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As I accelerated…a cool wind blew into my hair and face reminding me of the woman that I was and am today.
As a small girl, I couldn’t wait to grow up quickly and be free; free to gorge on as many chocolates and ice creams as I wished to, free to watch cartoons till late, free to play with my friends as long as I wanted to and not to mention, freedom from homework!
Later when I grew up, I realised that I got what I wished for but still, I was not entirely free. Only the items on my list had changed.
It was like playing a game of Hide and Seek with this thing called ‘Freedom’. I knew it existed but somehow, it remained hidden from my eyes.
And finally one fine day, I caught it red handed in a place where I had least expected it to be.
I was a three month old bride then, glowing in my new found love but still learning to adjust to my new life and family. Everything was different now, starting from the clothes I wore to the time I got up in the morning, the food I liked and disliked and sometimes, even my choices and beliefs. With each passing day, I felt like a tree shedding yesterday’s leaves and growing fresh ones. I got so caught up in the whirlwind of these happenings that I didn’t even realise that I was losing myself in the process.
Until that day.
My uncle (mamaji) had invited my husband and me for dinner at his house. In our culture, it’s customary for relatives to invite a newly-wed couple so that both the parties get to know each other closely and form a cordial bond.
Being newly married, I donned my best saree and matched it up with gold jewellery and a large red bindi on my forehead. As I stepped inside my Mamaji’s house, I felt awkward and relaxed at the same time.
Awkward because it was the first time I was visiting him decked up in a heavy saree. All my summer vacations were spent in this house in the company of my cousins, playing and running around in my frocks. Never did I imagine that one day I would step into it wearing a saree.
But the moment my younger sister came running forward to envelope me in a bear hug, I felt myself getting transported to those carefree days of our childhood. Leaving my husband alone in the company of my mama and mamiji, I rushed upstairs to my sister’s room.
We had so much catching up to do. We continued to talk and laugh until Dada, my cousin brother came calling for us. As I started climbing down the stairs, my eyes fell on IT.
Tucked away safely in a corner at the landing, IT stood covered from head to toe in one of mamiji’s old sarees.
“So, you finally noticed it,” Dada said with a smile in his voice. As I turned to look at him, I saw his eyes twinkling.
“Can I remove this saree? I want to see it properly,” I almost pleaded with him.
But I need not have because Dada was already sweeping the cover aside.
The first thing that I observed was IT was exactly the way I had left it; white, smooth and shiny as a swan, standing proudly on its iron stand in all its splendour.
Yes, my TVS Scooty!
My best friend and companion for almost 8 years! My one and only mode of transportation to my school, friend’s house, tuition, college, shops, movies and even office. When we shifted to Kolkata, it lay abandoned in the parking lot. Not many people drive a two wheeler, especially a smaller one, in this big metropolitan city. So, my parents thought of giving it away to my cousin brother who had needed it.
After three months of living in a new environment where I was yet to form roots, here was something which was totally and exclusively mine. Something that had been a part of me for a very long time.
With misty eyes, I walked towards it and ran my hand slowly over the seat, imagining the soft feel of the leather where I had sat umpteen number of times in the past. Once more, I held the rubber gloved handles in my palms, tightening my grip over them the way I used to. And finally, as of its own accord, my hand made its way to the ignition which now sat awaiting the keys.
“Why don’t you drive it?” Dada broke into my thoughts, “Wait, let me get the keys.”
Before I could even open my mouth to protest, Dada had vanished.
There was no way I was going to drive this vehicle again. It had been more than two years since I last rode it. I was sure I would fall off or ram it into something, thereby damaging it forever.
Within a few minutes, the entire family had gathered around me, cheering and pestering me to drive again. I kept on shaking my head until my husband came forward and said slowly, “Let’s see how you do it.”
He slid in the challenge smoothly and then stood back grinning, waiting for me to take up the bet.
To be honest, it was a 50-50 situation. On one hand, I wanted to impress my new husband while on the other, the fear of not being able to do so presented a lifetime of shame for me. Nevertheless, it was too great a temptation to resist.
So, without further thought, I took the keys from Dada, settled myself once more on my bestie and turned the key into the ignition. As soon as the engine buzzed to life and I lifted my legs off the ground, I remembered that I was wearing a saree and that too a heavy one. Till now, I had only seen other women driving in a saree and now, all of a sudden, I found myself in their place.
Before my newly acquired courage deserted me, I assured myself that if others could do it, so could I. With that idea implanted firmly in my head, I flew!
Once again, the same adrenaline rush took over me and I felt the blood pumping in my ears ! It was as if my vehicle was awaiting my return. As an acknowledgement, it placed wings on my back. Soon I was flying, soaring higher and higher up in the sky.
The demure bride who kept on doubting and questioning her self, now sat confidently manoeuvring her bestie whichever way she liked.
After a long time, I felt in charge, in control of my own life!
As I accelerated, a cool wind blew into my hair and face reminding me of the woman that I was and am today.
I felt proud of my choices!
But most importantly, I felt free! Wholeheartedly free!
Free from the sudden burden of societal expectations.
Free from any prejudices that people had towards me.
Free from my fears and inhibitions.
Free from those numerous self doubts which I inflicted upon myself every day.
The feeling was surreal and I let the realisation sink in slowly, filling each and every vein of my body with renewed faith and energy.
As my two wheeler finally screeched to a halt in front of my Mamaji’s gates, the first person to greet me was none other than my husband.
Along with the warm expression on his face, there was something else in his eyes.
Yes, it was pride in his wife!
This incident has remained with me even after all these years, because it brought a huge change in my life. It not only helped me gel well with my in-laws but also made them more accepting towards me.
Freedom lies in knowing oneself and owning responsibility for one’s choices. No one will serve us our freedom on a platter. We have to go seek it ourselves!
Photo by Pranav Kumar Jain on Unsplash
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