November 12th, 2010:
Ray was a gloriously tall, slender, and beautiful girl. Round eyes, ready smile, and a thick, long plait, that I used to ogle every time we had a common class.
Ray was mostly shy, a “ooru ponnu” (the girl from the town), and spoke chaste tamil with a southern lilt. She mostly complained about her hostels and the pollution in Madras.
We fell out of touch very quickly, and the last I heard, she had stayed in the city against all odds to join a top MNC.
That was the Ray I knew from university, forwards and facebook.
Three days back, I brought Ray to stay overnight. I rarely bring friends home, let alone for a night stay… but after hearing her on email and phone, after seeing her in person after so many years, and after hearing her speak to the therapist, there was no way I could walk away.
I rushed her to my room before my parents could ask any awkward questions. And a shrunken and red-eyed Ray began to speak…
Like millions of Indian daughters Ray was brought up with a single-point agenda: study hard, get a good job, and don’t speak with boys along the way.
Like lakhs of Indian girls, Ray wore these blinkers to school, college, university and work.
And like thousands of other Indian women, Ray trusted her parents to bring her the knight she wanted.
But just like so many of us, she was in for a rude shock. For at the question of marriage, her education, job and career were quickly forgotten. She was expected to live in a small town and cook without complaints.
Amidst dowry seekers and horoscope matchers, there came one lone guy who was okay with her working. And within two meetings in the drawing room, and halting conversations over the phone, Ray was head-long in love. With the innocence of a teen, and the intensity of a 29-year old.
But alliances arranged by others are broken by them as well. And suddenly Ray was left mailing and calling to no reply.
Quickly forced into another engagement, beaten for honour, and blackmailed for love, the usual routine of depression, pills, hospital and therapy had followed. ~~
We are seeing a new therapist now. A therapist who speaks her tamil. A therapist who has patiently listened to her for hours at a stretch. And a therapist who understands the business of temple soothsayers and meddling match-fixers.
So Ray now gets some sleep on the thin mattress on the floor. Her eyes are no longer red and I see resolve in her, when she sits next to me today morning:
“I’m breaking this forced engagement myself. I will face the drama. I am going to meet the person I liked and clear the mess. If it fails, I will focus on my career, and adopt a child, and live well.”
As I look into her face, I know that Ray is just like you and me, she is just one of the millions of Indian women caught in the same space. Between the world of MNCs and masters degrees, and family honour and dowry-seekers.I don’t know if Ray understands that she is breaking from her family cast. I don’t know if she realises that she will become responsible for her life. I don’t know if she can handle it all. All I can do is pray… why don’t you as well.