First Novel (work in progress)

                             1

She isn’t yet turned 18. Eldest of the 3 sisters and 2 brothers. She was always told; in a struggling middle-class household, how important it is for the oldest one to get married appropriately. The prospects of rest of the siblings are tied to the precedence she would set. Her mother had never let her elude from her obligations towards the family.

Since this proposal came for her, everyone has been on cloud 9. It’s considered God’s sent, perfect on all parameters. The boy’s family is well settled with business and own house. The boy is much older than her, but he looks like a good person in the photograph his family had sent to her family. They live across the country. She is told it takes almost 2 days of train journey to get there. She doesn’t expect to be able to visit her parent’s place more than once a year, may be 2 years.

The boy and his family arrived this morning and are put up in a relative’s house that has spare rooms. This is her last night at her parent’s house as just their daughter. She will be married tomorrow. She may be able to come back and stay another night before setting off to a far-off place she’s never been to before, her new home.

Some cousins and friends have started singing as is customary on the night before the wedding. Sometimes they dance too but her father doesn’t approve of girls dancing in front of other men even if they are relatives.

One of her cousins who is also her best friend starts singing a popular song from a newly released movie. It’s a gloomy number that translates to ‘My heart’s desires have got swept away by my tears, I am left alone even though I was always faithful’, the lyrics aren’t appropriate for the occasion, but the theme of separation hits the right chord around the tiny gathering. The best friend begins to cry, the young bride-to-be is also weeping uncontrollably. Some younger kids are confused, this was supposed to be fun and entertaining. Why’s everyone crying as if someone died?

The girl’s aunt, herself just a few years older, jumps in. She scolds everyone for being morose and making it worse for the poor girl and her Mother. The aunt now becomes the lead singer steering the party towards traditional wedding songs with funny lines. The room begins to once again fill with sound of laughter and happy chatter.

The girl however is only half listening, she is thinking of the following day and the days after that. She has absolutely no idea what the future holds for her except that she will be separated from her family, friends and every single person and thing she has ever known. She is scared.

She looks at her mother, who’s busy packing gifts for her meager trousseau. So young and so hardened by her circumstances. Her Mother hasn’t had an easy life with the husband who barely earns enough to provide 2 decent meals to the family. She had to clutch every paisa with her teeth to bring up 5 kids. Today she is tired but there’s a gleam in her eyes. Her daughter is getting married into a much well to do family, her son is apprenticing to be a salesman and will soon begin to get a salary. Her time will come, soon. This is just the beginning. The girl gets strength from the gleam in her mother’s eyes.

The aunt has started beating the dhol drum loudly and is singing ‘I will do whatever I feel like in my in laws house, I will do whatever I feel like in my in-laws house.. When my mother in law would ask me to do chores I will tell the old wretch to get lost’….

                                2

‘See, how she didn’t even come out to the staircase to say bye to us’, Meena thought while getting down the steps of the old dilapidated building. This was her first visit to her would be in-laws house.

‘You all wait here, I will go get the car’ Her cousin who was the designated driver for the evening suggested. Pranav was talking to her father, answering questions about the building’s management and maintenance. The car came, Pranav touched her parents feet, ‘I will call you in a bit’ He told Meena.

All of them got in the car, Her father in the front passenger seat, she, her sister Meghna and Mother in the backseat.

‘The boy is nice and that’s the only thing worth considering’ her mother started as soon as the car got out of the building’s gate.

‘Yes, that’s fine but the Mother’s attitude wasn’t right today’ her elder sister said angrily ‘So possessive about her son! What does she want to do? keep her boy in her lap all her life? He is 30 years old for God’s sake’

‘Quiet you all’ Her father almost yelled but then calmed himself down ‘We need to think maturely and not get carried away by 1 or 2 incidences’

Meena remained silent, it’s a long drive home, another of unchecked boxes. Meena’s parents’ house although small but is in a much-desired part of the city. Pranav lives far off in the suburbs. It’s decided that after marriage they will rent a small apartment close to his Mother. They will spend the evenings after work at the mother’s place and then go to their apartment to sleep.

All that is OK, but the Mom’s behavior today was indeed strange. And Pranav’s too. Agreed that she’s had a tough life, lost her husband when Pranav was only 11, worked as an office clerk and raised him without any family support.

