Mallika screamed as she woke up. The panic threatened to drown and engulf her. ‘Harry, Harry’ that was all her mind seemed to say. Her body was drenched in sweat, her hair wet and clinging. Desperately Mallika rubbed her eyes ‘Would those images ever go away?’  Harry bleeding, Harry calling for her, Harry dying. ……..

Mallika felt like her energy was draining away. There were just too many things to think about. She had realized too late that moving to India after a major trauma was just not a good idea. She was the Non Resident Indian and every relative wanted to see her, touch her, feel her clothes. It felt unreal to Mallika that people just never left her alone. A major part of the conversation was about her marriage and suitable grooms. The descriptions horrified Mallika.

The woman was always measured by her beauty and the man by his material assets. It didn’t seem to matter if the guy was even half as educated, or half as intelligent, or half as good looking as she was. His worth rose proportionately with his monetary capabilities. Luckily for Mallika, her aunt didn’t entertain any of these proposals.  Her aunt thought that Mallika was too good for the average Indian man and she said so to all the relatives in no uncertain terms. Though this wasn’t the real reason Mallika wasn’t interested, it gave her some respite. Respite from memories that crept in unbidden, memories of Harry…….

She remembered the flash of his teeth as he persuaded her to take the bike trip she knew she shouldn’t be. Harry loved taking risks – to her he was everything she wasn’t – daring, wild and completely disrespectful of rules. For Mallika, living in London meant that she had to take more effort to retain her Indianness. Her father would shake his head and tell her that she should never lose sight of her Indian tradition and culture no matter where she lived.

Growing for Mallika was a set of rules that made no sense, but she had always been instilled with a sense of ‘respect’ for elders which was just another word for a whole lot of responsibilities ranging from obedience, submissiveness and docility. This was why living with Harry had been like living on the edge. Five weeks with him in glorious abandonment – riding, swimming, hitch-hiking – these seemed like simple enough pleasures for an average London girl, but not for Mallika.

Five weeks had passed in a mixture of exhilaration and fear till that fateful day when Harry decided he would do cocaine. He had called her a pussy for being so afraid and that she would never know the pleasure until she tried. That was when she noticed the bleeding from his nose – just like that– bright red blood. At first she didn’t realize it was serious, she went rushing off to get him some toilet paper in the hotel room they were staying at. When she came back a few seconds later, what she saw sent a cold, sliver down her spine – she knew that this was to end fatally. Harry was calling her and trying to reach out to her.

Instinctively she had moved back, like he was a creature from another world trying to take her with him. Her gut instinct was to run away and leave him there, run away to another world that was safe if boring, but run as she could, she knew that this was her real world now. The knowledge sapped her, it seemed to at one moment take away all the security of her past life and push her into a world that she now desperately didn’t want to know – the police, her parents saying ‘no, its not true’ a hundred billion times, her friends incredulous looks.

She had felt like she had let everybody down – all that she had been for the last 20 years made untrue and unreal by the last two months of her life. She knew that she could never be the same girl again, people wouldn’t let her be. Her parents had sent her to India – it felt like a terrible punishment, like she was somehow not good enough to stay with them anymore. At least her aunt had been understanding. She knew that something had happened, but she didn’t push Mallika for the details and she was a formidable barrier to the innumerable relatives.

A week had passed when Mallika received a telephone call. It was her father. His message was short and crisp. A marriage proposal had been fixed for Mallika and the ‘boy’s’ family would come to check her out that evening. Arpith had been married before so they would be less concerned about Mallika’s loss of virginity especially as Mallika’s father was offering a huge dowry (bride money). After Mallika hung up the phone, she walked miserably back to her room. Suddenly she was the fallen daughter – her father sounded like he almost hated her. His message to her was clear – she had to regain some of the family’s dignity by coming back a married woman. Her parents would fly down as soon as the date for the wedding was fixed.

That evening, the weather was hot and humid. It felt like a thick blanket of suffocating heaviness which clung to every room in the house. The air was hot and still. Under her silk sari, Mallika felt like boiled spinach. She was feeling sorry for herself and had abandoned herself to the state of a sacrificial lamb. She would marry the guy, he would probably beat her every night and then when she had killed herself, her parents would be very sorry indeed.

She had to wait inside the bedroom till her aunt called her out. She could hear plenty of discussions and didn’t like most of what she heard. When her aunt called for her, she was supposed to walk demurely into the room with her eyes lowered, but she just couldn’t help looking for the man she would probably be married to in a week’s time. She knew instantly who the groom was – he was a young man but sat flanked by his parents on either side. All of them stared at her, visibly measuring her from top to bottom with the men’s eyes lingering pointedly at her breasts. Muffling an unladylike expletive under her breath she stepped backwards to sit down, but found herself falling instead. Her sari flew over her head and she fumbled trying to grab something to regain balance when she felt an arm around her bare waist  holding her, steadying her.

