“Keep your mouth shut, I will kill you. You have no respect for anyone; you are a pain for everyone. You will do as we say”
These unpleasant jibes pierced through her ears, making her question herself what her fault was. Was making known her wish such a crime? What is disrespectful about it she was trying to understand..
It was as if the long procrastinating Clouds had finally decided to pour down in celebration of the 69th year of Independence of India providing some respite from the hot and humid weather. 15th August, a day marked in history as the day of freedom a day declaring the nation free from the British rule. It had been raining incessantly since morning, halting only for a few minutes, which is when she dashed out of the house to a coffee shop nestled in the nearby market.
The morning had unfolded with a heated conversation with her brothers. She was still shivering with the anger that had built up inside her that she had contained as she walked to the cafe.
“We told you not to send her to college, look at her how she talks now, she is a disgrace” shouted her brother, directing the comment to their father as she stood and listened.
“What have I done, that you are saying all this, it’s uncalled for and not right. Just because I am disagreeing with you?” Geeta said, astonished at the tone and the temper his brother had been flaring into.
Geeta’s parents came from a highly conservative background from a place called Pali, in Haryana. Geeta’s father had left the village and moved to Gurgaon 30 years back for a government job with the municipal electricity board and for a better future. She and her brothers had been born and brought up in the city and had an English medium education in best of the schools and colleges. Both her brother were highly educated and accomplished, one being a lawyer and the other a Doctor. They lived in Gurgaon, a sprawling metropolitan city and this confused and infuriated Geeta.
That inspite of such education and lifestyle her family was narrow minded, they had different rules for girls and boys. They regarded women as beings to be kept at home and do house work. Getting married, doing household work and bearing children is the only accomplishment they thought women need to pursue and that’s when her existence would be justified. Geeta was different from her family; all this suffocated her, angered her, and bewildered her. She never understood the hypocrisy.
That morning she had conveyed all this to her brothers and father and thus they were annoyed at her that how she dare speak her mind. She had told that she did not agree with what they had decided for her and wanted to pursue her own path, her own career before anything else. The argument had boiled up so much that her brother charged towards her to hit her, while she stood absolutely baffled at such aggressive behavior of her brother.
She receded to her room and picking up her sling bag went out,realizing that it was useless to say anything for they would never understand. She wanted to be alone, clear her head and cool herself down. To think.
“Would you like to have your usual cold coffee mam?” asked the waiter, a short sturdy boy who recognized Geeta from her previous visits. He was standing in front of her table and smiled politely.
“Yes, that would be it”, Geeta replied without much thought or attention.
She sat sequestered at the corner most seating of the coffee shop. A red couch with round wooden table facing the LED TV screen hanging on the wall and running the news of the flag hoisting ceremony by The Prime Minister at The Red Fort. She looked around taking in the crowd present in the café but not registering anything to her senses. Her slightly brown eyes were searching for something in that invisible space that existed between people and other movables of the coffee shop, commanding herself to be invisible.
It was a small coffee shop. The only one in her neighborhood, which saw the rush of the students from a nearby college and some sales men doing excel sheets on their laptops. The interior of the café was basic. It had dark brown wooden chairs with red seats and some couches in red as well. The walls were plastered with the usual pictures of a coffee mug, some smiling young faces sitting around coffee. In one corner, beside the entrance was a display of a coffee machine for sale along with packets of chocolate cookies and banana chips in different flavors.
Geeta had been coming to this café ever since it first opened its doors. She loved coffee, the smell the texture all of it invigorated her. Though she did not like the café very much it was the only option available to get away from the house for a few hours and not venture far out. It was her refuge, a hideout to be by herself to sit and read.
….Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you….the singing reached her and she snapped out of her time travel. Picking up the tall glass of cold coffee which had been placed before her while she was lost in her recollection, she looked at a group of young boys and girls on the side table celebrating birthday of one of the girls. They were giggling and cracking jokes, some were stealing glances at one another smiling coyly probably the love struck in the group.
Geeta impulsively reached out to wish Happy Birthday. The girl smiled and thanked her asking Geeta to join them but she refused politely and drifted back into her own world.
The glass was dripping with cold droplets of water on the exterior just like her skin was dripping with cold air of her audacious thoughts. In her black track pants and a white full sleeved T-shirt in which she had slept in the night before, which she had not bothered to change while stepping out she looked effortless and calm. She had her hair pulled back and tied in a bun.
The turmoil she was facing inside was hers alone to know and deal with. She smiled at some recognizable faces who glanced towards her while she sat. In a month’s time she was to be married to a boy she had not seen not met nor talked to ever before. It was a match set by her family. Her opinion her wish was not sought, nor was she told anything. And this grieved her, unsettled her, after all it was her life. She had not been consulted about her own marriage even out of courtesy or a mere formality.
Geeta was a software engineer and had later pursued MBA. She was a bright student and had always been an achiever in studies as well as other activities. She had wanted to pursue studies abroad for a course not available in India but she never asked about it as she knew it would never be allowed by her family even if she was going to get a full scholarship. She had envisioned a professional career for herself, a meaning to her independent self but what was happening in her life now was not in resonance with her thoughts.
