(Names changed to protect identities)
We might have attained our independence 70 years ago but India doesn’t allow you to be free. We are still captives of myths, archaic thoughts and societal pressures.
Aloka and I have known each other since we were teenyboppers. I thought I knew her inside out. My notion shattered on the day of her marriage though. However, a part of me is happy that it did. More for her, than for me.
As dramatic as these next few lines may sound, it actually did happen. As the groom waited at the mandap, Aloka busied herself in a closed room upstairs, with her parents, (and forced me to stay on as well) in truth-time.
A secret that shocked
Without sugar coating any more, since she had already done so for the past so many years, she told her parents that she loved someone else.
She told them that she had loved that someone else since she was 19. Told them that that someone went by the name of Barnali!
What I witnessed next left me even more speechless. Let me try and recreate the scenes with words as best as I can.
Her mother slumped onto the sofa that was behind her. Her father stood still, looking at her blankly. Aloka began taking her jewellery off. She started with the heavy neckpiece. I went forward to help her with it. I have never experienced such silence before. Not even in the mountains at dawn.
Only when the knockings had started at the door to say that the right time was ending and that the priest was getting agitated, her father opened the door and went down. I followed him. He was 70. I wanted to be around.
The silence was broken
I have always loved Uncle. But his words that day made me love him more. He went straight to the groom, the son of one of his close friends, folded his hands and said (in Bengali):
“I’m sorry for doing this now, but this marriage won’t be happening. If I allow this to happen, then I will be doing wrong to my daughter and to you. Please forgive me.”
I don’t know if I was living a dream that evening but I haven’t seen so much goodness around before.
The groom got up, walked towards the bride’s father, held his hands and nodded before walking away. It was almost as if Aloka had told him about it from before. But she hadn’t.
He was either just a man who was shocked or was the kind of gentleman that one doesn’t come across easily in real life.
It wasn’t that there was no mayhem. The boy’s family did cause pandemonium and bad-mouthed the bride and her family as well. But, without paying any heed to their words, the groom began packing them off in the same bus in which they had arrived. The bride’s father stood at the entrance with folded hands. But his head wasn’t hung in shame. I stood silently on the staircase watching it all. Feeling a kind of pride to see two such men who really were men in the true sense of the word.
After the groom left
It was a good two hours later, when all had left, including the caterers with the uneaten food, we went back upstairs. Aloka was dressed in a plain salwar-suit, sans makeup, sitting on the bed and hugging her mother tight.
I wanted to leave the family alone but they didn’t let me. That day I had become their family too.
By the time we reached home it was quite late at night. So any conversation of ‘what next’ got stalled till next morning. The talk that happened after the growling stomachs had been satiated with ample breakfast gladdened my heart even more.
The father asked Aloka to invite Barnali home. Then the mother asked her how she planned to marry her considering that Delhi was still in India! I remember all of us looking at her face with the same thought: had she just cracked a joke? A few seconds later we were all laughing.
This was last year. Aloka’s parents have found a second daughter. Barnali’s, however, have told her never to return to them. That does sadden the couple, but they have accepted it. A love story can’t be a complete bed of roses.
Related reading: Love in the time of section 377
They are still in Delhi. Which is still in India. So, as the saying goes, they are still ‘happily unmarried’. But they hope that the winds of change blow soon.