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She was inflicted with direct or indirect criticism, discrimination and her sexual orientation was also questioned. But she knew she owed no one any explanation.
It was half-past midnight and Prabha was ambling around in the living room. She was waiting for her daughter Garima, who was out to attend her best friend’s wedding.
Suddenly, she heard the screech of a car coming to a halt, breaking the silence of the night. Hastily, she moved towards the window and peeped out from the sides of heavily laced curtains.
Garima, stepped out of the car clutching the flare of her heavy lehenga with her soft palms. A man, possibly in his late 20s appeared from the driver’s side of the car. They shared a warm hug as Garima smiled at him and started walking to the house.
Prabha gazed at both of them. She opened the door even before Garima rang the door-bell. Garima walked in, removed her sandals, freed herself of her heavy dupatta and slumped on the couch.
“Do you need something”? asked Prabha
“Nahi maa, I am fine. You please go to sleep. It’s quite late,” Garima said and Prabha went to sleep.
Garima’s parents embraced parenthood with their only girl child and invested best of everything they could in raising her. Thanks to the freedom of choice she had always had, Garima chose cinematography as her career.
The next morning, as Garima was getting ready for work, Prabha called out to her, “Garima, come soon. Breakfast is ready.”
“I’ll eat at office, maa. Getting late already,” she responded.
“Can’t you spend even 10 minutes of your day with us?” her father’s gruff voice fell on her ears through the thin layer of the newspaper covering his face. She walked up to him as he put the paper aside, “Aww! Morning dad!” she said and across the chair from him and Prabha.
Their helper served the three of them, when Rajeev, her dad, asked her, “So, what’s up?”
“Nothing much. The usual, work and all,” was her reply.
“Hope you’re happy with what you’re doing, Garima,” Rajeev said.
“Absolutely! Its’ actually fun. I love it.” She told him.
“Are you dating someone?” he asked directly.
Taken aback but still gobbling the omelet, Garima said, “Not really. Why? I mean, what made you think of asking that?”
Rajeev gave Prabha a look and she took over, “Isn’t it that handsome chauffeur who dropped you home last night?”
“Relax, maa. Kartik is just a friend. We work together. There is nothing more.” she sighed.
“Then you should think beyond and more,” Rajeev said before continuing , “Garima, you’re happy with what you’re doing. You are 27 and I think it’s time for you to settle down. We have always been open to your choices and will always be. Let me know if you are seeing someone or if we should consider a few proposals.”
“I need some time dad,” said Garima.
“No worries, but let me know in some time beta.” Rajeev emphasised. Garima smiled but she knew Rajeev actually meant it and that she needed to decide soon.
Kartik and Garima worked for the same production house. Garima was the cinematographer while Kartik headed the video editorial team. He was one of the few men who grabbed her attention. They spent a lot of time together at work and spent evenings at coffee shops.
They were at their usual café when Garima told Kartik, “My parents think I need to get married.”
“Hmm…” Kartik nodded while sipping his coffee, “You should get married when you want to, not when your parents feel you need to.”
Though Garima was impressed with Kartik’s feminist approach, this was yet another fan moment for her. Slowly, they fell for each other. They dated for almost a year before Garima proposed marriage to him and they were finally engaged.
Just two weeks before the wedding, Garima got an assignment for an underwater shoot in the Pacific Ocean for a wildlife channel. She had done a few underwater shoots before, but this was big for her. And she actually looked forward to the assignment.
“Not many people get such an opportunity, Kartik, we will have to postpone our honeymoon. I’m sorry but we’ll definitely have a longer break once I am back,” she said while breaking the news to him.
Though happy about the assignment, Kartik was also a little skeptical of her unusual career choice. “You should do this one, but I am not sure if you should continue with such assignments after our marriage,” he told her hesitantly.
“Why?” she asked.
Kartik sighed, “Garima don’t misunderstand me, but marriage brings a lot of responsibilities. Your being away from home for three months, um… I am not sure.”
“You also travel when the production house wants you to. Will you not be away from home after marriage?” Garima asked.
“Oh come on! That’s for work,” said an irritated Kartik.
