Kitchen: The Permanent Residence Of So Many Women We Know..

Yesterday I came across something in my News feed that infuriated me:

A restaurant named ‘Second wife restaurant’. Quoting from their website:

“Second Wife is one of the fastest growing food tech companies in Bangalore. For great food and good times. Second Wife cooks like your wife and may be better than your wife also. Experience our taste and quality of our food a wide range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies with distinct aroma and flavour achieved by carefully blending a host of spices and condiments.”

Assumption : Sole purpose of a woman is to cook for her husband!!

Men, if you want warm, home-cooked food spend some money and get a cook!! Not a wife.

Women of this generation probably manage to get some help. If not someone who cooks all meals, then maybe some one who helps in chopping, slicing, dough making extra.

But what about the generation of our mothers? How much of their time have they spent in the kitchen?

My mother loves cooking. She is awesome at it too. I have tried to keep cooks unsuccessfully. Sometimes, she doesn’t like their hygiene, or taste, or timing. She stands in the kitchen throughout while the cook works directing her. She says if she is standing in the kitchen, observing and instructing a cook, might as well do it herself!  She also says that the time she spends waiting for her, she can be done by then. Also, even with a cook, most nice things which she would prefer to cook herself!

I on the other hand, can let go completely. Being a lazy person, I can comfortably sit and do nothing, while the cook does her job. As long as she washes her hands, washes vegetables, rice properly I am okay with compromising on the taste. Because in return, I get my time! And it is worth it! I would rather spend that time reading, writing, jogging, gymming, watching Netflix or even doing nothing!

I cook once in six months / three months. When there are guests over. Or when I try out a new recipe from the internet. When I have the time. When I have nothing better to do.  No matter how well I cook, or how great it turns out the maximum that can happen is someone will eat well and say, “Very nice!”

To do it every day, from scratch, for a lifetime is just too much!. Whether you can afford help but you still choose to cook (or even if you don’t have an option) it is something that you do all the time with a  lot of time and effort!! 

I remember having a barbecue party at my cousin’s place in Singapore. We had ordered some continental chicken appetizer. My mother and aunt had mixed their Indian spices along with that chicken and managed to make an awesome biryani out of it on a very short notice!

Once biryani was served, we started eating without even bothering to say that it was good! We, however had not failed to applaud the men who had set up the barbecue! After some time, when my Bhabhi started eating after feeding her kid, she said how nice the biryani  was.  My aunt said “Oh thank God! No one was saying anything I was wondering how it came out. I was looking at Tanu’s face, when she took the first bite..”

Sometimes my mother tries a new recipe, spends an awful lot of time on it and gives it to me in my tiffin I love it. I think of texting her but I forget because I am busy at work. Sometimes even once I reach home I forgot to say anything. Sometimes I remember only when she asks. The amount of effort and time that goes in procuring the supplies, planning, cooking! Oh God! And thankless children don’t even remember to acknowledge!

Men often say things like “Mera bhi credit hai, mutton main laaya, wash kiya etc” or some variation of that. And we find it cute also. Lazy, annual cooks like me get a lot of attention for their one time special recipe!

But the ones who do it, all the time it is really a VERY difficult thing to do on a daily basis, for a lifetime! Nobody will say to you everyday that the roti, chawal, daal, was good.

I know the post started out bashing the expectation that women should cook. But let me end it with gratitude for the ones who do it every day of their life! Thank you, mom, aunts, grand moms, sister, cousins and everyone else who does it! I am sure you are not thanked enough!!





Dear Parents, Your Child’s Divorce Is Not About You

Women’s Web shared this article again yesterday.  You can read it here. I had written it more than two years ago.

This article has been very popular. I receive messages from women who may be going through something similar. Yesterday, also I received a message from a woman who is in a horrible marriage.  Let’s call her Riya. Her husband and in-laws treat her very badly. She is extremely unhappy.

“I am always angry”, she said.

I know what that anger feels like….

