– 3rd Prize Winning Entry at Women’s Web–
Her family was revelling in celebration. Ma was baking sweets with a haste even the roadside mithai-wala lacked. Baba had started calling up relatives. In their extended household, twenty-four was the farthest marriage-milestone. If you crossed it unwedded, there would be an avalanche of pesky people on the other side, waiting to ruin your life.
It had happened to Pooja di – the once friendly neighbourhood girl who had been her senior in school. After a boyfriend walked out on her and news spread of her (largely imagined) escapades, one boy after another refused marriage. “Who marries a tainted girl?” said gossiping women over afternoon tea. “Who wants an old bride?” said exercising men during their evening walks. Pooja was now ‘old’ – a full thirty years of age – and stayed mostly cooped up in her room. The parents were still sending proposals.
“Why is it so important to marry Pooja di off?” she had once started over dinner. “It’s ruining all her happiness-“
Ma had screamed and hushed her up mid-sentence. “Who puts such ideas into your head? Of course marriage is important! Who will fend for her when the parents are dead?”
“Oh come on Ma, what century are you from? She can very well take up a job.”
Ma snickered. “Newfangled aren’t you? No job nonsense is entertained in our family. And stay away from that God forsaken wretch lest you too intend to develop a string of boyfriends.” The argument was sealed.
A shiver went up her spine as Ma’s shrill tone reverberated in her mind. Looking for a pair of earrings, she thought back to the boy-meeting-ceremony the day before.
He was a little pot-bellied, that man. His breath distinctly reeked of alcohol. Sent off to her room for some breaking-the-ice conversation, she found his mannerism strange.
“So why are you wearing this pink sari?” his first retort to her sounded.
She found that queer. “Ma selected it for me” she managed.
“It’s too closed up.” Shifting places, he sat himself down right next to her. “The pallu, for instance,” he said as he felt her skin through the fabric, “should be a little lower by today’s standards.”
She jerked his hand off on an angry impulse. But to her astonishment, the man merely smirked and walked out of the door.
“I say a yes.” he announced to much fanfare. She looked on stupefied as Ma and Baba didn’t find time or value for her opinion all through the night and much of the next morning.
The memory made her shudder, temporarily marring the exuberance of a phone call that she had received that morning.
She wondered if Ma would throw in a slap. If Baba would turn silent on her. But they were her parents after all…
Would the neighbours get luscious fodder for gossip, twisting the tale around as per taste? But she couldn’t be another Pooja.
Adjusting her dupatta, she walked down the stairs to the living room. Everyone there was enthusiastically discussing the marriage preparations – the date, the venue, the clothes. The boy’s father was talking through the loud crumble of snacks. His mother was explaining her acquisition of a new set of expensive pearls. The lecherous husband-to-be looked up at her as she sat down on a chair.
“What’s going on oh family of lecher? she called out brightly, crossing her legs.
The chatter instantly ceased. Ma stared open-mouthed.
“What, what?” his mother stammered, gasping.
She looked at the woman intently. Surely she knew of her son’s true colours? Didn’t she feel remotely guilty for trying to tag her on to him? Mothers were probably blind in child-love, she reflected.
“I say a capital NO to this marriage.” she articulated slowly. “Sorry for the trouble.”
Ma raised a hand in protest, her eyes red with rage. “Do you know what you’re doing you fool?” her throat rumbled. “What will become of you?”
“I will be fine Ma.” she smiled.”There’s no dearth of good men.”
She observed the boy’s father had stopped munching.
“And besides,” she went on, “I have got a job.”
The trio got up angrily and stamped out of the room. She called out a goodbye before proceeding to tell Ma and Baba about her acceptance as a secondary school teacher at Greenfields International.
This was from the life and times of one of my friends, whom I refrain from naming.
A college topper in her B. Ed, she was always bitter about the backward behavioural clauses her family put up. We would often tease her with ghunghats (head covers) around our heads. But when things transcended to her marriage, she decided she had had enough. Sneaking up to a job interview one fine morning, (which, given her brilliance, was nailed down without a wrinkle) she sealed her independence and said a firm no to the lecherous lawyer with whose family marriage-talks were then ripe.
Today, she is a happily married woman, settled and working at a school in Bangalore. Her husband (who works as a software professional) and I have popularized the lecher incident in her friend circle. Though her Ma and Baba still cringe a bit when it’s brought up, they subsequently manage to join in the laughter. Her children, she says, will not have to sit through such marry-me-sessions nor bribe an auto wala to take them to an interview venue.
Here’s to you darling. And to every woman who dares to say no and do as her heart says. Happy Woman’s Day!
Written as a part of the Feminspiration contest at Women’s Web.