The Distant Voice
Artist: Amena Malik
I am standing on wet grass…
There are people around me but I cannot see anyone. I can only hear voices. Rejoicing voices they are. Everyone is excited about something, but I do not know what?
They are screaming and calling each other to witness some phenomenon! If I have heard them right, they are calling it a rainbow!
What is a rainbow?
I have never seen a rainbow. I want to see it. It sounds beautiful. Everyone around me is so happy looking at it. I want to be happy too!
I cannot see a thing! I really cannot! It is all dark!
I try to locate my eyes with my hand, as I am just about to reach, two pairs of hands hold me from each side…
Their touch so warm, so full of love…..
Mom and Dad!
“Mom…Dad! Why can I not see anything? Everyone is looking at the rainbow! Even I want to look at it!”
I hear my Dad speak, “That is because you are blind, my child! You cannot see things on your own, you cannot even do anything on your own. You lack the ability for it!”
And then Mom intervenes, “But don’t you worry my dear! We will help you do everything! Just listen to us…”
And then suddenly all the people standing near me start screaming,
“Yes! Yes! Just listen to them!”
Their voices, so loud, so deafening!
As I have almost believed in them, I hear some voices, voices that are not so clear, not loud at all, maybe coming from a distance…
“Do not listen to them! They are lying! You are not blind! They have covered your eyes! Don’t listen to them!”
These voices are distant, yet continuous.
I am in a dilemma!
What should I do?
Have faith in my parents and the people who are near me? Or listen to that distant voice which gives me hope, the hope of being able to see a rainbow on my own?
I decide to check for myself. I try to locate my eyes with my hand, my parents try to hold me back, but I struggle and reach there!
I find a piece of cloth tied around my eyes!
With no ado I just rip it apart! For few seconds, I cannot see anything, it is all dark! All the people around me are screaming that I have done something really wrong! But oh! As I gain my vision, everything changes! The view! The rainbow! It is so mesmerising! I don’t care what anyone is saying now…
And Then! I wake up!!
The same dream again!
I am no person who can decipher dreams but since a few months this one dream has become so frequent that I have understood its meaning.
All my life, my parents made me feel that I am blind, disabled! That I lacked the capability of doing anything. I made into IIT, they said I route learned. I wanted to do a job but they told me I could not excel. I wanted to do my masters; they felt that I should get married. And they said all this with so much affection, with so much concern; that I believed in them. I started doubting my self-worth, I started giving in to their beliefs. I let them manipulate me. I let them gaslight me, eventually accepting the fact that I cannot do anything on my own.
And here I am, after clearing my CAT exam, after making into IIM Ahmedabad; not going to attend the college because my father does not have the money to pay for it.
He is hosting my wedding in a five star hotel!
And… and! If this was not enough, he is giving almost one kilogram of gold to me along with the car he has already given to my MBA (from just another college) husband-to-be!
Somebody tell my father, he didn’t have to buy me a guy…
And you should hear the rational reasons why I should let the IIM opportunity go and get married.
- Getting married is the ultimate aim of life.
- I will not get a better guy at a cheaper rate than this.
- If I become an MBA (from IIM) it would be ten times more difficult to find a guy who would earn more than me.
The people who were close by in my dream, making deafening noises and apparently asking me to stick to my parents’ will are the relatives who are unable to mind their own business!
Empty vessels make the most sound.
I had not completely understood this proverb until I realised that one of my closely related Uncles who always spoke about ethics actually molested his own daughters.
And when I told my mother about it, I learnt a lesson for life. I learnt that some things have to be ignored in order to preserve the modesty of a family. Even if you have to sacrifice the modesty of a girl. After all, family is above individuality!
All this bitterness and sarcasm; well sadly I don’t have the courage to use it in front of my parents.
Though now, I am sick of keeping quiet. I am sick of accepting things as they are and regret not being able to change them…
But there is a little part of me that wants to rebel! This part, is my education. This part, is the modern Indian woman that lives inside me. This part, is the bonded Indian who wants freedom from slavery! And this part is that distant voice which gives me the hope of being able to see a rainbow on my own!
But somehow, it is not so easy to listen to this voice outside the dream. And not that I haven’t tried. I have tried convincing my parents for the MBA. I have tried convincing them against marriage. I have even tried rebelling; threatening and what not!
But, every time Granny’s last wish, Daddy’s heart disease, Bhaiyya’s New York dream and Mummy’s tears force me to agree to what they want me to do.