To constantly hear ill from someone who you live with and his entire family… When all of them gang up against you. The abuses. The taunts. The disrespect. The humiliation. It is never worth it…

I asked her if she is financially independent. She is. I asked her then what is the problem. She said her parents are not letting her get out. It has been just a year. They believe she should make it work because anyway she will be miserable as a “divorcee”. Plus, everyone has “problems” in their marriage. It reminds me of the movie, Dil Dhadakne Do in which Shefali Chaya’s character tells her daughter, played by Priyanka Chopra , “Todna aasan hai. Nibhana mushkil hai,”. Or something like that. I do not have the patience to go through the movie on Youtube and find the exact dialogue.

Just like Riya, I am also very angry. Every time the conversation of divorce comes up in Riya’s family, her mother emotionally blackmails her by giving example of a lady who had a heart attack because her daughter got divorced. Riya asked me what if something happens to her mother if she takes such a step.

I do not have an answer for her.

Why are her parents behaving like this? Isn’t she going through enough? Is it fair that one of the considerations in this already complicated decision would be her mother’s possible heart attack? No. She is not even a heart patient!!

Riya is earning well. If she separates from her husband, she can afford to live on her own. She will not go back to her parents’ house. She already lives in a different city.  Why is her divorce so much about her parents, and not about her?

Probably because the marriage was also about her parents. We know how most arranged marriages work. The parents (girl’s side mostly) pay for the expenses. The jewelry. The functions. The photographer. The makeup. The grand venue.

I also remember a relative telling me four years ago, “Your parents have more stake in the marriage than you. They are the ones who spent their savings. You are so lucky they are okay to forego all of it because you don’t want to be with that guy anymore. “

I heard variations of this again and again:

Parents spend so much money on the daughter’s wedding. They would not want to lose it.

Second time around also they would have to bear! (if you are lucky to have a second time).

I am not even worried about you. I know you are a strong girl. I am worried about your parents who have to see this in old age.

You are not the victim here. It is your poor parents. They must be going through so much stress! Oh God.

Don’t be so selfish! Can’t you just make it work for your parents’ happiness? Do they not deserve peace in old age?

I don’t know how many of you know about the “Ring Theory”. It is a theory that helps you understand where you stand in a crisis situation and what you should do. Psychologist Susan Silk and her friend Barry Goldman wrote a piece about it.  Quoting,

“If the crisis is happening to you, you are in the center of the ring. If the crisis is not happening to you, you’re in one of the outer circles.

Here are the basic rules from Silk and Goodman’s article:Draw a circle. In this circle, write the name of the person at the center of the crisis.Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In this ring, put the name of the person next closest to the crisis. In each larger ring, put the next closest people. As Silk and Goodman state, “Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones.. Here are the rules: The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, ‘Life is unfair’ and ‘Why me?’ That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring. Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.” 

The concept is ‘comfort in, dump out”. The person in the center is suffering the most. That person can say anything they want. The persons in the outer circle may also be very upset. They can share what they feel. But to people in outer circles.

So, in case of a divorce, the person in the center is the person getting a divorce. The parents would probably be in the very next circle. Followed by siblings, grandparents, bua mausi, chacha, mama, cousins etc. But they are not in the center.  The center is for Riya.

But it does not work that way in India. In the center are parents, grandparents, family, honour,  father’s pride, mother’s dream, grandparents’ last wish, sister’s chances in the marriage market, neighborhood aunty’ s uncomfortable questions. I do not even know where to find Riya in this. Somewhere under the dump. Lost.

Yes. I know. Any parent would not want their child to go through a divorce. Everybody wants their children to be happy. In any part of the world. But sometimes things don’t work out.

I will again come back to the movie ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’, where Ranveer Singh’s character tells his mother that she did not get out knowing about her husband’s philandering ways because she had nowhere to go.  Yes, it is the harsh reality. Earlier, also marriages may have been bad but women had nowhere to go.  So please it is not about our “family values”, or low divorce rate or the fact that so many people adjusted.

I am sorry parents, but your children’s divorce is not about you.  Even if you paid 30 lakhs on the wedding and jewelry, it is not about you. (You should not have done that in the first place).

This is about their life. Your daughter need not suffer every day, be miserable and angry so that the wedding you attend once a year is free from uncomfortable questions. It is not about you. Or about your neighbor who asks, “Where is her husband”. Her marriage is not about you having peace in your old age. It is about the years and decades ahead of her  that she has to live through.

