She stood by her window and watched the unrelenting summer shower as the heavens opened up and poured down. Everything about the rain was absolutely therapeutic. She spotted three boys jumping around in the flooded street and wished she could be a child again. It was not long ago that she would have run downstairs and joined in the fun. But now she was thirteen years old and there was some amount of poise and dignity that was expected of her, after all, she was engaged to be married. It hadn’t taken too long to find the perfect groom, and now that her parents had decided on one and the date had been fixed, preparations were underway.
She had gone to school and knew how to read and write in English, a privilege not many girls enjoyed in her village. In fact, she knew that being a girl who had not been murdered as an infant and who was treated well by her parents was a luxury. Her village may have advanced in terms of electricity and the big television set that was kept in the village head’s house, but its mindset was still as backward as could be. She was the youngest of five children born to considerably well-off parents. She was lucky to have four older brothers, she owed them her life.
Her oldest brother was the next in line to be head of the family, ready to take over their father’s business once he stepped down. He was shrewd and a born businessman, suited for the role he would have to ape. The next brother was one with lofty political ambitions. He wished to be the next head of the village and was already working towards making that a reality. The third brother was the smart one. She had learned most of what she knew from him, borrowing his books, and reading them in the secret hiding place she had discovered as an eight year old. The youngest boy was closest to her, they shared all their secrets, fought like cats and dogs and chased each other all over the place. Well, at least till recently. He had taken the news of the marriage hardest. He was not ready to lose his playmate and baby sister.
She had been brought up with a single idea in her head, that one day she would grow into a woman and she would marry a rich man’s son and move away from her family and friends. She would make a perfect wife and daughter-in-law and uphold her family name, even though she would no longer be considered a part of that family. She had not really thought about this distant reality until that fateful day that she attained the status of a woman.
She thought back to the first time a boy had come with his family to “look” at her. It was a day not unlike this one, with the village streets flooded. The family had a car and her mother was instantly by her side, whispering good things about them into her ear. The boy was all of 22 years and she felt like he could see right through her clothes when he looked at her. She had made her excuses and told her mother she wanted to keep her options open for an even richer boy. That made her mum very happy.
The next time a family had come had been downright embarrassing. They had asked all kinds of hurtful questions and made it very clear that if the alliance was to be made, she would have to prove her virginity. This was not unknown in the village and most families obliged, after all they had nothing to fear. Some part of her wished she could throw the hot coffee right in that lady’s face. But she was a girl of good upbringing, imagine that black mark it would put on her family’s reputation, not to mention the considerable hike in dowry.
She had never really been able to wrap her head around the concept of dowry. She was giving herself to the other family, why should she pay them to accept her? Was she that much of a burden? Was she expected to have that little self esteem? In her brother’s books, she had read of famous princesses who had fought soldiers and saved their kingdoms, of smart women who had made discoveries that had saved thousands of lives. She yearned to do something that big, to change the world. She felt like she was in prison and was about to be shipped off to a maximum security cell in a few months.
The third time had been the charm. She had to admit that even she could not find anything wrong with the boy. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. His parents looked like they would make nice in-laws. She had given her full consent as was expected of her. Her mother was ecstatic; they were the richest family in all of the neighboring villages. She had already begun planning every detail of the wedding with her mother and sister.
Her father was a happy man, for this would considerably improve the reach of his business and bring in more money for him. After all, considering the amount that he would have to spend on the wedding, not to mention the jewelry and clothes, the dowry and the car that needed to be bought for the new son-in-law, he would need all the extra income he could get. He had already discussed this with his oldest son and they had a game plan waiting to be carried out.
She stood by the window watching the rain fall. She wished she could get just a little more time to find herself, just a little more time to make a difference, just a little more time to live for her and not for someone else. Her mother called out, what’re you doing staring out of the window? Come see these sarees, we need to pick the perfect one. Come quick.
She sighed, resigned herself to her fate, put a fake smile on her face and joined her mother.