Manika was happy. She got engaged to one of the most sought after grooms in Rajput community. Pedigreed Rajput men in her city were stylish, and they went to the best of boarding schools and colleges in India and abroad- Eton to say the least. They were goodlooking, classy eyecandies but they were stuck in their royal past. They refused to work, even when they were hand to mouth. Their aim was to live in style, be a part of the 'Page 3' party circuit courtesy their friends from their alma maters but they hated to work- for money or otherwise. They would sit in the Jaipur Polo Grounds, playing polo, eating eggs and chicken for an existence. They did not even go home. Their wives were there to produce heirs for the poor chieftain and an accessory for the family. They too went around with the women in the family living life on meagre alms that came as their father in law's pension and a little more. Manika a highly educated girl from Delhi, brought up on the feminist ideas of her English literature background, refused to be a mere accessory. The firebrand girl shared a bonhomie with her equally radical teachers at the Delhi University. If she had a choice, she would not have bothered about the caste and birth of her spouse but her strong 'sanskaars' and the pride in her heritage made her stick to the family tradition of marrying into the community of her birth. Her only demand was that she would not marry a wastrel. Thus came Raghu, an MBA from FMS and a senior consultant at a firm in Dubai. Their love for Delhi helped them bond with each other. He read, spoke well, talked about a variety of subjects and even the quintessential Rajput 'hum', the pronoun used while referring to himself did not jarr Manika about Raghu's personality.
Manika herself was a beautiful kohl eyed, dark and proud Indian beauty. She had taken many an aunts to task who believed that body shaming was their birth right. The aunts were glad she didn't want to be a daughter in law in their families for she was too hot for them to handle.
Manika and her family moved to their ancestral home in Jodhpur for the grand wedding. Contrary to the popular tradition the fathers of Manika and Raghu were also evolved men of the 20th century who moved to Delhi and worked as high ranking government officials. In their youth, both of them worked and studied at the same time to make a mark for themselves but Jodhpur was their home where they returned for weddings and funerals.
It was the month of October, the Indian summer was giving way to the pleasant winters in the Western Indian state of Rajasthan.
The preparations were on, the halwaais were at work. There was noise, singing of traditional wedding songs, children running helter skelter, aunts sitting, eating, gossiping, shopping and drinking the whole day.
The men were in separate quarters, eating and drinking in their colourful attires. The zenana was the hub of all activity in both the houses. Even today in these days of online shopping the markets came to the households during the weddings- the bangle seller, the henna artists, the jeweller. Everything in the family came to a standstill. The wedding took all the time and attention.
Manika and Raghu talked to each other for endless hours on the phone.
Manika had quit her teaching job to join Raghu in Dubai. Raghu had spoken to DPS Dubai, they had a job for Manika so she had no qualms in quitting. The wedding day is the best day of a woman's life going by the cliche, her friends had given her a grand fairwell at workplace.
Life seemed so complete.
The wedding day arrived Manika and Raghu got married in a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony. Manika, her mother and father cried buckets at her 'bidai', the departure. This is strange event in weddings, people spend millions on wedding, there is joy and celebtation all around but the bride cries and so do her parents. The Indian families still have not accepted 'the empty nest' syndrome.
After a honeymoon in Sri Lanka, Manika and Raghu left for Dubai. Manika got the job as the English teacher. Life took its normal course. She regularly videocalled her parents and life was beautiful with caring Raghu. One of Manika's colleagues from DPS, Sumedha, was her neighbor in Dubai. They struck a chord immediately because both of them were from Delhi. They were neighbors in the University, while Manika was in KMC, Sumedha studied in Hans Raj. Courtesy Facebook they realized that they had a lot of common friends. Sumedha was a charming girl who smiled a lot. However, one day Manika came home and told Raghu, "Raghu, Sumedha's eyes don't smile. Though outwardly a happy go lucky girl, she gets worked up by small things." Raghu took her on her lap and gave her a lingering kiss and said "Sweetheart you are unnecessarily troubled. I am sure it's nothing." Manika also lost herself in his arms and both of them made love. Next day Manika noticed that Sumedha was limping a little. She wasn't her usual chirpy self. Manika tried to help her walk but Sumedha refused her help and walked ahead. She was lost and confused the whole day. She made a lot of mistakes. This went on for some time. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore. One afternoon she forced Sumedha to talk. Sumedha was not ready to reveal anything but Manika refused to budge. Finally she assured Sumedha by speaking to the Indian Embassy in Dubai asking them how they could help if an Indian woman was troubled. They explained that the embassy would contact the family in India, take the victim out of her situation and based on her testimony send her back to India. And then Sumedha prattled like a parrot, crying, shouting all at the same time.
She talked about her husband Harish who harassed her, hid her passport, tortured her. Unaware of her rights and overcome by fear she couldn't gather courage to tell her parents, the police or her parents. In the evening, Manika told Raghu all about Sumedha and Harish. He was stunned but Manika was shocked when he told her to keep out of their problem. Manika realised that her Rajput was not the brave warrior. She was shocked but not shaken. She knew she had to convince Sumedha to act. The first thing she did was to call her parents. They were heartbroken when they heard about Sumedha. They gave her courage to stand up for herself and leave. Her father contacted the Indian Embassy in Delhi and got the paperwork. The embassy in Delhi spoke to their counterparts in Dubai. Despite all this Sumedha was still worried that somehow Harish would stall her plan. Such was his terror in her heart and mind. Her fear made him more powerful than he actually was. That evening the bell rang at the Gupta household.
Harish came out all red in anger. He saw the local police along with the officers from Indian Embassy. They arrested Harish who kept shouting, "I didn't hit her" And the official said that noone ever mentioned the beating. She was taken for the medical test at the hospital. Manika accompanied her, Sumedha's head rested on her chest and both were crying. Her wounds were real and deep. The tests revealed that Harish had not only beaten her but also mentally tortured her. Sumedha was shaking with fear when suddenly she noticed her parents. All three of them cried bitterly. The parents were hurt and disappointed in Sumedha that despite their modern education and upbringing, she suffered but then they were relieved that their child was weak.
While all this happened, Raghu kept standing like a statue, watching the proceedings. He was ashamed and embarrassed by his behaviour but he was proud of his wife who had single handedly planned the whole operation. He apologised to Manika and said, "Veerangnaaon ne hamesha desh ka naam ooncha kiya hai. Aaj ek aisi hi ladki meri patni hai. Mein tumhara samman karta hoon" (the brave women in our culture have made the country proud. I have one such woman as my wife. I respect you). In trying to avoid being a typical Rajput, I did not realise that helping fellow humans is not hollow bravado but a human necessity. Manika you have made me realize that had bravery is a state of mind, not clinking of swords in a duel he said with eyes full of belief and contemplation.