The crimson ball rose over the pool of gold and filled the sky with pure scattered light. Its hue illuminated all the cervices of land and chirping birds added to the background melody. Her kohl smudged eyes gaped through the window and part of hair from the messy bun kept brushing her cheeks. A deep breath of fresh air paused in her lungs and she earnestly wished for the time to halt. Aradhya has spent her most beautiful days in this room and yearned to spend some more, but time is cruel. It just doesn’t wait. The new Paying Guest was about to come anytime and she still had her cupboard full. Hurriedly she pulled out her mom’s old trunk from beneath the bed. Stains of dust wrapped her white t-shirt and her messy bun just turned messier. With a bout of cough she opened the trunk.
The sarees lay scattered, the diaries had turned brittle. Hurriedly making space for her clothes, her hands lay on an old diary. A flip of the cover made a dozen yellow pages fall over. Collecting the pages, 2 envelopes caught her attention. One was an envelope with a note over it and other was an inland letter with torn edges taped over and sealed again. Her slender fingers adoring oxidised silver rings, reached out for the note and the inland letter.
The note read:
My hands are still quivering to receive this letter from the largest oil major of the country. The society was cursing me and questioning my parents for educating the girl so much. They always advised my parents to save the money for my marriage instead. I had promised myself that I will earn back every penny my dad has spent on my education. I will earn for my dowry.
But guess what, now I don’t have to. Today Rahulji’s parents came with a marriage proposal. They approved to get him married to me without any demands. Now my parents and I don’t have to earn extra for my wedding. #MissionAccomplished! This letter has turned inconsequential. I am so excited to start a happy life with my husband and children. I will cook for them, dress for them and prove to be the best wife and daughter-in-law. Till now, I have excelled in all the fields and now is the time to excel at being a housewife. I will learn to cook halwa and other delicacies to please my new family. Got to go. Will meet you if I get time from the shopping, cooking and learning new household chores. Busy days ahead. Love you loads till we meet next.
Wish me luck.
Aradhya clenched her fists. The golden ball had turned into a hot ball of fire and the sunlight blinded her eyes. A cyclone of emotions was swirling up her mind and she was speculating to tear open that inland letter too. Why was it sealed again after having read it? Her French manicured nails were about to tear it open when her mom, Bimla entered the unkempt room.
Aradhya ran to her mom, clasped her shoulders and shook her up – “You left a job at an Oil major company and you were excited about it? I never knew you were so educated to bag that offer. 25years down the line, it is still tough to crack that interview. Then why did you chose the life of misery?”
Aradhya was raging with fury and her mom didn’t show an inch of worry. She took Aradhya by her hands, made her sit on the couch and walked up to the window to take a deep breath of fresh air, “Do you see that sun? Every morning it rises in the east and sets in the west. For years, it has been silently doing the same and never challenged the universe. I was also raised with such indubitable truths and beliefs. I was raised with the core belief that girls have to get married and settle with their husbands and in-laws. Education and a job offer were just means to attract a good marriage alliance. And I had been successful at both. They were my badges of honour. Something to be showcased to the society and saved in dark corners of the house, only meant to be used if the family went broke. I was a trophy wife and back then, I was proud of it. I never saw anything wrong in it because everybody had been doing the same. My mother, grandmother, neighbours, aunts, everybody! It was ingrained in me that girls are meant to take care of the kitchen and household only. It was a universal fact. It never crossed my mind to challenge the system. I accepted my share of responsibilities and troubles with a pinch of salt. Rahul was earning well for the family and I found no reason to step out to work. Choosing a professional career, just because my heart wants to, had never occurred. I never knew that our hearts speak too. I never learnt to hear to those whispered beats. I never realised that heart does more than just pumping blood! My life revolved around my family and my happiness too. “
“But ma. I remember dad being a workaholic and spending his nights amidst files. We were leading a comfortable life as zamindar of Kumaon. Only dadi used to prod you for something or the other. If being a happy wife was all you wanted then why did you run away from home? All this while I thought that you left dad because you wanted to pursue your career. But if not career then what?”
Aradhya’s mother sighed. After brawling with the circumstances for 16 years, she had somehow managed to bury her past. And today, her daughter stood before her, bringing back the memories of that scary night she ran away with Aradhya. The dreadful night with just Aradhya, a suitcase and some jewelry.
