This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 34; the thirty-fourth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is “Of-Course, I’m insane”
I still remember the day Veena got married. Every wall in the house was so heavily draped with marigolds I feared the house would come crumbling down with the sheer weight of them. Everyone had made it for the wedding. This was going to be the last marriage within the family for many coming years. You see, Veena, was the youngest among us six cousins. There were other things that made Veena’s wedding special.
Veena, being the youngest in the family had always been the indulged one. While all of us studied at regular schools, chacha (Veena’s father) admitted her into an expensive private school. Taoji the de facto head of our joint family and papa (my dad) were skeptical . But Veena never gave anyone a reason to regret the decision. She always performed well. Not only in studies but also in debates, plays etc. When she passed out as the head girl of her school, it was evident that the local colleges of our small Bihari town would not be adequate for her. We looked on in pride as Veena became the first among us to take admission in a college in Mumbai.
After that we saw lesser of Veena. Every time I went to Bihar for the customary chhath (a Bihari festival) break. I heard tales of Veena’s latest accomplishments. “Veena has topped her university in the bachelor’s pogramme”. “Veenu has enrolled for a Master’s degree”. “Veena wants to pursue PHD”. That girl had wings! It became more and more difficult to keep a track of her progress.
Whenever, Veena and my visits to home overlapped. I couldn’t help being amazed at the confident young woman she had become. Is this the same Veena who trailed me like a shadow wherever I went? Always demanding to be entertained with stories and make believe games. Veena and I had always been the closest. This may seem strange, since we were almost ten years apart. Ours was the ideal Indian family. Grandmother, taoji (my older uncle), my father and Veena’s father, chacha to everyone (my younger uncle) lived under the same roof with their families. Taoji had two sons, I had an older brother and so did Veena. That left Veena and me as the only girls in the family. And it was only natural, that Veena spent most of her time with me.
I treated her like a doll. I spent hours dressing her up. I took her with me wherever I went, balancing her on my slim hips when she got tired of walking. Not a day passed by, when I did not stop at the cart outside my school, to buy tangy tamarind to give to Veena when I got back home from school. Veena, never ate any meal without me.
Even as a child Veena, was strong-headed. Our grandmother liked to say “Girls should be like cows,docile and tame. Makes it easier for them to adjust after marriage” But Veena, was no cow. She had a strong will of her own and a temper to match it! We got a sample of that fierce will at my marriage. I was seventeen at the time. I had just taken my class 12 exams and was still awaiting the results. Bua brought the rishta (proposal). The boy was her husband’s cousin’s son. He was a Bihari, college educated and had a service at a tea estate in the hills. The elders decided he fit the bill and the marriage was fixed. No one thought of consulting me. I had dreamed of going to college and becoming a botanist someday. With a heavy heart I gave away all my books and accepted my fate. Veena, all of seven then, put up a stronger fight. She bit Anuj (my husband) on his hand when he came home the first time. Refusing to come back to apologize. She remained sullen through the proceedings, never once smiling or rejoicing in the entire wedding. She did not even touch her favorite sweets.
Even after I came to my husband’s estate, I would call up home often, specially to talk to Veena. She would ask me endless questions about my new life. Where did I live? What colour was my house painted? Did I wear a saree at all times? Did it rain a lot? Had I seen any rainbows yet? I always replied cheerily. Painting everything in my new life a few shades brighter specially for Veena.
But all that changed when Veena was ten. Ma hadn’t wanted to bring her along. Everyone at home had tried to reason with her that it was not the right time for her to visit me. That I was in the hospital and weak and she may not be able to spend any time with me. But Veena was determined to come to and she did. She sat beside me at my hospital bed like a sentry. Always by my side when I needed a sip of water or to go to the toilet. She was still the same Veena, but the questions were more tamed now. Less prying! As if she sensed that I had stuff to hide.
After those twenty days in the hospital. I felt our relationship shifted. Veena took on the role of care giver treating me like a fragile doll when I went to Bihar. “Didi, will you have some imli?” “Didi, come in , you will catch a cold” “Didi, drink this glass of milk” . My little doll had grown up. I noticed other changes too in Veena. She had become quieter, more restrained. While she was always good at studies, she had started to study for even longer hours, not taking time off even during chatth when all of us came home for the holidays.
