“So, you have decided to get married to Abhi Deshpande.”
Pragati did not bother to answer her roommate Runa’s query. She behaved as if she did not listen to what she was saying. In a tiny Delhi apartment, Runa and Pragati were struggling hard to beat the choking heat of 41° Celsius. Runa was putting some ice in the cooler whereas Pragati was busy surfing the net in her 4G android gifted by her new boyfriend; her expression was a mix of happiness and confusion, and probably she got mails from him who lives in Sydney, a computer engineer. Pragati got him through a matrimonial site. Abhi is an NRI, a non-resident Indian.
Runa is a matured girl in her mid-thirties, a self-made one working in an MNC as a content writer. She is happy with the job that earns a good salary, that could let her buy good food, good clothes and even she can manage to send some money to her brother who is pursuing engineering in NIT, Silchar. A daughter of a sailor, Runa had seen the bitter side of relationship more than her roommate Pragati who is a hard worker too but a die-hard for marriage as she thought marriage is the right and only settlement for a girl. This clinging to marriage comes from her life, mainly the impoverished period spanning from childhood to teenage that left her destitute not for money but for love and care.
Pragati went to the little kitchen to prepare dinner; being a foodie she loves to explore cuisine but could not jog along. Today she has brought spinach and paneer to prepare her favourite palak paneer. She wanted the grinding machine to grind the spinach but could not find it anywhere in the kitchen. Shouting at the top of her voice she tried to draw the attention of Runa lying on her bed absorbed in a recent best seller by Sidney Sheldon. Runa became annoyed with the clamour and said angrily, “You always interrupt my reading and work. So selfish you are! Give up your mad thoughts of marrying an NRI and take the work seriously.”
Pragati, a girl who lost temper easily, a girl who left her job as a guest relation executive in a top most hospital of the city, now totally dependent on her roommate for food, it becomes a habit for her to change the job frequently on various allegations -dominating boss, unfriendly co-workers, low salary, unhealthy work environment. The list was long.
Pragati said, “You are jealous of my NRI friend because you cannot get such a good one as you are skinny and ugly.” She continued, “You do not know, everyone cannot work in a foreign country. It requires good education and hard work.”
Runa did not answer and kept busy with her reading. Only murmured. A silly girl.
Runa knew much about the NRI marriages, some are successful and some are bitter, and she never carried such a wild dream of marrying an NRI. Few months back Pragati had a break up with her boyfriend Raktim, the first relation that she nurtured after completing her 12th class in the boarding school in Assam. Complaining he cannot adjust in a metro city like Delhi with his broken English, his poor dressing sense, his unprofessional attitude, his unsophisticated table manners, etc, Pragati tore it forever.
In the name of being an Assamese Pragati only likes mekhala sadar and some Assamese cuisine. She thought an NRI must be modern enough and never admires the orthodox rules and customs of the society. Her head is full of modernity which means to her-smart dressing, smart look and smart English.
One day Runa said to Pragati, “Will Abhi’s family accept you? They are Brahmin. I know they seem very orthodox.”
“Huh, an NRI he is. Caste does not matter. Beauty and smartness only do matter.”
Pragati was busy in her preparation to meet her NRI boyfriend, had cut off her long hair and dried it in a new AC salon, bought some fashionable clothes, had a facial clean-up, and so on. Instead of Runa’s protest she made up her mind to meet him very soon. The day arrived, on the first sight at Delhi airport she lost her spirit as Abhi was not as tall as she thought. Abhi’s eyes lit up with a happy smile as Pragati is more beautiful than she looked in the photographs.
In the café chatting about their likes and dislikes, he asked, “Have you told your parents about me? If they agree, we will tie the knot very soon.”
Pragati was puzzled with various thoughts. Would Abhi love her more than Raktim, would he take her to Sydney soon? Composing her thoughts she said, “I am self-dependent. Parents! Oh, they abandoned me.”
Abhi said, “We have so many things in common. I’ll talk to my parents and finalise the date of marriage very soon. I’ve only 25 days in my hand.”
“Give me one or two days to decide.” Pragati said, unfolding her soft, manicured beautiful hands to Abhi.
Pragati’s mother had died immediately after her birth and she was raised by a caretaker and later she took her education in a boarding school. Her father married again and seldom did visit her after his second marriage. He sent only money orders in time. One of her paternal aunts only provided her shelter during her holidays. Her step mother never allowed her to visit her home after her puberty. After graduation she came to this beautiful city Delhi that provides shelter to millions who are homeless and who are harbouring a dream of a new house and now she has passed seven years in the city honing her skills in medical tourism. Hardly had she got phone calls from her father. She never bothered for it. Now all are distant memories of her.
