The time had finally arrived. The much awaited occasion finally lay in front. And it had come after a long series of hunt, analysis, pursuit, discussion, agreement, and disagreement. But the job was not even half done. The task needed to be successfully completed which required a lot of endeavor and persistence. And they were up for it, the Mangilal and family. And why not, it was the marriage of their daughter Meena, the elder of the two.
Mangilal was a man well known for his diligence and generous character. The aged postmaster in Gangapur town of Varanasi had spent all his life there. He was not a big man moneywise, but he had always held his head high and used to command enormous respect in town. He was blessed with two angelic daughters, Meena and Ratna.
It is said that Indian parents start saving for their daughter’s marriage from the day of her birth. Mangilal too had accumulated all he could and by all means. Apart from some household items and clothes, the marriage was fixed for a scooter, some golden jewelry and one lac in cash. Mangilal had saved all his life for this very event and was glad to fulfill all the demands, obligations and desires.
But Ratna, the younger one, was not very happy. She knew all the efforts her father had made for the marriage. She also knew that her father had exhausted all his resources and was left with almost nothing. She was worried about the future, about her future, about her own marriage. She was very well aware of the simple truth that without money, marriage in a good house was almost impossible.
The thought brought unrest to her. The bizarre uncertainty about her marriage asked many questions. Questions she was unfamiliar with, questions so strange and obscure. She was having thoughts which never surfaced before. She was surprised to know how her parent’s love was unfairly distributed between the two daughters. How they focused only on Meena and she being the second child was ignored. She recalled that this was going on since childhood. Since childhood, Meena was the priority. All the new toys and clothes were bought for Meena. And she had to play with old toys which Meena stopped playing with, wear clothes which became short for Meena. Books, school uniform, bicycle, everything was passed on. She thought her father treated them differently even in education; Meena was sent to a bigger college in Varanasi while she was asked to graduate from the local college as her mother was not well and needed company at home. In fact in every phase, she now believed, it was all about Meena. No wonder her father had spent everything on Meena’s wedding leaving nothing for her.
She was annoyed at this deed of discrimination. She thought as to why she has to bear all this. She was in no way less than Meena. Equally educated, she was far more beautiful than her. She even had a job as a school teacher, unlike the to be house wife Meena. There was no reason she should have in-laws inferior to Meena. In fact she deserved better.
But the truth is marriage is a costly affair. One has to pay big price for a better future. After segregation on the basis of caste and religion, magnitude of wealth transaction decides which couple will tie the holy knot. Grooms are available with price tags and the better you want, the more you need to spend.
However, striking a good deal was unlikely for Ratna. As far as she knew, her father was not in a position to offer much. Chances are that she might have to settle for less. Less than her sister, though she was better than her.
She decided she needed to do something. She can’t let her parents give away everything to Meena. She can’t let Meena take away all the gold and money with her. She knew she couldn’t talk her parents out of it, yet she had to stop all this from happening. She decided she would have at least something for her. She would take some of her rights back from Meena.
She waited for the marriage to get over. During the farewell, when all the stuff was being readied for departure, she took out the grand golden necklace, the major jewelry, and hid it somewhere. Nobody knew a word about it, and the bride was sent off with less gold than what was agreed upon.
Next day Mangilal received a phone call from Meena’s in-laws. He was told about the loss. They accused him for cheating and took turns to curse him for playing games with his daughter’s in-laws. Mangilal was shocked as well as sorry to hear the incident. Though clueless about the situation, he was constantly apologizing for the misfortune. He assured them that it was a case of theft and that he will try his best to recover the piece of jewelry and give it back to them as soon as possible. But the in-laws were not at all convinced. They were furious at the fact that they got one freebie less. They now thought they made the wrong deal that they could have easily cashed in their boy for more elsewhere. Mangilal urged them to be patient and give him some time. He pleaded them not to disclose the matter outside as that would disparage his name, after all, he had one more daughter to marry off. But the sufferers were not moved by the pleading. They hung up after a warning that such wicked tricks would only bring trouble for the newly wedded bride. Mangilal drank the poison himself but kept his mouth shut. News of theft inside the house would only malign the family’s name.
However, time elapsed and the matter was put in the cold box. But the incidence had created a rift between the two families. The marriage, which is expected to bind two families with mutual trust and respect, had started on an atrocious note. And it never recovered from that.
It had been six months since Mangilal and his family had properly talked to Meena. Whenever they called, her in-laws would make some excuse to keep Meena away from phone. Mangilal was aware of the differences that had crept in but believed that time will make things better. Ratna too, though not entirely happy with her act, convinced herself that what she did was right. Over-optimistic heart had taken over the rational suspicious mind.
On a quiet morning, Mangilal received a call from a hospital. The voice on the other side said, “Your daughter is critical, come soon”. Mangilal and Ratna ran for the hospital but it was too late.
Headlines of a local daily read next morning, “Newly wed burnt in kitchen fire, Dowry case suspected.”