By A.K. Matai
It all seemed unreal to me. I felt like it was an ordinary day not the day that I was about to get married.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t seen it coming. Yet I had done nothing. I felt queasy just thinking about it. He was a ghoul. Could they even trust him? After all, they had found him through the advertisement in the local newspaper. I felt like Gandhari before she wed Dhritarashtra or Tulsi from Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
I knew he was marrying me for the money, the dowry. My only purpose in life, to be a good patni and beti. I tasted bitterness in my mouth. I was only as good as my dowry and I would follow it when it left.
My mother yelled, “Come down daughter. Stop sulking. Your father and I have made the right decision for you. You may be ungrateful now, but twenty years from now, you will be thanking us.”
Her words threw oil to my flaming fury. I wanted to yell back, “How did you know that you had made the right decision for me? You don’t even know me.”
But I could only utter the obedient words, “Yes Mother”.
“Hurry up! You are my kanyadaan. I don’t want you to be late.”
“Kanyadaan” I whispered, the word tasted bitter in my mouth. My fury was snuffed out by that horrendous word, leaving a sense of helplessness.
I was their kanyadaan, just like my sisters before me. I had seen them fall, one by one. Now it was my turn. I walked down the stairs slowly, to my impending doom. My sari, which my mother had chosen, was heavy with its beads, mirrors, and embroidery. I looked down at my quivering hands and the mehnidi that covered them. What had seemed pretty a moment ago suddenly became ugly. I looked away, no longer being able to look at the mehnidi on my hands and my feet.
Thump, Thump, Thump. The rhythm of my feet melded with the drums playing. Everyone one was here, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends, and strangers that has sneaked into the celebration for the vast quantities of food that lined the tables. They all looked at me with their shinning faces, happy that I was about to get married to a man I loathed.
I wanted to gather my sari and run far and fast from all those judgemental eyes, eyes that would condemn me for even the thought of running away.
Finally I reached the bottom of the stairs. My cousins, in their colourful dresses chosen by their parents, greeted me and began to throw flowers as I walked towards my future husband. I remember how much I enjoyed throwing those flowers as my sisters walked towards the agni. All I felt today was nothing.
He stood there, with his slick and oily hair and his sly smile. I was a mere Kathputli, walking towards him. I could feel my parent’s eyes on me, forcing me to walk further.
Once I reached the agni, the real ceremony began. The pundit tied the end of my sari to the end of his kurta tying us together. Then I listened to the pundit drone on and on about what marriage was suppose to be. At that moment I decided that if I wanted to run, now would be the time. I could run before it was too late, before I was trapped in an unhappy marriage with a man who viewed me as a mere possession. My legs were as heavy as lead. I started to get up, when I caught my mother’s eye. Her narrow cold black eyes glinted with retribution.
Whatever little courage I had, disappeared the moment I looked into those hardened eyes. Those eyes would haunt me forever, watching me, making sure that I would behave like the perfect wife and mother.
Those unforgiving eyes, brought clarity to my clouded thoughts. No one had physically forced me to marry this repulsive just as no one had forced me to listen to the Mahabharata. Yet I had done those things without question, without thought. I began to cry. The crowd thought I was crying with happiness. I though back to what my mother had said before. I knew in that moment that in twenty years, I would not be grateful. I would hate myself for being a coward.
The thought forced me to stand before the saat phere began, enticing astonished cries from the crowd. I knew I had to do it. I knew it.
And so I did. I took a step forward, stepping right into the agni.