middle-aged man tried to warn Raja of the consequences of trying to outshine his father. ‘Go away,’ Gopal urged, wringing his pudgy hands in desperation, tugging at the rumpled sleeve of Raja’s once-white shirt.

‘No way, I’m not budging. Why should Palash Bose have the upper hand in everything that happens around here?’ Raja grinned wickedly. ‘Let’s upstage him for once.’

Eyes shining with devilish merriment, Raja continued leaning out of the window. In the twenty-four years of his life, people around him often remarked on the striking quality of his alert grey eyes beneath dark crescent-shaped eyebrows. His face was arresting, prominent cheekbones and a strong jaw belying the curious vulnerability of youth, and there was a hint of arrogance in the way he sometimes looked down his aquiline nose from his height of six feet two inches. An ever-present spark of mischief added to his raffish charm.

A few errant strands of jet-black hair blurred Raja’s vision as he looked down, having to bend almost double to fit his tall frame into that of the window. He was finally rewarded by the sight of the driver timidly stepping out of the car, obviously intimidated by the imposing relic from the days of the Raj that confronted her. The school building was indeed a fascinating piece of architecture and rather imposing.

‘Gopal, you won’t believe this,’ Raja whispered, an undercurrent of laughter lacing his words. Gopal rushed back to the window, just in time to catch a glimpse of the frail young woman, dressed in a blue salwar kameez who emerged from the car. Her wispy chiffon dupatta unfurled like a butterfly in the wind, all aflutter with curiosity, until she gathered it back with an impatient tug. Her small and delicate face had an elfin charm, especially when lit up with a mischievous smile. The smile, however, was absent at this moment, a dense shadow of uncertainty obscuring the usual cheerfulness of her expressive dark eyes. She looked around warily: it was all terra incognita to her— vast, incomprehensible, and unknown.

‘Raja, your father will be far from pleased,’ Gopal whispered, apprehensive and hesitant. ‘He certainly wasn’t expecting a woman for the post which has opened up in the college.’

‘No, the old fox won’t like it at all,’ Raja agreed. ‘I thought he mentioned someone named Aditya Roy who was being sent by the College Service Commission. It’s not often that he gets things wrong…’ he broke off as he made eye contact with the lady in question.

Dita looked up, craning her neck and squinting against the rays of a merciless sun, as she spotted the two figures on the third floor. From ground level, they appeared like two curious marionettes attached by tenuous strings to a lopsided windowpane. They were the only people around in the imposing but crumbling structure in front of her, and were leaning so far out of the window that she was immediately concerned for their safety. From her position of evident disadvantage, she could just about make out that, of the two, one was obviously younger. She hesitated for a moment and then beckoned him to come down.

Raja gave an infinitesimal nod of understanding, indicating that he was heading downstairs.

‘Don’t forget to take the keys,’ Gopal instructed. ‘It’s still early, the school gates haven’t been opened yet. And don’t you think that you should first change out of the clothes that you are wearing? They are at least two sizes too big for you. I only gave them to you last night to sleep in them, not to make a public appearance in them,’ Gopal remonstrated. ‘Your father will have my hide if he sees you like this.’

Raja shrugged, remembering the altercation that he had had with his father the night before—another clash of wills and ideals in an interminable series of disagreements— following which he had walked out in a fit of pique. Way too rattled to go back home for the night, he had sought out Gopal in the Saint James Mission School canteen, shared his food, changed into his oversized clothes, and fallen into a dreamless sleep. Which was why, early this morning, Raja was still lounging in Gopal’s kitchen, looking rather scruffy, when they heard the car come to a halt in front of the school gates. He ignored Gopal’s protestations; displeasing his father seemed to have a charm of its own. A ghost of a smile hovered on his lips as he picked up the keys and headed out of the room. A few notes of ‘Wind of Change’ by Scorpions floated unbidden into his mind; almost unconsciously he started whistling the tune as he ran down the stairs.

His jaunty mood was somewhat shaken as he approached the school’s tall and rusty iron gates, worn and ancient and covered with shrubs. He stopped short, sensing the waves of tension oozing out of the slight figure looking at him with apprehensive eyes from the other side of the antiquated portal. She was delicate and petite and pale with anxiety. Raja found himself peering down at her yet again. Her eyes widened in shock as he approached; he sighed as he realized the impression he must be making right now, grimy and slouchy in borrowed clothes. She would surely take him for a vagrant of some sort.

Gopal, who was still leaning out of the third-floor window flailing his plump arms like an ineffective octopus, tried to ease the awkward situation. ‘Take her to the principal’s office, the doors are open and she can wait there till the office staff come in,’ and then added as an afterthought, ‘meanwhile you can come up and get her some tea.’ In Gopal’s universe, tea was the panacea for every conceivable problem.

The gates creaked open as Raja pushed back one side of the imposing barrier, and the anxious woman stepped in. ‘I’m sorry, but I was looking for Phulpukur College, and the villagers pointed me in this direction,’ she cast a troubled glance at Raja, far from reassured by his dishevelled appearance. ‘But I see this is a school campus, not a college?’

Raja chose not to answer the question immediately, instead choosing to ask a question of his own. ‘Have you been appointed by the College Service Commission to take up a post in Phulpukur College?’

‘Yes,’ came the startled reply; she was surprised that he knew so much.

‘You’ve come to the right place then,’ Raja tried to reassure her, as he ushered her through the colonial arches towards the principal’s office. ‘Phulpukur College is still in its nascent stage, and because it does not have an independent campus of its own, classes are conducted here, on the second floor of Saint James School.’

Dita tried to keep her panic in check. No campus? What exactly did this unkempt stranger mean? She tried to keep pace with him, all but breaking into a run as he loped ahead with long-legged strides. Sensing that she was having trouble keeping up with him, Raja paused, turning around and pinning her down with his startling grey eyes. ‘The members of the governing body are trying their best to mobilize the college campus, which is coming up on a stretch of land further down the road,’ he informed her, taking in the shock reflected on her face with deep sympathy. It was not a promising situation, and she had not even met his father, Palash Bose, who was the president of the governing body of Phulpukur College. Palash would be an unsurmountable challenge that she would obviously have to deal with.

Excerpted with permission from The Shotgun Wedding: A Novel, Suchandra Roychowdhury, Aleph Book Company. Read more about the book here and buy it here.

 

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