After Baba’s death, she decided to fulfil not just his dream, but her own too. She knew she had waited all her life but now was her chance.
The broken slipper swung in Komal’s little hand as she tried to match her small steps with her Baba’s. Meanwhile, the fingers of her other hand, tightly tugged onto her Baba’s kurta, as both of them trudged through the meadows in the rays of a dying sun.
Throughout their little journey, Komal kept glancing at her foot which was bare. It looked shabby – dust accumulated into the small crevasses of her toe and the little cracks emerging in its heel. Quite ironically, though, she was blushing with pride at this hideous sight! She was imagining her sore feet, lush with new bright slippers from the Thursday haat the village fair that gathered once a week, not very from her hut.
Komal knew it was time that Baba needed to buy her a new set of slippers from the haat. He had promised her last year and since then the broken slipper had been mended several times. She knew Baba had been saving every penny he got from playing the dholki at weddings and other cultural fests in their hamlet and nearby towns. The money saved was for her brother Raja’s schooling.
So, she had to wait.
She knew Baba worked hard. Often after working too much, in the dark evenings, he would sit in the veranda by the broken pole. He’d said her grandfather used to tie his cow to the pole but had to sell it off to pay loans. And it was by this pole that Baba sat and sometimes, cried.
With his swollen hands, he couldn’t even wipe his tears. She knew Baba cried for her. He had promised that after Raja clears his second-grade exam, he would admit her to school.
But when Raja went to the 5th grade, he started teasing Komal. He would tell her that they will marry her off to some ‘crorepati Seth’ and all their agonies will be resolved.
Komal cried and mom always came to her rescue promising to bring her a warm glass of milk before she slept. She knew it would never come and the few drops left to fill the quarter of the glass would go to Raja to keep him strong and awake for his studies. And so, she waited for her share of warm silken milk.
Baba had her imagine that when Raja grew up, he would buy her half the things at the haat and lots of sandals.
It was one of those dark evenings that brought with them a feeling of hopelessness and despair when Baba was sitting in the verandah, never to get up. A major hear-attack took him away from the family within seconds.
Maa had gone to fetch some firewood and Raja was loitering with his mates in some corner of the village. It was only Komal, who had rushed to call the Ved Saab when she saw Baba holding his chest and clenching his teeth.
In the gloom of the dark blue sky, she returned with the doctor, and she could only see her Baba’s open eyes glinting upwards before its curtains were closed by Ved Saab. There was a strange stillness in the air about Baba.
Baba’s death came upon Komal’s shoulder like a mountain of agony. Her mom, sold fruits but couldn’t fetch too much money. One day, Raja returned home furious with his unsolicited friends at the door. That was the day, she decided, she wouldn’t let Raja go through a life of misery. She would fulfil Baba’s dream and resume Raja’s education.
So, she picked up the dholki and sang the wedding songs in and around her hamlet. She went to places her Baba went to and though she wasn’t half as good as him, they welcomed her since they knew her Baba and his goodwill. Added to that was her sincerity and people paid her money for her work.
Weddings at rich Seth’s houses were always a cultural extravaganza. They were not only a treat to the eye but to Komal, they offered a lot of insights from planning to the night of bidai.
She enthusiastically joined other artists and cooks from the first day when the guests started to enter. And when she wasn’t playing her dholki, she offered to help in various jobs around the house. From stringing together marigold flowers to packing motichoo laddoos in boxes, she happily did it all.
At one of these occasions, a group of people who frequently organized weddings in the area spotted her enthusiasm and offered her a job with them. Komal was all of 17 then.
Initially, she would only go to nearby villages and returned home before dark. But as she grew and gained a name for her work, it took her out of town at various other cities.
Very soon, she was offered a job in one of the big cities as a wedding planner. She made sure she visited home often and ensured her Mom’s safety and was glad to note Raja’s progress at school.
Today, at 28, she is a businesswoman – married, and a mother of two wonderful daughters.
Komal feels proud looking at her brother as he flashes a confident smile among his comrades. Today, he is a suave, handsome man. But she also wishes she could read and write like him. She loved what she did, but had she been educated, the road would have been less challenging and the possibilities immense.
But for women, the waiting game starts in childhood. Now her only goal in life was to make this a history by empowering the two little women by her side. So she offered them what a woman truly deserves – education of knowledge and values, something she couldn’t wait for any more.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV Series Shaadi Mubarak
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Sneha is a writer, visiting faculty for creative writing at Renaissance College of Commerce and
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