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'Dr Saloni will take care of everything,' my MIL said. My cowardly husband refused to go against his mother’s wishes. I was left to fend for myself!
Some time ago, I went to a marriage ceremony with my parents. It was a very high-profile marriage – not the ones we usually were invited to – but in this case it was Ramesh uncle’s son’s marriage. Ramesh uncle was my father’s first cousin. He began his career as a humble elevator operator at the TIC business group. With his sheer hard work, grit, and the knack of sensing the right opportunities, within eighteen years he became the president of the company. My father and he were the best of friends during their school time.
Half an hour before the stipulated time, we left our house, hired an auto and reached the venue. All four of us were in our best outfits. Getting out of the auto and looking at each other, we were highly convinced that we were going to fit in just right. As we crossed the dazzling and beautiful portico, we felt very insignificant compared to the big lawn and building lying ahead.
Mother was wearing all the jewellery she had got, including the big old-fashioned necklace, earrings and shiny bangles. Father was wearing a velvet coat, brother had put on a light orange shirt with a black check coat, I myself was wearing a red salwar kurta with a net dupatta. I had put on a necklace with red beads which at the time of wearing looked very pretty to me. Now looking at the other guests, I felt all four of us must be looking like clowns who had come for a fancy-dress competition. I felt my brother and parents were also feeling self-conscious and uneasy now.
Anyway, we all went to the stage, gave the envelope to the couple, and came back. We sat on one of the empty tables. Suddenly Ramesh uncle and Mita aunty came and sat with us. We congratulated them. After the usual chit chat, Mita aunty took my mother with her. She said she wants her to meet the guests. Ramesh uncle sat with us for some time, asked the waiter to bring our food on the table and then he excused himself. The food was delicious. We all ate and marvelled at the beautiful surroundings. After almost twenty minutes mother came, she looked very serious and thoughtful.
“What happened ma, are you alright. You look so pale,’ I asked.
‘It’s nothing, I am just hungry,’ she said but ate very little.
‘Are you okay Seema? Is something bothering you?’ Papa asked.
Mother repeated that she was fine.
After half an hour we bid farewell to uncle-aunt and headed home. Mother was unusually silent enroute and we sensed something was amiss.
As we reached home, mom asked me and Amit to go to our rooms. In their own room, mom and Papa were having some conversation in hushed tones. Thinking about mom’s behaviour in the evening, we couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation.
Soon it was clear that the wife of a wealthy businessman wants to meet me for their son’s marriage. I was thrilled.
Me and Amit came back to our rooms and suddenly Ma called me. She told me everything and said, ‘so what do you say Neha? Do you want to meet this woman and then probably her son?’
I looked at Papa. He looked happy and radiant.
I was jumping with joy inside, imagining that my marriage would also take place in such a lavish place with all the riches around. I would be living in a big mansion and roaming around in shiny new expensive cars. Presently, I tried to look thoughtful and said, ‘ma I think we can meet them and let us see what type of people they are.’
Mother sighed. I knew what she was thinking. She had big dreams for me. She had always wanted me to do my PhD and become a professor someday.
‘I am very apprehensive of these rich people. They can sometimes be weird. You should complete your studies first, get a job and then think about marriage,’ she mused.
‘Seema it’s not fair to say that all rich people are bad. Look at Ramesh he is so rich and at the same time so humble. Money doesn’t corrupt you if you are a good person by heart,’ Papa said. He continued, ‘they are not forcing Neha to marry their son. They have just asked for a meeting with her. I think it’s a great opportunity.’
Mother still did not look satisfied. Papa said, ‘we will tell them that she will continue her studies even after marriage.’ That day Papa called Ramesh uncle and asked him his opinion.
Ramesh uncle told Papa that he didn’t know this family very well. He had interacted with the boy’s father a few times in business meetings and found him to be a nice man. From what he had enquired about the family the mother seem to be an authoritative and assertive woman. The boy has one elder sister who lives in Canada with her husband. That was all he could find out. He also suggested that we should meet the family and then decide what’s best.
Mother had to finally give in and the meeting was fixed for the coming weekend.
The boy’s family was invited to our humble abode. I was nervous and so were my parents.
