“Oooohhh! You look sexy, girl”, said Monica.
Ramona sashayed around her bedroom in her pink lehenga, acknowledging her friend´s compliment with an all-knowing smile.
“What are girlfriends for?” said Ramona flashing a quick wink in Monica´s direction.
Ramona and Monica were friends, ever since they popped out of their mother´s womb. Well, not quite but almost close! They were friends from preschool to college till date. Their friendship stood the test of time and was as rock-solid as it could get.
However, they made different choices in their lives and took wholly separate life-paths. Monica got married at 21 years, in the typical arranged marriage way. If her mother had her way, she would have ´packed her off´ by 18-19 years. Ramona tried hard to convince Monica otherwise but she finally succumbed to family pressure. Monica was married into a joint family, became a stay-at-home mother and made her parents proud by respecting and upholding traditional family values.
Monica´s mother said to Ramona, “It is not good to stay single at your age. You will not find any decent boys left to marry. Also, think about your family´s reputation and your mother´s growing worries about your safety every day.”
Ramona was like an unbridled mare. She was the ´weird one´ wherever she went. Never fitting in wholly with any group that she hung out with! Yet, she was open-minded and tolerant of others. The same could not be said about the others though.
Ramona was sure what she wanted out of life. She had her own rules of the ‘right and wrong’ in her big fat Life Book. Everywhere she looked, it pained her immensely to see so much injustice and struggle around in the society. She saw unwilling, hapless and naive women forced to fit into the archaic patriarchal norm.
Women were told everywhere that they were not capable of doing this or that. Told they should wear this and not that! Told when to venture out and when not to! Told where to go and where not to! Told how to sit, stand and shit properly! Told the difference between the ‘good’ girl and the ‘bad’ girl! Always being told what she must do but never given the chance to speak her mind -loud and free. Let alone, live her life on her own terms! More often than not, Ramona discovered that women were the unfortunate victims in this highly regressive and suppressed society.
So, when people met Ramona, it pinched them to see such a strong and independent woman, living her life, without giving a damn for anyone around. She listened to people´s advice with a gracious smile, knowing which ones to retain and which ones to fling out of her dainty ear.
She was clear early on in her life, that marriage was not the top most priority for her. Her education and career were! Only then, could she sustain and look after her mother and Adi, her mentally challenged brother. Marriage, was something, that had to be on her terms or she wasn´t all too ´gung-ho´ about it.
“Ramona, it is high time you settle down and get married. I will not be with you for too long. It is my wish to see you as a bride and …..God willing, see my grand kids too.”, voiced her concerned mother.
Ramona´s father died when she was 12 years old, leaving behind her mother and Adi, her 8 year old mentally challenged brother. She grew up overnight, her soul laid bare open, to the harsh realities of the world. Ramona saw the struggle her mother had to endure as a young widow, struggling hard to make both the ends meet. She did everything in her capacity to make life easier for her mother. Take care of the home and Adi while excelling in her academics.
True to her heart, Ramona followed her calling in life – Law! She quickly rose up the ranks to become one of the city´s most prominent lawyers. It gave her immense satisfaction to bring that elusive justice that was long delayed, finally to many innocent victims. She saw way too many cases of dowry deaths, domestic violence, in-laws harassment etc., to bite the bullet, they call ´Arranged Marriage´.
And so, Ramona judiciously avoided jumping into the Arranged Marriage bandwagon, like it was some deadly social disease or plague. She understood that the institution wasn’t kind and accommodating of women with her temperament and in her situation. In fact, the wise, age-old institution of ´Arranged Marriage´ preys upon the weakness of women caught in her similar circumstances.
A fatherless daughter!
An old widowed mother!
A mentally handicapped brother!
It would hardly matter that she was a highly educated and successful professional lawyer. She was still a burden to be shouldered life-long. She was the perfect victim to exploit, monetarily and otherwise by any crooked groom party.
Despite its attractive perks of life-long respectability, honour, security, family support and commitment, the honey trappings and baggage that came dubiously along with ´Arranged Marriage´ were simply not worth it. She was no fool to walk with blinders on, straight into that golden cage. However, expensive its worth was! Her independence, her value and voice were far more priceless.
“Maa! I would love to but not at the cost of leaving Adi and you.” said Ramona.
Adi and her mother were not just her world but also her responsibility. There was no way; she was ever going to abandon them for the sake of marriage.
“I received a marriage proposal for you, recommended by my friend, Seema. The guy´s name is Ronav, a Harvard graduate and a successful entrepreneur. Seema says you both will make a match that is ´made in heaven´. The only problem is that he is a widower with two children.´, said her mother.”
“How is that a problem, Maa?” laughed Ramona.
