The mother of my mother had smooth, dark skin and an MA degree in History – a combination too dangerous for a woman of her times. It made her nearly impossible to qualify as a “suitable bride” by the Indian standards. So when a young, fair, handsome accountant refused to see other prospective brides after talking to her for an hour, his relatives were shocked.
“Who, I say, who marries an educated girl?”
“She did her masters because no decent man agreed to marry her. Did you not see how dark she is?”
“She might as well be older than you.”
“Don’t be a fool. An educated woman will keep you in her tight leash. You will have no say in the matters of the family.”
The accountant, who had recently graduated and managed a low paying job at a British firm in Kolkata, was stubborn enough to not get swayed. But he was too sweet to hurt his relatives.
“Her handwriting is like pearls. She can make nimki fries with tea. She braids her long hair in less than a minute. It is as if she has magic in her fingers,” he beamed like a wide-eyed child, eager for an adventure.
When their marital adventure began, his young bride stunned him with her magical prowess. On one hand she broke the badminton record at the local women’s club; on the other she knit woollen socks and mufflers for soldiers at war. She also managed a permanent position as a lecturer at the University. The more he admired her skills, the clumsier he became. He could not pour himself a glass of water without spilling a little outside. But he was sweet and sensitive in a world of abusive and hateful husbands. So his young bride could not help but love him back.
The mother of my father had flawless, fair skin, lustrous, wavy hair and no formal education – a combination, too good to be true. It instantly made her qualify as a desired bride in the erstwhile Indian society.
So when she played hopscotch with her friends by the river under the winter sun, a local police inspector watched her from behind the bushes. He could not keep his eyes off her glowing skin. He went by the river every other day, till his desire became unbearable. That night he came back home and told his parents that he had chosen a bride for himself.
“Good that she did not go to college.”
“Yes, her skin glows. She is radiant.”
“She doesn’t talk back much. Her parents have taught her well”
“We are glad that she is so much younger than you. You can keep her under your leash.”
“Good choice, son. She is the perfect bride for our family.”
The Police inspector, beaming with confidence after his family’s reassurances wasted no time in finishing the nuptials. He was smitten by his coy, beautiful, young bride and could not wait to touch the depths of her glistening skin.
The young bride slightly confused and by all means inexperienced failed to do her duties of a wife. She hated cooking, so she made the same old fish curry with turmeric and onion seeds every day. Her husband’s lunch, usually a combination of four rotis and jaggery sometimes had mango pickles to add variety. She often forgot to put sugar in his tea. She fiddled with embroidery for a minute or two only to get distracted by the radio show. The only things that held her interest were rumours and gossips that wrecked the neighbourhood. She knew exactly who had run away with the local Muslim boy. She knew exactly when a strange man would enter the neighbouring widow’s house.
Her husband, away for most of the day, returned only to devour his young bride at night. Little did he know that she was bored of her endless pregnancies. Little did he know that she took Ayurvedic contraceptives, secretly.
But one could not say that she did not love the police inspector back. When he met with an untimely and unfortunate death, she shaved her lustrous wave of hair and sported a clean head for a year, much to the shock of her children and relatives.
“I am his wife. That is my way of paying respects,” she argued
I was a fat, moody girl of four when my grandmothers met at my parents’ house. They hit off instantly, sharing cups of tea, bowls of nimki and family gossips. But nothing delighted them more than my four-year-old self refusing apple juice because it wasn’t “time” yet.
“But can you even tell what time it is by looking at the clock?” the mother of my mother asked.
I shook my head.
“Then how do you know what time it is?” the mother of my father chimed in.
Mostly with gestures and the few words that I had learned, I explained that I keenly observed the sun’s rays falling on the verandah. I knew it was time to drink my apple juice when the sun’s rays left the verandah completely.
I remember the two mothers exchanging slight smiles and knowing glances that perhaps said, “The child makes her own rules, a lot like us.”
Prerna Chatterjee is a full-time editor at a publishing house and a part-time freelance writer based in India. When not reading or editing, she can cook up fiction, fairytales or fudge brownies.
Twitter handle: @PrernaChatterji