At the right time, the boy – Viraj – and his parents came. Viraj was tall and of athletic built. He was wearing a blue denim paired with a t-shirt. He had a rugged face and looked dapper in his casual looks.
As the three of them sat, they looked quite comfortable in their unassuming surroundings.
‘Neha, I liked you the moment I saw you on the stage that night. I want a sanskari bahu for my family, one who understands family customs and respects the elders. Girls these days seem to have forgotten their culture, they are ready to fight and argue with you at the drop of a hat’ she said smilingly and added, ‘so what do you study Neha?’
‘Aunty I am in my final year of master’s degree in English literature,’ I answered.
‘She is a very bright student. She was the college topper in her graduation. She is planning to do her PhD after completion of her MA,’ mother added.
‘Oh that’s great Neha. You can continue your studies after marriage,’ aunty replied.
After that she asked me several questions regarding my studies, future plans etc. One thing I noticed was that Viraj was quiet all this time. He did not ask me a single question. His mother was doing all the talking.
Once the family left, there was a discussion of how nice these people were. Mother’s apprehension was also fading. Later that evening, Sulochana aunty called and told my mother that she wanted me and Viraj to meet in person before finalizing marriage.
A venue was fixed and I went with Amit to meet him. We talked about our interests and hobbies and discovered that we both loved travelling, movies and good music. He was so witty, charming and nice that I found him to be a perfect person. There was just one thing that was troubling me. It was his excessive admiration for his mother. At one point during out discussion he even told me that no matter what, he never disobeys his mother. However, I brushed my apprehension aside thinking that it is not bad to obey one’s parents.
We spoke on phone for the next few days. He was irresistible. I found myself thinking about him all the time. He also seemed to like speaking to me. The next week his mother called and told my mother that they were ready for the marriage. She had made it quite clear that they do not want any dowry as they are progressive people and strongly detest this bad social practice.
They wanted to know our answer. Papa was finding it too good to be true. ‘Such nice people. They do not even want any dowry. They just want our Neha as their daughter in law. We are so lucky,’ he said.
I myself was very excited. In due course of time we got married. Everything was like a fairy tale. The marriage itself was a big affair. It was even more lavish than Siddharth’s marriage.
With Viraj by my side, I did not find adjusting to my new surroundings hard.
The house was a big mansion with lots of house helpers. Every evening Viraj would take me out to some expensive restaurant and treat me like a princess. I could not believe my good luck. With him, time used to fly.
He had told me before marriage that he was working as a manager with a big MNC. However, after marriage I found out that he was home all the time. When I asked him about his job commitments he said that he had left his previous job and helps his father in his family business now. I never saw him going to the office or helping his father in business affairs. Nonetheless, I did not pursue this matter further thinking that he is the sole inheritor of his father’s business so he doesn’t need to toil hard. We were happy together and that was what mattered most to me. However, he was never out of money obviously. His mother ensured that she pays his credit card balances off each month.
My mother kept on calling me every now and then. That day she told me that my admit card for the final exam had arrived, ‘Neha from next week your final exams will start. Your admit card has arrived today. Have you been studying off late?’
‘Ma I could not get time to study for the exams. I had been so busy lately,’ I said casually.
Mother scolded me and reminded me of the promise that I had made to her. I tried to get her off my back and said, ‘Ma I’ll send someone to fetch the books and will start studying now. Although little time is left but I will make sure that I make the most of it.’
When I told Viraj about my exams his face turned sullen, ‘Neha I wanted to give you a surprise but now I have to tell you. For next week I have booked our tickets for Paris.’ ‘What! Paris!’ I was doubtful and delighted at the same time. And so it happened that we went to Paris and I skipped my exams.
By that time it was indeed a fairy tale. However, my dream was soon going to turn into a nightmare.
When we came back from Paris I found out I was pregnant. All the trouble started then. Everyone in the house wanted a male child.
Mother-in-law told me to get the gender of the baby tested. I was aghast and could not believe it. She had earlier told us that they were ‘progressive people’ how can they think like that? Is this some kind of a practical joke? I looked at Viraj. He seemed quite okay with what his mother had said. I told them that it was illegal to test the gender of the baby. She just smiled and told me not to worry. At that time I did not know what to say but I reluctantly agreed thinking that if it were a boy, it would still all be okay.
