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What Is So Wrong If I Say I Don’t Want A Husband?

Across the sea of people, Minni’s eyes met her mother’s, and she signaled for Minni to join them. Minni sighed. That was the last thing she wanted to do.

Across the sea of people, Minni’s eyes met her mother’s, and she signaled for Minni to join them. Minni sighed. That was the last thing she wanted to do.

The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women. 

Supriya Bansal is one of the winners for the August 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Madhulika Liddle commented, “An excellent depiction of the contrary perceptions that surround a single woman; the very vividly described setting is the icing on the cake for this engrossing story.”

Minni’s hand trailed across her yellow lehenga skirt, and she smoothened its pleats on her waist. Pinning the fluttery floral print organza dupatta on her shoulder, she let it hang over her arm and her bodice. The whimsical color heightened the rustic appeal of her olive-green raw silk blouse—just the way she had imagined.

Her glass bangles tinkled as she wore the antique peacock earrings and clipped the jadau maang tikka on her swept-back hair. A bottle of vodka she had ordered earlier in the evening stared at her from the mirror. She was crazy to have shown up for this week-long destination wedding of her cousin on her parents’ insistence; she cursed under her breath. Not that she disliked her cousin or had any aversion against a paid holiday on the dreamy five-star property of Udaipur. It was the thought of the far-reaching aftershocks of such social gatherings that unsettled her.

What the heck! She swore. Thrusting her feet in her champagne-gold sequined juttis, she poured herself a drink. She needed it if she were to survive this party—to dodge the poison-dipped arrows and sail out unscathed, Minni reasoned. Isn’t that why she spent her last two months’ salary buying the designer outfits for this godforsaken wedding?

Liquid courage was passé; she was going for couture courage; she smirked. “Cheer up! It’s just a mehndi ceremony!” She said aloud, tossing a flying kiss to the mirror.

Draining the last of her vodka, Minni sashayed out.

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The courtyard was a riot of colors. Wreaths of marigold alternating with hot-pink and orange tassels marked the entryway; a cycle rickshaw decorated with lime-green and yellow ribbons added oodles of Desi charm. The dhol players, dressed in multi-hued Punjabi traditional attires, greeted the visitors with high-energy exuberant beats.

A vibrant, festive spirit washed over her. Up till this point, Minni had not realized how badly she needed this break. All that back-breaking toil, late-night shifts, weekend sessions with the overseas clients had knackered her.

Across the sea of people, Minni’s eyes met her mother’s, and she signaled for Minni to join them. Minni sighed. That was the last thing she wanted to do. Her mother was sitting next to the bridal stage, enveloped by her maternal and paternal aunts.

Of course, now she had no choice. She trudged towards them.

Bolsters and diwans had been planted out in small circles in the garden area. Slouched on wooden stools, the artisans were drawing henna patterns on the ladies’ palms.

“Oh, wow, Minni Didi, isn’t this from Sabyasachi’s latest summer collection? I also chose a similar one, but mummy refused.” Her cousin uttered as soon as she spotted Minni.

“Beta, Minni Didi doesn’t ask me how she spends her money. Look at this saree; she just messaged me—bought it for you—I hope you like it.” Minni’s mother chuckled, filling in for Minni.

Minni smiled. This was the least she could do, what with her being the leading application developer, director of innovative designs, and all that jazz in the top IT firm.

“So, what next Minni beta? What are your plans?” Her Mami, the maternal aunt, changed tracks. “Teena is eight years your junior, and she also took the plunge,” she announced, gazing in the bride’s direction. “How long do you want to fly solo?”

“A girl requires a husband and a child to keep her occupied. Otherwise, the maternal instincts take a detour—pets standing in for children and what not,” another aunt guffawed.

“It’s not even safe for a young woman to live alone—you require a man’s presence,” someone added.

Minni let it slide. Feigning to be absorbed in the intricate henna pattern, she swallowed down the knives clambering up her throat.

