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.