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The traffic signal
The lights turned red. The minute vehicles came to a halt, commotion of beggars and vendors started. Each wanted to outfox another. Some drivers started honking - expressing their frustration. It was common on the roads of Delhi.
Sukanya arranged the garlands on her basket and ran.
Nita glared at her Rolex. “It is getting late!” she yelled at her driver.
“You could have just jumped the red light!” She knew that it was easy to get away with a mere 100 rupee note. The traffic policeman would happily oblige. “What if the flight lands before we reach?”
She calmed herself down and looked at the mirror. “I look like a freak in this Indian get-up.” She muttered. But it was dad’s decision. “The perfect outfit when you’re going to greet your soon-to-be NRI (1) husband. These bride-seekers prefer traditional girls.” And he passed on the beautiful designer sari to her. He must have spent a small fortune on it. A tiny investment for a long-term gain – that was his business proposition!
“Consider the business prospects that this marriage will enhance, my child. We can draw in foreign investment through Vishal’s contacts. After all, it is you who will be inheriting this business empire of mine.”
“Dad…. please don’t make my life a business deal!” Nita screamed. But dad’s decision was final.
Nita could see her plans for the future being washed down in tears.
Sukanya’s future was decided the day she was born. She was destined to sell garlands around this traffic signal. And she was soon to marry Ramu. His father ran the whole racquet around this traffic signal. If Sukanya’s family had to retain their place at the signal, they had to agree to whatever he said.
Ramu’s father promised that if she married Ramu, her brother will be allowed a place around the traffic signal to sell magazines. Life couldn’t get better for Sukanya’s family. Getting their daughter married into Ramu’s family would greatly boost their standing at the signal!
Soon she would be Ramu’s wife. So what if she detested this illiterate, ugly rouge. She had always hoped to marry someone who could help her learn to read and write. How she longed to read the glossy magazines her brother sold. Nevertheless, she was not hugely disappointed. “What difference would literacy make? If not selling garlands at the traffic signal, I will be working at someone’s house. Now at least my family can live in peace.” She thought.
Nita had never wanted to do MBA. But her parents forced her into it. She had always wanted to be a journalist. But now she understood that no matter what she studied, she would have eventually been just this - a housewife.
Mom and dad had wanted a son. After all, he would shoulder their business. Daughter, on the other hand, will become someone else’s property after marriage. But after the complicated delivery, mom couldn’t bear another child. “Who would have thought that because of a daughter my business will enhance this way!” Dad exclaimed.
When Sukanya was born her parents were ready to sell her off to a stranger. A girl child would be nothing but a burden. “Don’t just look at the extra mouth to feed; she can help sell garlands once grown up.” Somehow an aunt convinced them. “Today because of her we can hold our head high at this junction.” Sukanya’s father said proudly.
Someone knocked at the car window. A girl in rags was waving garlands. Nita noticed the hena on her hands. Hena – an adornment symbolizing a soon to be wedded girl. Nita pulled out a note from her purse and rolled down the glass slightly.
“No change memsahib.”
“Don’t worry, keep the change.” It was after all dads’ money.
“May god bless your bridegroom,” Sukanya saw the hena on her hands and uttered this blessing mechanically. The extra money was not hers. All her earnings went to father, and from now on would go to Ramu.
In an instant something passed between the two girls. They smiled as their hands faintly touched while exchanging money with garland.
Neither of them realized that life on the other side of the glass was not much different than their own. Difference perhaps was just as much as in the exquisite pattern of hena on one pair of delicate hands and the rushed job on the other pair of rough hands.
Just then the lights turned green. And the two girls parted ways.
Non Resident Indian