It is one hot sultry afternoon. She’s come back quite early from her workplace, tired, hungry and sweaty. She felt like collapsing on the floor but then remembers that there’s no one there at home to even serve her food. Her husband’s away on a business trip, her daughter is in her college. She freshens up and goes to the kitchen. The rice is cold and the curry is bland. Seems as if I have forgotten the spices today as well, she says, dipping her long finger into the bottle of homemade pickle, made with the age old recipe that her grandma used to follow. She finishes her lunch and decides to take a nap. She chooses her favourite spot-the sofa in the living room. She sits down, the cushion sagging behind her. Motherhood had burdened her with excessive weight.
There’s an unexpected guest: a shower in the middle of the summer. She rushes to get the clothes from the terrace. The staircases are steep and her energies low. All my hard work wasted, she mumbles. Finally, after all this running, she once again settles down in her cozy seat and closes her eyes.
A small girl is dashing across the courtyard, eyes shimmering with innocence and excitement. Suddenly she stumbles upon an object and falls down. She starts crying, seeing the blood on her bruised knee. Her mother comes outside and takes her in her lap, trying to soothe her. She wipes her tears, adding ” If you keep getting scars like these, then no one’ll marry you. You’re as such a dark girl.”The girl looks back at her mother, confused.
“Is it wrong to be dark?”
The mother looks at her with hollow eyes.
And thus she starts her journey on a rocky path without a map, just following her conscience and goodwill. Her sober nature wins everyone’s hearts at a glance. She grows up fast, her childhood undeniably smaller, saddled with enormous responsibilities. Being the elder daughter, she is entrusted with the duties of scrubbing the floors and washing the clothes. Though never a star student, she takes her education very seriously, burning the midnight oil after putting her younger siblings to sleep. Her presence is limited to the walls of her home, her classrooms and the library. Sometimes she spends her leisure time knitting sweaters and cardigans or making dolls and bags from reeds.
She’s never allowed to forget that she’s dark. As if having a higher concentration of melanin is a sin. She later learnt that skin color is an example of polygenic inheritance, which means that multiple genes collectively influence phenotypic expression of the trait. Apart from that, environmental factors also play a role. “I walk to school and then back home every day. It is natural that I have got some extra protection from the sun. What can be wrong in that? Lord Krishna and Goddess Kali are dark too. But they are worshipped despite of their color. Why am I not acceptable?” Still, like millions of Indian girls, she succumbs to the societal pressure and definition of beauty and starts using the iconic Fair and Lovely.
Being a girl seems difficult in this country, she thinks while convincing her father to leave her for a study tour. All her friends wave at her and await the surprises they’re gonna enjoy, while all she does is look at the speeding bus with eyes, welled up with tears and biting her lips. She has to fight at her home to allow her to go outside her small township for higher studies. Fighting with your family is never easy, even if you’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s not safe for a girl to stay away from home, they say. It’s not safe for a girl to go out after dark, they say.
As she prepares herself to leave her tiny nest to fly high, she understands that life comes with its share of troubles. The hardest part has just begun. Staying away from family in an unknown city is never easy. She battles her way through all her courage and determination, and completes her Masters in marketing. There’s always that financial crunch, but she never shows it. She starts her career with a multinational in a cosmopolitan city. Her first salary gets stolen in the local bus. She gets eve teased on the same streets that lead her to the working women’s hostel. All this for a job. For her self respect. For building up her identity.
But there are beautiful moments too, like taking her parents on a tour and buying them stuff with her own money. For someone belonging to a lower income group family, this can seem as an achievement. Seeing the glow on your parents’ face because of your good deeds is indeed an achievement.
She’s called back home after 3 years. “You’re old enough to start a family now. When are you going to get married? You’re dark as such. And you know about the biological age for women………”
“But ma, there’s this guy……”
“There’s this guy, whom I love very much. He also adores me a lot. He is a doctor. Remember I had told you about him while I had been to the hospital regarding those new tablets my company had launched?”
“Ah yes, I remember. So, what is his caste?”
She knew that this question would come up. He had said the same thing. ” I love you, but I won’t be able to marry you. We belong to different groups of societies. My parents will never agree to a match who’s dark, highly educated and of a separate caste.” She was shocked to hear all this from him, a doctor, one of the highly respected professionals in the society.
“I thought that you’re proud of me. And don’t tell me that I’m dark. You’re no whiter.”
“Yes, I am, but I believe you won’t make a good wife.”
”Because you’re a working woman. Your marketing job will take you to places, while I’d be mostly staying in my state. I need my woman to stay with me, to do the household chores properly, to take care of my children, and to be a good wife. I have my own dreams and aspirations. How’ll they get fulfilled if my wife works? A working woman can never be a good housewife.”
“But we can manage everything. We live in a democratic country that believes in justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Everything is possible if we take a stand. We can at least try once. You talk at you home and I’ll talk at mine. I am sure that we can get positive results. Because we have got only one life and I have some dreams too………….”
