Bent but not broken, she stood looking at the garden from the verandah of her bungalow. Her dimming vision did not allow her to see the untended garden, so she just saw flowers in bloom.
She thanked Him for the flowers!
She would be 100 in a couple of years. She took out one melt in the mouth candy and savoured its taste. Mmmm…! She missed ‘paan’ (betel) but the candies were not bad either. One of her granddaughters had got it from Oman. As she turned to go, the scent of red roses filled her being and took her back to the time when she was a bride of thirteen.
That seemed more like a lifetime ago, in the pre-independence era of India. She was getting married to a prince from a faraway state. The purdah system (married women covered their faces) was a dominant practice at that time but otherwise the women from royal families lead a lavish life. She was fortunate to be the daughter of a Ruling Chief and her marriage was a grand affair.
The royals of different states vied with each other in a show of extravagance at her wedding. Veiled women laden with Banarasi Silk, Velvet and Chiffons and resplendent in gold and diamonds fluttered around. The men had moustaches and long beards and they wore intricately embroidered Sherwanis that made them look noble, chivalrous as well as intimidating.
She had a crimson embroidered veil on her face and she was held by maids in waiting. She didn’t know what was happening as she couldn’t see from under the heavy veil. All she could smell was roses everywhere…on her hair…under her feet…in the garland in her hands. They were perhaps leading her towards the dais where marital rituals were to be performed. She heard that they were filming the wedding – a rarity in those pre-television days. She wanted to peep out of the veil but that would have been improper and scandalous!
She heard people talking that a train full of guests had arrived with the prince. Her father left no stone unturned to give them a spectacular welcome. Folk dances were performed, sword fights were staged, fascinating nautch girls (dancers) from Benares danced Kathak in the ‘janwasa’ and the guests merrily immersed themselves in revelry.
The maids made her sit on a mat and one of them whispered in her ear, “You are lucky princess. The prince is very handsome and perhaps he will take good care of you.” She heard them laughing. The bride was dark, skinny and average looking…little more than a child! She was enjoying the excitement until now. She was ecstatic to be the centre of attention and being fussed over. She had spent the last few months admiring her clothes and jewels but the maids’ words made her anxious.
The full reality of being married dawned upon her. She will have to leave her house, her parents, playmates and embrace a new life. She knew her in laws place was different from hers culturally and socially and the prince was a complete stranger. One day, out of the blue, her parents announced of her impending marriage to an unknown prince from a strange land. Arranged marriages were supposed to be unquestionably accepted in those days.
Moreover, she had thought of it to be some fun event but now it seemed cruel. She was venturing into the unknown and she didn’t know how she would survive in a different place without her loved ones.
The rituals lasted through the night and she slept fitfully between mantras. Whenever her covered head drooped to one side, she would be poked and nudged to wake up. She felt that getting married was a terrible job! She was not liking it anymore.
The following day,the world started treating her differently. The bridegroom and the guests left for the boarding house to change and get ready for farewell. Her status had suddenly elevated, she was a married lady now! She was asked to walk slowly, talk in whispers and wear a veil covering her face. Her mother instructed her for the umpteenth time to behave properly in front of the in laws and not bring shame to the family. She had to be docile, sweet and humble under all circumstances. This forced transformation from a girl to a lady was nerve wrecking.
She had so many questions to ask…but no one was listening to her. She wanted to talk to her siblings but everybody was busy preparing for the ‘vidaai’ (farewell) ceremony. For her, everything was about to change and they expected too much from her! The bride of thirteen felt like crying at the top of her voice. However, there was one thought that made her feel better.
“Well, not everything is going to change,” she muttered. There was ‘one person’ who would not leave her on her own even if the world did. ‘He’ would make sure that everything would be alright. ‘He’ would ensure that her husband, the handsome prince, like and befriend her.
She walked towards the prayer room and picked up the idol of Baby Krishna. He had been her favourite playmate, confidante and sweetheart all this while…she knew that He would make sure everyone else loves her in her new home!
She gently put the smiling Krishna in her gold potli (purse) and smiled broadly. There was nothing to worry, she would not be sad, lonely and miserable anymore. He was with her!
Her daughter-in-law’s voice broke her reverie. She had brought tea for her. It was also time for her favourite TV show. She gave one last look to the roses, smiled fondly and turned to go.
To be continued….
(Loosely based on the life of my grandmother, who will be 100 in a couple of years)
Image courtesy Google