Journey through Time - From Village to City!

Neha belonged to a family of rich zamindars, the Thakurs, and had to struggle hard to convince all her elders- grandparents, parents, uncles, aunties, neighbors- to let her pursue engineering in Mumbai. Nobody could understand why a girl needed to study at all, let alone leave the village. There were many rich suitors who were being considered for her. Once she got married, the husband would take care to bestow all luxuries on her. This, in short, could be called the life cycle of a girl in her village and she knew, there were thousands like her in other corners of the country.

Breaking the shackles of such thinking pattern was next to impossible had Aruna aunty and Ramesh uncle not convinced and agreed to be her local guardians in Mumbai. They shared cordial relations with the Thakurs and had ancestral house in the village which was looked after by a caretaker on their behalf. They had settled in Mumbai due to Ramesh uncle’s job and their lifestyle had changed for the better in the metropolitan city; the acquired sophistication dazzled their acquaintances back home on every visit. Secretly even Neha’s mother desired the same superior standard of living for her daughter as that would have meant being talked about fondly by the people in the village and she could boast of a daughter better than her sister-in-law’s good-for-nothing son. She had had to bear sarcastic comments from everybody for not having borne a son.  Neha’s success story was to be her trump card for being led out of this maze of everyday taunts.

The day Neha bid farewell to the village when she accompanied Ramesh uncle and aunty back to Mumbai was one over laden with emotions and whispers. Some aunt whispered in her ear after taking her to a corner- ‘city boys are like wolves and try to molest any village girl they see so don’t forget to pin up your dupatta well; beware of all men; bolt the door from inside every time you are alone. Don’t mingle with boys. All are same.’

Her uncle said aloud- ‘don’t disgrace the honour of the family’– hearing which her father’s eyes were filled with tears. Her mother caressed the hair and spoke softly- ‘beti, do you hear what the elders have said just now? Take care of these things. Call us every morning and evening so that we know you are safe’.

Almost the whole village had gathered out of excitement in front of the Thakur mansion.  Neha touched the feet of all the elders and took leave of the youngsters with a heavy and nervous heart.   She had been to the nearest town just once to appear for the engineering entrance examination. Other than that, the village pond was the nearest distance she had covered alone.

Aruna aunty did some shopping for Neha in Mumbai in a bid to attune her with the city. After attending counseling sessions at four colleges, the best out of them was chosen for her and fee paid in full. Soon Neha made some friends in the college and her demeanor began to acquire confidence and grace. Studies were always her strength and even change of place didn’t affect her grades once she began catching up with English terminologies. Four years seemed to pass in a blink and now it was time to take the first assignment being offered by a company for a one year project in USA which meant involving family and relatives once again in the decision making process. Without their permission, she couldn’t have gone. She called up her father who said would consult others and then inform her of the final yes or no. She called up again the next day and the same reply. Finally on the third day, her grandfather and uncles said she could not go as it was time she returned to the village and got married. Neha was frustrated. ‘These people need to come out of their cocoons one day to understand me else I’ll go mad.’ In the evening, she received one more call- it was her mother’s voice on the other end. She said- ‘beti, you go. I will convince these people. Do not let go of what I could never achieve.’ Surely she managed to convince the family in two days as was evident in the calls that followed.

Any international trip involves more than visa formalities and Neha realized it soon. Receiving relatives’ calls discussing the trip was one of the many aspects ‘came to know through so and so that you are leaving for America/ Amreeca/ Amerca. Don’t forget to get creams, shampoos, scents etc etc’.

All said in fondness. If only pockets were as full as the love expressed by the callers during such phone calls! Even Ganga taai and Ramu taau, the in-laws of her aunt’s sister called and asked her to get a mobile set from Amreeca. Ramdeen mama later enquired- ‘do the moongfali  walas fly side by side? How do you reach out to pay from the window and get the eatables inside? Do they also sell spicy chanas or jhaal muri as they do in trains? ’

The first girl in the family to pursue engineering, the first from her generation to leave village proximity and work in Mumbai and the first to get an international assignment and as people back in the village would discuss, the first ever to board an aero plane and fly!

Neha smiled and left for the airport. Her boy friend had come to see her off. Discussion with her family about marriage to a person of her choice would be the most difficult one till date but she was too tired for another round of argument. Thankfully it could be postponed for the time being. Hope makes life worth living and like Scarlett O’ Hara, she muttered- ‘tomorrow is another day.’

She closed her eyes and immediately fell asleep in her window seat quite sure of waking up rejuvenated in another land.

