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Sunday, June 3, 2001
Life Ties

Rising above her background
Taru Bahl

KAMAL had left his tiny village in MP, unwilling to do farming on his fragmented infertile land. He wanted to work in a big city and rub shoulders with bada sahibs. Being uneducated and unskilled, his options for seeking new pastures were limited. He knew that and was willing to take his chances. Much against his fatherís wishes, he set his sights on Bhopal, the most accessible city from his far-flung village. Through a distant cousin, he had landed the job of a sentry at the residence of a senior Army officer. Within months, he had gently but surely invaded every space of their home and lives.

Kamal became an indispensable handyman for the Soods. Reliable, hardworking and highly motivated, he won over the family with his affable nature and a rustic sense of humour. The kids particularly liked his massive,upturned moustache. He became a permanent fixture in their lives, moving with them on transfers. He was quick to learn the ways of city life. His communication skills were always excellent and now with his functional spoken English, he was quite proud of his transformation from the ignorant country bumpkin into a savvy city lad.

 

To quote him, "Meri zindagi ban gayi jis din sahib ne mujhe fauj mein bharti kar liya." Inducting him as a sahayak in the Army changed his fortunes. Not only was his smile broader and his loyalty more fierce, but his stock in the marriage market sky-rocketed. He regaled the family with anecdotes of his bride-searching expedition and finally married a beautiful girl from an upper caste. Every year when he returned from the village, he came back with fascinating tales, besides, of course, the planting of seed in his wifeís womb. Seeing the quick time in which his children were arriving, Mrs Sood insisted he get a vasectomy done and he concurred, convinced that this was the right thing to do. They looked forward to his return, especially since he carried a trunkful of desi ghee ke laddoos and fresh wheat biscuits. It was easy to see that he had a special corner for his eldest child, Sunita. Anecdotes about her far outweighed those of the politics surrounding the panchayat or the gossip of whose daughter had run away with whose son. He always spoke of Sunita with great pride.

In his time (another of his exaggerated tales), he was supposed to have created a village record by scoring 40 per cent in Class V ! He preserved her letters, framed the cards she made for him and marvelled at her artistic and academic brilliance. When he got news that she had scored a first division, an unbelievable 65 per cent in her Class X Board Exams, he couldnít stop crying and, for the first time, requested for extra leave to just go and bless the child personally.

The family was surprised to see him return after a week, crestfallen and dejected. They were particularly aghast to see that he had shaved off his wonderful moustache. Something dreadful must have happened. They gently probed, expressing their concern and worry. The uninterrupted tirade that followed was like a cry from an anguished, pained animal. He said that girls were not meant to be ambitious or to have such raging fires in their bellies. They couldnít chalk out a master gameplan other than the one which revolved round their families. That Sunita should have plans of studying medicine and going to Indore to do her Plus Two and repeat her Class X exams so she could get a percentage which was in the range of 72-82 per cent in order to be eligible, was utterly shocking. How and when had his daughter turned into such a rebel, he asked himself and others repeatedly.

She was defying the law of nature, he cried out She had to be a part of a system that was created by her fathers and forefathers. She couldnít change the lines of her destiny just because she thought she had more brains than them. By having these fantastic dreams and by backing them up with such purpose and stubborn determination, she was frightening him, he said. Didnít she realise that she would never find a suitable match in the biradari ? Not only would she be over qualified, but no family would risk having an opinionated and argumentative woman for a wife and daughter-in-law. All her plans and achievements, however laudable, didnít qualify her to enter the world she wanted to inhabit - a place where she would always be the outcast.

His attempts at convincing her to change her mind and get married to a nice well-settled boy came to naught. He had even tried suggesting to her that she come with him to Delhi but she had made up her mind. She had done all her homework and was unwilling to change her plan of action. How and from where she had accumulated so much information sitting in that village baffled him no end. He loved her so much and had plans of marrying her in style, the kind which the village had never seen and she had trashed those visions with a dismissive wave of her hand, telling him to give her that money instead for her books and tuitions. He was convinced that she would remain a spinster all her life, haunting him with the guilt of not having fulfilled his parental responsibilities.

The Soods tried reasoning with him and telling him to be proud of a child who wanted to rise above her background and who was willing to defy the norms as she had the courage of her convictions. She was different and she had the ability to carve out a different life for herself. Why couldnít he see that possibility rather than focus on the fact that she hadnít conformed and done what every other girl of her age did? After all, Kamal too had defied his parents 20 years ago. For a while, he too was the familyís black sheep and had been in different cities to know that women had come a long way. Surely his daughter too would find her feet and take her family way beyond what was perhaps ordained for them otherwise. He ought to stand by her and offer her all the support and love she needed, they told him.

Kamal was not convinced. How could they draw a parallel with her rebelliousness and his youthful defiance? He was a man, and she only a girl. Men could get away with murder but girls would be crucified for life, bearing the cross of their misfortune. No, he would not relent. Within six months, he would force her to wed a boy of his choice. Within a month, the Soods received a letter addressed to them. It was from Sunita. They were amazed to see the contents. In presentable English and in a very precise handwriting, she had in four fullscape sheets reached out to them to take up her case with her father. She knew that only they could wield some pressure on him and impress on him to let her do what she had planned for herself. She put forth her case logically and sensitively. All that she was asking for was a small monthly allowance for her studies (which was well within Kamalís means) since she was already on scholarship and the freedom to be allowed to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

Seeing the effect of his daughterís letter on the Soods, Kamal became confused whether to be angry with his cheeky daughter or be happy at her confidence and grit. Well, either way, both the Lieut-General Sood and his wife sat and explained to him at length that he had to support her. They were with him every inch of the way. Just in case Kamal didnít find a groom for Sunita, they would take over that responsibility and find her a suitable boy. A girl like her was a treasure and he should value her. Kamal relented and allowed her to pursue her education.

Today, Sunita is married to her batchmate. The doctor couple lives in Indore. She is a general physician and her husband a surgeon. The entire brood has moved in there and Kamal is leading a comfortable retired life, basking in the glory that his daughter has brought to him and his family. One single action of hers changed not only her destiny but that of the entire clan.

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