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She wondered how she had managed to lose herself amidst all the riches and luxury. She was bound in a walled garden, with a husband who loved her, as long as she stayed a few steps behind him in all walks of life.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Preethi Warrier is one of the winners picked by author Manreet Sodhi Someshwar for the January 2021 Muse of the Month. First titled ‘His Family’s Heir’, this story, in Manreet’s words, is “I loved the twist in the tale, and how the mother is a true feminist who walks the talk.”
The auditorium reverberated with applause as she ascended the podium. All of twenty one, she marvelled at the appreciation and adulation. After all, winning the coveted National Award for Mohiniattam was no ordinary feat. She spotted her parents in the front row, tears of joy in her mother’s eyes and her father gleaming with pride. The icing on the cake, a memory that she would cherish forever, was receiving a trophy from Smt. Radha, one of the most accomplished Mohiniattam exponents in India.
“It’s all shaping up so well, you complete your diploma in dance and your graduation in economics, both at one time. So proud of you.” Her mother embraced her tight.
“My sister wants her horoscope, there are some proposals in the offing it seems.” Father declared.
“Could I please look for employment, I’m a gold medallist and my professors feel I could put my degree to good use. There are some women doing well in their professions, at least let me try for some time. If I don’t find a job, you can go ahead looking for a suitable boy.” She timidly pleaded.
Though reluctant initially, her parents finally conceded. But she could sense the doubt in their minds, who would marry an ambitious girl?
Six months of numerous interviews, but she was yet unemployed. The one year timeline her parents had granted her was soon getting over and her parents couldn’t care less. They were unable to fathom what all the fuss was about; she would eventually have to settle with her husband and perhaps leave her job. And this somehow seemed to be the concern of pretty much all employers.
“You hold a diploma in Dance, so if you have a recital, would you take off from work?”
“You are not married, if your future husband turns out to be from a different location, wouldn’t you relocate?”
She would return home in dismay every time and contrary to the common opinion, the technical questions were a lot simpler, the personal questions hit hard.
On one such occasion, when she managed to clear all the written tests, she was taken aback to realise that the personal interview would be conducted by the MD of the firm. She was in for more surprise, when the MD turned out to be very young and handsome.
He keenly studied her resume, her performance in the previous rounds and calmly spoke, “Sorry, I can’t offer you the job. I propose marriage instead.”
The next few months passed like a whirlwind, everyone around her, her parents and all close relatives couldn’t stop bragging about the jackpot she had won. She had everything a young woman could ask for, education, talent and now, a smart and wealthy fiancé from a reputed family of her community. She now had the world at her feet and her parents seemed relieved, they were saved the ordeal of going around looking for a groom for their career oriented daughter, the dream boy had walked up to her himself.
She was left with little time to introspect, things happened so fast. On the eve of her marriage, at a family get together, a few cousins teased her groom about falling so suddenly in love with her. To which he proudly replied, “My parents were looking for a beautiful bride, but I always wanted someone who is a combination of beauty and intellect. Your cousin is gorgeous, talented and brilliant. One look at her pretty face and her impressive bio-data, I made up my mind.”
He looked at her, with eyes filled with admiration and she blushed. Here was the equal partner she had waited for so long, she was indeed blessed.
His attitude and conversations post marriage sounded different altogether.
“What would people say to my parents, if their daughter-in-law worked in their firm, wouldn’t it seem like we couldn’t support our women?”
“You would work in a different company? Wouldn’t it look like we are out of business?”
“We are progressive, but traditional. The women of the house perform poojas early morning, cook food, take good care of the family, and mind you, we don’t let maids enter the kitchen.”
“Dance! Just because you are trained, you think my folks could tolerate having you perform on stage, entertaining strangers?”
Years later, she sat in her mother’s veranda, rocking a six year old to sleep, nursing a month old infant. She listlessly stared at the photographs that adorned her parents’ walls; her dance recitals, her convocation, all those medals. She wondered how she had managed to lose herself amidst all the riches and luxury. She was bound in a walled garden, with a husband who loved her, as long as she stayed a few steps behind him in all walks of life.
She shared her concern with her mother, who honestly couldn’t understand what she was complaining about, having fared so much better in the marriage arena. Her daughter had been married on time, and blessed with emotional and financial security, what more could she ask for?
She held her sons tight, she would raise them as her sons; neither their father’s, nor the family’s.
“But of course Amma, I totally vouch for a bride who wishes to be financially independent. I promise you, I would support her, whatever her decision might be. But…” Her elder son seemed a little uncomfortable.
“It’s your decision, I know. But at least tell me what’s wrong. We are well acquainted with her folks, both of you were in school together, you have been friends, so it’s not like marrying a total stranger.” She prodded.
“It’s not that Amma, it’s her PHD. I am a graduate and there she is, aiming so high academically. She’ll spend years completing that and end up more qualified. I’ll be a laughing stock among my friends if she earns more. Plus, she’s a trained vocalist, she performs at concerts. If I get married to her, I’ll end up being her chaperone, serving her and accompanying her for performances. I want someone like you, you gave up your career and dance for Dad and us. Can’t my wife be as sacrificing and homely as you? ”
“Aww…” she pulled his cheeks light-heartedly, “I’ll tell her right away. I’m so proud of you.”
She dialled the young lady’s number, “Hi dear. Oh wait, I want to talk to you, not your parents. Let me inform you, that my son doesn’t wish to marry you. And you know why?
Men love beautiful women. But when it’s beauty and brains, they don’t know how to handle it. Because we have no role models to emulate? Even our parents call such women ‘too forward’. When actually it’s the men who are backward. Women are racing ahead, having kids and careers, leaving men holding their dicks in their hands. You know, at one time, girls were sent to finishing schools to increase their market value? Well, guess what? It’s time for men’s finishing schools!
So my dear girl, you deserve someone a lot better than the young man I reared. I wish you all the good luck. Bye.”
She hung up and snubbing her shocked and shaken son, she banged her room shut.
Glossary: Mohiniattam, a form of classical dance.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, whom we have interviewed here.
Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a multiple award-winning and bestselling writer of six books, including the Mehrunisa series – The Taj Conspiracy (2012), and The Hunt for Kohinoor (2014), the critically-acclaimed books The Long Walk Home (2009) and The Radiance of a Thousand Suns (2019), as well as Earning the Laundry Stripes (2014) and her latest, Girls and the City (2020). Hailed as ‘a star on the literary horizon’ by Khushwant Singh and garnering endorsements from Gulzar for two of her books, Manreet and her work have featured at literary festivals in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, India and NYC. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, the South China Morning Post and several Indian publications. Manreet lives in New York, New York, with her husband, daughter and cat.
The cue is from her book Girls and the City, which had to be incorporated in the stories – whether at the beginning, end, or somewhere in between.
“Men love beautiful women. But when it’s beauty and brains, they don’t know how to handle it. Because we have no role models to emulate? Even our parents call such women ‘too forward’. When actually it’s the men who are backward. Women are racing ahead, having kids and careers, leaving men holding their dicks in their hands. You know, at one time, girls were sent to finishing schools to increase their market value? Well, guess what? It’s time for men’s finishing schools!”
Preethi Warrier wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the Marathi film Aamhi Doghi
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