by Dr.Ketaki Patwardhan Nirkhi
Sejal looked out of the window from her seat. Passengers were bustling about, balancing luggage, showing tickets to the cleaner of the bus, some carrying their irritable and crying tots in arms. All of them were lost in their own world of thoughts, she thought. Each one had a plan in mind, a destination to reach, chores to complete, schedules to follow. For this one night, they were all going to be together, travelling together towards a common destination. Tomorrow morning, they would all part ways, probably to never meet each other again. She remembered the Marathi phrase she had once read somewhere; If our paths are going to go separate ways, why did they cross in the first place? What does destiny have in mind?
“Excuse me?” She came out of her philosophical reverie at the sound. A young man in his late twenties, tall, fair, with black rimmed glasses in branded shirt and trousers was looking at her expectantly.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Window seat is my seat” he said flaunting the ticket.
“Oh…could we swap it?” she asked. She wanted to spend the night looking at the dark emptiness outside.
“Okay” he shrugged. “Its night anyways”, he said as he sat on the seat next to her. He took out his Samsung galaxy phone, plugged in his earphones, rested his head back, closed his eyes and began tapping feet to the rhythm of the music.
She turned her gaze back to the window. All people had now boarded the bus and the cleaner was busy closing the door. The bus’ engine sprang to life. She watched as they passed the huge buildings of Mumbai, which were now glowing in lights. The signals, the various cars, flyovers, parks, bus stops, temples, malls…
“Going to Kolhapur?”
She turned to face him. “Yes” she replied.
“Oh..” he smiled. “ I am also going to Kolhapur”
She didn’t know what to say next, but she felt the need to keep the conversation going.
“You from Mumbai?” she asked.
“No no, I had come for some personal work…and you?”
“Yes, I stay in Mumbai. Kolhapur is my hometown, have to attend a family function in Sangli” she replied.
“Okay. I stay in Kolhapur” he said. “So what do you do?” He too seemed to want a conversation.
“I used to run a parlour long time back..but presently I do nothing.”
“You are married?” he asked, looking at the hint of sindoor on her forehead.
“Yes, I have a seven year old daughter and a five year old son too” she said.
He looked truly amazed. “But you don’t look that old..”
“I am not...got, married at 19…”
“So how old are you?” he asked, still in amusement.
“You should never ask a lady her age” she smiled at him.
“I know, but I am really curious”
“I am 28” she replied.
“And I am 26” he said with a smile.
“Okay..so what do you do?” she asked, changing the topic. Her age was a somewhat sensitive topic for her. Her widow mother had married her off at an early, tender age, so that she could be free from her responsibility, or that is what she always thought. It was a time when her eyes were full of dreams. She had wanted to study, she had wanted to travel places, she had wanted to explore the world, she had wanted to wait for the man of her dreams…and everything had been cut short by her marriage. Before she could digest anything, she was pushed into a joint family where all a married girl was expected to do was cooking, cleaning, washing, rinsing, serving men and bearing kids. This was exactly what she was doing for the past nine years. And she felt trapped. She felt suffocated. Her husband, Nitin, was nice, but he was just…nice. He fulfilled his duties, completed his responsibilities, took her to his office dinners. But he was not her friend, she could not confide in him. He could never give her the love she expected or craved for. He never seemed eager to hear her out, listen to her feelings. She had no friend with whom she could share this.
“I am into our family business..its a small scale factory” he said.
“Okay..so you have completed your education?” she asked.
“Yes…I have an engineer’s degree for namesake” he said with a laugh, “Even if I had become a doctor, my father would have made me sit in the factory only”. He looked away.
“I understand…parents burden us with their expectations, never thinking what we really want” she said matter-of-factly.
“You too think so” he turned back to look at her.
“I have gone through it…what do you think, I wanted to get married at 19? That too to someone ten years older?” she said, before realizing that her suppressed feelings were already finding a way out.
He did not reply. He kept staring at nothing. His response made
her feel better. She had read in a Marathi book, that we tend to share our deepest and darkest secrets with persons we don’t know at all, who don’t know us and who we are not likely to meet anytime in future.
“I am also stuck in a similar predicament” he said, still looking straight ahead. He too needed a vent she realized. “For one, I wanted to do MBA after graduation,” he continued, “I was getting an opportunity to go to the US. For anyone, this would be a stroke of luck and a foundation for a bright future. But not for me. My father made me give up all opportunities so that I could sit in the factory and hand over salaries to a bunch of workers every month. They have no insight, and I have no say.”
Both sat in silence, each lost in their own thought. Both were stuck in something they did not want, and now had no choice.
“But that’s not all, there’s more.” He said, staring in space. He then turned his gaze towards her. “I am in love with my batch mate from engineering college. I cant live without her, cant imagine life without her. And my parents have fixed my marriage to someone else. Because their izzat is more important to them than what I want. He threatens that he will commit suicide if I don’t comply. And again I have no choice.”
“Why don’t you use the same blackmail?” she suggested.
“For him, I would be better off dead than be married against his wishes.”
She sighed. “I know what it is to be stuck in a lifeless marriage” she said, more to herself. “Did you not try to convince them?”
“Of course I tried. And you know what my dad says? He says, for our sake, get married to this girl, and then do whatever you want. You understand what that means?”
She understood. “How can he even say that?”
“He did. And that’s what I am going to do. I will marry her to save his izzat and then go back to my girlfriend. I know this amounts to doing injustice with the girl, but I am not left with any option whatsoever. If I don’t marry her, dad will commit suicide. I cant live without my girlfriend. So the only option here is doing injustice to her. Again I have no option.”
She listened in something like shock. Why does life have to be so complicated? Why do relations have to be so complicated? And then, why was he telling all this to her? And why did she confide in him? After all, they were just strangers! Then what was this relation called? She went back to staring at the building lights which were now brushing past fast as the bus had gathered speed. And gradually she dozed off. ****
The small car the five of them sat in was cramped up due their A plus sizes. Sejal was sitting in the back with her mother, younger sister and younger sisters kid, while her uncle sat in the front seat next to the driver. The one hour drive from Kolhapur to Sangli finally came to an end.
“Reena has brought a beautician from Pune” her mom said as they entered the wedding hall. Reena was her mothers sister, her mausi. It was the wedding of her daughter Jagruti. She, along with her mom and sister went to the bride’s room. Jagruti sat in front of the mirror looking stunning in a beautiful pink and orange golden studded lehenga. The room filled with chatter and laughter of Jagruti’s friends. “Seema Mausi! Sejal Didi!Alpa didi! How do I look?” Jagruti cried with joy on seeing them. The beautician was now applying her make up.
“You look gorgeous beta”, her mom said wiping tears of happiness from her eyes. She took off a dot of kajal from her own eyes with her little finger, and applied it behind Jagruti’s ear.
“This will ward off all evil eyes” she said.
Sejal looked at Jagruti and felt nice. Jagruti was very happy and she felt happy for her. Her friends were cracking jokes that made her blush. She was also participating in their platter with fake anger. God, please let her have a happy married life, Sejal thought.
“Where is the groom?” her mom asked Jagruti.
“In the adjacent room”, Jagruti replied, a bit shy. Again a roar of laughter from her friends.
Sejal accompanied her mom to the adjoining room. There too, many guys had gathered. Reena mausi came out of the crowd and took them by their hands.
“Come, I will introduce you to our Mr.Jagruti”.
And then Sejal watched as the groom in an elegant cream sherwani turned around to face them with a big smile on his face…which vanished the instant his eyes met with hers…as he recognized her, his co passenger from the bus two days back…