Bimla was short of words and she bent down to the trunk and flipped through the letters to find one from her parents. “Read this Aradhya. This letter from your nana has all the answers to the sealed letter you are hiding behind your back.”
I know you are upset. And I also know that Rahul ji is a very good husband and he will take good care of you and the 8 year old Aradhya. I have always known you to be a strong girl. You fought with almost everybody in the village to complete your graduation and grab that job offer. You never looked for my support back then. Why now? After your marriage, we have no role to play in your life. You are mature enough to take your own decisions. I have sealed the inland letter you sent me and sending you back because it has no place in our home.
Aradhya’s confusion piled up further. The letter was easy to understand but difficult to comprehend. The emotions and the reasons behind them were still encoded.
“Maa, why did nanu send back that re-sealed inland letter?”
Bimla’s eyes welled up, she fell straight on the chair and her throat choked. The sealed secret has to be ripped open. “Read that inland letter for yourself, Aradhya.”
I am writing this to you in an emergency and I hope this letter reaches you soon. Today I heard my sasu ma fixing up Aradhya’s alliance with the sarpanch’s 20 year old son. Aradhya is still a child and I don’t want to marry her at such a tender age. Rahul is one spineless man. He knows that his mother is at fault, and yet he chose silence.. Sasuma wants a boy as her vanshaj. You know that I cannot become a mother because of complications after Aradhya’s delivery. So she has been conspiring to get Aradhya out of the home and earn some money by getting her married. Also after that it will be easier to get Rahul married again for a male vanshaj. I want some monetary help from you so that I can atleast take a bus to your place and flee from here.
Aradhya fell down on her knees, dig her head in Bimla’s lap and clasped her waist to cry out aloud. She was inconsolable.
“I am so sorry Ma for bringing this out now. I always thought that you left home just to make an identity for yourself. We lived in miseries for quite some time and at times, I cursed you for that. All I hear was that, ‘I will stand strong. I will earn enough to educate Aradhya and give her all the luxuries.’ I always asked you about going back to baba and dadi but you never unfolded this dark secret. Why did you carry this heavy baggage all by yourself?”
“Because I wasn’t sure if you would understand me. We lead a luxurious life in Kumaon and I thought that you might readily give up your life for all that luxury. After all you are daughter of that Rahul too!! Aradhya, you are my life, my hope. I drive my energy from you. The fear of losing you kept me mum all this while.”
“But ma, after being so educated, why did you work as a daily wage earner? It was only after some certification that you could get this white collar job.”
“Because my degree was burnt to ashes by your dadi. I don’t know why she left this offer and diary alive. For them to mock at me?? I didn’t have enough to make the ends meet, forget about travelling to my college 2000km away just to get a copy of my degree. I had to study again and hone my skills for a white collar job. But I could do that only after educating you. I could barely save after paying your fees and bills.”
“I am sorry ma. You had to bear all the brunt because of me. You had to bear so much, all by yourself.”
“Oh don’t be silly beta. My life has been the best. I blossomed to my best after my degree. I cherished the fragrance of success. Success because I got married at 21years.” She gave a sarcastic grin and laughed out her tears.
“Post marriage, my bough was heavy and laden with responsibilities and yet I pledged to bridge the rifts in relationships. I ploughed, I sweat and toiled to blossom once again in that barren land of my husband’s. I crafted my way through the rough tides of abandonment and hammered a ship for us to sail through the cyclone. The tides went high and my hopes surged higher. Optimism has constantly fueled my soul and kept me going. I have learnt to hear my heart roaring and keep soaring higher and higher. Happiness is what I find in your eyes. I have experimented, experienced and enjoyed living this life. I still continue to hop over hurdles, sail through happiness and dance with grim realities. I am enjoying every bit of it. And now when you set out for your journey, I will turn this home into a shelter home for the distressed women. I will make them explore the true joys of life.”
A couple of years down the line, Bimla flashed in the headlines for successfully helping over 100 domestic violence survivors and giving them a new meaning to life. Aradhya too shared the space for being appointed as the first Indian lady ambassador to Kazakhstan.
Miles away, an ageing Rahul saw the news and exclaimed to his mother – “She is the granddaughter you wanted to sell off. My 3 marriages couldn’t give you what you wanted. Living in heaven you made my life hell. And she carved out her heaven from the hell you gifted her.“