There was a pin drop silence in the room. Everyone was shocked upon hearing my mother’s words. Especially me. Guilt was written all over her face when she realised she had been loud and almost everyone had heard her unacceptable words. I raised my gaze to meet my wife's eyes and only saw the pain of her heart through her tear brimmed eyes.
Suddenly I remembered what my elder sister had said to me many years ago,
“Rohan, I am not fighting for myself. I am fighting for everyone, including you.”
I didn’t understand the meaning or the intention behind these words back then.
I remember the day she had said those sage words vividly. When I was 16 I had just returned from school to find the atmosphere at home cold and chilly. Without any second thoughts, I guessed what might have happened. It was the same thing that had been happening over the last few months. It was now a pattern. A routine.. My parents would insult my sister by saying things like “You will be useless if you cannot cook” or “Stop wearing such “indecent” cloths or “Don’t act smart, ladki hai ladki hi reh” or “Your brother can cook and you cannot” and hearing these words Devika would blow up.
I was fed up with their constant rows. Okay, I have to confess it was hilarious at the beginning to watch their fights because my dad and Devika were atom bombs and some people would be scared to death to watch them quarrel but for me it was entertainment which guaranteed you full customer satisfaction. But alas everything becomes cumbersome after a point if you don’t add some new features to it. Not only was I bored of this but I was angry to come home everyday to an unwelcoming environment.
To add fuel to my anger I had a bad day. I had again failed History. I wanted this to stop immediately so to accomplish my mission I barged into my sister's room with an angry demeanour. She was sitting on her bed playing with her phone. Before I could lose my confidence I yelled at her, “Stop this,” she looked up from her phone surprised by my sudden outburst,
“I hate to come home every day because of your silly rows. I know you are not wrong but please stop this. And it is physiologically not mom and dad’s fault either. They were brought up like this and they were fed with these thoughts from a young age. Can you not just ignore the remarks? You know they love you, isn’t it a good reason to stop all these fights? You know dad loves you more. Does it matter what they say?”
Her shocked face suddenly turned into an absolute infuriation and I just hoped that I would be alive at the end of the day. But to my surprise she replied calmly, "Rohan, I am not fighting for myself. I am fighting for everyone, including you. If you want to change something you have to fight for it. And I’m not the only one who is doing this. This is called activism if your dimwit self did not know. No wonder you fail in history. If Dr B.R Ambedkar had not fought and had been ignorant we would possibly still consider Dalits as untouchables. If Gandhiji amongst other leaders had not fought we would be still answering to the English. If changes had not occurred we would be still practising Sati pratha, dowry, polygamy, degrading women or still living under rocks. And I don't want just their love. I want their acceptance. I want their respect. As a daughter. As a woman. So get out of my room before I murder you and throw your body in the sea.”
Being scared of Devika, I did as she ordered. Though from that day onwards, she didn't quarrel with my parents and two months later she went abroad for her higher education.
Today, my whole extended family had gathered to celebrate Dussehra. A happy occasion for all. It was after long that the whole family was together. I had noticed my mother giving disgruntled looks once or twice to Venna, my wife. And somehow my mother had got my wife cornered amidst the celebration and said,
“Why are you wearing these indecent clothes and why are you wearing so much makeup. Do you want to attract all the men’s attention?”
This is when my mother realised that whatever she had said was heard by almost everyone in the room. Venna’s eyes were filled with tears and she was on the brink of crying. I froze on my spot. I knew I had to do something to defend Venna but somehow I was not able to move and my mind was blank.
This is when my sister came to her rescue. Devika came in between my mother and Venna and held Venna’s hand. She took her time to calm Venna and wipe her tears. Then with flames burning in her eyes she looked at mom. If looks could kill my mother would be probably dead right now. And my friends tease me for being scared of my sister. In a raised voice that shook with anger and disappointment, Devika said,
“You should be ashamed of yourself amma because I am ashamed to even call you my mother. Are you happy for humiliating your daughter-in-law? You have followed the society’s custom to judge everyone. You might be feeling happy and powerful to give Venna an unpleasant memory and you might be hoping that she is haunted by this humiliation for the rest of her life. You say you are older than us and have more experience than us so how come you never realised that not always a person dresses to please others but to feel good about their own self. How come you never realise that Venna, unlike yourself, dresses to be confident and not to show-off. Why did you dress so elegantly? Isn’t the answer because you want to be more confident. And who are you to decide what is decent and is not. Did the Universe whisper this in your ears or did you read this somewhere. Or are you saying that you do not trust your husband or any other person present over here cause I can guarantee my trust for Venna.”
Devika then led my wife gently towards one of the rooms upstairs. My legs were still frozen. The reactions to Devika's speech were mixed. A few uncles and aunts were horrified by her audacity. My cousins either looked with pride as Devika left the room or with disgust at my mother. My father was too stunned to say anything. This was the first time that he did not have a retort to what Devika said. And my mother? Her face was red with embarrassment. Tears forming at the corner of her eyes.I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice jolted me back. It was Devika’s husband telling me to go after them.
I did as he instructed, thinking he might consider me as a nincompoop now as he had to instruct me to perform basic action.
As I was climbing the stairs I had an epiphany. I understood what Devika wanted to say that day. She meant that she wasn’t just fighting for herself; she was fighting for my future wife or maybe my future daughter and anyone who is humiliated by rude comments. Change starts from home and instead of contradicting my sister I should have supported her, Had I done that, then my wife might not have faced such a mortifying situation today. I finally understood that she didn’t just want our parent's love, she wanted respect and mom and dad to understand her as well.
I slowly opened the door to the room they were in. Venna was crying and Devika was trying to console her. I slowly entered the room and with remorse filling me said, “I’m sorry.” My sister looked at me and nodded saying, “Better late than never.”
It was Dussehra and I hoped that evil was killed.
*Author’s note: Venna’s clothes have not been described because it doesn’t matter what she was wearing. It was her choice of clothing and no one has the right to say otherwise or judge her.
Author ~ Khushi Luniya