Short Stories >> Nakhreliyun >> Stylish Girls (Nakhrelyun)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
I stay in London. Twenty years ago, when I had come to Bombay my cousin Neena's daughters were young. The eldest was thirteen years old. This time Neena wrote, "Don't you remember that in childhood we were more of best friends than cousins? When you shifted to Ahmedabad, you wrote me a letter every day. What beautiful times they were in Hyderabad..."
I went on a flight reading the letter. I told my husband, "I shall certainly go to India this December". Scratching his head, he asked, "But who is there for you? You have very few relatives and those too so distantly related to you. Regarding your cousin Neena, her four daughters are grown up now and they live in two rooms. Where will you stay?"
After thinking a while, I replied, "I shall stay in a room in Neena's heart".
We both burst out laughing. I came to Bombay and I felt so relaxed in mind and body embracing her for those ten minutes. Tears of separation of so many years simply and silently flowed from our eyes. Neena's husband Ghanshyam had not grown older in these twenty years. Even twenty years back I had seen him with grey hair. He had now lost all hair and his bald skull was shining like light.
Early in the morning as I opened my eyes, I noticed that Neena and her daughters were fighting against time. This was not new to me because in London I too keep rushing about making tea, breakfast, washing utensils etc in a hurried manner and my husband too keeps helping me in all this. But here Neena's husband was sleeping peacefully and when she went to give him his bed-tea, he sat up and asked her, "Have you given bed-tea to the London guest" Neena said, "Let her wake up. She must be brushing before having tea. Everybody doesn't laze in the winter like you".
Ghanshyam said, "Arey, she must be not finding this weather cold at all".
"Right". I said, got up, took my toothpaste and brush from the bag and went towards the wash basin.
I asked Neena, "Are all these four girls are working?"
Neena answered, "What will they do at home otherwise?"
The girls left for work and Ghanshyam had gone to read the newspaper in the neighbourhood. Neena left everything and came and sat with me for breakfast. I said, "Neena, my dear, you never wrote to me that I should send these girls some gifts".
"My dear, if you hear their styles you will realise that such times are coming when nobody will want to get married"saying this Neena's laughter stopped abruptly.
After a moment I asked, "Have they vowed to stay single/unmarried?"
Making a bitter and sad face Neena said, "If they say so I shall heave a sigh of relief. But they want grooms who are rich, more educated than them, staying abroad, not businessmen but officers".
I burst out laughing, "Your daughters have become really smart".
Neena said, "Because they are earning in thousands".
I replied, "Nowadays thousands are of no value".
Neena kept nodding for a long time, "Right. Right. The life that we lived in four hundred rupees, we cannot do so even in four thousand rupees. But that little one is quite sharp because she is earning more than the others".
"How old is she?"
"She is twenty-five now".
"Then how is she ‘little-one'? She is strong. She is really young".
Neena's eyes became sad again. She said, "Mohini sweetheart, what do I tell you. We Sindhi ladies spend years looking for a groom. It is not about just me but so many relatives and friends who spend years looking for a groom. Even the boys turn grey while searching for brides which can be hidden with hair dye but many simply turn bald! Then our beautiful, finicky girls complain that they can't marry bald grooms"
I said, "So what? Just like beard and moustache fade away so do the hair. In any case well educated grooms do get bald. My husband too has become bald. He has worn a wig while posing for pictures".
"Arey, but here the boys are so proud that when they come to see the girls, they wear wigs and the girls' mothers are like queen bees who demand that they would like to see the boys without any make-up. Now a human being is flesh and blood and so always a good first impression is very important. Naturally if the girl and boy are with make-up when they see each other, atleast they will get attracted to each other. The conditions after marriage are anyway the same for everyone".
I said, "Neena, my dear, it seems from your talks that obstacles in the marriage are not just dowry issues but other difficulties as well".
Neena caught my arm and said, "Oh my sweet Mohini, what should I tell you? A boy got so attracted to my second daughter that he said, "We shall send you even the sari from our side. But I saw that my girl was disappointed. When I asked her, she said that he had told her he would take her abroad".
"How strange! There are many girls who are keen on going abroad and seeing the world. But your stylish daughters a breed apart!"
"That's it dear. This is how it is here. Someone loves onions. Someone loves brinjals.! They have heard stories of girls married abroad and they are frightened. Ofcourse in India too there are many cases of divorce. But they say that here atleast they have the support of relatives in times of need".