The appointment with the doctor was fixed and after my examination she told us that it was a girl child. I wept through out our way back home. Not because I wanted a boy but because I knew there would be a confrontation with mother-in-law.
Viraj was trying to convince me that what mother says is for our own good.
‘But I cannot murder my own baby,’ I sobbed.
‘Don’t worry Neha you will not have to do anything. Dr Saloni is our family doctor; she will take care of everything. It will happen very swiftly you won’t even realize a thing,’ he casually said.
I stared at him in disbelief. How can he be so heartless and emotionless? He spoke as if he was speaking about some unwanted tumour that one has to get rid of.
‘Viraj she is our baby,’ was all I could manage to say. He laughed, ‘you are speaking as if it is a grown-up baby. It is so small that it doesn’t even know about its own existence. You are needlessly getting upset.’
He was talking in such free and easy manner that my sadness suddenly gave way to anger, ‘Viraj don’t call her ‘it.’ She is not ‘it.’ She is my daughter and I get to decide about her future.’
He looked curiously at me but said nothing.
Mother-in-law was waiting anxiously for us at home. The ‘bad news’ had already reached her. As soon as I got off the car she hugged me and very lovingly caressed my head and said, ‘Neha you must be feeling exhausted, go and take rest in your room. I will send tea and snacks for you there.’
I was not expecting this reception. Her motherly touch made me burst into tears, I hugged her back and told her that I want to keep the baby. She did not say anything but kept on caressing my back. Her motherly love told me that I was indeed needlessly worried, everything was going to be fine. After crying my heart out I went to my room and laid down. Tea and some tasty snacks were duly sent.
After some time Viraj and mother-in-law came. She continued, ‘Neha we love you so much, you know that. I knew you would be a very sanskari bahu the moment I saw you. I could not have asked for a better bahu. Please try to understand that a girl cannot take care of our huge business. Moreover, if you want a girl child you can have her later. But first give us a boy,’ she was speaking so softly and almost in a beseeching tone. ‘Think about it and let me know your answer,’ she kissed me on my forehead and left the room.
I looked at Viraj helplessly. He said, ‘Mom is right Neha. You should respect her. She has never pleaded with anyone ever, not even with my father. But she is pleading you, you must respect that.’
‘But Viraj.. this is an immoral and cruel thing to ask. She wants me to kill my daughter,’ I again was in tears. He sighed and said, ‘I love you so much and you are being so adamant.’
I indeed was adamant. By then I had decided that no matter what I am going to keep my baby. I called my mother and told her the entire story. She got very agitated and told me that they would come to my house the next day.
The next day my parents were to come. By that time it was as clear as daylight to my mother-in-law that I am not going to give in to her demands.
Her entire persona had been significantly changed. She was no longer the loving and caring woman that hugged me the previous day. She was in the living room when she saw me coming downstairs. She pointed towards the front sofa and asked me to sit down. Her features hardened. ‘Neha you have disappointed me very much. So many marriage offers from rich and influential people came for Viraj. They were ready to pay hefty dowry. I chose you thinking that being from a poor background you would be a cultured bahu.’ Her eyes looked mean now and with a look of extreme loathe she continue, ‘Look at you and your family, do you think you deserved my son? Your father is a clerk. We earn in a day what he must have earned in his entire life. Is this how you repay those who do you a favour?’
I did not know what to say. I looked down and sat there waiting for my parents to come. Before coming downstairs, I had pleaded with Viraj to be with me and to try to convince his mother against the abortion. He had very cowardly excused himself from that evening’s events. He had told me clearly that he loved me very much but he cannot go against his mother’s wishes. Whatever she decided for him he would abide by it, even if it is against his own wishes.
I was left to fend for myself. Presently, mother-in-law continued, ‘You listen to me Neha, either you abort this child or you divorce my son.’
