Author – Pranjali Rautela
“Arre beta bass dekhne ja rahe hain. Usse ghar thode na lana hai!” his mother exclaimed while settling her sari. It was natural for Arun to laugh it off; after all it was not the first time he was going out for window shopping! As a matter of fact he loves to go shopping. Do you know what Arun shops for? Well, he window shops for brides! And this time he is coming for “YOU”. You won’t be able to escape his lustful gaze, because your own mother will drape you in one of her finest saris and present you before him like a piece of exhibition.
People like Arun go bride shopping from door to door in search of the best girls on offer. Whichever house offers the best price gets to seal the deal. It was my sister’s turn the other day. My mother, while draping Naina in her favourite sari, advised her to behave like a mannequin and look all pretty and demure. Arun and his mother entered our house like customers with a list of specifications and my mother hoped that Naina would match their criteria. Naina was bombarded with questions and it seemed like she was appearing for a job interview. To be precise, it seemed like they were interviewing her for the position of a house maid!
Later we left Naina and Arun alone to talk for a while and I am sure she must have not talked much, as she was to be a mannequin for the day! In the meanwhile we entertained Arun’s mother, who praised her son and convinced my mother that Naina would not get a better choice. They left our house saying that Arun’s father would finalize the decision (she meant the deal!) and that they would inform us soon.
The next day, my mother sat next to our landline hoping for a phone call. Later in the evening the phone rang and Arun informed us that Naina had passed her interview with flying colours. But he also mentioned a huge amount of dowry that is too inappropriate to be quoted. Naina wasn’t happy with this deal, but my mother made her best effort to convince her. Little did Arun’s mother realize that she had left her home with the agenda of shopping for a bride, but ended up selling her own son in the name of dowry!
Soon, we got Naina and Arun married in a grand wedding ceremony. The first few months of their wedded life were good and Arun seemed like family to us. Naina looked happy and came for frequent visits. But good times don’t last, do they? Reality soon dawned on us and the smiling masks fell off. Maybe the money got over or maybe Naina’s mother-in-law’s specifications changed over time. We never understood why they turned into hounds and preyed on an innocent. They tortured her physically and mentally. They forced her to leave her job and turned her into a full-time maid. She lost weight and her fragile body couldn’t bear a child! Then they defamed her in every way and one fine day, packed her bags and sent her back.
My parents were shocked to see her in such a sorry state. She had turned into a scared little girl with zero self-esteem. My mother cried as she explored her abused body. She asked my sister why she had not taken a stand for herself and why had she not retaliated. Naina had replied, “Well! Ma, you made me believe that I was a mannequin and mannequins don’t speak!” Her reply had hit all of us like a rock.
We filed a police complaint and expected justice. Little did we remember that we were living in India where the government plays peek-a-boo with its citizens! The police come in just to state the law and disappear before enforcing it. No matter how stringent the laws on the subject of dowry, the story doesn’t seem to take a positive turn. Dowry-related violence has seen a steady rise across the country and the National Crime Records Bureau figures state that 8,233 dowry deaths were reported in India in 2012. If you work out the statistics, that turns out to be one death per hour on an average.
Luckily, Naina didn’t die, but she is no more alive. Arun took away everything from her; he transformed an independent woman into a dependent slave. It’s a shame how an institution as pure as marriage has been adulterated with such corruption. It has transformed into an art of bride shopping, which feeds into the business of dowry. Many Indian men proudly talk about their dowry price. The mistake could lie in their upbringing.
I thank God that Naina returned home alive. As I am writing this she is reading aloud a wedding invitation card. Her ex-husband Arun has gone shopping again and is getting married in a few days. I wonder who he is going to destroy this time. The fire in the grate is dying as I sit and watch her close her moist eyes. She flung the card into the fire in the hope that its flames will warm her winter-struck heart. I hope she sees spring soon and rediscovers the old Naina who didn’t mind smiling once in a while!