The flame of the candle flickered again. Ragini shuddered in fear. What if it goes off? Once again her mother-in-law will start cribbing about how they were suffering without an inverter. The inverter was their latest demand from her Papa.
Her Papa was her ‘Hero’, who always believed in arranged marriages and how a well-settled engineer/doctor was the best option for his daughter. And she was his princess who was never spoken to in a harsh voice by him or Ma. She called it her life’s golden period.
As a child, she was quite fascinated by the wedding traditions and dreamed of getting married and proudly being given by her father in kanyadan to a man who will treasure her.
She used to often ask her father, “Papa, what does ‘Kanyadan’ mean?"
“Beta it means giving away your daughter, the most precious gift from God, to another man who will love her as much as her father does.” This always brought a smile to her face thinking she will have such a loved and fulfilled life. But no one told her that kanyadan is not enough. A series of gifts are required too for the ‘love and care’ to continue. In a state of fear, she laid the table for dinner thinking since when the gifts are demanded?
Ragini had done her B.Sc. in Chemistry. Her father was a lecturer of philosophy in a college in Mathura. She was the only daughter of her parents with a younger brother.
Keshav was a civil engineer posted in Noida. He was the only child of his parents who were retired now. They were a small family and seemed to be very gentle and thus her parents were delighted when her marriage got fixed.
Ragini was the happiest and most excited bride. Her dream of a traditional wedding draped in a beautiful lehenga with a heavy red duppatta was coming true. Every day she was busy choosing dresses and jewellery for different occasions. In all this preparation she never got a hint about the list of gifts given to her Papa from Keshav’s parents. Nobody told her that quietly things like AC and washing machine were being delivered to their house two days before the wedding.
Her mother-in-law had kept asking her to bring various items like a new mobile handset or a kitchen appliance later too whenever she visited her parents but she could never figure out the greed behind it.
The first time she understood the greed was when one day after lunch she mentioned to her about wanting to go to the market with Keshav on Sunday to buy a few jars for the kitchen. With raised eyebrows, her mother-in-law had said, “Why don’t you ask your parents to gift you a set of jars? As it is they have not given us the Honda car till now as promised before your marriage so at least those shameless can provide some jars for their daughter’s kitchen.”
The bitter words from her mother-in-law jolted Ragini from her wonderland and she couldn’t sleep that night. A car? Why did no one mention it to her about it?
The next day was a Sunday. She got up with a fresh mind and decided that she will talk to Keshav. He was the one who loved her, admired her, always praising her long hair, beautiful eyes, her slender figure. Now he was her ‘Hero’ after the Kanyadan
She made aaloo parathas, Keshav’s favourite for breakfast and was glad to see him finishing four of them before settling down with the newspaper and a hot cup of masala chai- her speciality.
For Lunch, she was making Pulav but secretly she planned to stuff herself with chaat and pani puri while shopping.
He had finished his tea and was standing talking to his mother when she came to collect the cup. “Keshav can we go to the market to purchase a few items….” was all she had said when she felt a hard slap on her face.
“Don’t you try to get too modern? Behave like a bahu and listen to my mother”, he said before stepping out of the house for a smoke.
With tears stinging her eyes she looked at his mother who gave her a look conveying me and my son are a team and you are not a part of it.
In a state of shock and embarrassment, Ragini went to her room and sat on the bed staring outside through the window pane. Everything was beautiful. But all she could think was “Beta it means the most precious gift from God which a father gives to another man who will love her as much as a father does.” But papa never slapped her not even when she dropped his laptop and broke the screen. And the thought, that he got her married in a family demanding Dowry made her feel worse. Tears started trickling down her face.
Maybe Keshav didn’t understand the meaning of Kanyadan. She will have to explain to him herself.
But she never got a chance as Keshav went on a tour of fifteen days to Mumbai and she was left behind to take care of his parents. The night before he left he took her in his arms as soon as she put her tired body on bed and had played his sweet game of love which was the only form of communication between them now.
His tour stretched from a fortnight to a month. It was still two days for him to come home and in spite of everything, Ragini was excited. This separation between them would have surely grown his love and respect for her.
