As a daughter of an army man, I have always led a sheltered life. My father provided for my brother and me with all that he could within reason. He had a lot of responsibilities, including his ailing parents and an unmarried sister.
We lived a frugal life. Two new dresses a year, one on my birthday and one during Dussera and if there was a sale at Bata, then maybe a pair of new shoes. Either the black or white school shoes because they were the most important. I would look at my friends, jealous that they had a new dress for every function, while I was dressed in the same outfit for every occasion.
The only time my father didn’t mind spending, was when it was on books. This is how a Mills & Boons book landed in my hands. I had seen this particular one in the hands of a senior. The cover had a man, with rippling muscles carrying a petite woman in his arms. They were drenched. He had a smirk on his face and she had her arms around his neck. The only reason I can describe it so well, is because I still have it.
And before you take any guesses, no, my dad didn’t buy this one for me. The year was 1955, a time before CCTV surveillance in shops. No prizes for guessing what I did to obtain this copy.
And it’s from there that my obsessive hunt for my Prince Charming began. It made me reckless: got in the way of everything, including my studies. My father may have had an inkling, so for graduation, I ended up in a girls’ college. And was I pissed! But looking back, it was the best thing he did for me. I was exposed to others like me, who were crazy and had boyfriends. The girls would come to college and set off with their boyfriends for a couple of hours before coming back home.
I quickly realized that this wasn’t an experience as enjoyable as they made it out to be. These girls had no friends – once they were left by their boyfriends, they had no one to lean on.
The one incident that will always stay close to me, was of that of Riya's, a journalist. She began her dating life since she was in the 10th grade. Her boyfriend was in his final year of engineering when we were in our first year of BA. And wow, was she proud of her achievement of landing an engineer!
Forward to a year later, they eloped. We were all extremely happy for her. When she came back, she was filled with romantic stories from her honeymoon in Kochi. Into our second month of TY, news broke that she had conceived. By November, she was eight months due and on bed rest as she was facing some complications. After this, there was no news of Riya till I graduated.
I was in my second year of MA and she had re-joined TY. She slowly started revealing how it all unraveled post the ‘honeymoon phase’. She had a daughter, Tanvi. Her husband who got a placement in an IT firm, lost his job due to downsizing. Ria’s in-laws blamed it on their grand-daughter because of some mumbo-jumbo from their Guru about aligning planets and even refused to touch the baby.
It was because of this that Riya was unable to rejoin college or sit for her final exams. Riya had no choice but to make peace with her situation and immersed herself in caring and loving Tanvi. This wasn’t the end for Riya. Six months later, her father-in-law, a man who was 108kgs and gorged only on high-calorie food items cooked by Ria’s mother-in-law herself, suffered a heart attack.
Instead of following the medical diagnosis, her in-laws placed the blame entirely on Tanvi, as their Guru had declared.
Soon after this incident, Riya’s mother-in-law took extreme interest in Tanvi. This aroused Riya’s suspicions and she decided to keep a close watch on her child every time she was around her mother in law. The worst of her fears were confirmed, when a week later, the love of a grandmother turned deadly, and Riya caught her mother in law attempting to strangle Tanvi during a massage. Luckily, a neighbour was stopping by and heard Riya’s piercing screams for help. Security was alarmed and under their guard, Riya packed her bags and left with her daughter.
You’d think this would be the end of her struggle, but it didn’t stop there. Her parents refused to take her back.
An old tuition teacher took them in and gave them shelter. Riya began tutoring with her. Things had begun to shine for her, and soon after, a widowed paternal aunt who was once ostracized about her own love marriage reconnected with Riya over Facebook. Being companionless and childless, she offered Riya and Tanvi a home.
Her aunt quickly became the strength and support that Riya didn’t have: her husband divorced her by the time she completed her journalism degree and left for abroad for further studies, leaving behind “that bad luck runt”. Today, Riya works for a prestigious weekly magazine, Tanvi, is in the 7th and at the top of her class. Riya’s story has a happy ending, albeit through a difficult story, but this instilled a fear in me, due to which I never looked at any man.
All my romance novels ended up with the raddiwala. I quickly became an obedient daughter and focused on my studies. I married the person my parents chose for me, much to the pleasure of my grandparents. It was a gamble, but it paid off for me.
Don’t get me wrong, not all love marriages end badly in a country like India. But you need to be careful when you meet your Prince Charming, and make sure that he stands by you and your decisions.
All of us need family and friends to fall back on, in case of any crisis. Post marriage, love or arranged, many doors do shut for women. But with changing time, parents and grandparents, stand beside the girls, if she has had an arranged marriage. Love marriage on the other hand, just gives everyone the chance to say, “I told you so” before slamming the door shut.
Oh, and as for Riya’s Prince Charming, well he re-married a girl that his Guru chose for him. Now he works in a bank as a teller despite having an MBA and his father died a couple of years later due to his ‘healthy’ diet.
Personally, I believe that love marriage isn’t for me. Riya is just one of the many failed love stories that I’ve seen happen around me, that got a happy ending. Sadly, some of the stories I’ve heard of have ended in suicide attempts, or worse, forced marriages.