The crowd gathered outside the haveli walls each trying to outdo the other in his quest to get a sneak peek at the magnificent doors, unmindful of the scorching heat of the morning sun. The beautifully carved ornate entrance had stood the test of time just like the haveli itself and was always the talk of the town. Owned by the Shriyam village headman who boasted of ancestors from the times of the great Prithviraj Chouhan, the haveli was decorated with floral arrangements as though it were the bride.
The entire village was promised a feast and the swelling crowd outside was a testimony to the eagerness. Finally, after decades, the haveli had witnessed a wedding. The headman’s youngest son Karanveer Singh had finally found himself a bride. Three of his older brothers were left behind because of the lack of prospective brides and now they had crossed the marital age as required in the social circles.
Karan’s mother Rukmini Devi peeped through the specially made crevices in the door from where she could look at the outside world without being a spectacle herself. She was comfortable in her archaic gamut within the walls, inside the royal gates. She didn’t have any option, did she?
Pulling her palloo over her scanty aging head, she sighed as she returned to the kitchen. She cringed as she stirred the dal in the infernal room a couple of degrees above the outside desert heat. Her painful arthritic joints curved beyond their regular shapes were giving up. She hoped the new bride would be of some help to her… if only. How could she expect the poor girl all of 18 to go beyond the line of duty… duty which was entrusted upon the unsuspecting bride forcefully? The girl was from a neighboring village that had faced a drought so severe, her father preferred to marry his daughter to the Singh family than let her die of starvation.
Rukmini Devi stood still, wiping the sweat off her brows. She hadn’t slept last night after returning from the wedding a minuscule affair in the neighboring village.
The agonizing screams echoing within the haveli walls that vibrated through those ostentatious doors would be remembered for years to come. The young girl was officially married to Karan but she was meant to satisfy Rukmini’s older sons too… After all, they held conjugal rights too as per the unwritten rule in their antiquated mindsets.
Rukmini had done it as well and now history had repeated itself. Today her sons had gone out for an annual event and would return only late in the afternoon, in time for the feast. Her husband was busy catering to his headman duties unmindful and uncaring about the women in the house. The women- both living as well as those Rukmini had been forced to let go right after birth. She had lost count of the umpteen ones she had lost in the womb because they were girls…
Rukmini shut the gas stove and walked towards the new bride’s chamber. She had work to do before her husband’s ire fell upon them. She held in her wrinkled, scrawny hands a small brass tin. Well carved by the finest craftsmen it held the top quality ‘paste’. The paste would be now applied to cover the new bride’s bruises. After all the young girl had to get back her glowing blush before she performed her ‘duties’ that night and the nights to follow. Just like Rukmini had done, so also the scanty women in their village, a mere blip on the map of India, had done.
On her way, she glanced up at the shining doors, closed and regal. Would they ever open for her and let the light sunshine in? Would the scarce women in their village ever regain their lost blush?