Dear sundries,

You may know of someone who is going through a divorce. Her divorce is not about you. You do not get to be disappointed in her life and then tell her about it. Please don’t tell her how shocked you are to hear about it. And how you cannot sleep at night. .  Remember comfort in, dump out. You should give her strength. You should try to help her. She is dealing with enough. It does not mean your feelings don’t count. Please feel free to tell other people, in outer circles who are not as vested as her.  But she cannot deal with your disappointments, your pain, your shock, and your horror. She has enough on her plate. 

I am sorry Riya. I am sorry you have to go through this. I feel for you. I am also feeling angry.





Would You Choose Passion Over Stability?

I keep hearing the story of an older family friend.

He must be in his 80’s now. He has never been married. As per the legend, he used to be a handsome man in his youth. Romantic. Desirable. Rumour has it that he looked just like like Rajesh Khanna.

He wanted a “love marriage.” Whenever any “ladki walas” came home for a rishta, he would pretend to limp. Or something else.  He was filmy. He was very clear that he would not compromise on his partner.

Years went by. The perfect one never came along. There were some rumours of an alleged brief fling with another lady who also never married.  He remained single.

He is currently in an old age home. His siblings’ children do visit him. His story has been passed on to my generation by parents as an example of what happens when you are too dreamy! You end up alone!

“You marry while you can!” is what elders tell us. Or even older cousins who married someone without falling in love. I do not want to make this post about arranged marriage vs love marriage. I have written enough about it.

Would you marry someone who are not even attracted to, or have a connection with because he can provide you a stable life?

Or would you marry someone with whom you have a spark yet you are unsure of stability in the future?

What if you don’t even have the second option yet. Would you wait? Or would you go ahead with a secured life?

We have not seen the future. Someone who seems stable today may not be so in the future. So what are you left with then?

And if you marry for “love”, then well if the love doesn’t last?

Can chemistry be developed over time?

But should it be so forced? Isn’t it easier when you already have it?

Elders love to say “You should marry someone who likes you. Not someone who you like.” I think only Indian elders say this!! Is it too much to ask that BOTH should like each other?

I remember talking to a friend of mine who is older than me. She is also a practising counselor. One of the girls was complaining that she was being pressurized for an arranged marriage. But she did not find the guys her parents were seeing for her interesting. But the guy she was seeing was not interested in marrying her. My counselor friend said to her, “You are looking for a man who can be a friend, plus you should have chemistry, plus commitment, all in one person!”

“Well, isn’t that what a relationship is supposed to be?” I immediately jumped to her rescue.

Ideally yes. But it may not happen. You have to pick what matters most to you.”

The answer is never so simple. People who have been married will tell you what matters. Or even what is missing.

Just a thought. A random one.







Aziz Ansari Case And Consent in Dates

Who is Aziz Ansari?

For those of you who don’t know Aziz Ansari is an Indian-American actor, comedian and filmmaker. He has won Emmys and a Golden Globe Award recently. A very successful man. A celebrity.

Feminism and #Metoo movement

We all know about the Metoo movement which was long awaited. Women have spoken up about sexual assault and rape all over the world. Most of these perpetrators have been men in power, having a direct influence on them.

What happened?

A woman named Grace (not her real name) went on a date with Ansari. They went back to his apartment. He wanted to have sex. She did not. She gave a detailed account of what happened that night to a website called She alleged that he violated her. You could read the whole story here. The story has received mixed responses. Some believe that she did everything unwillingly. But she did it. He did not force her. Others believe that seeing her discomfort, he should have stopped. You have to read the story to understand what happened. I do not want to paste extracts here as the content is very explicit.

Consent in dates

So much has been said about it already. On every website. I have read articles in the past couple of days on the topic, commented on pages, participated in online discussions that have turned into arguments. I saw a disturbing trend. Women gave an account of situations in which the man did not technically “force” them with physical violence, but nonetheless their meek no was ignored. Their lack of interest was ignored. Their discomfort, reluctance was ignored. They felt pressurized. They did things they were not comfortable with.

It reminds of a statement made by Tisca Chopra (which was criticized).