She was tall with a slim athletic frame, long hair flowing down to her waist, an oval face with a clear complexion which wasn’t fair nor was it dusky. She was beautiful in every way possible yet she was unaware about it. She was humble in her conduct and had never bothered much about appearances, always engrossed in books. But today at 28 years of age she was jobless and without a career she had dreamed about. From where she came girls were married not later than 21 years old and yet it was unusual that at 28 she was unmarried. She had always thought that this was a signal from the divine, a chance the universe is giving her to make her own destiny to carve a path for herself that’s why she had been kept away from marriage till now.
Geeta knew that she was a burden for her family, only a liability which they wanted to get rid of as soon as possible in the name of responsibility towards a daughter. She was a sour eye to everyone as she had already committed the sin of being unmarried at the age of 28. It was unacceptable for them, a matter of tension not because it was something wrong but only because what would the relatives say, what will the people say. It was all about an image they catered to in the society and not about the happiness of their daughter.
Though Geeta was not against marriage, she was not prepared for it to happen like this. She knew that her dreams, her life would not be hers after that, they will only be what is wanted of her and what she is told to do. She knew that the kind of marriage that has been fixed for her would never accommodate her wish to work. She was too strong headed and unconventional to lead an oppressed life.
She knew that even if she tries her best she was not cut out to be just a simple house wife. She would fail and only ruin the life of another person for no fault of his and this scared her the most. She would never be able to accept him the way she should in light of her own broken self esteem and disappointments. She needed to fix this, hold her ground strongly, and bring a meaning to her education before venturing into a life of matrimony. She was aware of her weakness of her own inconsistencies that she did not have in it her to devote her entire life on an established reality; she felt a disappointment with herself for not being an ideal daughter like her family would have wanted.
The phone rang and Geeta shook out of her deep contemplation. She wasn’t even aware that she had her phone until it rang. It was her mother calling inquiring where she was and when she would be home. Some guests were coming home with her future in-laws and she was supposed to get ready for them.
“Soon”, Geeta replied unconsciously.
Her mind raced like a bolt of lightning smearing across the horizon. She had escaped to the café today, to seek herself out, to seek a solution an answer to her situation. To either reconcile with everything or to do what she needs to do without wasting any more time.
The only solution that kept enveloping her would insult her, her family; she would be disowned and deemed a disgrace. But in the long run, it seemed the only right thing to do. It was better to take the risk now than to risk the life of many others if the marriage materialized.
She sipped to the last drop of the coffee and speculated the consequences of her actions. She would be labeled selfish, never forgiven; she would be shouted at, threatened and forced as well. She would be emotionally blackmailed like parents always do when they want to have their way with their children.
Geeta turned towards a couple sitting across from her and smirked at another thought she had. The awareness of each and every word and action that her family members would undertake made her laugh. She knew that it would be established that it’s all because of a boy, that she has someone else in her life that’s why she is unwilling to marry. But the reality was totally different; her reason for not wanting to marry was her own. There was no boyfriend or a love interest in her life. Marriage just didn’t seem the right thing to do at this point in her life even though she was in her late twenties.
Geeta went into a flashback of the day when she had wanted to go to Singapore for a job she was being offered. She knew it was her way out to the world but because of her father’s health she put off the idea, thinking that once her father would be fine she would take his permission and then go. She even considered and tried to fit in the image of a daughter that was expected of her. She did consider marrying for the sake of her parents happiness but the picture of future in which she failed miserably disoriented her. Moreover, the ignorance of her family to her wants made her more rebellious. She could not fathom that her being a girl does not evoke the encouragement and acknowledgement that her brothers get. All this made no sense to her.
She loved her parents immensely and wanted to make them proud and serve them all their lives but she did not conform to the act chosen for girls of marrying and that is how they serve parents this did not appeal to her nor did it seem pure and justified. Just because a girl does what she is told to do without asking a question means that she genuinely loves and respects her elders? This question had always sprung up in Geeta’s mind at several times of her growing up years.
Geeta called for the waiter and asked him to get her another cold coffee to take-away and handed him 1000 rupees to settle the bill. She slid her feet into the purple flip flops she had taken off while she sat on the couch and picking up her white leather wallet she collected her coffee from the counter and went past the swinging doors of the café.
She stood at the sidewalk of the road taking in the freshly washed down road, the bright green leaves of the trees. The rain had ceased an hour back while she was still sitting in the café. The air felt fresh across her face. The traffic was scant and everything looked like it had been placed right now. As if life was new to this part of the world. She felt exhilaration, free like she had never felt before. She wondered at the coincidence of it being the Independence Day of her country and her own feelings of freedom. Was it another signal from the universe? She thought.
She glanced towards her right, the road that would lead her to her home. She regarded it for a minute and then started walking to her left. She hauled an auto rickshaw to the railway station. With no destination in mind, no set course, taking a leap of faith she chose to leave for now. Hoping to return one day, hoping that one day her decision would be understood she left for a future on her own terms.