And after every drama session my mother has a beautiful line to say, ‘beta, you are not satisfied today, but with time you’ll realise that true happiness lies here!’
I don’t understand how does anyone realise happiness? I always thought we felt it….
Anyway, my life is like that of a puppet and I cannot get rid of the strings! And this very fact frustrates me to no extent. I have become quiet. I don’t talk much. Everyone but my parents has realised that I am not happy. The guy I am supposed to tie the knot with has tried calling me a hundred times and I have done nothing but ignore him. Of course the gold, the car and the gifts are tempting him to marry me. Wow!! Exactly the kind of man I wanted in life!
Every day I wake up to this same dream. Every day I struggle through the end. Every day I force a smile and fail to look convincing enough. People have started talking and my mother wants me to look happy because of the same.
I have even cried enough. So much that tears too have betrayed me. I don’t feel the moisture in my eyes anymore. If I visit a psychoanalyst today, he would send me to a psychiatrist. And the psychiatrist would definitely give me anti-depressants. So now, to save the effort I have started taking some already!
Today, is just another day…..
I have finally got up. The dream is still echoing at the back of my mind. As I reach my dressing table with trembling legs, I look at the calendar on the side wall. Two days… two days for my wedding. And also, last two days to pay the fees at IIM.
I hold my admission form in one hand, my wedding card in another. My hands tremble as I look at each one alternately. The two options that lie in front of me are sending shivers across my spine! I can either run away or die…
“My daughter cannot do this! She cannot run away with the jewelry!” I hear my mother scream.
“It is obvious, she has done it! Accept that!” some relative said.
“No, she cannot go away…” she is dejected now.
Standing at the door I am enjoying this conversation.
“It has been seven hours since she has left the house, the jewellery is gone too, trust me she is not coming back!” someone was really sure about me! Interesting!
“I was sure she was not happy; I am sure she had an affair!”
“She was not even ready to talk to me!” I think the groom spoke now.
“What a characterless woman!” my Uncle had to comment.
Enough! I am going in!
As I enter the house, all the eyes stop blinking. The smirk on my face speaks of a confidence that never seemed to be a part of my persona. Everybody is bombarding me with questions now. And I am just smiling. Their voices are falling on deaf ears. I have finally learnt to ignore the nearby voices and pay attention to the distant ones…
And then, I speak,
“Oh! I had been to Ahmedabad, by flight. I had to pay my MBA fees. Don’t worry Papa, I have not wasted any money. I’ve just sold some of the jewellery. Anyway you had saved all that for me.” I was speaking with an ease that irritated everyone. Oh! How I enjoyed it!
“I am very hungry! What’s the menu today?” blank faces are just staring at ne.
“You sold the jewellery, flew to Ahmedabad, paid your fees for MBA and came back! Do you realise, it is your wedding in two days?” my brother is getting hysteric.
“Oh! About that,” I address everyone, “I have a few conditions.”
“I am not going to marry a person who does not support my education; I am not going to marry a person who asks for dowry.” I stated them clearly and then walked up to the groom. I told him that he was free to make his choice.
After that, I grabbed an apple from the kitchen table and started walking up to my room. Everyone gawked at me as if I was the eighth wonder of the world. And trust me, I did feel like one!
My father took some time to process this heavy amount of shock! He bombarded me with questions which I answered calmly; in the same plain, composed tone. He probably did not believe in his senses! I smiled to myself and moved ahead!
The poky nose Uncle intervened. I cut him even before he began, “Uncle what I did does not concern you; but if I start talking about what I have seen; you will not really like it.” It was enough threat to make him keep quiet.
I walked up to my room, not regretting anything.
The wedding was called off. I was saved from greedy in-laws. Though nobody was talking to me; I shamelessly addressed everyone.
I had not chosen running away. I had not killed myself. I had battled my depression. I had sought a way out. Yes, my family would be upset for a while. But they will eventually realise that happiness is supposed to be felt!
I am going to live my dream, I am going to taste my freedom, I am going to witness my rainbow…..
As I begin to take a step
Towards the kind of modernisation
That is beyond the length of clothes
That hits on the backwardness
Inside educated homes
I need so much courage
To conquer the Everest of patriarchy
To undo what years have done
And as I move ahead
My limbs get the strength
My hands get the courage
To rip off the blind fold
And witness the rainbow
The rainbow of freedom!