After their marriage rituals in a temple in Delhi, Abhi took Pragati to Hooghly. The Hooghly town seemed like an ancient city for Pragati. The house of her husband looked like a centuries-old abandoned building. In the name of her belongings she carries only a suitcase after her college days, she never wears the same clothes for six months, donates to needy people after wearing them for a few months. She is always in vogue, has no habit of carrying and keeping old things. Old means dirty to her. After marriage she gets one bag more, a fashionable American Tourister gifted by Runa. At her in-laws house in the dark room flooded with antique things Pragati searched for a good place in the shelf to put the new VIP which houses her valuables like her board exams certificates and other important documents including the marriage certificate in which her new name Pragati Abhi Deshpande is imprinted. Within two days she feels she penetrates into darkness, in a new world unknown to her. Marriage now puts a heavy baggage on her thin shoulder that she had to carry.
Till one week she ate a purely vegetarian diet in her in-laws house. After that her mother-in-law warned her, “Your parents did not teach you anything? Did they? You sleep till 8 am.” She continued, “You cannot eat in our same kitchen because you are a non-vegetarian.”
Her mother-in-law arranged a separate kitchen for her in an abandoned room. She did not complain. At least she got the freedom to continue her idle preparation for making a dish of noodles or rice porridge. Her husband left for Sydney after 15 days promising his return after three months to take her finally to Sydney. Three months seemed thirty years for her, counting the days everyday she waited for her NRI husband wearing vermilion on her forehead that looks like red ripen seeds of a bitter gourd and bangles up to her elbow, who earlier wore just a single fashionable bangle on her right hand only from the most fashionable jewellery designer of the market.
After two months, Runa got a phone call from Pragati, “I am coming to Delhi tomorrow. Abhi left for Sydney and it will take another six months to complete the visa formalities. I am getting bored here, my in-laws do not even eat garlic and onion.” She disconnected the phone without expecting a reply from her. Runa sighed, at the least Pragati could stay two months there. The girl who could not eat a vegetarian diet for two days, the girl who could not strict in her room for more than 12 hours, and the girl who could not wear a saree for two hours at a time is now a daughter-in-law in an orthodox Brahmin family wedded to rules and customs.
Days passed. Pragati quarrelled with her NRI husband each day over phone. He has been postponing his visit to take her finally to Sydney. She joined a new job in Delhi, waiting for him for the last one and half years, wandering in the city on each weekend, sometimes talking to her ex-boyfriend, wanted to take off her bangles that she wore on the day of suhag. She thought in the name of visa Abhi is cheating her.
Finally Abhi came to take her to her dream city. Pragati was overjoyed though she had to go to Sydney on a dependent visa. Enchanted by the unique flavours of Sydney she roamed around the city. She explored each nook and corner of the city within six months, had dined at some of the famous restaurants, tried surfing on some of the aggressive waters of Sydney beaches, and when she visited the spots of natural beauty-the distant memories of her boarding school of Assam located beside a hill pained her. She carried echoes of both joys and sorrows of her school life. Friendless and awkward she was. Now an illusion of married life shadowed her, she felt she is the happiest soul on the earth and she said, “Abhi, you are the right person for me. I quarrel with you in vain.” As Abhi did not reply it hurts Pragati.
Days passed. Pragati feels some spaces of Abhi are still private that she cannot conquer. She was confused when Abhi went for a sudden business tour, when he was busy on his cell phone for hours and hours. When she was alone in the tiny flat, she spent time lying on her bed and opening the half curtained window to let in the cool breeze to soothe her body. A deep agony more intense than her prolonged loneliness made her thin body more fragile. She lost interest in everything – eating, dressing, and travelling. Unaccustomed to Abhi’s behaviour, Pragati feels lonelier day by day. One night complaining about the foul smell of food, Abhi behaved madly and hurt her physically. He pushed her with an anger, a human anger that she has never seen with her naked eye, the anger that was more terrible than that of her step mother, once who tossed and dragged her like a puppet to the bathroom when she attained puberty. In the Italian mirror hung opposite her bed she saw herself with the bruises and torn night gown. The bruises seemed to mock her cherished dream of a happy married life that she had woven throughout her youth. The colourful glass through which she tried to see a life of happiness and prosperity has shattered. Like a snail she tried to hide herself in a shell in the far-off land.