She gasped and looked into the eyes of a man who seemed to look straight into her soul.

Mallika felt a surge of heat and her body tingled in anticipation. She didn’t want him to let go of her and he seemed pretty unlikely to do so as well. Suddenly there was an angry shuffling and hissing from where her potential suitor Arpith sat.  Her future mother in law was displeased and she made no bones to hide it. Mallika could see her muttering furiously to relatives nearby and she felt a twinge of satisfaction. Now they could reject her and she wouldn’t have to marry that oaf of her son after all.

She glanced at the man who had rescued her in more ways than one, and she felt her breath get sucked in of its own accord. He was incredibly attractive, and the look he gave her made her earlier sensations kick in again. She couldn’t believe her response to the man.

Having declared her unsuitable, the family was making elaborate and noisy arrangements to leave, making no efforts to conceal their unhappiness, when her potential suitor suddenly decided that he liked her after all and wanted to discuss further with his parents. Soon they were huddling in another room and their loud voices carried across the house.

Mallika decided to talk to the man beside her – at least he seemed like an ally. ‘Thank you’ she said. He grinned suddenly ‘ Lets take a walk in the balcony’ he said. He seemed out of place in this setting. She could very well imagine that he was very well read and had traveled a great deal. He looked like an Indian but didn’t seem to come from India. She could detect a hint of an accent but she couldn’t place it.  The balcony wasn’t well lit, and she felt his presence acutely beside her. ‘My name is Daniel’ he said. She felt like her body was on fire, there was something deeply passionate about this man, like they belonged together, they fit together.

At this moment, Mallika felt that was all she ever needed, but a voice of reason began clamouring. She couldn’t afford to be stupid a second time – her father……… This brought some degree of clarity into her head. ‘Please’ she said in a soft voice ‘ help me’. He let her go immediately but was still too close. ‘What is it?’ he murmured. He had a questioning look in his eye. ‘If you really want to marry a complete stranger, then you could just marry me’ he said. Mallika looked at him ‘Was this guy crazy or was she?’ ‘Are you crazy?’ she asked him. ‘Baby’ he responded  ‘ I can’t be more crazy than you wanting to marry a complete mama’s boy like the one you saw below. He and his mother are going to make your life miserable. Me, I don’t spend so much time with my family and I travel. You could travel with me. The funny thing is I think it will work’

Mallika looked at him again. Her life had been like a dream or a nightmare the last few weeks and she had lost all sense of reality. Things that had seemed real like her parents love, her friends, even Harry – suddenly didn’t exist anymore. She had been willing to give her life as a sacrificial lamb to a man who she knew just didn’t work for her, so why not take a chance with this man?  ‘I don’t know anything about you’ she said in a small voice ‘ if you have a disease, or are a murderer or a sadist, why should I trust you? ‘

Daniel threw his head back and laughed. It seemed to come from deep within his throat ‘ Baby’ he said ‘lets not get married right away. Just say no to the family downstairs, and I will court you like a proper Indian man. I came here to do a photo documentary about an Indian wedding, and it appears that the bride has me captured instead. I will take you when you are ready. Just say no for now’. This not surprisingly seemed like a rather pleasant prospect to Mallika.

When she went downstairs, the family looked askance at her – her make up was smudged, her hair disheveled. ‘ I won’t be marrying your son after all’ she said pointedly to Arpith’s mother. ‘He still needs a couple of years to grow into a man’. Then she turned round, tucked her hand into Daniel’s and walked out of the house. Her life had changed, and she had been drowning. Daniel was the proverbial straw, but he felt more like a rock and she knew that she trusted this man to care for her more than any of the other people she was leaving behind in her life………….


One comment

  1. A revolution is carved by its evolution. This articles points to the beginning of the end, where parents, despite cultural norms that are impediments for individual freedoms, will realize the benefit of letting their grown up children make their own choices, especially marital choices. However, women continue to face challenges as their encounters with the ‘Mr. Right’ is more of an accident than self directed choice. The story is perfectly characteristic of an evolving scene, so I am challenged to imagine how Mallika’s life will shape, given that her parents, especially the father have their own expecations of her, the aunt, the largesse of society will still propagate and amplify the stigma and discrimination created on the fateful day of the failed marriage. Very good and mind set shifting article. Well time for any audience as the setting (of this story) is not just about India but different societal cultures in different countries.


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