"But Neena sweetheart, the girls are losing time keeping so many conditions for marriage. We two sisters in London were even ready to get our children married to each other. We felt that if time passed off, we would have to struggle too much.
Previously we believed that marriages between cousins were Muslim customs, but now sensible women abroad have now accepted such alliances joyfully".
But dear Mohini, these stylish girls feel that how can they get married to those cousins whom they regarded as brothers? Now tell me! They feel that even if they agree ,the grooms should be earning more than them. I hated match-makers before but when I saw that this is not a village where one can know of grooms in houses without any reference. Even while buying a house one needs the help of an agent. The only difference is that here the match-makers don't bother about anything excepting swindling money to register the names and then after referring a couple of houses, they keep quiet".
"Whatever it is. Teach your daughters to depend on destiny. You too are a frightened type. Otherwise aren't there boys for them in this big wide world?"
Now Neena started crying. She said, "First of all, I don't have support of my husband. The social workers are also worried about inter-caste marriages and so they have established marriage bureaus. But my husband says that he doesn't want to roam around with me to all these places for his daughters..."
"My dear, don't cry. Now that I have come, see how I settle them within a month or so".
"How will you do it? Their attitudes are..."
"Just wait and watch how I bring them to the ground".
In the night, after dinner, all the girls sat on their beds with their work. I also took the opportunity and started counselling them. I told them, "Your mother told me that the middle one and youngest one will sleep together and you and the eldest will sleep on separate beds. In this room there are only three beds, I shall not displace you but can go and sleep on the couch in the hall. You be relaxed".
The middle one and the youngest said, "Since it is winter, we don't mind sleeping together".
The eldest said, "Whether winter or summer, I don't allow anyone to sleep with me".
I became alert. This eldest one is thirty already and she is passing through a delicate phase of her life; if she gets married even now, she will be saved from many psychological ups and downs. I laughed and said, "What if you get married, then?"
"That's not going to happen now" She replied.
"In London people get married only in older age. Till then they keep searching for a suitable partner".
Eldest one said, "Only men have been given this right to search for a suitable partner".
I said, "Elder one, you are mistaken. Four decades ago, when I was in Sindh, I pointed out weaknesses and faults in the boys that were in the marriage market. There was hope within me that looking at such a sharp and beautiful girl like me any handsome and intelligent man would surely garland me. But that did not happen. I grew big and thirty-three".
All three shouted, "Oh thirty-three only!"
I said, "Listen girls, you are educated and you understand that a lot about marriage depends upon the political situation of the country. When the people were afraid that if a girl grew up then she would be picked up the powerful ones, so she would be married off at five or eight years. During the British rule when the fear lessened, the culture of educating the girls and training them in cooking and sewing etc arrived. In those times twenty-two to twenty-five was considered big age. During those times girls were married off before twenty. When I started teaching, my style also increased. I would reject all the proposals that came to my mother. Finally, my father got angry one day and he said, "What do you think? You are seeing the earnings of a groom. Today he is earning half of what you are earning, but he is a decent boy from a decent family, having no vices. I'm sure he is going to earn lakhs one day. Now you listen. This is your last chance my girl. You have an attitude because you have started earning..."
All three girls couldn't stop laughing listening about my father's lecture. The eldest one said excitedly, "Didi, we have rejected so many boys who were earning lesser".
I said, "Don't consider rejecting someone as an act of courage. Consider getting married to a lesser earning groom as real courage. You must also consider the conditions of the country".
The eldest one again said, "My mother keeps telling me even now about the Udaram family who are good people. Their girls are not getting married and in the process their son too has grown older. But he is a government servant. Do you know how much I am earning in a private service...?"
"Leave this more and less earning topic. The age is slipping by. After all, how much can a person eat? Two chapatis. Not gold. Isn't it?"
Perhaps the eldest one spent the whole night reflecting. Early morning, she whispered in my ear, "Didi, I have thought a lot during the night. Since our father does not scold us like your dad, we should not take undue advantage of that. I don't mind thinking about Udaram's proposal".
My happiness knew no bounds. I told Neena the entire thing. While making tea, as Neena heard the whole story and laughed, showing her broken teeth, I simply hugged her.
She said, "Thank God, let atleast one of them get settled down!"
- Translated by Arun Babani