“Yeah… Enough of living alone. Even if it is in one of the posh apartments you say you bought with your own money. It’s time to think of making the house—a home… Right? Kamal Didi?” Another Mami—the bride’s mother—interposed, laying her hand on Minni’s mother’s knee. “I’ve made a list of all the important contacts. Your job is to just choose a guy… We’ll roll out the wedding in a trice.” Her Mami swerved back at Minni.

Wh- what? Minni’s mind reeled at the remark. You say—you bought with your money—what the heck did she mean? Did she imply Minni had it gifted from a godfather or a sugar daddy? The nerves in Minni’s temple throbbed, and a wave of rage crashed through her.

Her thoughts darted back to the instance when a prying relation had asked her, “What do you do to satisfy natural urges?” That had stumped her. Before she could address the query, the snooping, all-knowing aunt had answered it for herself. “Ah, friends with benefits—isn’t it so?”

What drove these women to treat her like that? Minni frowned. Was it her spinster status, or was it because she was now, as they described—past her prime? Did being an unmarried, working girl equate to being morally loose?

She excused herself on the pretext of taking a phone call, but their words floated past her.

“After a certain age, girls become too rigid and set in their ways—they loathe conforming to the norms.”

Minni let out a cold breath and flounced off towards the make-shift kiosks.

The palm readers, potters, and bangle-stands with colorful bangles over Rajasthani patchwork rugs made the Mela theme come alive. A swarm of teenagers hovered around the parandi kiosk, fussing over the colors, arguing, and giggling as the helpers braided the silk threads into their hair.

“Oh, Minnie Didi, don’t move, just stand like this…” The voice of another cousin, Maahi, stopped Minni.

Six months back, at the behest of her parents, Maahi, a graduate from a top B school, had given up her dreams of a corporate career and had gotten married. “I don’t want my father-in-law to see me drinking. He will throw a fit,” Maahi whispered to Minni.

Together, the cousins watched Maahi’s father-in-law pass them by.

“Phew!” Maahi exclaimed, collapsing on a settee. “You should have seen my mother-in-law blowing a fuse over my back-less choli.”

“Oh boy, I am dog-tired. I’m in desperate need of some adult company,” another of her cousins, Jia, a mother of two, drew near. “It’s hard work getting the toddlers all dolled up. I barely got ready.” Even with the makeup, it was hard to miss the dark circles under Jia’s eyes.

“Minni, you look smashing. Bangalore is treating you well.” Jia turned to Minni. “I suppose being alone sans any responsibility allows you the luxury to look after yourself. I scarcely know where my days disappear.”

It was exactly like that for her; Minni wanted to respond; her work schedule was quite demanding. But before she could mention anything, Maahi cut in. “You are so lucky, Minni Didi! No husband, no in-laws—zero stress, zero worries. Nobody to dictate terms on what to wear, what to eat, where to go.”

Bitterness spread over Minni’s tongue. How could she invoke such polarized reactions in different subsets of women? Why couldn’t they decide once and for all whether they pitied her, envied her, or despised her? Nobody knew where to box her. She didn’t fit into their preconditioned slots or preconceived notions. Maybe it was a bad idea to start with; she’d pack her bags and slip away tomorrow morning, Minni decided.

In the late hours of the night, once again, Minni found herself amongst the family and siblings. The mason jars hung by the branches twinkled against the blackened sky. Next to the stage, the younger crew danced, whirling, skipping, breaking into giggles now and then. The women fluttered around the jute baskets brimming with gajras, cords of jasmine buds—twisting the strings around their braids, wrists, and hair-buns.

A mishmash of voices laced the air with the gentle fragrance of jasmine.

“It will only be for Minni’s wedding that we’ll assemble again!”

“It’s your turn next, Minni.”

“There is no ideal man, Minni! We all adapt. We, as women, have a shelf life. Our biological clock doesn’t wait for us to make up our minds.”

