She cried only when hungry or feels insecure. She was neither now and was silent – at peace with herself, neatly snuggled in the arms of the sister of her mother. The rest of the gathering were crying – some silently. The tears and the distraught babbles were not affecting her, she neither knew, nor cared that she is the cause or one of the causes of the commotion, grief and the pain. She was asleep in contentment, yet the villain of the peace.
Radhika, was just another girl like all others of her age –vibrant, full of life. She passed with a degree like many in her class in the summer of 2008. The news brought pleasure with anticipation –what next. She was not brilliant as is understood these days, did not score the 90 odd percent, yet she could handle a computer quite efficiently and was good in mathematics. She decided to learn computer aided accounting and join a job and start a career.
Narendra was an employee nearing retirement; you could see that on his face, quite a good number of lines and a perpetual gloom. Well then that comes from managing a family of four on honest wages. He never went beyond high school, not that, he was not studious, but he realized at that age that someone has to shoulder the responsibility of the family and being the eldest was the natural choice. He accepted as such and also getting a job was not as difficult then as it is now. He joined the state government. At first as a clerk and over time worked his way up to the section head. The salary was not bad, enough to cover living. At the beginning the younger siblings depended on him and when they were settled in life, he thought of his own family but by then more than half of the working life has flown bye. He never regretted that, he still had time to build a small two-room house, own a two-wheeler and save a little for the future.
Kamala was a pure home maker, a village girl of barely 19 when her parents tied her in marriage. She had no degree, but she could read and write. She had learned one lesson from her mother and grand-mother since child hood and had it slated in her heart. She is to follow the husband and try and make that her home. She was never to come back with her problems, it’s her own and she must negotiate with it or tolerate it. And true to the lesson, she never went with her problems to any one, least of all to the parents. Her in-laws were the siblings of her husband – two brothers and a sister, the eldest one almost her age. True to the parental training, she always stood by her husband, never had her own life until they moved to their own home and until the visits of the siblings almost stopped, the reason of which never explored seriously and the facts were accepted that they have done their duty honestly and all are settled and well.
You cannot say that Kamala and Narendra was an unhappy couple. They were not rich or lavish, yet happy, blessed with two daughters. This fact of never having a son or the desire to have one have never come on the way of their happiness, though there were occasional moments of futuristic contemplation and a few sleighs here and there. Radhika was fair and small; she was also intelligent full of life. The younger one was darker and was finding difficult to cope with studying. Kamala was not of much help and Narendra never found time to look in to her studies properly. The age difference between the sisters was rather small and then there was a certain measure of sibling jealousy regarding studies, though they were quite close in all other matters.
All were happy on that summer evening, Narendra had brought one large pack of ice cream home, Radhika is a graduate now. Later in the night the parental worries heated the already hot and humid summer. Both Kamala and Narendra were anxious, a good and suitable match for Radhika must be found soon. They made a calculation and decided that the provident fund and the little savings they have should take care of the marriage expenses and the patch of parental land in the village has to be left for the other daughter. Thereafter, both can live well with the pension, it would not be much, but then what more one needs during old age.
Radhika was not ready for marriage, she wanted to be independent. She thought of having her own life, she is not her mother, after all. She is an individual and has a mind and heart and lives in another era. Times became stressful for all of them. Every discussion in the family was riveted in some sphere about the values of settling down in marriage. Narendra would look expectantly at Kamala, was unsure whether to go about the matchmaking. Kamala though was confident that all girls in this age react a bit, but they calm down eventually, she in her heart knew her daughters and hoped that things would be fine at the end. She would persuade that age is important, so Narendra must go for it, contact people and find a match. In her hearts she knew that time has actually not changed anything at all, except the addition of a few frills in to the cultural existence of women. Still marriage is considered important and the decision of the girl in these matters is still secondary. No matter what we say about education or development, the responsibility of giving the daughter in marriage since the olden times still persists as part of social living. She was unhappy that Radhika cannot pursue her ambitions, yet anxious to fulfill the social duty of a parent.
Narendra one evening came home all smiling, he had done it. He told Kamala over a cup of evening tea –sugarless, yet sweet, that a match has been traced, an office colleague has come up with one and he had already discussed with the parents of the boy. He is satisfied and they will come to visit on next Sunday. Radhika sulked, as expected. Both the sisters talked late in to the night, both even cried a little, but by morning was no longer in dilemma, she was fatalistically calm, her mind was not moving, it had stopped at a point and would remain so for the rest of her life. As if she understood that the primary role of a woman has always been to reproduce and sustain the race and it is still the same. No matter what one does the cultural stereo-type does not change for the lower middle class.
Sunday was less eventful than expected, the whole family was there both brothers and the parents, and they did not stay long. Three days afterwards Narendra was summoned to discuss the finer points. Kamala refused to accompany, as usual she was to accept whatever her husband says or does.
Marriage was to be solemnized in a month and a lot of money in terms of cash is to be given along with all other household things. There was no demand for dowry as they said, but the boy is an engineer, so his status and dignity requires such things including the cash to be taken. Both Kamala and Narendra had nothing much to do, but to brood and agree, after all they are parents of two daughters and Radhika is the elder one.
The marriage passed off with minor stress and nervous moments, the bride went away with the groom to set-up a happy home with walls of dream draped in glittering expectations with patches of shadowed anxieties and curiosities. The parents felt the separation, yet happy that the daughter is settled in marriage in a good family. The in-laws are retired officers and the groom is an engineer. They are all educated and rich, their daughter will live happily ever after.
The phone call from the daughter came after 4 months of marriage, it was not the first, it was different. She also learned the same lesson, that her mother had, but she is undone has to come back with her problems. The in-laws – in fact the whole family want money to buy a new car. Narendra was unsettled, it is very difficult, but he will try. Try, he did as promised and could arrange some and went to visit the daughter. She was emaciated, and palpably unhappy, though she refuted. Narendra was worried. Every time she called or visited, it was about money or something that she has been commanded to communicate. She was pregnant, yet it seemed that no one was happy that she is expect Kamala and her sister, whose communication with didi was restricted, the last one being an astute declaration that she would rather die with the child, but cannot kill it.
Radhika gave birth to a daughter, equally frail and underweight like her, and that was her fault, she died all the same, though not with the child.
The young girl was holding the child in her arms and was sobbing, tears have dried. She was anguished and angry. In the evening she was sitting outside below that mango tree on the back yard of their house, the very same place where they had celebrated Radhika’s graduation with bowls of ice-cream. She looked straight at her father and asked, ‘if didi is dead, how come mama is alive? She has given birth to the two of us and if she had died after didi’s birth, I would not have been here at all ’. There were no words for an answer to that, Kamala cried and Narendra plaintively thought that perhaps he was less educated and poor that his values were not corrupted or that in fact Sri Ram had lost to Ravana and that many a offspring of Ravana is still romping freely, striking at will.