I could not believe my ears and felt my senses going numb. Just then the doorbell rang. Mother-in-law got up and left the room. She did not even bother to meet my parents. Mother found me sitting on the sofa crying. I could see tears in her eyes on listening to the ultimatum my mother-in-law had given me few minutes back. Papa looked pale and weak. While they stood waiting for me in the lobby, where no one even asked them for a glass of water, I went to my room packed my bag and we all unceremoniously left the house like unwanted guests.
As our auto reached home a few women from the neighbourhood saw me and got happy thinking that I have come to visit my parents. I went to straight to my room and hid my face in the pillow. We were all unsure about what the future might hold for us. Viraj called me later in the evening. He sounded disturbed, ‘Why did you leave the house? You are behaving like a child. You are ready to give up everything for someone who doesn’t even exist. Does our love mean nothing to you? Please come back to me and apologize to mother. She will forgive you.’
One voice inside my brain was crying to go to him. But the other voice knew that there is a condition to that and I would not under any circumstance be able to do it. I said I’ll think about it and sulkily cut the phone.
‘Dinner is ready Neha,’ mother called from the kitchen.
We ate our dinner in silence. The air was heavy with grief. Once the dinner was finished, mother asked me my future plan, ‘You surely will not go to that house again. Not with their condition at least’ she declared. The fog of uncertainty cleared from my mind. She had put in words what I was unable to. Papa cried in a tone of disbelief, ‘Are you out of your mind?! People will laugh at us. She has been married for few months! We must try to find a solution.’
He got up and started pacing up and down the room. He continued, ‘I cannot let this happen. A 23-year-old divorcee with a child! What will be her future? Who will fend for her once we are gone? Who will take care of this unborn baby? Go back to your husband. Apologize to your mother in law and even if I am strictly against the abortion, in this case I want you to do what she says.’
Mother also got up in rage, ‘She will not abort her child. Today they are asking for this abortion, what if next time also it is a girl and the next time and always? Will she keep on aborting then? You want her to go back to that spineless man who can confront his mother?’ Mother seemed very angry and roared, ‘If you cannot take care of your daughter I’ll leave this house with her.’
Looking at mother’s furious face Papa surrendered, ‘Seema I am asking for her own good. I want her to be happy.’
‘The future is not going to be easy, she will no doubt have to face barbs, criticisms and harsh judgements. The boy will move on with his life but it will be her who will have to bear all the burden. I agree. But there is no choice. At least at the end of the day she will be happy that she did the right thing.’ After a brief pause she added, ‘And at the end of our lives we would also be able to die peacefully that we stood by our daughter when the crisis hit.’
Papa was not convinced, ‘Do whatever you like but trust me you are ruining her life.’ For the first time in my life I saw tears rolling down his cheeks. He was inconsolable.
Later that night mother came to my room and told me that I just needed to focus on my studies from now on. I had come to know that the MA final exams had been postponed.
Focusing on anything was difficult. Forgetting Viraj was difficult. Despite his cowardice and his heartlessness towards our unborn child, I could not help thinking about him. I so much wanted to be with him. He called me several times, but always asked me to apologize to his mother, and of course give in to her demand. He told me that everything would be fine after that.
Few months passed like this and one day we got the divorce papers. I cried the entire day and called Viraj. He blamed it on me and told me that I was selfish, heartless and our love means nothing to me. I was speechless. He was not what I had thought he was. Despite everything, my heart was heavy when I signed the papers.
Time went on and after due course of time, my little angel was born. We named her Tayja meaning ‘a gift from the heavens.’
Meanwhile, I had passed the MA exams and got enrolled in PhD. Because of my meritorious academic record, I got full fellowship from the government. Mother was right, the road so far had been extremely difficult. By this time everyone around had known that I had got a divorce. Some were sympathetic and some were outright judgemental. Their harsh comments made me all the more determined to excel in studies and become independent. I knew that the road ahead would not be an easy one, but I was sure I would become a professor one day.
Every night before going to bed I thanked God for giving me a mother who was a constant source of support and strength.
Image source: Still from Wake Up Sid
I am an avid reader, a writer, and a yoga instructor. With my writings, I want to contribute my share in making a truly egalitarian society. Read my short story collection "MEZAME" on Amazon Kindle read more...
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