Sudha was constantly staring into the mirror. Tears had welled up in her eyes and she was fed up of the daily taunts directed towards her by her own blood. She was an ace in household chores but had to really struggle in studies. On one hand she was compared with her younger sister Megha, who was excellent in academics, and on the other hand she stood no chance in front of her youngest brother, owing to gender inequality prevalent in their society. Sudha often used to feel dejected and felt like a caged bird, who was desperate to fly freely. A bird that was unfortunately caged in her own home, by her own kith and kin. She was increasingly growing sceptical and had little faith in her own wings.
The time finally came for her maiden flight. “We have seen a boy for you. He works in a bank and his family is going to visit us this Sunday”, Sudha’s mother Lakshmi broke the news.
Sudha tried to conceal her delight and continued watering the plants. She was happy that finally she would be free and would have a home of her own in true sense. It didn’t matter to her who the boy was, how he looked, how much he earned; she was only interested in getting far away from her present circumstances.
Vikram’s family was sitting in the drawing room, and Sudha clad in a traditional benarasi saree, arrived holding a tray. Her attire and jewellery were only augmenting her natural beauty and no one could take their eyes off her. So the deal was struck and Sudha also said yes without too much of a delay. It was a win-win proposition for everyone. For Vikram, it was a jackpot to have a trophy wife, for Sudha it meant her freedom, for Sudha’s parents it was one burden lessened and for Vikram’s parents it was a full-proof insurance for their old-age.
Wedding bells rang soon and Sudha was on cloud nine after getting so much importance, which she was not accustomed to. She was the new darling daughter-in-law and had a doting husband ready to attend to her every call and tantrums. Days seemed to be passing briskly and little did she know about what lay ahead.
Gradually life returned back to its normal pace and one year had passed since marriage. Sudha was still happy that at least her contribution was valued, even though the pressure to start a family was day by day mounting. Unfortunately, she belonged to the strata of the society where the value of the woman was ascertained from her ability to produce off-springs. Vikram kept his mouth conveniently shut and soon Sudha had to give in to the rising pressure.
Saloni, their first child arrived and then the mouths were shut for couple of years. Again the tongues started wagging for producing the heir of the family. Sudha was once again distraught and the familiar pain, which she had left behind, was again pacing towards her at full speed. Her identity was reduced to nothing more than a child-bearing machine, which had no consciousness of its own to decide its future course.
She conceived again but destiny had strange designs for her. It was a still-birth this time and her world came crashing down. She had invested nine months of her life in that pregnancy; nine months of love, pain, hope and labour had all gone in vain. Her womb was empty and so was her soul. She longed for peace, a respite from the drudgery. The thought of Saloni was her only consolation and gave her the glimmer of hope to continue. Such was the travesty of fate that she felt nothing less than a puppet, whose cords were being mercilessly plucked by her own blood relations. Same blood, same colour and that had given her myriad experiences.
She had not even come to terms with her loss and again she was being persuaded to follow the path of agony. Did she have any choice? She conceived once again, only to get mocked by fate, this time too. This time it was an early miscarriage. She was physically drained out to the very core, yet the verbal abuse and taunts of her new family were not helping the matter either.
Her mind was about to explode, as she could no longer bear to live like an animal. Once again she felt like the old caged bird whose wings were now clipped. She had nowhere to go now, no dream to cling to, no hope to hold on to. Her whole life had been nothing but a mirage, an illusion, which she resolutely followed, till the last ounce of energy was left in her. The freedom which she had dreamed for was no less than the “Mareecha”, the golden deer of Ramayana, merely an illusion.
Amidst this whirl of emotions, she finally made up her mind one day. She closed the door, climbed up the stool and tightened the noose around her neck. The moment she was about to kick the stool away, she was startled by the frantic knocks on the door. “Mumma, mumma….where are you?” Saloni was screaming.
……..to be continued