It was a hot afternoon in April, preparations were in full swing for the celebration of the birth of the first grandson in the Chaudhary family in a small village in Rajasthan. 20-year-old Priya was helping her sister-in-law Aarthi getting the new-born and his three-year-old sister ready. It was a grand celebration with many friends and family members invited. Raja Chaudhary, the head of the family and the Sarpanch of the village was a proud man, who was happy that he had an heir to the family finally.
The village was a patriarchal village with most of the girls only studying till the 10th standard as they were married off early. Though their village was well developed with a university, hospital, and court, the villagers still followed the age-old beliefs and practices of female foeticide, purdah system and restricting women to only household chores, blocking their freedom to decide or plan for a career.
Raja Chaudhary’s wife and Aarthi, his daughter-in-law too covered their head in the presence of the males of the family. Though Aarthi was a graduate, she couldn’t even dream of a career, except for doing the housework and looking after the needs of her family. Priya was in her final semester of graduation and had big aspirations of going abroad for post-graduation after her exams in a couple of months. But her father had different plans for her and was planning a marriage proposal for her which would also benefit him in his political interests.
It was Saturday evening, Priya was busy writing some notes when her father came in and told her that his friend and his family were coming for dinner, and that Priya should dress up carefully as he wanted her to meet them and their son, Aditya with whom he was planning to get her married.
‘But Papa, I want to study further. In fact, I have already applied for my masters in Spain’, said Priya, pleading.
‘Your marriage is already fixed Priya, today's dinner is only a formality. You better be in your best behaviour, and forget about studying further’, said her father with an ultimatum in his voice.
Priya was angry and was desperate to do something. She went in search of her mother and told her and Aarthi what her father said.
‘It is the same with every girl of your age beta, we can’t do anything. Just listen to your papa’, said her mother, busy with the preparations for dinner.
Priya looked at Aarthi helplessly; Aarthi took her aside and whispered to her, ‘Wait till your exams are done Priya, you can decide about it later’.
Priya went back to her room with tears in her eyes, thinking of the injustice being done with her when compared to her brother Aayush, who had been sent abroad to complete his MBA. She cried herself to sleep and woke up only when her mother came to inform that the guests were here and she should freshen up.
Priya reluctantly got ready and went down, her father took her hand and introduced her to the Jaiswal family and their son Aditya. He told Priya to show Aditya around their home.
Aditya seemed besotted by Priya, just standing there and staring at her with an impish smile. Priya took him inside and showed him around. They both sat outside in the garden.
‘I like you very much Priya. I assist my father and brother in running the family business. You don’t have to do any work. We have many servants who will pamper you and you can stay at home, manage the servants and their daily work’, said Aditya, as though he was doing her a favour.
They spoke for a while and went inside. After dinner Priya’s father and Aditya’s father decided to wait till Priya completed her exams to fix a date for the wedding.
Days passed quickly. Priya worked hard and finished her exams. Now that her exams were over, she feared that her father would bring up the topic of marriage again. Priya already secured admissions in a couple of universities in Spain and London. She made up her mind that she will not bend to the will of her father. She did her research and planned to join the London University, she took all her jewellery and converted them to cash. She applied for her passport and got it within a week. In the mean while her results are out and Priya was ecstatic as she had passed in flying colours, topping her class.
So far everything was going according to her plan. Luckily nobody at home doubted her intentions. With the help of her friends, she was planning all the details. Fortunately one of her friend's brother was working in London, who was helping her with everything. She had her visa appointment at Jaipur the next day. She told her parents that she was going to her friend's place to spend a couple of days. Her father agreed, thinking that it would be her last outing before marriage.
It was her favourite professors class. Priya was listening in rapt attention about the Global Environmental Disasters. After the class she walked out to go to her music class. She heard someone call out her name. She turned to find Cassidi, her roommate, holding out a letter to her. She took it and after seeing the return address, she quickly walked into the library and sat in a quiet corner. She opened the letter from her father.
The letter took her thoughts back to the day she left home for Jaipur, how she had packed everything and left, she was granted the visa and she booked her ticket to London. Her friends had come to see her off at the airport.
Since that day she had never contacted her family members, nor had they called or written to her, except for this letter six months later. Her father mentioned that after she left he had realised his mistake, he should have let her continue her studies and not proposed for her marriage. He mentioned that everyone at home was good and that Priya should concentrate on her studies and make them all proud. Priya was overjoyed reading the letter, her eyes shimmering with tears of happiness.
‘Oh Papa I love you’, she said silently, glad that she had the strength and desire to take such a daring step which would later set an example to many young women of that small village.
Author : Kavitha Yarlagadda
Kavitha is a Writer by passion and a Civil Engineer, by profession, she is an avid reader and a passionate writer who finds solace in writing poetry, fiction and non-fiction, a published ebook author of a collection of poems “Profound Thoughts’, She is a contributing writer on Women’s Web, and her poems and essays are also published on online portals. She is also a passionate environmentalist apart from being an occasional runner, writing and reading bring out the best in her, and writing is like a stress buster to her which keeps her calm and sane.