The car stopped with a squeal of brakes and the door to the left side of the back seat got unbolt.
“Okay guys. Bye. Will see you tomorrow!” Mannat spoke in a jacked up tone, getting out of the car that was stuffed with four other people inside it.
“Bye!” they all chanted in unison and Randheer drove them all off.
An elated smile occupied Mannat’s face as she evoked the fun she had with Kiya, Randheer, Kunal and Faizan. After the college, they had gone for a movie and then went to a mall, for a random hang out. Being best of friends since the first year of college, the five of them never missed any chance to have a whale of time.
If anyone asked her about her best chattels, she would ingeniously say, “My friends and my family!” and that too with a huge grin of pride and contentment. Being the only kid to her parents, she had always been footloose and fancy-free. She had learnt to enjoy life as to her, life was too short to complain and demand!
“Good evening Mumma!” Mannat said, chirping and embracing her mother from behind who was busy with her kitchen chores.
“Good evening beta! How was your day?” her mother asked indifferently, still absorbed in her chores.
“It was great! We had lots of fun today!” she said, taking out an apple from the fruit basket and biting it at once.
“We? The five of you?” her mother asked.
“Yes! They dropped me home, as it was a bit behind schedule.” she spoke, gnawing the apple.
“Oh! You should’ve called them in!” her mother retorted.
“Naah! They were all late! Next time! Well mumma, I’m dog tired! And I won’t be having dinner because I’m sort of stuffed. I’m going to change now!” Mannat spoke in a hurry and walked upstairs to her room. She relaxed for the rest of the time, by listening music and reading her favorite book. Soon, she slept.
“Manu, till when do you have classes today?” her mother solicited, somewhat gravely as they had their breakfast.
“Till 4” she said, after sipping tea from her cup. She raised her gaze at her mother, and asked, “Why?”
“No. Nothing. Be back by 4:30” her mother decreed looking down at her plate.
“But why? Are we going somewhere?” she asked abruptly, looking at her mother and then at her father, with quizzical eyes. Her father shook his head.
“See Mannat! We’re noticing that you’re getting away from your studies. You need to stop wasting your time and start focusing” Her mother said. She seemed in a different mood that morning.
“Okay mumma. But it’s not that I don’t study at all, I study during night.” she elucidated politely.
“Do what is being told to you Mannat. You children of this generation always think they’re right.” Her mother ticked her off.
“But mom…” she tried to speak but was cut in the middle.
“Stop arguing Mannat! You’re not a kid anymore that you do what you like and no-one will notice. You’re a girl, all grown up! People have started laying their eyes on your activities. We live in a society and sophisticated girls here are not meant to walk around in streets with a bunch of stupid kids!” mother reprimanded again.
Mannat was totally taken aback by her mother’s behavior. The morning was a bolt from the blue for her. She was stunned for a while and looked at her mother with her eyes on stalks and then she shifted her gaze to her father, who ate silently, showing an accord to the words of her mother.
“Whose words are you reciting, mom?” she asked, a little curtly. Her mother looked at her, offended. “Because this is not you! Someone has injected these lame things in your mind and you are now talking all like that. My friends, whom you wanted to call in for a snack yesterday, are now a bunch of stupid kids for you? Tell me who spoke all this non-sense?” she asked, heatedly.
“Mrs. Mishra came complaining that she saw you near the mall, behaving inappropriately with that muslim guy! You all were taking pictures and making loud noises of laughter in the streets. Is this what educated people behave like? And don’t you know how brutal the world has turned? You’re a girl Mannat. Learn to behave like one!” her mother asked with a firm gaze piercing her eyes.
Mannat listened to every word of her mother silently, that was killing something inside her, gradually.
“Things have changed now! You’re about to be graduated in a few months and you’re not a kid anymore to seek only exuberance. And the society! You know what they call girls who do all sorts of FUN! They’re all brutes out there Mannat, they’ll tear your spirit down with their taunts and banters. One wrong step and things will turn ugly! So better be cautious before-hand!” Her mother now spoke a little politely to her.
