Author’s Note: Trigger Warning. This story is to remember the month of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Shobha’s eyes were brimming with pride and joy. She felt a bittersweet heart-wrenching emotion, that of imminent parting. Her daughter Swati looked resplendent in a simple but stunning kurti ensemble. Preeti’s face and skin shone brightly from the inner glow of sheer happiness.
It was her mehendi day today, and she looked forward to being pampered while the mehendi artists weaved intricate patterns on her hands and feet using henna. She looked forward to beautiful henna-dyed hands and feet that symbolised the love she felt for her soon-to-be husband Shiv.
A cloud momentarily blocked the bright sunlight streaming into the room. Swati felt a chill down her spine. She shook off the morose thoughts that threatened to overwhelm her and derail her happiness. Thoughts that accompanied her every minute of every day, with the exception of rare moments of pure happiness such as those she just experienced.
Out of a habit born from a couple of decades of instinct, her eyes sought her mother frantically. She heaved a sigh of relief when she saw Shobha smiling, laughing, welcoming women of the family who came to shower their blessings on Swati and apply some henna on their hands as well.
Soon the women were all singing wonderful mehendi songs, reminiscing about Swati ‘s childhood and life up until that point. Only Swati and Shobha knew how carefully constructed these memories were. Below the surface of these memories lay a murky past. No, a murky past, present and future as far as Shobha was concerned. Mother and daughter exchanged a look, each lending her strength to the other.
For the next few hours, the ladies enjoyed the attentions of the mehendi artists who adorned their hands with intricate designs.
By late evening, all their extended family and the artists had left, giving Shobha and Swati a few precious moments with each other. Shobha hugged her daughter, careful not to accidentally mess up the intricate mehendi design that ran all the way to Swati’s elbows.
Then she sat next to Swati with a sigh. She gently stroked Swati’s head and smiled. “Time for the talk!” she teased. Swati smiled and waited with anticipation. What would Ma say?
Shobha took a deep breath and began, “I want you to have all the happiness and joy that your heart can hold.
I want your days to be filled with laughter.
I can see you and Shiv are deeply and happily in love with each other. He respects you, treats you like a partner in this journey of life and above all, you are best friends. I am so happy for you! Always be a team, and you will have a wonderful future with each other.
Just remember one thing in life sweetheart. Don’t ever let someone else control your life, or make you feel bad about yourself. Be your own person, have your own thoughts, ideals and form your own opinions. If Shiv ever makes you feel any less than you are, then you need to dig deep into yourself. Because you will find, that somehow you are letting him do so.”
Swati looked up at this, tears in her eyes. She felt like all of her life up until this point had culminated into this moment in time. She had to remind herself to breathe, to finally say what she wanted to say.
“Ma…. then why….?”
She fell silent as she heard the key turn in the lock. Instincts of a lifetime automatically kicked in and the moment was lost. She looked sadly at her mother, whose eyes held the same look they had for decades now.
The look of fear, of resignation, of accepting her lot in life.
Swati’s father walked in and took in the scene. Joy turned into ash in Swati’s mouth as her father’s cold eyes did not even take her in. Shobha stood rooted to the floor, silently hoping tonight would be different. It was Swati’s mehendi day after all.
Shobha’s husband caught her by her long and lustrous hair. He was careful that way. Yanking on hair didn’t leave any evidence. Neither did cigarette burns and bite marks on unexposed parts of Shobha’s body. A few choice expletives added to make her feel like the worthless excuse of a human she was, and she would know her place in this marriage and stay in her limits. It never failed.
While Preeti helplessly looked on, he all but dragged Shobha to their bedroom.
The unspoken sentence came out in a whisper amid the torrent of tears, “Ma, then why have you let Pa treat you this way for all these years?”