Unless somebody says ‘no’, and the kind of ‘no’ you say, and the manner in which you say it should convey that it is completely unacceptable to even ask this question,”. A tentative ‘no’, a polite ‘no’, a ‘no’ that means ‘maybe’ and worst of a ‘no’ that means ‘yes.. just push me more and I will relent’..?

Please note that in this article, I am not talking about women getting molested on the streets, or in parties or by completer strangers. I am talking about consent in the context of being with someone on a date.

I read an article where a woman said that she was living with a male friend of hers for a weekend. She was about 22-23. He wanted to have sex. He was a friend for hers. She trusted him. She knew him. She knew he would never force anything. He would never resort to violence. But she got tired of refusing him. It was exhausting. She also added that she could not leave his house because it was freezing cold outside and that she was too young (23?) to book a hotel on her own! So, they ended up doing “something”. Something she hated.


No matter how long you have known the guy (or not known the guy) there will be that date where you  may “do it”. His place. Your place. Trip. Hotel. Friend’s place.

Men are expected to make the first move. That is the social conditioning. Ideally,  it makes a lot of sense to talk about these things in advance. But does it happen that way? Some men are far more sensitive than others. They will understand your cues. They will be patient. Gentle. Your comfort, enjoyment , interest may be their priority. Others may not be so intuitive. Or maybe they don’t even care about your interest. They just want to get laid anyway.  On the extreme of the spectrum are rapists. Who exert physical force and hurt you. Their intention is to hurt you. I am not talking about them. I am talking about men who will not hurt you with physical force. But they still want to do it. And you don’t.  This may involve  begging. Or convincing. Or making a lousy attempt at turning you on.

What do you do?

Now, imagine you are with a man in his place and it is late at night. He is trying to make a move. You are not interested. But at the same time, you feel like you do not have an option to leave. You feel that if you take a cab at this time, you will again jeopardize your safety. Might as well stay with this testosterone driven boy! You may not even be sure if you like what is going on. Maybe you like some of it. But not all. You may be confused yourself. You may also not be very swift in reacting. It would be great if the man went at the same pace as you. But it may not happen. Most of the times.

The “used girls”

I remember another girl who was younger than me by few years. She asked me if it is okay to lose her virginity before marriage. She said she loved her boyfriend. But at the same time, she wanted to remain a virgin until marriage. I had told her it is her choice. I really do not wish to make such decisions for others!

She met me after few days. She said she that was afraid of getting pregnant. So, they did “other stuff”. She did not like it. She regretted it. But it was consensual.

They broke up after few months. She got very depressed. She bombarded him with text messages saying how he “used” her.

I know another woman who had an abortion few months into her relationship. Two years later they were on the verge of breaking up. She told her near and dear ones about what was their “secret” so far. She accused him of ruining her life. The guy ended up marrying her.

I had asked this woman why they had not been safe in the first place. She had said that she wanted to be safe. He didn’t.  In her own words, “He was very good-looking. She is average. She did not want to lose him.”

I hate the term “He used me!” I think women degrade themselves by using such a term. Are you a pair of shoes that you will get “used?”


Grace gave a graphic, detailed account of whatever happened that night. Her identity is being protected. Ansari was humiliated. If any man would give such details of any sexual experience with a woman? We would call him misogynist. Sick.

I read the article 3-4 times. Could he have behaved differently? Of course!! Was it unpleasant? Of course!! Bad date! Bad foreplay! But is it an assault?  Is this the right way to speak up about it – giving details of intimacy on the internet? She  had texted him letting him know how rough he had been. He had apologized.

We need to talk to men. We need to make them more sensitive. We need to tell them they are not entitled to sex.  In any situation.  We also need to talk about affirmative consent.

But we also need to talk to women.

I want to say this loud and clear to women. You do not OWE sex to anyone. You don’t have to feel presurized that you have got yourself in this situation. Now there is no way out. You are not having sex for your neighborhood aunty who will judge you and say, “Haww! Why else did you go to a man’s house alone ! Obviously you put yourself at risk.” You are having sex for yourself. Not liking it enough, hating it, feeling uncomfortable are very good reasons to not do it any further. It is okay to change your mind at any point.

Sexual choices have a very important role in the empowerment of women. Sexual experiences can be good, bad, unpleasant, great. Sometimes they make you feel good. Sometimes okay. Sometimes awkward. Sometimes you regret.

