Never talk to strangersNever talk to strangers, dear,” you said when I was three.
Never talk to strangers, dear,” you said when I was three, “There are bad people.” I have never spoken to strangers mom, I never did. My mother had her own techniques of teaching me ‘life lessons’—the ones we are supposed to remember for our entire lives. I still remember that day when I was a little girl when I received an accolade for being the best singer in an Inter-School singing competition; a man back stage (probably a teacher), impressed by my performance, handed me a candy. Without uttering a word, suppressing my gaiety and upholding my parents’ directives, I took the candy.
Once I got home I showed my trophy to Dad. His eyes beamed with pride, a huge smile stretched across his face. “Look at this trophy; my daughter never fails to make me proud!” Then, Mom rushed in from the kitchen. As I made out the satisfaction reflecting on my parents’ face, I showed them the other ‘prize’ that I had got. In no minute, the jubilant expression on my father’s face transpired into anger. “How many times have I told you to stay away from strangers?” he yelled. I could see his face crimson by anger and his eyes looked like perilous flames. After a short while, he calmed down. When he noticed that I was almost in tears, he said: “I don’t want them to take away my princess; you are my precious little angel.”
Today, as I sit here pondering over my past, I go back to the recent gloomy Sunday when you came into my room and asked me to spend the rest of my life with a stranger. Even though you knew what a rogue of a man he was, you still wanted me to marry him because he belonged to a family of high strata. Your alluring face appeared gruesome to me that day, Mom. I was sure that it wasn’t you speaking but some devil that had gotten inside you. Astonished by my parents’ attitude, the same ones who had treated me like I was a pearl in an oyster for years, I cried hysterically.
Millions of questions ran through my mind. “Are you asking me to share a bed with a stranger, Mom?” I murmured to myself, too scared to ask her. Look into my eyes, am I not the same daughter you protected for two decades? What happened today, Mom? Don’t I have the right to take the final decision?
There are certain conventions in our society which every family aspires to achieve. Marriage—I believe, is one noble institutional practice—has been mired by societal hypocrisy, in a case such as ours.
Cast, religion, and social stratum of families determine marital unions. My parents too, like the rest of society, are stuck in the unnatural bond of societal constructs which suffocates them in every step. The society needs to acknowledge that it’s not religion or caste but love that is essential for a content life.
The problem is not the question of arranged marriage but that of a forced one. The truth is the girl never has a say in her life’s decisions. The protective shell that their little princess was kept in was a prison in reality. Mostly it is the women who suffer a great deal. They have no say in choosing their own partner with whom they have to spend the rest of their lives. In an attempt to make their own parents happy and not to go against the social yardstick, they are bound to face a serious mental pressure. Spending most of their lives trying to balance between what their family wants and what tradition demands, they become strangers to their own voice.
A year later, at a family dinner, I tried to cover myself as much as I could—to hide the bruises on my body. I looked into my mother’s eyes from across the table but none of us spoke a word. She knew I was unhappy. Reading that ignorant expression on her face telling me—this is how it is supposed to be, I turned my face away.
Gautam is a student of Political Science at Lady Shri Ram College For Women in New Delhi