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24 responses »

  1. vimala madon says:

    There are so many simple, yet supportive mothers who have to walk the fine line between encouraging the daughter’s urge to be one with the developing world, and keeping the conservatives in the family from thinking that any form of free thinking means defiance of age-old norms and culture. We have still so far to go in truly emancipating the female sex.

    • Sonal Shree says:

      Yes you are absolutely right. Hats off to such mothers. Its sad that even in the so called developed world, female sex has to fight for her rights.

  2. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Sonal, very simply but strongly etched story. But such instances, surprisingly, are also common in the Metros, in the so-called educated families. I once had a Marwari lady as my co-traveler to office. Her daughter was a brilliant engineering student. But when it came to taking up job in the South (of India), the whole family was in a dilemma how to let a young girl go out of station to work. Even marriage was considered as a quick option to get out of the situation. But ultimately the girl won and stayed a year in Hyderabad before coming back and getting married and all the routine stuff. Quite an achievement for her though!

    Another example is my nephew’s batch mate again a Marwari. Brilliant student of Economics…always a topper! I was surprised when my nephew told me one day that her family was looking for a suitable match to marry her off soon after her post graduation. I was crestfallen.

    However, she is still unmarried and working….

    • Sonal Shree says:

      Yes Geeta, that’s right. Even I had a Marwari friend in college who was a brilliant student but she was married off right after graduation. I was really disaapointed at the news as I expected her to achieve a lot more in life than only a loving husband and two kids
      (of course here I do not mean to say that marriage and family are not important).
      Taking a timely stand for what one believes in is extremely important else there would be always be unfulfilled dreams and regrets when one looks back.

  3. Indrani Talukdar says:

    Girls cocooned and expected to get married; thheir only destiny- forced on them whether or not they want it. There many of us who can identify with your gutsy heroine Sonal. Hats off to her mamma!

    • Sonal Shree says:

      You know Indrani, there is no choice except to be gutsy and take a stand.
      If girls have to and emerge stronger and independent, it becomes a must to break the outdated practices meant ‘exclusively’ for them.
      Thanks for reading and sharing your opinion.

      • Sonal Shree says:

        You know Indrani, there is no choice except to be gutsy and take a stand.
        If girls have to emerge stronger and independent, its a must to break the outdated practices meant ‘exclusively’ for them.
        Thanks for reading and sharing your opinion.

      • Indrani Talukdar says:

        Very well etched characters. Good on ya!

      • Sonal Shree says:

        “Indrani Talukdar
        Very well etched characters. Good on ya!”

        This comment coming from you, the master of characterization, certainly elates and encourages me. 🙂

  4. deepika says:

    Well written story of a common Indian girl.

  5. vimala ramu says:

    Very funny, specially the moongphali walah flying alongside! I can very well imagine the changes brought about in the village backwaters due to the adventurous youngsters’ enterprise.

  6. Shernaz says:

    Thank God for mothers like Neha’s, who can fight for their daughters even though they couldn’t for themselves. You have brought out the gender issue very well. Enjoyed reading.

  7. Beyniaz says:

    Gripping tale, short and sweet.Enjoyed reading this.

  8. Dear Sonal, for a fifteen minute piece this is excellent. It speaks so well and yet so simply about the gender issues in our society, about the hypocrisy that exists amidst us.
    Well written…

  9. Sonal Shree says:

    Hi Sneha.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. Although it’s a fiction yet I am sure many of us can identify with it in some way or the other. You are right when you say that a girl’s life is tied to the people around her.

    While this tie is lovely if its a bit lose and flexible, moment it starts tightening, one feels suffocated.

    Dual standards are a strict no-no. One set of rules for boys and the other for girls even in many so called modern families I know of, still exist.

    At the same time, I am happy that there are some people who bring up their sons and daughters on an equal footing. Their numbers might be miniscule yet the fact that they exist shows ray of hope for the future.

    Speak up to be heard , stand out to be seen – this is the ideal motto in today’s world.

    • Sneha says:

      Yes, Sonal. I’d like to say that I’m a feminist and the golden rule of unlearning love says that major dominations happen in the name of love… !

      • Sonal Shree says:

        This is what I term as ‘pyaar ka atyaachaar’- the major dominations happening in the name of love.

  10. Sneha says:

    Beautifully as you depict it, Sonal…a girl’s life is almost inextricably tied to the people around her. I can quite identify with Neha when she feels all that she does.
    Your story is quite an echo of my mind, though in my case, I’m in a city and still inundated with all the useless formalities.
    Gripping tale!

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