When I turned 24, my parents decided that it was time they made ‘arranging a daughter’s marriage’ their top goal in life. As with any arranged marriage in India, entire families were enlisted to convince me that it should be my top priority as well.
Although I was young, I knew that marriage would be a giant leap for me. It has always been thus for women – from moving into a new house and adjusting to a different environment, to changing her last name and finding her place in a new family; the institution of marriage was something not to be entered into lightly. I was not ready.
I managed to dodge and escape for a year and a half before I caved in. But I made it clear that I would not meet gazillion boys in the dance of acceptance/rejection that plays out in the arranged marriage system. No problem, my parents said, and created a profile for me on a matrimonial portal. I had complete freedom to screen and choose proposals based on my personal preferences. After scrolling through multiple profiles, Gaurav was the first boy whose digital proposal I accepted, and after two-three months of ‘courtship’ in the virtual world, we decided to tie the knot.
Although still sceptical of marriage, with both of us being based in India at the time of our engagement, we looked forward to the wedding, unaware of the change in dynamics that would occur in a few weeks. Gaurav was offered a job in Singapore, an offer that was too good to refuse. This added to my dilemma. I had not considered the possibility of leaving my full and fulfilling life behind to travel abroad to join my husband.
After the wedding, I chose to stay behind in Delhi, ostensibly to take care of pending matters. I had been working as a TV presenter at Doordarshan for the past three years and was on the cusp of a promotion. My second book ‘Saturated Agitation’ had recently been launched, and I was busy with book readings. I had just completed my Master’s degree in journalism and was waiting to collect my original mark sheet. I was teaching journalism as a part-time lecturer and was reluctant to abandon my students in the middle of the semester. One of my dogs had given birth to seven pups. The other one was sick.
Nine months after my wedding, I kept adding more excuses to the already long list of valid reasons for me to linger in Delhi. Despite the distance, Gaurav was very considerate in not insisting that I move to Singapore. Was it because he was as tentative as me about our union? Things seemed fine during our occasional short meetings. We often connected over various digital devices and channels. But we did not share a home; we had no history together.
It is the month of August, the month of my husband’s birthday. This is his first birthday as my husband, and I do not want us speaking over flat screens. For some reason, I feel compelled to be with him; I want to make this day special. Is this love? I make plans and buy gifts. I am flying to Singapore tomorrow morning to see him. This is not a surprise visit because I cannot afford the risk of him being elsewhere if I arrive unannounced. I know that Gaurav has also made plans. We are both excited to see each other. It has been three months since our last rendezvous.
I pack my bags and layout my favourite white cotton Anarkali suit for the flight in the morning. I wash my face, kiss my pups and dogs good night, apply night cream and sleep.
I wake up with a mild sense of excitement when my alarm goes off at 4 in the morning. I have to leave home at 5:30 to reach the airport on time. I am getting ready, I sense a commotion outside our home, and the TV news confirms my misgivings.
A sleep-deprived, tired reporter screams out news about fire, mobs and roadblocks. People have turned violent to protest the rape conviction of Baba Ram Rahim (A Man-God) who had subsequently been jailed. Oblivious to the implications of this news, I get ready to leave for the airport only to realise that I cannot step outside. People are walking the streets with swords and fire torches. It is a communal riot-like situation. There are half-burnt vehicles on the roads with mobs screaming “Baba bekasoor hai, Baba ko riha karo” (Baba is innocent, release him from prison.)
I have a long phone call with Gaurav; I don’t want to disappoint him. I argue with my father about the unfairness of his demand that I stay home. Before long, I have to accept defeat. There is no way I can safely make it to the airport in time for my flight, thanks to the harsh reality of things beyond my control.
“The important thing is that you are safe at home. It is alright; we can always plan for next month or the month after.” Gaurav is incredibly sweet and understanding. He is the one consoling me even though I am the one throwing tantrums for not making it to his birthday.
As I sit with my head in my hands, my sick dog walks toward me, lifts his leg and pisses on my bag. And something finally snaps.
“Am I taking advantage of my husband’s understanding and supportive nature? Is this a punishment for being a terrible wife? ”
I see my father leaving for his clinic despite the unruly situation outside, knowing that there may be additional patients who need his help. I have grown up seeing him devote his entire life to the welfare of the people. His passion for his work and dedication to helping others has been an inspiration to me. Being the youngest one in the family, I was naturally close to my father. What I hadn’t realised was how interdependent we have become in the past few years… I am so much like him. His preoccupation with work had always kept him away from his family. Am I doing the same thing?
A woman’s life changes entirely after marriage, and so does her opinion of it. Before marriage, my focus was more on the “wedding”- clothes, jewellery, make-up, events, music and whatnot. However, the next morning, when the processions were over, I found myself transformed from the kid of my family to the eldest bahoo (daughter-in-law) of my husband’s family, a promotion of sorts that required significant adjustments to my outlook on my life ahead. With the completion of the rituals of marriage, I had wondered what other literal and figurative changes lay in store but had not ventured to find out.
Today, thanks to Baba Ram Rahim and his followers, I can finally see that it is not my career nor my dogs, not my students nor my mark sheet holding me here. I got married and was ‘given away’. From kanyadaan to bidai- every ritual confirmed my departure from my maiden home and guided me on the road to becoming a wife. The only thing that is holding me is me. I haven’t mustered the strength to leave my father, my home, and begin a life with my husband, to become a wife in its real sense. Only I could correct this unfair situation. I had to let my marriage take shape, even though I had no idea how to create it. It was time to fly.
In the next ten days, I resigned from work, completed my assignments as best as I could and started looking for work in Singapore. When Gaurav came to Delhi to escort me to Singapore, my father waved a tearful goodbye. I knew then that my father was happy for me – he would not have asked his daughter to go away because he wanted me to take that step by myself. He would be fine, and so would I.
As the aircraft gained momentum and trembled with newfound energies to take off, I felt a gush of overwhelming emotions soaring within me that gave me the courage to start my married life.
Sometimes it takes more than mere rituals for a daughter to accept the position of someone’s wife, but it is never too late to start, and there is nothing wrong in allowing yourself some extra time to graduate to the idea of being a Mrs After all, marriage is one small step for man and a giant leap for womankind.