“I am sorry, I don’t know about you, but I can’t go against my parents’ wishes. Nor my dreams.”
Her mother nearly slapped her, tears in her eyes and anger in her throat.
“You wretched girl! You fell in love with a lower caste man and you expect us that we’ll marry you off with him! How dare you? Don’t you know that we are Brahmins? What’ll people say? That’s all we need now, to ruin our reputation! He left you for the sake of his parents….and you? You’re arguing with me? Wretched girl!”
She imagined herself on a boat stranded in the middle of an ocean, felt as if thousands of waves were hitting her, all at once, trying to knock her off and break her down into pieces. She felt as if she was drowning, the waves pushing her and the sharks pulling her underwater. She couldn’t exactly comprehend the aim of her struggle. Why was she fighting for that man who loved her but didn’t respect her emotions and treated women just as objects for work and recreation? Why was she fighting with her mother who had cared for her since childhood and whose hands were tied up with the patriarchal and orthodox ideas since generations? Why was she fighting with herself and ruining her state of mind? Sometimes she couldn’t understand why she behaved this way, let alone others.
News was to relatives and friends that there’s this suitable Brahmin girl who’s 5’6” tall, highly educated, works for an MNC, skilled in household work and has good moral values. The compact ad was published in a local daily.
Prospective grooms visited her one by one, throwing occasional glances on her slender figure. Prospective mothers in law checked her face complexion and her walking style. The families exchanged pleasantries, had chai samosas and then talked about dowry. Two lakhs, because, you know. She felt the jolts in her body every time someone demanded dowry or rejects her.
Finally, by the grace of God, she gets her husband who is equally qualified and is fair colored. “Girl, you have struck a gem”, her relatives said. “He’ s too good for you. You should be lucky that you got him, just for one lakh!”
She’s quickly wedded off and then finds herself in another dimension of life. She’s now a married woman, and they say that it is the honor of her husband’s family that is now at her stake. So she now must learn to live like they decide. Marriage is all about adjustment, they say. New family, new relatives, new customs, new clothes and jewellery, new bedroom, and that too with a complete stranger………………
One year fast forward. She is returning from the doctor, her eyes shining with excitement and dull with tears at the same time. Her doctor is the same man with whom she had imagined her whole life. He was now married as well. Congratulations, he had said. You’re going to be a mother. She tightly clutched her husband’s hand, wiping her face, smiling. She questioned herself again. “Why haven’t I been able to forget this man who has given me the darkest years of my life? Am I not being a good wife?”
Nine months later, as she held up her daughter in her arms for the first time, she went wild with ecstasy. Her daughter had large black eyes and looked like a doll. She was so proud of herself. After all, her child was a part of her blood and bones. Her life had come to a full circle, she thought. After all, this is what a wife is supposed to do.
Being the most beautiful period of a woman’s life, pregnancy gives her the most precious and powerful gift of mankind, the ability to create a new generation. But it comes with its perils. Her weight soared up like anything and her hair fall aggravated. She no longer looked young like before.
She was soon expecting her second child. Her mother in law prayed to Lord Krishna daily. ” A Bal Gopal, please God bless our home with a Bal Gopal this time.” But destiny had some other plans for her. A minor road accident while driving back home led to her miscarriage. Her doctor replied that she would never be able to become a mother again.
And it was then that her husband started going away on frequent business trips. He avoided her every time he could. His family believed that she had knowingly taken away the chirag of their home. They released their frustration on her every time they could. Her husband, for whom she had settled down with a low paying job so that she could manage his family well, was not in love with her anymore. Was it because of her failed pregnancy? Maybe he was not in love with her at all. Sometimes, people are in love and they can’t marry. Sometimes, people marry but they are not in love with each other.
There had been a few times when she doubted that her husband was cheating on her.
One day, she broke down in front of her mother.
“Ma, I can’t go on like this anymore. I sacrificed my career for this man years older than me, and yet he can’t provide me solace. I have lost my child, yet I get no words to soothe my heartache. You know how it feels? It feels as if I’ve lost a limb and I am still experiencing the phantom pain, oh Ma!”
“That’s the life of a woman, dear. Women must endure all these sufferings. You need to be here and do your duties, whether you’re appreciated or not. This is your home till the end and you are the lady of this house. You should know the tricks to keep all the strings tight. Or else your shack will break down.”
“If I need to prove myself all the time, then why doesn’t he pass through the same litmus test? I have lost a lot in life. Am I here only to kill my hopes and aspirations? Even I am a human being and this is the only life I’ve got, Ma!”
“You ask too many questions!”
She’s suddenly woken up by a thunder loud enough to wake the dead. She realises that she had been dozing off with her head tilted towards the direction of the main entrance of the house. The heavy raindrops were still hitting the porch but she didn’t mind anymore. She opened the gate, took a few drops of the cold water into her cupped hands and splashed onto her face. She further moved towards the garden and got drenched in the newly found sparks of her old wounds.