A short story about a woman, married at Seventeen, and her course of life.
The marbles in her hand scattered on the dusty ground as her mother screamed at her to get inside the house. She, unwillingly yet hastily, dusted her knee-length dress and ran inside. She was welcomed by the regular rant of the elderly women about her unacceptable behaviour. A girl of seventeen years of age, she broke the established norms left and right. Playing the fool with the locality friends, stealing money from her baba’s trousers to treat her friends, and an addict of the song Disco Dancer: she was a nightmare to the orthodox, joint family of an Eighties village in India. That day, she could guess, there was an undercurrent of urgency in her mother’s voice. Curiously, she was asked to freshen up and quickly get dressed in a saree. Now, she loved to dress up and despite being suspicious of why she was being asked to do so, she got herself dressed with enthusiasm. As she gave the final touches to her saree in front of the mirror in the living room, she saw her father carry packets of sweets inside the house. Her grandpa followed him with hurried instructions for everyone around- something about arranging the chairs, and removing the cycle lying beside the doorway. She could no longer control her curiosity and asked her mother, who came in from the kitchen to scrutinise her dress and make-up.
While putting a bindi on her forehead, her mother told her that a man from a respectable family is coming to see her today.
His family was known to her grandpa, and above everything he had a good job. How could they let go off such a match?! She numbly shook her head. Too dumbstruck to react, she went and sat beside her granny she loved dearly. Her granny gently stroked her braided her, and made her see their logic behind all these. She was seventeen, she was followed by two younger sisters and a brother, they had found a good match, and above all, she was not even good in studies and was always a part of some prank or the other. She nodded her head to her granny’s words, as she could not provide any resistance to those. She mutely remained a spectator to the rest of the events of the day.
The entire house was lit up with yellow lights, and decorated with flowers of every kind. The speakers blared out a music played with shehnai. The house was teeming with people draped in elaborate clothing. The inviting smell of food- bathed in oil and spice- wafted through the house. The bridegroom was yet to arrive, with a hundred other guests. Young women were still applying a second coat of nail paint or lip colour, and young men tucking their shirts properly to appear prim and proper. But the bride, the bride was as far away from all these as possible. Dressed up in the bridal wear, she sat with her best friend and giggled away. For her, it was like the tons of other wedding ceremonies she had been to. Only this time, she was dressed in the bride’s attire. The intensity of the event was still to sink in. After her wedding was finalised by the elders of the house, she was drowned into the preparations leading to the big day, before she could even panic. Her siblings were having the time of their lives, what with all the wedding shopping and trips to a nearby town.
She had no role to play in deciding either her wedding dress, or her groom. Her fears were at bay due to the commotion taking place every day.
She was mesmerised with the new hair clips, silver anklets, golden necklaces, bangles-of glass and gold, ear rings, and sarees of myriad colours. New furniture was brought for her to take to her new home. It seemed like a festival to her, she the goddess, and yet she had no sword in her hands to fight the forces. She checked whether the mehendi on her hands had reached its full colour. She asked her best friend to ask someone to play some foot-tapping music instead of the shehnai one. She was smirking at her siblings for their gaudy make-up. She kept looking at all the guests impassively, and wondered how many more were more to come to gobble the food up. There was a great ruckus around the house, and everybody seemed to be happily moving outside at the arrival of some vehicles. Her aunt rushed to her at that moment and took her to her bridal seat.
The bridegroom had arrived. The rest is a blur to her even now. She was ushered through the rituals one after the other. She did not get to speak so much as a word to the groom. The next morning the car arrived to take her to her new home. Sitting on the backseat with her husband, it dawned on her for the first time in weeks that her future was decided. She tried hard to remember who had asked her for her consent or otherwise, and then she realised she was not allowed to have either one. The car started with a jolt, and so did her new life.
She browsed through her daughter’s class one books, and wondered if she comprehended them correctly. Every Sunday morning, it was her duty to check on her child’s homework, while her husband went to the morning bazaar. Her daughter impatiently tapped her feet and scribbled the spelling on a worksheet, as she was wanted to join the other apartment kids to play with. Her daughter was yet to get the spelling of buffalo right. She herself checked the spelling so many times to make sure it was double f and a single l. After a good ten minutes, she let her daughter go out to play, even though the number of l and f in a buffalo was yet to be mastered. She arranged her daughter’s books in place. She loved those books, revered them.
She was not a great fan of them when at school herself, but she now realised their liberating power. She loved to see her child give shape to the alphabet on the pages. She loved to hear her child mumble the words from a book while reading it. Her child, on returning from school, would find a new comic book, or a set of books on folk tales with beautiful illustrations. Who would have ever guessed she was in her early twenties going by the way she managed her child and the house?
She stuffed a fresh towel inside the trolley bag. Her daughter was home for vacation, and was leaving for her new semester. She had to make sure of all the arrangements, as her husband was posted to a different city for his work. She accompanied her daughter till the airport. She returned home, cleaned the rooms, locked her daughter’s room, and went over to a neighbour’s place for a little tête-à-tête. She was 40 years old now. She managed the entire household alone, as her husband was out of station most days.
Despite knowing little of the professional ways of the educated world, she managed to pay the bills alone, meet the requirements of the house, fulfil the demands of her daughter living in another city, and every other nitty-gritty. She lived with her husband’s and daughter’s account of their everyday successes and failures. She took pride in her daughter and husband. She would see her daughter throw tantrums as a child sometimes, and behave as a grown-up woman at other times. Her daughter would remain preoccupied with her friends, studies, and gadgets when home for vacations. She loved her daughter asserting her opinion for anything and everything. Her daughter, as a woman, was almost a version of her mother- just a more vocal one, born at quite the right era.
It was a cold, December morning. The otherwise empty house breathed with life. December was the family’s favourite month. The house had all its inhabitants in place in this month. She put on a warm cardigan, unlocked the main gate of the house, and picked the packet of milk. The maid was already sweeping the doorway. She asked the maid not to come in the evening as she had to take her daughter shopping. She switched the kitchen lights on. While pouring the milk into a vessel, she went through all the things that were to be done. She then stirred the milk, watched it boil, and felt her questions boiling on the surface too.
Her life was decided at the age of Seventeen. The wind in the kites of her desires and wishes were sucked out; the strings were cut by firmer strings of right and wrong.
The vivacious kites went awry, and were never really seen again. She breathed life into a daughter. Never let the firmer strings to start spinning her daughter’s life; her daughter lived a life; a life with emotions in bold, in extreme. She lived her independence through her daughter. But, deep down she wondered why she was not blessed with such a life- a life to make mistakes: a life which tastes success and failures. A life to decide where to pack bags and leave to study; a life to go euphoric with your gang! A life to dance till the feet hurt, and more when it did. A life where decisions were her own, her very own. A voice called her back to the present. She looked at the boiled milk, and wondered if she could stir her life and relive it her way. She was not of the opinion that being a homemaker was anything lesser; it is just that she wanted something more out of life. She poured the hot milk into a glass, and put a lid on it and her thoughts.