Thursday, 26 March 2015

Learning to Grow

"Is it 6 am already?!" Smita thought to herself as she placed the pillow over her ears to drown the noise of her mother's calls to wake her up. After what seemed like only a few moments, she was pulled out of bed by her mother, wailing and kicking, and pushed into the shower to get dressed for school..

Listening to her granddaughter Smita sulk and shuffle her feet as she headed out the door to school, Ramya was reminded of those times when she was back in Rajkot, almost two decades ago. 

Each morning, her mother would come in the room which she shared with her sister Bhavya to open the curtains and let the sunlight seep in. That day too, Ramya tried to turn over and steal those few extra minutes to sleep in while Bhavya and Nakul, her older brother, would get ready. 

Today was no different...making Ramya feel glad that she was the youngest. Slowly, as Ramya crawled out of bed and into the shower she suddenly heard a commotion from outside her room. She quickly dried and clothed herself to go hunt for the source of the noise...and was shocked to find her father on the ground and her mother and sister crying incessantly next to him.

Memory of the day haunts Ramya even after so many years. The feeling of helplessness, her inability to understand or comprehend the situation at the time, as she stood there that day so many years ago - watching her mother and sister cry while her brother frantically made arrangements to take her father to the hospital.

A kiss from her granddaughter, Smita, as she headed out to school brought Ramya's thoughts back to the present. How things have changed in these many years! The children hardly know the turmoil and dilemma that Ramya went through at the time...or how lucky they are to have their loved ones and all that they desire available to them.

As the day went on, Ramya could not shake the memories of that fateful day. The morning when Ramya's father passed away of a sudden heart attack changed her life and that of her family forever. The once childish, playful little girl was now overwhelmed by the many changes around her. The most dramatic was a decision taken by her mother...one that Ramya tries to understand to this day.

Unable to bear with the mounting expenses and the cost of bringing up three children, Ramya's mother made a very hard decision to take Bhavya, Ramya's older sister, out of school and get her married. Not that in those times young girls were not married early, but things were different in their home. 

Every time the girls came home with news of another friend being married off, Ramya and Bhavya were told by their father that they needed to finish their studies and be independent strong women and only then would he give their hands in marriage to two nice, deserving men.

"Then what changed mother's views suddenly," Ramya thought to herself "Why is mother doing things differently...Bhavya is only 14 years old"..  

Within a few moments, distracted by all the preparations around her, Ramya forgot about her concerns for her sister and excitedly started thinking of the all the shopping and food and people. She happily started preparing for Bhavya's wedding. All this was so overwhelming...so much to do, so many people, so many sweets, so many gifts, so many clothes. This was fun! She wondered why her father refused to get them married..she was suddenly looking forward to her own turn when it came!

But in all her excitement she overlooked something. Something that she sees clearly now, in hindsight. Her sister and mother did not share her enthusiasm. They looked mellow, sad even!

The day had arrived. Her sister was bathed in oil and turmeric, and dressed up in a pretty red and green saree for the wedding ceremony. The groom, her Jijaji (brother-in-law), had arrived. He was a handsome man, but he looked old - much older than Ramya and Bhavya.

Ramya wondered how Bhavya would be able to play with him like she did with her siblings till now? Ramya started planning on how she would teach Jijaji all the games that they played before he leaves after the wedding, so that he would know how to play them with Bhavya when they returned home. Yes that seemed like a good idea! That way Bhavya would have something familiar to do when she reached her new home in Ahmedabad.

So as the wedding proceeded, Ramya made friends with her Jijaji, and discussed with him about the games she needed to teach him before leaving. He was very sweet. He let her sit on his lap and teach him the games while the people came and greeted him. He seemed smart, and was a quick learner. Bhavya would have fun playing with him!

Slowly, the time came for Bhavya and Jijaji to depart. Ramya suddenly felt a lump in her throat, something she had only felt once earlier when her mother had told her that she would never be able to see her father again. Everytime she felt a lump building in her throat, when she thought about her father, she would quickly occupy herself with something else...and the lump would slowly go away.

But she wondered why she felt this way today - Bhavya was only going for a while, and Jijaji promised her they would visit whenever Ramya wanted to meet and play with them. Then why was she wanting to cry?

As she felt a hand on her shoulder, she turned to find her older brother, Nakul, standing there...tears rolling down his eyes, and suddenly a sad feeling overcame Ramya. She did not like this anymore. She did not want Bhavya to go.

As night fell, mother and Nakul had stopped crying, but Ramya could not stop her tears from rolling down. In all her 11 years, she had not spent a night without Bhavya. Suddenly in one day so much had changed.

As her mother held her close while sleeping, Ramya could feel her mother's tears wet her pillow.

Time flew by, Ramya realised it had already been a year since Bhavya got married. Bhavya was now blessed with a baby boy. Ramya was excited to meet Bhavya and her new born nephew!