”Well! It´s not, if you are okay with it. So, what should I respond?” asked her mother earnestly.
”Maa! I guess there´s no harm in meeting someone.” smiled Ramona.
Ramona and Ronav decided to meet up at a coffee shop. Ronav was a tall and handsome man, with a distinguished air of sophistication. He was courteous and friendly.
“At 35, How come you haven´t found any worthy man for yourself as yet?” asked Ronav.
“Mr.Ronav! If what you are really enquiring about is my past, if I am a virgin? Let me be straight up and say, I am not.” answered Ramona matter-of-factly.
Ronav almost choked on his hot coffee, biting his tongue hard, while managing to keep a straight face.
“No, that is not what I was suggesting.” he stuttered. “You’re right! Your past is none of my business. Now, I am sorry! Anyway, I heard you have apprehensions about the Arranged Marriage system.”
“To be frank, I quite like the practical approach of the institution….towards love and marriage. It is not the Arranged Marriage system per se which I detest, as much as the people who unscrupulously exploit the institution to suit their benefit.”
“What do you mean, Ramona? You seem to be contradicting yourself?”
”The system of Arranged Marriage prides itself on the success rate of marriages in this country. But at what cost! On one hand, it equates all women to ´Goddess Lakshmi´ and gives them an honourable status in the society and a sense of security. On the other hand, it kills unborn babies, strips girls of all value and strength and deems them as a burden, squashes all their aspirations and dreams to make them believe that marriage is their ultimate end goal in life, glorify and respect them only when they serve their socially approved role, which is that of the eternal martyr.”, Ramona spoke animatedly.
“Hmmmm!” Ronav listened in rapture.
“But what I hate and detest the most is that they murder her entire identity in the garb of tradition bunkum, erase her past as if it were insignificant and never existed. It is barbaric murder, you know! They kill the parent-daughter relationship once she is married as if she ceases to be a daughter anymore. Of course, she is compensated generously with her new found parents – her in-laws.”, she laughs sarcastically. “New found parents.. whose permission she must take to visit her biological parents. What´s the word for that?”
“Are you asking me?” asked Ronav. “Ahhh.. you mean ´Paraya Dhan’.”
“Oh! Yes! That´s the word – ‘Paraya Dhan’! It infuriates every existing cell in my body. Why that is the man continues to be the son life-long but a woman ceases to be a daughter post marriage? The f&%% society also has the gall to change a woman´s surname. The concept should be rebranded as ´Papaya Dhan´ because that´s what they make us, all women look like – ´Freaking Oddball Papayas.´” she fumed with rage.
Ronak laughed out loud, caricaturing in his head – Ramona, the Papaya! “I’m sorry, again!” he said, back to his poker face, listening to Lady RaRa´s rants.
“They exploit the fact that women make loving and patient caregivers. If so, why can´t we take care of our own parents first? Isn´t charity supposed to begin at home? And I, freaking don´t care about any ´Papaya Dhan´ philosophies! I remain my parent´s daughter forever. We talk so much about women´s rights but what about our duties as well, especially towards our parents? The Arranged Marriage system is so shamelessly skewed in favour of the man´s family that it is pathetic. Everyone gets to be smart and practical about their long-term future except the bride in question. I choose to be practical like all the other stakeholders in the arranged marriage business deal. We are in the 21st century, Dude and such asinine practises should be excreted out of the system´s backside”, said Ramona.
“Ramona, I must admit that I appreciate and love your honesty and thoughts. I am glad to note that we are very similar in our outlook and approach to life. I was just as apprehensive as you were before meeting you. I have two beautiful children –a 10 year old daughter and 7 year old son. My wife died last year after finally succumbing to cancer, leaving behind a huge void in all our lives. When my mother brought me your proposal, I was not sure. The last thing I want for my children is a gold digger mother. I want a nurturing mother for them and a woman who loves me enough to be my wife. In you, I see a strong yet sensitive lady who will make a wonderful mother and a great role model for both my daughter and son. I am sure they will love you just as much as I do. You have my word that your mother and brother are my own. If you agree, Lawyer Sahibaan, we can take some time to get know each other before arriving at a final verdict”, Ronav winked.
Six months later, Ramona and Ronav got engaged. Monica was eager to see Ramona as the traditional bride and couldn’t wait to dance till the wee hours of the morning at their wedding.
“Babe! No one outshines the bride on her own wedding day. Not even her best friend. My marriage, my rules and I party the hardest”, warned Ramona.
“Hey Bhagwan! Kuch toh sharam kar! At least on your wedding day, pretend to be the bashful bride, you weirdo!” quipped Monica.
Both the women rolled on the floor, hugged tight while laughing and crying out loud at the same time. It was childhood once more!