The festival of colours, Holi was nearing. Ajita and Abhinav were very fond of this festival. Ajita loved to prepare various foodstuffs for the festival much in advance. She made a variety of snacks and sweets. Abhinav’s only support was to be with her at every step of preparation. He would be very happy and enthusiastic when something different from the daily schedule happened at home. Cleaning and decoration of the house were also done along with cooking.
One afternoon Abhinav found an old album in his mother’s cupboard.
“Who is he in the photo?”
“This is my father”.
“Where does he stay? I have never seen him”
“He has gone to stay with God”.
His inquisitive mind made Ajita, an intelligent narrator. She always tried to give honest and convincing answers, but sometimes could not find any from her answer bank.
“He is looking so fair and handsome. Did you meet him?”
“Yes, when I was small he was there with us.”
“Why did he go to God’s place? Did he not like to stay here?”
“No, he liked to stay here but someone hurt him very badly so he left this place.”
“Who hurt him so much?”
“Big and influential people cheated my father by getting wrong papers signed by him.”
Ajita stopped cleaning and sat disappointed remembering the whole incident that her father had faced. He was truly a self-made man. He established himself in the city on his own. In the process of growth, he obtained an offer to open a degree college. He took a loan mortgaging his property to establish the college. His partner deceived him by transferring the college to his own name. Without understanding the papers, he signed them, which implied that the college ownership had been transferred.
“Why did he sign the wrong papers?” Abhinav’s voice was pained.
“He was not well qualified to understand that the papers were wrong.”
There was a pause. Abhinav flipped the album and found another photograph of his grandfather.
“Look, Mom, grandfather is sitting in a big house in this photograph. Whose house is that?” Ajita could see a sparkle in his eyes.
“That was your grandfather’s house. We lived there when I was small.” Ajita took the album from Abhinav and stared at the photograph.
“Where is this house? I want to see it. Did he have a car also?”
“Yes. He had a car also, but both the car and the house had to be sold off to pay all the debts. We had to shift to a small house. My mother lives in it now.”
Abhinav was quiet for a while. How could his grandfather make such a big mistake? Somewhere in his mind, there was anger towards his grandfather. How could he sell his car? Abhinav had liking love for cars and sometimes asked his father to buy a car. Vijay bought him a toy car and promised him to buy a real car when Abhinav would become an adult. Poor Abhinav did not know when he would become an adult; however, he would feel happy to think that he would possess his own car one day.
Children enjoy being lost in their illusion. His fantasies thrilled him and energized him and perhaps his inquisitiveness would lead him to his goal as early as possible.
The doorbell rang, and Vijay entered the house with a new bat and a ball for Abhinav.
Abhinav jumped off his chair to grab the much-awaited gift from his father and ran to show it to his friends.
In no time children’s minds and emotions can change from deep thought to high spirits.
On a weekend, Ajita’s brother-in-law Gaurav dropped in. Gaurav was younger than Vijay and was a professor at City College. He lived in a separate house in the same city. On weekends, he would visit Vijay’s place.
Gaurav was taller than Vijay. He was strong not only physically, but emotionally as well. Therefore, he was a guy on call for the whole family.
“Only two months are left for your examination and you are busy preparing for the festival,” Gaurav said.
He knew that Ajita was very meticulous and loved to celebrate festivals with great enthusiasm. In India, festivals are celebrated by making many foodstuffs, especially during Holi when women start preparations a month before.
“Gaurav, I will finish this fast and then prepare for my exams. Please do not worry. I have been studying throughout the year”. Ajita explained to Gaurav. Her smile and her relaxed attitude irritated Gaurav.
“Why do you ladies love to waste time on these petty things? Why don’t you purchase them from the market? Everything is sold ready-made in the market”. Gaurav believed in making things simple and comfortable.
“Enjoy music on the radio for a while till I finish my work. Abhinav will be coming back from school in half an hour. He will be very happy to see you. Yesterday he got a new set of bats and balls from his father. His father feels tired after his office and does not play with him so please be his company.” Ajita wanted to divert Gaurav’s attention from the discussion of her studies.
Gaurav was in Class 12 when Ajita got married to Vijay. Ajita had completed her class 12th that year. Ajita and Gaurav were almost of the same age and got along very well. Gaurav had hoped that she would complete her studies before marriage.
She could not continue her studies during the first few years of marriage due to resistance from in-laws. Ajita had to follow all the restrictions of a daughter-in-law after marriage. She was supposed to perform domestic chores all alone. She worked very hard to please her in-laws and within a few years, she was able to win their hearts.
Eventually, she went on with her studies and obtained her master’s degree the year before.
Now she was pursuing a teacher training course. Ajita was a good scholar and also wanted to have a professional degree.
“The cake smells divine,” said Gaurav.
“Would you like to try it now or when I finish the icing?” Ajita asked with her icing bag ready.
Even though he wished to devour it straight away, he suggested that she finish the icing.
She made a design of a flower with icing. Abhinav loved the decoration on the cake.
“I am done with the cake,” she stood up with a sense of achievement clearly shown on her face. She had sweated a lot, but there was no sign of tiredness in her eyes. They were as bright as ever.
“Yes, it is looking really scrumptious. The icing is so neatly done.”
Gaurav picked up the cake and kept it in the refrigerator. Ajita rushed to wind up the residual work and came back to the room. Abhinav had returned from school and was busy chatting with Gaurav.
Gaurav was a silent admirer of Ajita’s dedication and hard work. She accomplished all her assignments with perfection. Had she been a professional, she would have been very successful.
“Why did you marry?” Gaurav asked her.
Ajita looked at him quizzically. She thought for a while.
“I got married because my parents wished to,” Ajita replied. “Why did you ask me such a strange question?”
“You could have been a successful professional if you were unmarried.”
There was a pause for a moment.
Gaurav had no interest in marriage. He found it to be an unnecessary institution. He noticed that married couples were always worried about one thing or the other. They had a set of obligations to perform. Women were in worse condition. First, they had to lose their identities in a new family and then had to prove themselves throughout their lives.
“Do you mean you got married because of your parent’s wish, not yours?” Gaurav asked.
Ajita recalled that her father suffered a severe heart attack after his business loss. He was apprehensive about his life. He wanted to be free from his responsibilities. Hence her mother convinced her that she would be able to continue her studies after marriage. Her fiancé had assured them. Initially, Ajita did not agree to marry but realizing the family situation she thought that marriage would be a better option for her future.
“No, it was not just my parent’s wish, when I got convinced I happily agreed to get married.”
“So you agreed to marry because you were assured to continue your studies. Did that really happen? You were not permitted to study, and you had to face a lot of criticism in the initial years of marriage.”
“Achieving something at the cost of the happiness of your own people has no meaning. During that period, I learned so many other skills which I have never done before. Getting a certificate or degree only is not education. I knew, they would understand me someday and would allow me to study. See, the same happened and today I have a Master’s degree. Now my degree has real value for me.” Ajita’s positive outlook helped her to find meaning in every aspect of life.
Gaurav got his answer, still, he had a strong conviction that marriage was an institution of responsibilities, botheration and restrictions.