In the time gone by, much had changed in Ramya's life. She was no more the carefree child from earlier - she had forgotten what it felt like to wake up late and be lazy on a holiday. She had to get up early to help her mother with the house chores before heading to school. As she did the same today, like every other day, her uncle arrived in a hurry. The look on his face reminded her of the time when people were trying to explain to her about her father's death, and her heart sank. What was wrong?

As she realised during the course of the conversation between her uncle and her mother, Bhavya had suddenly taken seriously ill and the doctors had said that she might not survive.

As Ramya sat in the bus to Ahmedabad to see Bhavya, she was reminded of the day when she bid adieu to her sister on the day of her marriage, with the hopes of visiting her soon and playing games with her like old times. That was not to be. Bhavya had succumbed to her illness before her family could reach her, and suddenly, Ramya felt all alone. Her best friend, her companion, her sister was gone.

Not much time had passed since the final rites for Bhavya, when Ramya heard talks of her being left in Ahmadabad to take care Bhavya's little boy. Ramya suddenly felt a shiver go down her spine. How could her mother and brother think of leaving her behind? What would happen to her school? Who would help her mother with the daily chores now?

That night, Ramya protested to her mother. She was furious at the thought of being left behind. But the truth was that more than being angry, Ramya was scared. How would she manage in a new home with new people all alone without the support of her sister or mother? She had never even spent a night alone at a relative's place without one of her siblings being there with her.

Moreover, she was scared of how she would be able to manage and take care of the little boy. She was after all a child herself! Consumed by thoughts and unable to find a way out, Ramya wept herself to sleep that night. The next morning at the behest of her Jijaji, Ramya's mother relented and took Ramya back home to Rajkot.

On returning home, Ramya observed that things had suddenly changed. She was asked not to attend school. She was made to dress in sarees. She was taught to cook and not just merely help her mother. All her aunts were trying to explain to her how Jijaji would be her best friend from now. She had to do as he said, and keep him happy, and take care of her nephew. She was to be married to Jijaji!

As the day came, it was all so strange. All the exciting rituals that entrapped her last year at Bhavya's wedding suddenly seemed strange to her. She did not want to dress and sit at one place while all these strange grown up women looked at her and made comments which she did not understand. She was getting annoyed at the way they giggled while they looked at her.

Then, like the last time, Jijaji came with his family and all the rituals were completed in a similar fashion. Just that it was nothing like last time...Ramya was not allowed to look up or talk to Jijaji. Also, she was asked not to address him as Jijaji anymore, but to address him as her husband. This enraged her.

He was not her husband. He was Bhavya's husband. They had a baby together, and now that she is gone how could he abandon all that and become her husband. She felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt,as though she was cheating Bhavya.

Somehow in all this, Jijaji's (she was fighting hard to not call him that, but to no avail) demeanour calmed her. He had a reassuring look in his eyes. One that said, it will be fine. As he held her hand gently and pressed her anxiety eased. He softly told her it was okay if she wanted to take time to stop calling him Jijaji.

And she did take a great many years for her to suppress that habit. Looking back over the many decades that have lapsed now, it was this demeanour of his that made it easier for her to adjust to her new roles as a wife and a mother. Ramya smiles as she realizes how she has whole-heartedly accepted this man as her husband. Their relationship has matured over the years, and today she knows how blessed she has been to have this man in her sister's, her and their children's lives.

With warmth in her heart for her husband, Ramya is reminded of when she didn't feel this way for him. The moment when she parted with her mother and brother, crying inconsolably, and her husband slowly took her to the car that was to carry her to her new home, her new family...she could feel nothing but anger towards this man. One who was taking her away from the only world she knew and understood. She had lost so much in the last 2 years, and now, because of him, she was losing what was left of her family.

As she sat in the car, someone placed her little nephew on her lap stating, "Here! Take charge of your child now." Overpowered by a volley of emotions, Ramya looked out the window and slowly dozed off.

By the time she woke up, it was nightfall and the baby was crying. His father gently lifted him off her lap and played with him with one hand, while trying to to take out his milk bottle to feed him with the other. Ramya just watched as the baby, well-fed, dozed off in his father's arms.

He turned to Ramya and said, "You must be tired. it has been an emotionally charged day for you. Rest till we reach Ahmedabad, I will take care of the baby!" Relieved at the offer, Ramya dozed off thinking of how her days were going to be from here on...

It has been over 2 decades now...this warm, gentle man Ramya was forced to marry those many many years ago as a child has now become the master of her world. At that tender age, this man took care of her like no other. She was not allowed to do any household chores, he wanted her to study. He enrolled her for home schooling where a teacher would arrive home each day for a few hours for her lessons. During this time, her (sister's) son, Mudit, would play with his grandmother.

Today, Ramya herself is a grandmother. Her son is now a big executive in a multinational company in Delhi, while her daughter, born many years later, has recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Like Ramya's father and later her husband, Ramya too has made sure her daughter and her granddaughters understand the need and the value of a good education.

So that they can become independent and free-willed women. So that they can, if ever needed, take care of their families completely without anyone's help or support. And no child of Ramya's would ever again have to bear the curse of child marriage the way her sister and she did. They might not be as lucky to find "Jijaji" like she did!

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