He did drop a hint first time he came over to her house, that he and her Mom keep to themselves and unlike most other families rarely interact with the members of the extended family. They didn’t think much of this seemingly harmless trait at that time. Isn’t it a good thing to mind one’s own business?

But today seeing them together in that depressing old apartment, they all felt a discomfort that isn’t easy to express or put into words.

‘And tell me what did she mean by My son would never ever hurt me for someone else? Arre did we suggest that your son should hurt you? Out of the blue she talks like that, doesn’t this reek of serious psychological problems? And the son just keeps quiet!’ Meghna has another outburst.

‘But aren’t all sons like that? Their Mom asks rhetorically ‘They support their mothers unconditionally. Even your dad till date when your Granny is 85…

‘Aai can you stop your own sad story, this isn’t about you’ Meghna is in no mood of getting distracted from the issue in hand. ‘You and baba got married in another time and age, is this how you have brought us up? No, right? I am not saying that we should back out from this marriage, but I think Meena should consider pros and cons once again’

As if waiting for this cue from her sister, Meena’s mind wanders away, sorting through all the interactions that she and Pranav have had in last 1 month.

First time he was accompanied to her place, by a common family friend. Then they spoke on phone a few times before going out for dinner, 2 more coffee outings, then her parents and sister visited his house and then last week when he and his Mother came to her place for a small engagement ceremony.

He is an MBA, slowly making his way up the corporate ladder, it will take some time, but they will be fine financially. She herself is having a steady job as a dietitian in a private hospital.

Although her parents are very open minded compared to many of her friend’s but off late even they have started getting concerned about her growing age. A few months older than Pranav she will turn 31 very soon. She isn’t overtly attracted to him physically, but neither is she repelled by his looks. She didn’t see that as a problem. She knows that people’s appearances change and what really matters is how they make you feel in their company. With Pranav she was able to relate as a person each time they met alone.

Her thoughts come back to today evening. When her father asked him about their plans for the wedding function, the way he looked at his Mother,waiting for her to respond. And when they were leaving, he glanced at her again as if looking for a signal, before accompanying us down to our car and how throughout their stay, she kept watching him closely like a hawk.

‘In the end Meena has to spend her life with them and she must decide’ Meghna announced somberly, breaking the silence in the car. They were not yet half way home.

                              3

Veera is returning home from work. A distance of 10 miles that takes 30-40 mins of driving during peak times. She usually uses this time to call her Mom back in India. Even though it’s a bit too early in the morning, her Mom doesn’t mind.

Lately this daily drill has begun to get tiresome for Veera. Her family has started to take a rather harsh stand on the subject of Her single status at age 29.

During last few month’s their conversations have revolved around her last or upcoming meeting with a prospective husband, arranged by her Mom and Aunt.

They are annoyed with her for rejecting boys on flimsy grounds. Overtly religious- so what? Too much devotion for parents- So? Modi bhakt- really? No hobbies etc.

Veera is overcome with mental fatigue and hopelessness about the whole situation. Finding that someone within the confines of race, religion and region; Seriously, what are the odds? Today she is going to skip calling home. They want an answer from her; not just an answer actually but the answer they want to hear.

For the last 8 months she really cooperated, put her best foot forward, convinced herself to have faith in the process; her Mom and Aunt would manage the Shaadi.com account, would filter the suitable profiles and responses, would then send her the details to talk and connect, if all goes well and the boy is U.S based the expectation is to plan and  meet as soon as possible, if not then she would make a trip to India for a meeting.

So far, she has talked to 20 boys and has met 8. It all started OK but months of apprehensions for each lead, effort to present herself in the best light for each new prospect and the disappointment every time someone failed the litmus test, have started to take a toll on her mind.

One time when she actually liked the boy, he didn’t show enough enthusiasm, stomping her ego and morale in the process.

Anyway, this last boy she spoke to wouldn’t have made it to her Mom’s shortlist a year back but now not only did they make her talk to him but are also pushing her to go to India to meet him and his family. This desperation and lowering of standards is heartbreaking, even humiliating.

Today she will spend the evening all by herself. Her roommate is travelling this weekend, giving her a much-needed unperturbed time to clear her head.

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