After I had Shubh, my older son, life became busy. Veena too came to the senior classes and got more absorbed in her studies. Whenever I went home, we still spent time together but the conversations weren’t as free as before.
The year Veena left for Mumbai, I couldn’t go home for even my customary break and we said bye over the phone. She wrote once in a while to update me about her life in Mumbai. She gave a detailed description of her college, her friends and the hostel. I tried hard to picture my little Veena amidst the large landscapes she painted in her letters. But it all seemed rather distant. I had my second son, Shrey and got caught up in the children’s routines. Managing to keep only a minimal knowledge of how Veena’s world was unfurling. Little wonder then that I got to know about Subhash through chachi and not Veena herself. I must admit I was a little disappointed that Veena had not considered telling me about him before making the big decision.
Veena was 25 , by now. Well past a girl’s “right” marriage age as per our family’s standards. But then Veena was no ordinary girl. All the usual methods of finding a suitable groom failed. Veena refused to get the ‘proposal photograph’ clicked. “As if I am a salwar kameez (a type of dress that young Indian girls wear) that needs to be pretty to be liked” she said. Veena was tall, beautiful fair, just like most matrimonial advertisements demanded. But without a picture chacha could not answer any of the hundreds of l ads that fetured every week in the Sunday newspaper. The extended family was asked to pitch in. But though they all feigned to be concerned, secretly they were happy with the “problem” at chacha’s hands. I guess they thought it served him right for letting her get “out of hands”.
When Veena told chachi about Subhash, her colleague, a Bihari like us and same caste too, everyone was secretly relieved. Even though, dadi and taoji did make some necessary noise about how it was disrespectful for girls to have love marriages. They did not really put up a fight. Veena had managed to break another tradition.
The marriage went off without a hitch. Veena and Subhash settled down in Bombay. The next year, Vena insisted I bring Shubh and Shrey to Bombay for their summer holidays. We spent two weeks in Veena’s home. Subhash and Veena, took us to the beaches, theatres, markets and fancy restaurants! The children loved Bombay. I loved to watch Subhash and Veena together. They held hands when they walked. They spoke to each other all the time, as if they were best friends. They smiled at each other and often laughed together. When Veena cooked, Subhash hung around the kitchen, lending a helping hand. He always laid out the table and cleared the plates. “This is how a husband and wife should be – equals” I thought to myself, on the train back home.
That is why, I was shocked when Chachi called me up to say that Veena has left Subhash! Chachi was crying uncontrollably. She asked me to speak to Veena immediately and talk some sense into her. “That girl is too headstrong! Even if Subhash has said something, he is her husband. You don’t break a marriage due to something your husband says”
I called Veeena up. “Veena are you insane? Why are you walking out on a good boy like Subhash. You have any idea how other husbands are?”
“Ofcourse I am insane didi” Veena replied quietly. “Insane , because I don’t want to end up spending 20 days in a hospital with fractures and bruises that my husband has given me. I am insane because I want my baby to live! I am insane because I won’t agree to spend my life with someone who doesn’t truly respect women. I am insane because I think my unborn child has a right to live and be loved whether it’s a boy or a girl. I wish didi, you had been insane too, eighteen years back “
I sat quietly cradling the receiver as tears flowed down my face.
Chacha and chachi went to Bombay to make Veena see sense. But Veena, strong willed as always stuck to her decision. They cut off from her. I went to Bombay to care for Veena after her delivery. Veena lived in a small one room flat now. The flat was very simply equipped. Veena herself looked pale and tired.
The path that my little Veena had chosen was certainly difficult. But there was a glow of pride on her face when she held her new born daughter. Like in everything else Veena had done, she had broken another rule. Veena was right! To walk against the world requires insanity. Unfortunately I had always been ‘sensible’. If only I’d been insane too I would have had a seventeen year daughter by my side today.
Chacha : Fathers younger brother
Chachi: father’s younger brother’s wife
Taoji: father’s older brother
Dadi: Paternal Grandmother
Bua: Father’s sister, Aunt
Chhath: a famous festival in parts of India
Bihar: a state in India
Bihari: Belonging to Bihar
Rishta: proposal for marriage
Saree: A traditional dress usually worn by Indian women
Salwar kameez: A dress traditionally worn by young Indian girls
Also wanted to say Congratulations to SIS! on his BIG day! may god shower blessings on both of you 🙂