“Ugh! Mom! You’re sounding like one uneducated person yourself! Give me a break!” she yelled and walked out of her house in a fit of rage. Her agony needed a vent out and the only one was her eyes. Tears welled up in her eyes and flew down her cheeks, shattering her disbelief of having the coolest parents of all.
“You are not allowed to go out without anything important coming up! I don’t want people to point their filthy fingers at you!” her mother spoke a little louder but her words were fainted yet clear to Mannat. She wiped off her tears and headed to college.
Days in college were no more fun as the only thing Mannat did was just attending the classes and then going back home. She excused herself from every plan that her friends made because she never wanted to do anything that offended her parents. A sudden melancholy had occupied her life as her parents changed their behavior towards her. They were commanding and nosy to her. The two best possessions of her life, didn’t seem to be as they were before, they had changed!
“Mannat, come here!” her mother called her, as she sat in the corner of the party hall unaided. She had accompanied her parents to some party of her mother’s friend. She walked towards her mother who was delimited by a bunch of women, all dressed up in expensive sarees and jewelry.
“This is my sweet daughter Mannat!” her mother introduced her with those women and they all smiled at her. Mannat folded her hands to wish them Namaste with a little bow.
“She’s so pretty, Mrs. Sharma! I’m so sure, Nikhil would love to meet her!” one of the women conversed. As soon as the woman’s words got clearer to Mannat, she looked at her mother in amazement plus shock.
“Who is Nikhil?” she thought aloud in her head.
Mannat’s mother was just nodding and smiling, agreeing to every word that the woman was saying. Mannat sensed something terrible coming for her.
“Who was that lady, Mumma? And who is Nikhil?” she asked, agitated.
“That is Mrs.Mehta. My kitty friend and Nikhil is her son. Out of the blue, today we talked about our children’s marriage and ended up thinking that it would be best if you get married to Nikhil.” Her mother spoke with an ear to ear grin. She apparently was very much proud and elated at her plan that sounded only sinister to Mannat.
“What about me? You never asked me about my wish in this!” she spoke in a low tone, she felt as if she would just break down.
“Beta! You are about to be graduated. You’ll have to marry someone eventually.”
“Mumma I want to follow my dreams! You, out of the whole world, know how badly I want to become an Architect!” Mannat rebelled.
“Mannat! Why do you always have to oppose everything I say!” her mother said firmly.
“Because you have changed, Mumma! Just because Mrs. Mishra comes one day and tells you that I was behaving inappropriately, you lost all your faith and trust in me and your upbringing. You’ve forbidden me of enjoying because I’m a girl and I need to think about the lowest mentality people can ever have around me. I have to think twice before making myself happy because that could probably make the SOCIETY unhappy! I’ll have to marry some random guy and give birth to his children because I’m a GIRL! Mumma! I’m bound to do these things. The SOCIETY has set the limits for me, how can I cross them? And the best thing is, my parents are also a part of this very same society!” Mannat spoke, irately, with few drops of tears slithering down the corner of her eyes.
Her mother fell silent. She didn’t think it was an appropriate time to argue with her daughter, but she had a belief that Mannat would agree to marry Nikhil, sooner or later.
Later that night, Mannat sat near a huge window of her room, peeking outside at the stars and the moon. Tears had made her face wet and eyes red and swollen. She was sobbing in silence, as the worst feeling was hitting her time and again. The terrible feeling of watching her dreams getting crushed in front of her, by her own parents. But she had never put the blame on them, they were just walking the talk. They were following what was prevalent in the society. But the worst sufferer was SHE, a girl, as usual. The whole night, she sat there, as her thoughts kept drowning her spirit of living life to the fullest and enjoying. But, in the morning, she got up, determined enough to change things.
