Praveena enjoyed her leisure time. She didn’t do much the first couple of days; she ate well and gave herself a lot of rest. ‘You deserve it,’ her inner voice convinced her it wasn’t laziness.
A week later, Kamal mentioned Aunt Kameela. “Hey, I forgot to tell you,” he began with an enthusiastic greeting. “Kameela called yesterday,” he lowered his pitch a notch at Praveena’s look. She didn’t care about aunt Kameela, and it showed well on her face. He continued, “She asked me what you decided.” He hesitated. “And…” He haltered, worried about Praveena’s reaction. “She said she’d speak to you,” he looked up at her, wondering.
Praveena said nothing however. Kamal knew she was irritated. But he had wanted to convey the news; he didn’t like the idea of Kameela catching Praveena unprepared.
Praveena’s remained impassive. But fumed within. Glad that her father had warned her beforehand, she smiled musing on the prospect of giving aunt Kameela a piece of her mind. This should be interesting, she thought.
“You’re smiling,” Kamal observed.
“Yeah,” Praveena said defensively. “If she wants to ask me why I don’t want to marry her son, I’ll tell her why,” she said tauntingly.
Kamal looked a bit worried now, “Well,” he shrugged, “you know what to do, just remember, she is your mother’s sister” he said. “In a way,” he added in haste, catching Praveena’s disbelieving look.
“No worries, Pa. I’ll take care.” she smiled mischievously.
That evening, aunt Kameela called Praveena.
“Hello, Praveena!” aunt Kameela sang in her sugary voice. Praveena could imagine her wide smile on the other side, displayed all of her vain betel stained teeth. She was thankful aunt Kameela hadn’t decided to come over in person. It had been difficult enough the last time, a second encounter could have ended disastrous, Praveena thought.
“Hi, aunt Kameela, how are you? How’s everyone at home?” Praveena planned to stick to the conventional basics. She did not need a lecture on that.
“Oh, everything here’s alright of course,” aunt Kameela replied lighthearted. Praveena couldn’t help but notice the extra emphasis on the word ‘here.’ It was easy to discern the route of the conversation. She decided to wait for it however. If Kameela was going to confront her, Praveena didn’t want to help her by opening the matter herself.
“Oh, that’s good.” Praveena tried hard to bring a smile in her voice. She wondered if it conveyed when aunt Kameela replied.
“But things are not so ok over there, is it?” Praveena hated the way Kameela spoke. She used the same annoying tone she had had at her mother’s funeral; the tone of talking to an over emotional preschooler.
“There’s nothing like that,” Praveena shrugged, more out of habit before realizing aunt Kameela couldn’t see her.
“Your father told me everything, Praveena” she said slowly as if to emphasize that her knowledge wasn’t useless.
“What did he say?” Praveena was now getting curious. How much of their conversation would have Pa told her? She was still lost when Kameela’s strong voice bombarded her thoughts.
“Why don’t you like to marry Prem?”
‘Finally!’ thought Praveena.
“It’s not that I don’t like Prem,” she tried to make it sound right. “It’s just that I’m not ready for marriage. I need some time.”
“But, why?” There was hones curiosity in Aunt Jameela’s voice.
“I need to mentally prepare myself” Praveena remained patient. She needed to get the thoughts out of her head. She was glad she got an opportunity to express herself.
“That’s what college was for,” Praveena imagined Kameela’s earnest and confused face. But after listening to what Kameela just said, Praveena was a little surprised. She had been wondering the purpose of her formal education. ‘Was that supposed to mentally prepare you for marriage?’ her inner voice probed her, disgusted. ‘So, it wasn’t for the knowledge?’ She was crestfallen.
“Praveena? You there?” aunt Kameela yelled from the other side.
“Yes, yes. I’m listening” Praveena realized she had been silent for a while and spoke in hurry.
“I was saying, that after college –- or maybe a couple years after work — girls settle down and raise a family.” She took a deep breath. “And since you’re not planning on working, I thought — “ she left the thought hanging.
Praveena remained silent, reflecting on aunt Kameela’s statement. How easily she had said it! Praveena couldn’t accept it. Aunt Kameela’s voice interrupted her thoughts again.
“Alright, Praveena. You think about it. Bye,” Aunt Kameela disconnected the line even before Praveena could react.
Praveena wondered if her long periods of silence had offended aunt Kameela. ‘So what if it had?’ her inner voice reasoned. And Praveena agreed.
“After college — or maybe after a couple years of work — girls settle down and raise their families.”
Aunt Kameela’s words haunted Praveena. She still couldn’t accept it. Her mind raced. Why had it become such a common notion? She had seen women who worked. But, she thought. Almost all of the working women she had known had already been married, even Ms Marrie — wait — ‘what could have happened to Ms Marrie?’
She was curious. She wanted to know if Ms Marrie had been married. ‘Of course she would’ve married’ her inner voice said, exasperated.
‘But, why didn’t she invite you?’ it was now the second voice.
While her two inner voices imposed contradictory theories, Praveena tried focusing on the bigger matter: Why did girls marry after a certain stage and start living for another person altogether? It sounded as if a girl’s final destination was marriage, as if they don’t have the freedom to choose a life after that.
Praveena wondered whether it was right to limit a girl’s potential after marriage. She knew a lot of women who had chosen their own careers, even after marriage. They didn’t think marriage was the stop point. For them, marriage meant companionship and fellowship, and a family was moral support.
Marriage is just a part of a woman’s life and not the end of it, she concluded as she sat cross-legged on her bed.
Aunt Kameela and her son Prem would disagree, she thought. They were an orthodox family who expected people to behave just like them. Living there would be a pain, for them and her. ‘That family is certainly not for you.’ she decided.