Every person, in the depths of his heart , treasures a chest of golden memories..something he opens with the magical key of nostalgic love only to find it covered with mud of time. But when he wipes it away and gazes at the wondrous miracles of his past, he discovers his true self…
Being a child from a conservative family, I grew up inside the four walls of my house, going out only to attend the local rural kindergarten where I wrote my first letters and learnt games with girls of my age. We never knew what the boys did at that time. We were not expected to. And so, when my brothers woke up every day only to play under the hot sun with the grass under their feet, I would help the elders in the kitchen or feed the chickens in the backyard. I knew it was the same story of any 5 year old girl in our rural neighborhood .I was no different from them. While my grandparents wanted my eldest brother to be an engineer, they never had any great expectations about me.
I remember I asked my grandmother once, “what do you want me to be when I grow up, grandma?” .
She gave me a smile with her wrinkled lips, and said, “you know, my dear baby, when I look at you…at times I think of your wedding. Your neck will be adorned by a thousand gold ornaments and your wedding dress would be sweeping across the floor of our house…You will be a little princess that day with your hand, like a bird who found her nest, holding that of your handsome prince…”
I was filled with anguish. Why can’t I be a princess without the prince? Why should a girl like me be confined to the kitchen, enslaved by a husband?
I prayed for a change to happen in my life…for my family to change their views about me…I cherished my dreams to rise like the sun above the mountains of prejudice…and soar higher till I reach the zenith of my abilities. And after what seemed like eternity, we got a chance to move into the city. I joined a good school. Finally, I can now break open the chains of gender discrimination…I can follow my passion…I can dream what a girl was not allowed to dream.
“Darling, take care of yourself…You will see rich boys in class…don’t ever think of talking to them…leave alone making them your friends…It is not going to be the slate and chalk learning you had in our village sitting with girls you are familiar with…It’s a whole new world.” My mother was really worried when she left my hand and let me run into the school building that first day of school.
I was a little nervous when I got into class. Everyone looked at me as if I were a dinosaur who jumped out of the stone age. But it did not take me long to find a girl sitting near an empty seat.
“May I sit near you?” I asked.
“Sorry, new kid…Mary sits with Diana. Nobody sits with me but her.”
My face fell. I should not have come here in the first place…I felt miserable. “Hello…”suddenly I heard a deep voice. I began to get tensed. I turned back, and saw the face of the speaker. I was only in class one, but at that moment, I thought like a teen girl. The boy who called me was short and had spectacles. I stared at him for a second and blurted out, “Oh,hello”.
He looked at me pleasantly and said, “Would you like to have a seat near me?”
“That’s kind of you..” I was getting on well with the conversation. I never told my mother about my new best friend. In the days that followed we got to know each other better…He introduced me to the others and soon, even Mary began to make friends with me. Anand,my first friend, shared everything with me. We were always together till the tenth grade. Both of us wanted to be doctors and did everything we could do to help each other…would you believe it? We even used to get the same marks!
We often discussed about our families… “I don’t think girls are frail and incapable of doing anything that boys do. They just need some encouragement. It’s not healthy for the society to condescend on females and think they are born to marry and look after kids. I am sorry about the way your family looks at you…As far as I see, you’re someone who can be an asset to the nation.”
Those were the golden years of my life. My friendship with Anand taught me the gracefulness of womanhood and the hidden charm inside me made attempts to grow higher. And the way it all ended, shutting out Anand from my life forever, makes me cry like that little girl who was guided into a new life by a person she was forbidden to speak to.
If I ever had a dream…If I ever felt I had wings…If I wore a medal before my wedding ring…wherever you are,Anand…Thank you.