If you start making out and you don’t like it, please stop. Ask him to stop. If he still doesn’t stop, leave. If you are afraid of losing him, and you do it to “keep him”  then accept it. Take up responsibility for your choice. Please do not play a victim later!

One of the core principles of feminism is equality. It also means that women are intelligent human beings with a functioning brain who can make choices for themselves. We do not need to be told what to do.








No, Living With In-Laws Is Not The Law. And I Am Not A Criminal If I Breach It!

Please click on the link above to read the full article on Women’s Web.

I’ve Done My Time…No Thank You, I Don’t Want My Grandchild To Live With Me

I’ve Done My Time…No Thank You, I Don’t Want My Grandchild To Live With Me

Shashikala – The Unknown Feminist

For the past few minutes the doorbell was incorporated as part of my dream. Finally, after it rang for some time, I realized it is not a dream and I need to get up and open the door.

Shashikala walked in.

“Goodmorning Didi.” She said in her usual chirpy voice.

“Hmm.” I replied coldly. She had not come to work the day before. I was giving her the silence treatment.

“Didi, I will make chicken for you today,” she said trying to lure me with my favourite food.

“No need! There is a lot of leftover from yesterday!” I gave a cold reply again.

“Ok Didi!”

The silent treatment did not seem to be working. She either did not understand I was mad or she did not care. I broke my cold war and blurted out:

“Look at all those dirty dishes! I had guests over yesterday! And you just ditched me! I had told you not to take an off for these two days! Your work is the last priority for you. You took an off to look after your friend!! She does not have anyone? You have to disrupt your work to attend to her?”

“No Didi.  She is not my friend.”

“Oh so what neighbor? Stranger! Even better! You come to work only after you have solved all of humanity’s problems.”

“She is his first wife….”

Shashikala was married off when she was about 18. Her husband was abusive. He used to take all her money for alcohol and beat her up.  In the next five years, she had two sons until one fine day he just left.  After a couple of years he showed up again, asking for his children.  Shashikala refused to give them up. He told her he is doing well in life and would be in a better position to support the kids. She said she does not want to live with him.  A compromise was made. The husband took her elder son. She kept the younger one.

A kind aunt of hers thought that it is time she remarried.  The prospective groom was okay with having her son around. So Shashikala agreed. Once the marriage was solemnized, she was in for another shock. This man was already married, something she had no idea about.  The first wife was still living there.  Shashikala left him and came back with her son.

Now, she lives with her younger son. The elder son (who is with his father) is in a hostel and he visits her sometimes. Both the husbands show up at her house once in a while to create some drama!

Her story came flashing back in my mind.

What happened to her!” I asked her. The anger was now replaced with curiosity.

“He came the night before to eat. He said that she has not been keeping well so there is no one to cook for him. You know he is very selfish Didi. He did not even take her to the doctor. She was in pain. So I went there. Took her to the hospital. Got her the medicines. Cleaned her house. And cooked some food.”

“Why do you care so much about her?”

“Unknowingly I did her wrong Didi! I married her husband and hurt her! This is the least I can do.”

I read a lot of articles online. The latest trend is romanticizing cheating. I have seen a lot of reputed publications publish articles on cheating and how it is all about “being in the moment”, “living your life”,  “love and sex are different things”, “it just happens” and other such excuses. When I express my disgust in the comments some cool people respond,“Why are being so judgmental”, “To each to his own”. It seems we have no idea how to be progressive.

Here is a woman who did not exactly have a smooth life. One bad marriage is enough to break a person. She had two! It could have been convenient for her to bitter. But she chose not to. She had self-respect. She did not take back her first husband when he came back. She left the second husband the moment she found out he is already married.

But these things did not change who she is as a person. It did not change the kindness within her. The kindness that made her feel the physical and emotional pain of another woman.

Yes, good women uplift other women. They hold their head high in times of turmoil. They do not let the unhappiness in their lives change their judgment, and conscience.

Shashikala, you are a feminist to me.  You may not get any recognition.  But you have taught me one thing:

We are who we are. No matter what happens in life, there is no excuse to cause someone pain. There is no reason to not live by our principles.