“When are the campus recruitment interviews scheduled?” Mannat asked over the phone as soon as Faizan picked her call.
“Next week!” Faizan replied in his sleepy tone.
“Okay!” she retorted and disconnected.
She had promised herself of proving her mark. She worked like a Trojan day in and day out, in the college library and at home. One week and she had gathered everything that she could, for answering every single question of every single interview board.
Three out of four interviews went well for her. She sat in front of the last interview board who were throwing the toughest questions at her but she was strong and prepared enough to tackle them smartly and tactfully.
At the end of the interview, one of the board members asked,
“So, Miss Mannat! Tell us, why you want this job?” he asked with a smile.
She took a pause as she looked into the man’s eyes. She smiled lightly and replied,
“Sir! I want this job because I don’t want anything, or anyone to crush my dreams!” she kept smiling. The board members replied her with smiles and told her to leave.
The interview results were announced and Mannat was offered 3 out of the 4 jobs she gave interviews for. That was her greatest call, she now had to choose the best. Her friends went crazy and asked for treats but she told them to wait. Every teacher of her, was proud of her. The principal of the college called her and congratulated her, he called her father and told him the good news as well.
As soon as Mannat reached her home, her parents welcomed her warmly but she didn’t even smile at them. She wasn’t happy with her achievements but she was content that somehow, though at a very tiny level, she had proved her mark.
That night, in her room, Mannat again peeked out of her window. Those days, only the moons and the stars seemed to be her best possessions as they were so patient listening to her sorrows that had seeped down her soul because she had witnessed an ugly face of life, like any other girl of the society. But she was feeling proud of herself that she didn’t take it the other way and let things spoil her, but she worked hard to prove herself, to prove of her capabilities and to prove that being a girl, marriage wasn’t the only option after graduation. She smiled through the storm of her thoughts that had stirred her up and through that smile, tears made their way. The tears, which were a blend of many emotions.
*After Two Years*
Mannat sat on the chair reserved for her and by her side sat her father and mother. She gazed blankly at the huge stage whose curtain rose slowly.
She thought of her journey of two years to that hall and that event in which she was sitting. She would just smile every now and then, thinking of how life changes and how things start to push you at doing something for yourself because nothing can be achieved by going easy.
“And today we all are gathered here to honor this woman who has exceptionally amazed the world by her exquisite work in the field of architecture. Just two years in this technical field and she has achieved heights. It gives me great pleasures to invite this very special woman of the evening, Miss Mannat Sharma, to have this award of youngest achiever of the year! A huge round of applause for the lady!” one of the chief guests spoke with great zeal as he did the honors.
Mannat felt like sweet thunders hitting her eardrums, of the applause that had surrounded her. She looked at her parents, they felt so proud and honored themselves. Her mother had damp eyes and a smile, the feeling behind which can never be described by a mother.
She walked towards the stage elegantly. All eyes were on her and as soon as she received the award, the applause multiplied.
“Good evening Ladies And Gentlemen!” She spoke as soon as she reached the podium. A silence prevailed in the entire auditorium.
“It makes me feel super euphoric to get this prestigious award this evening. Things like this happen rarely!” she spoke and giggled with grace.
“I would just like to say, that please, give women a chance to prove themselves. And this message is for the entire society that we live in. We are a part of the society too and we deserve to be treated equally because contrary to this, girls are always forbidden, banned, and punished. When they want to live a life of freedom, their blooming dreams are crushed and they are made aware of the fact that in the eyes of the society, THEY ARE JUST MEANT TO BE SUPPRESSED. But that is never true, it’s just the matter of mentality. If we crush their little dreams, we’ll not be able to know what they’re worth of. We’ll not be able to know that they’re capable to swoop thousands of THESE” she spoke and raised her award. Applause filled the ambience all over again.
“Thank you very much!” she said, smiled and walked down.
Her parents looked at her with quizzical eyes as they finally found out, that they were wrong!