“This is my work!” emphasised Garima.
“I am just being practical Garima. After marriage, I would expect that the family and house are taken care of. You could continue to work, but it is not wise for the lady of the house to leave everything behind and head to some remote place for months,” he told her.
“You should hire a maid Kartik! You don’t have to take the pains of getting married.” Garima calmly removed the engagement ring, kept it on the table and left the café.
Though she was a strong independent woman, she couldn’t handle to social stigma and everything else her parents had to face owing to her broken engagement. So she took a selfish step and relocated herself to New York.
After a few years of consistent hard work, she created a niche for herself as a cinematographer and became a known name in the industry. She always evaded questions on marriage but was always reminded and warned of her unusual choice.
Garima did try to get her bearings back with a some more relationships but something just didn’t click. Maybe, she just wasn’t made for love or had a knack of picking the wrong men.
Whatever it was, she finally embraced singlehood, claiming happiness the way she wanted. She didn’t like to depend on a man for her happiness. So she took control of her life and celebrated her big “ME” fest every single day.
Time flew by and her parents and Garima managed to visit each other quite often. She was almost 40 when she lost her father and decided to move back to Mumbai to be with Prabha.
Garima made sure to spend enough time with Prabha in an effort to fill the empty space which Rajeev’s demise had created in her life. She had enough professional experience to place herself at the top of industry but she chose less demanding work. This let her spend the evenings and weekends with Prabha.
She had been in Mumbai just a few months when she met Raveesh. He owned a production house and they worked closely on many projects. Their professional relationship had induced an unusual comfort amongst them.
It was Friday evening when Garima was wrapping up her day and Raveesh asked her, “Where are you going Garima?”
“I am off for the day Raveesh. See you on Monday,” said Garima.
“Oh Come on Garima! Don’t behave like those working women who leave their children back home, wrap up early because they have to cook. You are single, you can work late and on the weekends easily. What’s waiting for you at home?” Raveesh had begun taking Garima for granted.
He expected her to work till late evenings and on weekends because she was single. In the past, he had exhibited these expectations indirectly a number of times but this was too direct!
Garima took a deep breath, looked him directly in the eyes and said, “There is life beyond marriage, Raveesh. And family beyond children and husband. I am committed to my work. By now, even you know it, but I have a family to take care of. I will not work on your terms. If that suits you, fine. Or else…”
“Or what, Garima?” Raveesh was agitated now.
“You are free to acquire new talent” Garima replied calmly before she left.
Garima finished a few pending projects with Raveesh before deciding to take it easy. She began conducting workshops and training aspiring cinematographers along with a few low budget assignments.
A few years passed and Prabha left her alone in the world. By now, Garirma was absolutely okay with her single status even though she was stigmatised. She was inflicted with direct or indirect criticism, discrimination and her sexual orientation was also questioned. But she knew she owed no one any explanation.
She was dismissive about anything that had even the slightest issue with her single aura. Her happiness was her priority and she saved it from the world. She knew that she lead a more content life than many married women she came across. Without anyone’s approval, she could do what she wanted and fell in love with herself every few years. She enjoyed her own company.
Now, over 60, her beauty was taken over by grace. As she sat in her favourite cafe in London, she had her trusty companion- her camera with her. It was Christmas eve and she wanted to shoot the streets of London.
A man in his early 60s entered the café. He saw her and started to move towards her table.
“Garima, right”? he asked.
She lifted her head, looked through her glasses and identified Kartik, “How are you Kartik?”
“I am good. Never thought we would ever meet in this life. May I?” He asked pulling the chair across her.
Unable to contain his excitement at seeing her, he threw a barrage of questions at her, “So alone here? Where’s your family? Our for celebrations?”
“I am here for a shoot Kartik and I am out for celebrations with myself,” said Garima.
“Oh!” He mellowed a little, “Separated or…” he was eager, even though it was not relevant to him.
“I always chose something better to do, than getting married. And I am still single. Happily single!” She smiled, picked her camera and walked out of the café.
Picture credits: Still from Dear Zindagi
A version of this was earlier published here.
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