To The Geet Without Aditya Kashyap And the Queen Without The International Vacation – Part IV

This is my fourth article in the series. The first one was very general. The second article was on divorce.  The third article was about getting over a relationship that never quite existed (to the other person). This article is about moving on. No nothing drastic happens here. I will never preach something that is not doable! She will not find Aditya Kashyap or go on an international vacation. Moving on to me is not a decision. Just like falling in love is not a choice. It is a feeling.


Move on!

He has moved on! You should too!

It has been seven months!

Geet had heard this so many times. It was embarrassing. She thought of herself as a strong woman. People around her thought she was strong too.  Anshuman had made her weak. Desperate. Desperate to have him back.

Time is the best healer, they say. How is this true? It is not just the moment he left that is painful, but every day and moment after that. When he is not there. At least the day he had left, she had hope. Hope that they would meet again. She had imagined conversations. Things she would say to him. Things he would say back. They would bump into each other somewhere. This is what happens in movies, right? People always came back. Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

Something else would happen. It could not possibly be the end.

But it was. It was over. It had been seven months. She had not seen him. He never called. He never texted. She never bumped in to him. His going away seemed so permanent now.  It was not just the loss that hurt, but the experience of watching him leave. The memory of him saying that he did not want to be with her anymore.

Geet would look at other couples at restaurants. A guy with his arm around his girlfriend. Anshuman always did that. Whenever they would enter or leave a restaurant he would put his arm around her. He wanted everyone to know she was his.  She used to wear pretty, sexy dresses while she was with him. But the moment they would leave to reach the car parking, he would say, ‘Wear your jacket’. ‘It is called shrug, not jacket!’ She would tell him. ‘Put on your shawl’. ‘It is called stole!’ She would say. ‘You are against women’s freedom!’ She would say. ‘You feminists, have no common sense also, this is the road not the pub!’ He would say. But it was a lie. She loved how protective he was of her.

Now there was no one to hold her. No one to  hug her. No one to bring a smile to her face. She would stare blankly at those couples. Was she ever like them? It seemed like a past life in which she and Anshuman were together.Every morning, she woke up with the feeling. The same feeling. The awareness that Anshuman was not there. Where was Anshuman?

Geet was trying her best to distract herself.  Every Saturday she would leave for Starbucks. Morning to evening she would sit there with her laptop. She could not bear to be with herself at home. Evenings she would spend with her friends. Geet was a pretty girl. She got attention from men. It felt good. She felt like she had options. I can find another man easily, she would tell herself. She did go out with a few. The dates were okay. She tried to smile. Have a good conversation. But on her way back home, she would cry.  This happened all the time. She would go out, meet people, but the moment she was alone with her thoughts she would cry her heart out. She had stopped taking care of herself. She had stopped going to the parlour. When was the last time she got her eye brows done? When was the last time she went to gym?

She met one of her friends for dinner. She was telling her friend how every night she tortured herself with the thoughts of her last few days with Anshuman. She kept replaying those events again. Blaming herself. She should have said something else. She should have done something else. He would have still been here…

You need to love yourself, Geet. Be kind to yourself. Every night instead of thinking about Anshuman think about yourself. Just say these words to yourself, – I am such a kind human being. I am beautiful inside out. I am intelligent. I deserve the best things in the world.”

“That’s crazy! Who says that! I don’t even believe that!”

“Just try it! Instead of thinking about your times with Anshuman, or what could have happened”

Geet went to bed that night. Invariably her mind drifted to Anshuman.

“I am beautiful and kind. I deserve the best.” She forcefully said to herself. She continued to do this for another three days. It did not help. Anshuman was still the first thought of the morning and the last thought at night.

A week later, Geet went to watch a play. She had asked her friends to join but none of them were available. So, she went alone. The play was a lot of fun. She laughed. She enjoyed.  After the play, she met the actors back stage. She told them she wanted to write an article on their journey. They were happy to be interviewed. They were all getting together for a party. They asked her to join. She did not know anyone. Should she go? She was so modestly dressed! They were all looking so glamourous! She decided to go.

