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“Look at you. You have no fixed hours. You work on holidays. A new bride is expected to please her in-laws, to care for the house and the people; to take on the responsibilities of the house.”
Early last year, most probably the month of February: my Dad, after many dramatic episodes, had finally prevailed upon me to create a ‘marriage resume’. They referred to it as ‘biodata’. This resume did not talk about my abilities as a person, but only my physical traits and some genealogical facts – age, weight, height, community, sub-caste.. you get the drift. Dad wanted me to source some of my best pictures for this document. I obeyed.
I showed him at least 50, all of which were rejected by the shaking of his head. His verdict was, “We’ll get photos clicked at a studio.”
The definition of a best picture was a photo of me facing the camera from the front, not breaking into any poses, smiling but not overtly smiling, with hair let down but not messy, wearing an ‘Indian’ attire but nothing too traditional. It would be all the more better if I came across as mellow or shy in those pictures, he said.
This got my goat. “Why do I have to pretend to be someone I’m not?” I stared straight into the camera, giving a solemn look, hoping the ‘suitable boy’ would be creeped out at the first sight of my photos.
Regardless to say, my dad found it difficult to deal with me. Why couldn’t his daughter be like the other girls he knew of; those who had a ‘normal’ job, got married when they were still young, and soon enough brought their own parents a world of happiness by producing kids? Where did he go wrong?
Yet, deep within the cage of his heart, he adored his daughter and I knew it. He loved me, more dearly than anyone in the whole world – even more than all my exes combined. All these years he allowed me a free hand, but getting me married was a societal responsibility he could no longer shirk off. He thought owed it to me and himself. At all events, our relatives had begun hounding him, asking him why he was delaying this. Was I pursuing an affair with a boy from another community? Was there a problem with me? Did an illness, disease, or some irreversible condition exist which they didn’t know of?
Thus, Dad set off on a mission to present me as the prospective and ideal marriageable woman. He began sending my biodata to many WhatsApp groups run by marriage bureaus. These groups were sometimes a free service run by old and retired uncles to ‘help the community’ (at least that’s what they thought they did) and sometimes a paid service because it took effort to maintain the quality of resumes and to verify the authenticity of the applicants.
Dad should better hurry up on this task, or it will be too late, they said. After all, his daughter had turned 27 and that by Gujarati standards is an age range to worry about. As the age goes upwards, the probability of finding a suitable match goes crashing down. The market, in economic terms, becomes ‘very bearish’.
After breakfast, at 9.30 am sharp every morning, he began to take his place at the study, armed with a notepad and a list of phone numbers he had to contact.
“Jai Shri Krishna. I am Bhavesh from Kandivali. I found your son’s biodata on [blah blah] WhatsApp group. I am also looking for a match for my daughter Abha. Her age is 27 and she’s a journalist. She works at Indian Express.”
(The person on the end probably: Indian what? Is it a TV channel?)
“That’s a national English newspaper.”
(That person must now be skeptical at what kind of a girl I must be. He asks if I am educated at all.)
“Yes, she has studied mass media, has completed post-graduation in journalism.”
(This probably makes the person on the other end think I’m more ambitious and undesirable than he expected his future daughter-in-law to be. He draws the conversation to a close, already having decided to reject me.)
But my dad doesn’t get the hint. In his cheery tone, he says, “Sure, this is my number. I will forward her biodata to your chat box. Jai Shri Krishna.”
Dad continued this routine for days on end, and his disappointment took a strange turn. One late evening in April, he sat next to me and asked me if I could quit my job. A preposterous thought, I said. I asked him why.
“Not one. Practically all prospects have the same thing to say.”
“With erratic working hours, you won’t have a peaceful married life. You will not be able to take care of your in-laws and neither will you give any time to your husband. It will be an unhappy marriage.”
“Whoa. How are they to decide that? Doesn’t it rest upon my husband and me to work things out after marriage?”
“And no woman journalist takes care of the house she is married into?”
“It is different in our community. It would be better if you quit and find another kind of a job; a stable job. Maybe get into teaching – fixed working hours will allow you to divide time between home and family.”
“Do you even hear yourself when you talk, dad? You want me to bail out on my passion because an orthodox and uninventive man somewhere has already judged how my married life would be?”
“It’s not just one person, okay. If you are to settle with a decent family who loves and accepts you, you ought to do this.”
I was now angry. “You know what, this is it. I don’t want to get married. I am not going to trade my aspirations for a family who doesn’t respect me or my job. In fact, I myself refuse to even consider such a family. What kind of a family judges the sensibility of a woman by her age, weight, height, and job?”
“What are you going to do? Stay alone all your life? This passion of yours is soon going to fade away and when you’ll feel lonely, you will have no one around,” said dad in a raised tone.
I try to leave the room. I could feel dad still looking at me. So I make one last attempt.
“Try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change. I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who simply loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery.”
“You’ve pulled this out from another one of your romantic novels, haven’t you? That’s not real life. Real life is different and real life needs compromises to move forward. Your mother and I have made a lot of compromises to get here,” said dad.
“I will be the sole decision maker about the compromises I want to make in my life. Not any random person. End of discussion.” I leave the room.
For days on end, dad didn’t talk to me and neither did I talk to him. We were holding on to our forts. I stopped eating breakfasts at the dining table and unlike himself, he didn’t try to pacify me this time. During this period, I was also working on a series of stories which had so far been the most important assignment of my career and I didn’t have any time to think about my fight with dad.
My articles focused on exposing the scam behind achieving PhDs; it shamed several companies who wrote the thesis on behalf of PhD students for a price. This series of articles came a shock to many people, especially the academics and the well-known institutions of the country, who prided themselves for having several PhD pass-outs. It spurred organizations to host discussions on the topic, advocates to file Public Interest Litigations in courts, faculties to develop a stringent approval process and the education ministers to hold meetings on the subject. After all, the country’s reputation in the field of research was at stake.
My family, of course, was barely aware of the work I was doing. For the longest time, they hadn’t read a single article I had written. They preferred reading only Gujarati-language newspapers. Occasionally, they feigned interest when I spoke animatedly about something I wrote, but that would be it.
Dad first learnt about the series from the newspaper delivery boy, who told him that he had heard about my article and had made someone read it out to him. Then came a deluge of WhatsApp messages on his phone, with pictures of the published article. A few of his friends called to congratulate him for his daughter’s achievement.
That night, as I came home from work later than usual, I saw a framed photo by my dressing table. All the articles published as part of the series on the PhD scam were neatly pasted in the frame. On the frame was a yellow sticky note which, in my dad’s scraggly handwriting said: “I am proud of everything you are. Forgive daddy?” Despite the happy note, I could not control my tears. I ran to his room and slowly opened the door. He was fast asleep, snoring gloriously. I unlocked my phone and typed in a text message: I’m proud of you too, Pops.
This story was shortlisted for our May 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest, and our author juror Trisha Das says, “A sweet story about a father and daughter coming to terms with each other. I liked that the father’s character wasn’t one-dimensional. Story however needed editing, a longer ending and proofreading.”
Image source: a still from the series Out of Love
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Abha Goradia straddles between fiction and non-fiction writing. Words alone make her tick. She
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