The bride from the city
Kiran and Pradeep were ecstatic – after all their families had finally agreed for their marriage post two years of constant persuasion. The bone of contention was that Kiran’s father was not convinced that Pradeep’s family was a right fit for her and vice versa. But, he always liked Pradeep and respected his brilliance and values. On the other hand, Pradeep’s family always thought that the reason of Mr. Bhattacharya’s apathy towards them was because they were from the small town of Dergaon. After all why would the father of a convent educated girl, who was a regular visitor of the famous (probably infamous as well) Duliajan club, be inclined to marry off his only child to a family like theirs. Pradeep Rajkhowas’ family on the other hand had a lot of cultivated land, livestock, a duck farm (poultry being prohibited in the family), a few handlooms and a fishery and was one of the wealthiest in the area.
“It is already so late in the day (i.e. hinting that Kiran was almost 28 years), and we also took so much time to decide. I don’t think that there is a need for an angothi pinhua* ceremony. We should just fix the date of the marriage.”, Pradeep’s mother emphatically declared, paying no heed to the suggestion floated by Mr. Bhattacharya, to have the marriage a year from that date as Kiran was in the last leg of her PhD. To lighten up the atmosphere she quipped, “After all it is today’s generation – who knows how soon they grow out of each other’s love” and started laughing at her own joke, and everyone joined. Kiran did not like the comment at all but with Pradeep by her side she had nothing to worry about.
The marriage took place within the next 3 months with a lot of fanfare. After all it was the marriage of the only son of the Rajkhowa household. Pradeep’s mother personally oversaw everything – right from the gifts for the juroon to those of the maan dhora . She just did not want to leave any stone unturned to make it an affair to remember – after all this was the first joyous occasion in the household after she lost her husband a decade back. In all the efforts, she was ably supported by her sister, Manavi, who used to stay with them. Mr. Bhattacharya also had sleepless nights to ensure that everything went off fine. He was in a very high position in Oil India Ltd and this was the marriage of his only child. His prayers were answered and the marriage went off smoothly.
It was the day after the khuba khubi night, that Kiran finally understood that life was not the same anymore. Her parents were not by her side and she was in a new household with just Pradeep by her side. As advised by her parents, she donned a brand new mekhala chador that morning and carried four cups of tea to the sitting room. Mrs. Rajkhowa, her sister and two other ladies were chatting away in the room. Kiran had neatly put her uroni on her bun as any traditional Assamese woman would do. Mrs. Rajkhowa immediately stood up with an unpleasant face and pulled the uroni till it covered upto the forehead of Kiran and smilingly announced, “Buwari this is how you should wear the uroni. I don’t blame you for not knowing this … after all you are a bride from the city.”
And life went on…Kiran and Pradeep moved to Guwahati after marriage and continued with their respective jobs. Three blissful years of martial life was probably too much for the evil eye. One day, Kiran’s father had an acute stomach ache and was rushed to the Assam Medical College, Dibrugarh and from there to the Guwahati Medical College – he needed to undergo a gall bladder operation. It was a Sunday that they arrived at their daughter and son-in-law’s house and that was probably the last night that Kiran had smiled. The next day she decided that she would go early to the hospital and make arrangements for her father to be admitted as discussed with the doctor. The operation would take place in the evening. Pradeep hired a cab and accompanied his in-laws to the hospital at about 2 PM. On the way, their cab was hit by a speedy truck killing all three of them and the driver of the cab on the spot. Kiran’s life came to a standstill – she was too shocked to even react to what had happened. Within a month of this incident, she moved to Dergaon per Mrs. Rajkhowa’s desires.
Without the three most important people in her life, Kiran felt completely helpless. She was often had to bear the brunt of her mother-in-law’s taunts. “Did you really have to wear that dark blue Mekhala Chadar, Buwari?”, Mrs. Rajkhowa screamed one day. Kiran was perplexed – she expected her mother-in-law to in fact be sad as dark blue was Pradeep’s favorite colour. “Oh these girls from the city, when will they ever learn the basics of life.”
Then one day, Kiran decided to go to the nearby market to buy some stationery – she wanted to write. She was bored of the kitchen and the time she had to spend with the guests to their house. She also wondered as to what had made Mrs. Rajkhowa so harsh towards her – did she hold Kiran responsible for Pradeep’s death? As she stepped out, she was also greeted by Pradeep’s aunt’s sarcasm, “Its boring in the house – isn’t it?” Kiran just ignored the comment and decided to go on. As she returned, she could see that Mrs. Rajkhowa was mad in anger, “What was so important Buwari, that you had to go to the market and Ramanuj (one of the servants) could not get it for you? “ Kiran explained, “It was just that I felt like writing something and hence had stepped out and for such a simple task I did not want Ramanuj to be bothered. Maa, Pradeep always said that I should take up writing as a profession than my boring job at the office.” “ Well, Pradeep is no longer there, isn’t it? Going forward, please ensure you don’t step out of the house without me or aunty. This is not the city where young widows are seen shopping!”, concluded Mrs. Rajkhowa.
There was this strange fire that was slowly burning within Kiran. Why did her mother in law treat her the way that she did? Why was she not considered a part of the family? Why is it that the aunt had an insight into all the finances of the house, whereas she had to spend most of her time in the kitchen with the servants? Why is it that her mother-in-law never encouraged her to write? And then one day, she decided to confront Mrs. Rajkhowa.
She saw her sitting with her sister in the verandah and reading some magazine. “Maa, I need to speak to you”, she said. “Ok so say it – what’s stopping you Buwari?”, Mrs Rajkhowa said. Kiran looked at Pradeep’s aunt. “Buwari, be within your limits. She is my sister – do you not know?”, screamed Mrs. Rajkhowa as the aunt gave a wry smile. “And who am I, Maa? Am I not your daughter – now that I am an orphan, a widow – the only one I have whom I can say to be my own is you!”, Kiran said with tears rolling down. Mrs. Rajkhowa was silent for a moment and said, “Good that you think so Buwari – now start behaving as one! Stop being a city girl in this small town of ours. I expect a certain amount of decorum from my daughter-in-law and expect you to live up to the family’s name. I do not like it when I hear you humming Lata Mangeshkar’s romantic songs – I would rather have you hum a Guxani Naam. I would prefer you wear light colours than those bright ones. I expect you not to have any non-vegetarian food, although I know you secretly yearn for it. I would be happy if you spent most of your time in the kitchen or in the prayer room rather than in your room …”, she went on and on with a list of demands. Kiran heard all of it patiently and then fearlessly and said, “Maa just imagine if you were in my place and Pradeep’s grandmother had said the same things to you. After all you are in not a much different state than me – except that you have aunty to call your own and yes, you do not belong to the city.” Mrs. Rajkhowa was stunned – she never expected that from Kiran and immediately stood up and slapped Kiran hard and said, “This is all a result of your city upbringing. You dare not go beyond this Buwari. Go back to your room now!” Kiran walked back to the room quietly.
Within half an hour she was back at the verandah with a suitcase in her hand. She declared, “I am leaving this house Maa! I am carrying this portrait of Pradeep with me. I have got a job in a publishing house as an Associate Editor. In my room, I have left the contact details in case you need it sometime. “ Mrs. Rajkhowa asked, “But where are you going?” Kiran replied with a smile, “My home – the city!”
Reetoopan Kaushik, Flat K-707, Prateek Laurel, Sector 120, Noida – 201301