She spent the next two hours with them. They talked. Geet was a very reserved person. Socializing was a lot of effort for her. But someone she gelled well with them. They all seemed impressed with her, and genuinely liked her company. They would be performing in Mumbai next month. They asked her to come. She said she had work, but she might. They exchanged numbers and said goodbye.

That day, as Geet was in the cab back home, something happened. She was smiling. She was thinking about how she spoke to these new people who belonged to a completely different profession. She was so confident. She was charming. She looked at her pictures. She was looking good. Her kohled eyes, her curly hair resting on her shoulders. She felt beautiful again.  She felt confident again. She felt charming again. It was the feeling of falling in love. Where someone seems so wonderful. So unbelievably amazing. So very perfect. Magnify their qualities. Ignore their flaws. The feeling of being lucky to have found them… Except that there was no man. It was Geet feeling lucky to be herself.

You are so kind and amazing. You deserve the best things in life. The thought came to her mind. This time naturally. Without any effort.

Something changed that day. Geet did not want to cry anymore. She wanted to be happy. She wanted to be happy in the present. Not in some distant memory. Not in some uncertain future. But today.

Anshuman was not gone completely. He used to come back in her thoughts every now and then. But he did not make her cry anymore. He was not the first thing on her mind when she woke up. He was not the last thing on her mind when she went to sleep.

Whenever he would come up in her thoughts, she accepted that she had not forgotten him.

But she chooses herself over him. Anshuman was important to her. But her life is much more. She is so much more. He was just a character in her story. Yes, it was the end. Of a chapter. Not her story.

She is the story.

The Arranged Love Marriage

“Madam, I have draped the sari like mermaid! It is giving you very young and slim look!” The beautician bent down to fix Bittu Kumari’s sari pleats, pleased with her work.

“I am young! I am 26!” Bittu Kumari frowned.

“Oh! I thought you must be in 30’s! Was wondering why you are still bachelor!”

“I am not! A bachelor is a man who is not…”

“Bittu, you are still not ready! The boy’s family has arrived!” Bittu Kumari’s mother stormed into the room. She looked at her daughter from head to toe. “Shabnam, I had asked you to make her look thin!” she said disappointed.

“Aunty Ji, I have given her slim look only! This is mermaid style sari! My world-famous style in Saharanpur! She is little healthy no, what can I do!”

“Leave it! No time now!”

Bittu Kumari was dragged to the living room.  A lean, dark, young man, his mother, father and possibly his brother who looked like a rounder replica of him were seated on the three-seater sofa.  Opposite to them, were Bittu Kumari’s father – Mr. Mishra, and his teenaged son, Sonuraj. Mrs. Mishra’s sister and husband had also been invited for moral support. Bittu Kumari sat next to her brother.

“Mr. Pandey, this is my daughter, Bittu Kumari! She has completed M.A. in English literature.  She teaches English in St. Mary’s high school! Convent! And herself educated in English medium convent! Throughout topper!” added the proud father.

“That is great!” said Mr. Pandey with an approving nod. “Lallan also wanted to do B.Com. But after Matric he joined my business. He completed PUC through correspondence.”

Sonuraj giggled. Bittu Kumari was horrified. She looked up to confirm if she had heard correctly. Her eyes met Lallan’s. Lallan smiled at her, beaming.

“All that is okay! Doesn’t matter!” Mrs. Pandey seemed to have read Bittu Kumari’s thoughts. “For a boy, what matters is how well he is earning. Our business is flourishing. Lallan is handling it single-handedly now! And what matters for a girl is how she looks!” She paused, giving a sharp stare at Bittu Kumari’s bulging stomach which Shabnam’s Rs 1500 mermaid style draping could not hide. “My elder daughter-in-law Chhaya is so pretty! Even after having two daughters, she has maintained herself like a stick!”

Bittu Kumari raised her head again to look at Lallan’s brother’s paunch, trying to imagine him with his stick-like wife.

What does Chaaya do?” asked Mr. Mishra, visibly annoyed.

She is a housewife!” Mr. Pandey stepped in. “We wanted a working girl for Lallan. Actually, we wanted a housewife. But Lallan wanted a working girl.”

Lallan blushed.

“Working, not working is not main criteria! We want a fair, slim, beautiful girl.” Mrs. Pandey clarified. “Your daughter is very healthy. At this age, she is healthy! After a child, she will bloat even more!”

