I sipped my tea as I sat on the bench by the roadside cafe, browsing through pictures of desk lamps in Pinterest. Sometimes I looked out through the window to see the gate of my college at a distance, as the rays of the setting sun kept dimming and slanting. I still remember the day Abba and I came to Delhi from Kanpur, and entered that gate for the first time. In a week, I will be completing my masters in Philosophy. I’m not sure what I will do after that. I plan to continue my studies further, but my family has put a roadblock on it. It is very tough for some girls in India to pursue their dreams after a certain age, like 25. I belonged to this category.
I have been trying to distract myself, thinking about all the other things about life, but it’s ironical how the thing you try to avoid the most keeps coming back to your mind, often more frequently than it would have, had you not told your mind to stop thinking about it. It was the roadblock that kept coming.
I am 25 and I should get married as early as possible, thought my Abba and Amma. They had probably married me off countless number of times in their minds, as the only topic of discussion in my home nowadays was my marriage. I am the eldest of our six siblings, and getting me married early will also open the world of getting married to my other siblings – my four sisters and a brother. There was a chronology to be followed in some matters. I guess it is also enlisted in the set of unwritten societal rules that you keep discovering as you grow older.
A boy has been found. Fawad was working in an oil company in Iran, earning more than required. He belonged to a wealthy family of Lucknow, was tall, fair, handsome and well educated. He seemed to tick off every box in my Amma’s checklist for a suitable boy. Nobody from my family has met or talked to him, but Abba has talked to his father twice and decided the talks should continue. Few photos of the probable bride and groom had been exchanged between the two parties, without any complaints.
I wondered if he knew what was going on.
* * * *
I met Fawad. He turned out to be exactly like what I had heard about him. But I discovered a few other things – he was an introvert, he was calm, he spoke slowly and carefully crafted every word that came out of his mouth, Chicken Haleem was his favourite dish, he was good at negotiating and he answered most of my “life queries” with good logic and skill. I enquired if I could continue my studies later, and he agreed to let me do whatever I wanted. There was something mysterious about him, but I thought he was just being shy or something.
However, there was nothing in particular which could help me turn him down. Everyone from my family told me how lucky I was to find a guy like Fawad and how I should not let this opportunity pass. I also found no concrete reason to believe why I should not marry him. So, considering the greater good of the greatest number and putting my other plans on the backseat for then, I decided to marry him – Abba and Amma were the happiest people on earth that day when I conveyed it to them. I was happy to see them happy.
Arrangements were made for a grand wedding.
* * * *
After a month of our wedding, I came to Iran with Fawad. He lived in Ahvaz city, in a good and spacious apartment. The interior designer in me sprang into action since the day I set foot here, which let me unleash my creativity to a whole new level. Being new to the city, I would list down all the things that I wanted and he would get them for me on his way back home. I did not venture out to the market much as I wasn’t very familiar with the place. I was also mostly alone because Fawad’s schedule was often too packed to accommodate me for an outing. But it was okay, some Sundays were there for me, and I was sure that things won’t be the same forever.
We talked a lot when we were together. Actually I was the one who did most of the talking. He would listen with interest and keep asking questions. I told him everything about me and my bucket list – how I loved going to cafes and movies, how much I loved visiting parks and monuments, how I almost learnt Norwegian as I longed to go to Norway someday and stay there for a month at least and how I believed people should enjoy to the fullest because “you only live once”. Our conversations ended when I got tired of speaking. He was never tired of asking questions. I was glad that we could have good conversations. My philosophy was kind of wild spirited, but I think he had nothing as such. He appeared somewhat reserved, but willing to experiment. He spoke little, often answering my questions in a word or two and then proceeding to ask me something. Initially it felt a bit weird, but that was how he was and I gradually got used to it.
He was that charming guy, with an enigmatic tinge.
* * * *
“It is very important, Fawad. It’s almost going to be the last time I will be meeting all my friends together. These things come only once”, I said, trying to explain how important it was for me to attend the convocation ceremony of my university, “I can also visit Amma and Abba for a day or two while I am there.”
“But, how can you go alone? I cannot send a woman to India alone. Moreover, we are going there in February, for a month. We can go to wherever you want then. We will meet your Amma, Abba and friends also!”
“It’s October now! February is three months away, and my convocation won’t wait for me. And how can I meet all my friends then? Why don’t you understand??”
“Look, I said NO. And you cannot change my decision, Nazma. I cannot let you go without my company, and that’s final. Do you understand?” he said, and stared at me with eyes that seemed to pierce me through mine and chuck out any other ulterior motive I had in my head. Never had I seen Fawad like this. I was too numb to utter a word. I just sobbed and went to my room.
I felt claustrophobic. Was this the beginning of my suppression and confinement? How could he do this to me? Two days have passed and we have not exchanged a word. How am I supposed to live like this? If I give in to his demand and stay back, I would miss my convocation. I could not back down. Convocation wasn’t the focal point anymore, my ego was. The only reward for putting up with suppression is more suppression. I had to do something. The convocation was just a week away.
Just as I was thinking if I should stop cooking Chicken Haleem till February, I heard a voice.
“Stop sulking. I think I should let you go” said Fawad, sipping his coffee. I could not believe my ears and his change of heart. “But you are going for your convocation only. You will be leaving in the morning and returning by evening that day. I’ll get you your tickets tomorrow.”
I wanted to scream out loud and hug him tight, but that would have spoilt my confident, non-submissive stature. “Okay, thank you” I uttered with a smile and was about to go back to my room to celebrate my joy and victory, when he said, “But, you will have to agree to a deal.”
I was more than happy to agree to anything that would let me go to my convocation.
* * * *
Fawad isn’t here now; he got stuck in a meeting. He said he will be here by evening. Amma and Abba reached Ahvaz in the early hours today. They are holding my hands, as I lay in this labour room, in excruciating pain.
Countless minutes later, as I feel relieved, the nurse comes up to me with a smile and says, “Congratulations, it’s a boy.”
I hear the cries of an infant in the backdrop.
And in case you were wondering, of course I went to the convocation.
© Barnadhya Rwitam