She had the menu set for lunch and dinner with all his favourite things. With Papa having given the invertor last week even Mummyji seemed not so angry with her all the time and gave her permission to go to the parlour for a quick facial.
With a spring in her walk, she walked down the road to the parlour in the adjacent block.
As she stepped inside with a smile thinking of whether to go for a fruit facial or the anti-tanning one, she felt a little dizzy and stumbled onto the nearest chair. A staff came forward to help her with a glass of water but before she took a sip she had to run to the washroom to throw up! What was happening to her? She wondered. Had she eaten eggs in the morning? Because that is the only time she felt this nausea as she is allergic to them. But No, she hadn’t consumed eggs for ages.
She stepped out of the washroom and looking at the naughty gleam in the eyes of an old lady customer it hit her what might be the reason for this. Yes!! She could be pregnant!! She can now give a baby to her family and thus no more demands of any other gifts. Finally, her golden period is starting again. She was too happy for a facial now and as it is with this hope she was already glowing. She was ready to dance for joy.
Instead, she went to the doctor to confirm the news before breaking it to Keshav. She was too shy to tell this to her in-laws. Keshav can do that once he is here.
With the final confirmation from her doctor, she dialled her husband’s number. Yay, they are going to be mom and Dad soon.
Keshav was on top of the world to receive the news. He said he can’t wait to be with her. She quickly thanked God for finally connecting emotionally with her husband.
But her glowing face turned pale as soon as she heard Keshav saying ‘just pray to God that it’s a boy! Anyway, let me reach there and we will get the tests done to confirm”
In a meek voice, she replied, “But Keshav sex determination is illegal and nobody will allow it here.”
“I have friends who can help me so you don’t worry about it. You just relax and take care of yourself and my baby boy” was all he said before hanging up!
Everything inside her shrieked “Is this the man you were going to explain about Kanyadan?" Does he even know the meaning of a daughter?”
With a heavy heart, she came back home. Her in-laws were taking their afternoon nap and so she still had some time before preparing the evening tea and snacks.
Throughout the evening only one thought stayed with her “Will Keshav intentionally kill his child just because it’s a girl?" How can she allow it? Can’t she stop him? No, she doesn’t have the courage and strength. So she too has no right to live. And to make a place we have to constantly fight for our rights. Then when are we going to live our dreams or fulfill our happiness? No no, we should go away from here.”
Ragini’s battle with herself continued the whole night and when she woke up the next morning she seemed at peace. The tears had stopped. Her bloodshot eyes had swollen from all the crying. Her clothes were in a disarray.
She had become someone she never intended to. She hated the sound of birds chirping, she hated the sound of her own breathing. Her existence was not necessary for anyone now. Keshav will only need her if she had a boy in her womb. And her daughter doesn’t need her because she is a weak mother who can’t even protect her. Maybe Keshav is right in killing the girl before she is born, unlike her papa who gave her golden days and took them away by doing her ‘Kanyadan’ to killers. Her mind had totally blocked away the possibility of the baby being a boy!!
Today Keshav was coming home. His flight would arrive at five pm and he should be home by seven. There was a 'keertan' next door from 4 pm. Her mother-in-law gave her the final instruction of making her son’s favourite halwa before leaving with her father-in-law. But she could only hear another voice in her head…."I can’t let them win, Just can’t."
The halwa was ready garnished with dry fruits. She too was ready in a sari. For the last time she looked at herself in the bathroom cabinet’s mirror smiling and talking to her baby. She opened the cabinet and found the razor blade in Keshav’s spare shaving kit. A dog was barking outside but she was completely numb and unaware. The clock struck five. Keshav’s flight landed smoothly on IGIA, New Delhi as Ragini made a deep cut on her wrist. A flash from her golden days came in front of her eyes. She was on the stage holding a trophy for the first prize she had won in the entire state for an essay competition. Her father stood clapping with joy and pride. The topic was “Say No to dowry”
She closed her eyes and relaxed whispering ‘I am sorry, my baby.”
“A young mentally disturbed woman commits suicide after a day of finding out about her pregnancy”- displayed in the local newspapers the next day.
About the writer- Hina Hussain is an ex banker, and educator at KR Mangalam World School. Her life revolves around work, family and writing.
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