I was not able to sleep. It was 2:00 in the morning and I did not have a minute’s sleep yet. Many thoughts flooded my mind. I was scared, happy and sad at the same time. Tomorrow was a big day for me. My final year grad results were to be announced and the report cards distributed. My papers were good and I expected good grades. I had been an above average student from the very beginning. Daughter of a school teacher, my father had given me a moderate life but a lot of knowledge. He had constantly tutored me from the day I first got myself enrolled into a school till my grad exams were over. My mother was a simple, god fearing and kind housewife who took great care of her family.
But it was not the worry of my result that kept me awake. Tomorrow, I was going to leave this house and never come back. Harish would be waiting for me at the bus stand. All I needed to do was receive my mark sheet from my college and meet him. Then we would leave this town forever. He had a friend in Dehradun who had arranged for our marriage registration in Dehradun court. Harish had also rented a room in Dehradun for us to stay. Everything was planned. By tomorrow I would be married to my Harish, forever.
I wanted to take some jewels that my mother had got made and saved for my marriage but Harish denied. “Not a penny will you take from your house,” he had said. However, I had kept all my saved pocket money in my bag. I had already managed to hide a box of my clothes at a friend’s house that was helping me in my attempt.
I was feeling restless and changed sides frequently. This was not what I had dreamed for myself. Like every other girl, I wanted a grand Indian wedding, at least the type that my father could afford. I wanted to be adorned in new clothes and jewels; I wanted to invite my friends and family and get married in front of everybody and receive their greetings and blessings. I wanted my father to organize a grand feast for everyone. I wanted my groom to come in a decorated car with lots of his relatives and friends and take me away with great pomp and show.
But alas! None of it would come true. But I did not have any other option. My father was a very caste rigid man. He would never allow his Brahmin daughter to get married to a boy of lower caste. I knew it was no use trying to convince him. He would never understand how madly I was in love with Harish.
I got up and walked towards my parent’s room. The door was unlocked. I peeped in and found them, sleeping peacefully in their bed. My father’s face looked wrinkled and tired because of the intense amount of work that he had to do to earn a living. He had spent most of his life taking tuitions and teaching in school to earn the meager pay that he spent on us. Most of the money went for my studies but he never complained. My mother’s hands looked rough and dry, with the skin cracked here and there. Poor lady! She did all the household chores on her own. We could not afford a domestic help and she would not let me help her and instead wanted me to study. Her sari was torn at a place. Tears swelled up in my eyes and I ran back into my room. I dived in my bed and wept for the rest of the night.
Next day, I got ready to go to the college. My heart was thumping hard and my face looked pale. My mother gently ran her fingers through my hair. She was trying to pacify me. “Why do you look so nervous beta?” she asked.”You always do well in your exams. Don’t worry! You will get good grades for sure. I will pray to god”.
I had to literally run out of the house for I feared to burst into tears. But I had to return. “Maa, I will be late. My friends want me to join them to celebrate our success if all of us graduate.” I lied.
“That’s alright love! Go and enjoy. I understand all of you will go separate ways after today.” And then she fed me a spoon of curd and sugar for good luck.
My results were excellent. All my hard work had finally showed up. My friends got good grades too and I got the highest among them. But I was not happy. I felt a heavy burden on my chest. My throat was clogged and I could hardly speak.
After fetching my bag from my friend’s house, I started walking towards the bus station. It was mid-day and I could not find a single auto-rickshaw. The roads were almost empty and the sun was very hot. The warm winds of May made it harder for me to walk, or perhaps my feet seemed heavy to me. After 45 minutes of walking I finally reached near the station. Now I needed to cross the road and I would meet Harish waiting for me in the station.
I was about to cross the road when I heard a voice from behind,”Didi, please give me a rupee. I haven’t eaten for two days. I need to feed my baby and I don’t have milk in my breast due to lack of food. Please, I need the money. Not for me, for my baby.”
I turned to find a beggar, all dirty, sitting on the footpath with a baby in her lap. She was lean as a skeleton due to lack of nutrition. Her face looked dry and pale. Her sari was totally tattered but she had covered her baby with its aanchal, trying to save it from the sun and warm winds. The holes in her aanchal, however did not allow it to cater to her need. The baby looked equally thin.
The beggar looked into my eyes and I could see the helplessness in hers. All she wanted was to give food to her baby and save it from the scorching sun because she was a mother. All mothers are the same, I thought. Suddenly my mother’s face appeared in my mind. I remembered how she sat with me awake for nights together to help me stay awake and study for my exams. She made tea for me at regular intervals throughout the night. She took care of me every second that she was with me.
And my father, he was my hero. It was because of him that I had become what I was. He taught me to read, to walk, to eat. He made me sleep with his lullabies when I was a child and I felt secure sleeping in his lap. My parents had sacrificed everything they had for me. They saved me and kept me secure from every danger. They spent every penny of theirs for me to study. And now that I was a graduate, I was running away because I could earn my living and I didn’t need them.
I felt ashamed to the innermost core of my heart. I sat down beside the beggar and cried like a baby. The beggar stared at me with surprise. After crying to my heart’s content, I got up, took out the little purse containing all the Rs 2000 of my pocket money and gave it to the beggar. I threw a wet glance to the bus stand where Harish was still waiting for me. And then I turned and ran to my house. The box of clothes was heavy, the wind was still strong and the sun was still very hot but my feet were light like a feather. The burden on my chest was gone and I ran as fast as I could.
“What happened beta? Why are you panting? And why are you crying? And why are you having this box?” They looked worried to death.
“I was about to run away with my boy friend but I could not. I cannot leave you. I love you both. I am sorry.” My voice quivered as I tried to answer.
For a while they stared at me in surprise and then they hugged me. We hugged each other for a long time. My heart felt the peace that it had never felt before in my entire life.