Mrs. Mishra shifted in her chair uncomfortably. Her fear came true. This was the fifth time the boy’ side had rejected her daughter for being “healthy”.  This time, Bittu Kumari did not look up. The words seemed to have pierced through her heart and created a hole. How is it possible that for all these years, she had heard it all – healthy, fat, moti, bhais, elephant, yet it hurt her each time? Shouldn’t she be immuned by now?

“Mrs. Pandey, I think you should let Lallan and Bittu Kumari talk once. They are the ones who have to get married! Let them decide.”

“We would have let them talk, Mr. Mishra. We are very modern. That is why we got Lallan. He was keen on your daughter’s profile. But… sorry to say your daughter looks nothing like her pictures. You must have edited them and sent to us. She seems 20 kg more than we had expected!”

Mr. Mishra looked at his wife accusingly. She had gone to the biggest studio in town to get her daughter’s pictures photoshopped. What was she supposed to do?  Those who saw Bittu Kumari’s real pictures rejected her even before meeting her. She had to give her daughter a fair chance!

“If she was slightly healthy also, we would have tried to adjust. But she is obese! Young girls exercise! She is probably lazy too! Or maybe she has some illness. And moreover, daughter-in-law’s beauty determines the looks of the children also. If we get an obese daughter-in-law, she will give birth to obese daughters, and then we will have to worry about their marriage also!”

“Ek minute Aunty, you have gone too far!” Bittu Kumari finally spoke up.  “Who said I wanted to marry your son!”

“What! Then why did you all call us!” Mrs. Pandey frowned.

“We were deceived too! We thought your son had completed B-Com. But now we know he never went to college. I did not know I was signing up for a college dropout! Just like you did not know you were signing up for a fat daughter-in-law. But you know what Aunty, fat women make completely decent homemakers. Look at you!”

“Such a shameless girl! Doesn’t know how to talk to elders! And I am fat now! When I was your age, I looked just like Hema Malini! Come Lallan, let us go.” Mrs. Pandey got up, grabbing her son’s hand. Her elder son and husband also got up almost in a reflex. “We don’t need a fat and proudy girl.”

“It is proud Aunty, not proudy!”

Lallan looked at Bittu Kumari. He paused. He wanted to say something. But his mother pulled him away.

And just like that, the entire Pandey family was gone. Mr. Mishra put his hand on her daughter’s head and smiled. “Bittu beta, we don’t need them! You are a diamond. These people don’t know your worth.” Mrs. Mishra went back to the bedroom to pay Shabnam who was locked up in the bedroom, waiting for the boy’s side to leave. Mrs. Mishra’s sister and brother-in-law left rather unceremoniously. Everything went back to normal.

Two days later, Bittu Kumari received a text message.

‘Hi Bittu Ji. I am sorry for finding your number. Got it from the school.  I am sorry for the way my mother talked to you. I know how you must have felt. Four girls have rejected me because I am dark! One was educated and English-speaking, and did not want someone like me. I know my profile says that I have done If talks would have progressed, I would have told you the truth. My brother had edited my profile so that people at least express interest. I may not be that educated, but I do manage to run my business well. I may not be good-looking, but if you give me a chance I will take care of you. I know what it is like when people judge you without getting to know you. I really liked you. Would like to be friends with you, if it is okay with you.”

Bittu Kumari was shocked. No man had ever showed such interest in her. Without telling their parents, Bittu Kumari and Lallan started chatting. Bittu Kumari realized that Lallan was no different from her. He was also looking for a decent partner, while struggling with his own insecurities, and cruel judgment of random people. He was running a growing business, with hard-work and sincerity. He was not as stupid as she had expected. Rather, he was quite intuitive and witty. He was also very sensitive and mature. She grew quite fond of him.

Bittu Rani and Lallan have decided to get married. Mr. Mishra is insisting that Lallan completes B.Com from distant learning. Mrs. Pandey has agreed provided Bittu Kumari loses 10 kgs. Mr. Pandey is happy for the children. Sonuraj is preparing a solo dance performance for the wedding.

Mrs. Mishra is grateful. To Shabnam. And to the photographer.

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