I was thirteen when my mother passed away. Thereafter the family was left with me, my father, my grandparents, my younger sister and brother. I was the eldest of the three siblings; so many of the responsibilities were for me to take care of. I didn’t know how I would make things up for everyone, as well as me, at the same point of time in such a depressing situation. But I didn’t have an alternate choice. So tried my level best to make the ends meet. I started doing all the household chores and fending for everyone.
One day a lady, who happened to be a long-time acquaintance, visited our place just to see how we all were doing. I thought, it was so kind of her. I was perhaps too innocent to think beyond the gesture and wonder, why someone would suddenly appear out of nowhere to shed tears over our plight! But reality is always bitter. She had come with some other plans. With great empathies on her face she came to me to chat with me. I was delighted, as hardly anyone those days had any time or interest in me. They’d rather expect me to finish the work so that no one is inconvenienced.
“How are you doing?” she asked softly.
“Very well, thank you.” I said. “How about you?”
“Same here dear. It’s so sad to see you in such a situation.” Her voice almost choked.
I tried to put up a bold front. “No aunty, it’s all fine know. I had to do this someday or the other, so there’s no issue now. We have moved on.”
“So true,” she agreed. She started asking me what all I had learnt and how I managed all the work at home, maintaining everyone’s priorities. When she had heard enough, she finally came up clean. “Listen, I was just wondering, how would you spend your life alone? Without the mother, you don’t have a support. It is so hard to spend lifetime alone.” I wondered what she was getting at, when I heard her saying, “So why don’t you marry my son? I would love to have you as my daughter in law!”
I was shocked for a while.
Daughter-in-law! At fifteen? Wasn’t my family there to plan my future? For a second, it also crossed my mind – would they really bother about my future?
To the lady, I just said, “I am sorry aunty. It’s been 2 years now without mom. I am used to this life now. I can’t leave everyone alone here, no matter if I have to spend my life all alone.”
But she still insisted. Very soon she wasn’t suggesting any longer. She was forcing me to say yes. I turned my face away. Something about her behaviour said that this proposal wasn’t as simple. I was literally pissed off by her pestering. Even the temptation of breaking free from the day-long labour was not convincing enough. After all I was being taken, so that I could serve my in-laws with similar diligence. The lady seemed to be over-smart, cunning and powerful. Her personality was dominating over mine and my voice was supressed eventually.
The lady was in no mood to understand. She went to my grandmother and this time her proposal was more formal. God knows what she said to convince them and send me away. The wedding wasn’t a happy one for anyone; it was just a responsibility brushed off the shoulders. I could not say “no” to elders. I knew even if I had said, still no one would listen to me.
That evening after the wedding was over, I looked back once before leaving for me matrimonial home. My eyes fell on my little sister and brother who are just 9 and 5. Weren’t they motherless already that I were to leave my sister with the same fate as mine and run away? In the blankness of her eyes, devoid of all festivities, I saw myself once again, slogging tirelessly over the chores of a house full of people.
*** True Story of Saroj Devi, resident of an old age home in Mumbai
As told to Ritika Jain