“Kamal Didi,” someone called out to her mother. “Don’t forget to phone so-and-so. She is the best matchmaker in our circle—she’ll suggest someone for Minni.”

Oh, yeah! Minni sneered; how could she forget she was the trending topic! She had to applaud her kith and kin. Stubborn, anti-marriage, confused, and even promiscuous—were just a few tags they had conferred on her, and that too in a span of a few hours.

Sensing her irritation, Minnie’s mother reached out to pacify her. “Minni, don’t get us wrong. What will happen after your father and I are gone—in your autumn years when, God forbid, you can’t afford the swanky lifestyle?  All of us are worried. You can’t spend your whole life by yourself—alone and drifting in a daydream.”

A vortex of anger swirled inside Minni. All this while, she had been keeping a tight rein on her emotions, but her mother rankled her.

“Perhaps there is an advantage in being alone,” she remarked. “One is spared the worry. I need worry only about myself.” She shook her head. “And I have learnt not to worry overly about myself. What is the worst that can happen, after all?” She looked up. “I may end up as an elderly spinster—living in a loony bin or an old age home, or I may die alone, uncared-for and ignored, without a husband or children.”

Standing up to her mother, with her relatives gawping at her, was the most challenging thing Minni had ever done. But once she had begun, she couldn’t stop. The floodgates were down, and a deluge of sentiments stormed through. “What is wrong if I say I don’t want a husband? Is it too wrong to say that I don’t want to procreate either? If that makes me selfish, then so be it. I am ready to suffer the consequences of my choices. My journey may differ from yours, but I am not lost.”

The DJ had stopped playing music. As the minutes trickled in, the silence became heavy. Minni looked at her mother and her aunts; they had lowered their gaze. Were they embarrassed by her or ashamed of their own behavior? Minni couldn’t be sure.

There was nothing more left for her to say. She veered to head back to her room when she felt a hand over her wrist. It was her Mama, the maternal uncle, standing next to a dhol player who was striking the heavy beater on the ends of the drum. They were getting ready for Boliyan, the short couplets sung during the marriages. Minni’s eyes widened when her Mama hollered in a booming voice—

Bari barsi khaten gaya si,
Khat ke lyende toys,
Don’t trouble my Minni, O people,
Let her live by her choice… 

With this, her Mama pulled her next to him. Minni tossed her head back and laughed as her Mama twirled around her, gyrating to the pulsing, rhythmic, heady beats of Bhangra. Soon her mother and aunts joined in too, swinging and kicking with the zestful music.

As they danced around, the women wrapped their arms around Minni, hugging her close. Minni smiled, despite the tear welling up in her eyes. It was going to be okay; Minnie knew. There may be hitches in her chosen path, but she was going to make it through.

Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Madhulika Liddle, a novelist and award-winning short story writer. She is best-known as the author of the Muzaffar Jang series, about a 17th century Mughal detective, though she also writes other novels and short stories in different genres and across themes ranging from black humour to social awareness, crime to romance.

Madhulika’s next book, due for release in September 2021 is The Garden of Heaven, the first novel of the four-book The Delhi Quartet, which covers the story of a group of interconnected families against a backdrop of 800 years of Delhi’s history, beginning with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and ending with Partition. Madhulika lives in Noida, India, and blogs—mainly about classic cinema, food and travel—find her here.

The cue is from her upcoming book The Garden of Heaven.

“‘Perhaps there is an advantage in being alone,’ she remarked. ‘One is spared the worry. I need worry only about myself.’ She shook her head. ‘And I have learnt not to worry overly about myself. What is the worst that can happen, after all?’ She looked up.”

Image source: a still from Kasauti Zindagi Ke

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About the Author

Supriya Bansal

A Radiologist by profession, Supriya Bansal, spends most of her day inhabiting a monochromatic world consisting of different shades of grey ranging from black to white. She is an active member of many online writing read more...

15 Posts | 19,950 Views

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