When everything changed for a daughter, twice

Submitted into Contest #29 in response to: Write a story about someone dealing with family conflict.... view prompt



“Mamta, you will not go to College from this June”, declared my Stepmother at breakfast, the day I turned 17. The dhokla I had enthusiastically made for the family now tasted like sand. My tongue was leached dry.


I had just finished writing my Grade 12 final examination and

was on vacation.

 I had two more years to graduate when this Fatwa

was pronounced.


I was stunned. Father looked at Stepmother questioningly while

she went on

like a road roller. “She should be married off in a year’s

time.”  Nikhil my brother, older to me by two years, gaped at her

disbelievingly. “It's hard to find good grooms for overage girls”, she

elaborated for the family.


Papa cleared his throat and stepped in my defense. “Mamta will

barely complete 20 when she graduates. She will not be overage.”


“ Who’ll pay for the dowry? she asked. “Professionally-trained

grooms demand a bride price in millions. How will you pay it? You are only a

small shop manager!”


Father flinched as her vitriolic tongue rebutted him. He was a

delicately-built, mild man, the General Manager of a popular store nearby, not

such a small man. He decided not to argue with her but to finish his breakfast

and leave for work in a calm state. We knew no one could hold out against her.

She was so argumentative.


She hated me. She always reminded me of ugly witches in fairy

tales with gnarled hands and crooked fingernails out to gouge the eyes of young

girls like me because they couldn’t bear their blossoming youth.


The vixen would never have come into our happy life but for Ma’s

untimely death due to kidney failure.


Two years ago, Stepmother was single at 45 until she met my

father. His friends introduced them. She and her family sweet-chatted him into

marriage with her. “I love children”, the ugly duckling told Papa. “ I will

shower so

much love on your children, they will not miss their mother whom

they have unfortunately lost.” Papa fell for that mushy line.


Shattered by Ma’s death, he was keen to give his children the

security and care of a mother.


This was the motherly love Stepmother was showering on me now.


Father left for his workplace and soon after, she left for hers.

I hadn't spoken a word since morning.


With both gone, I sat and howled in my room. I loved studying. I

had dreams. I had aspirations. My parents had embedded them in me since

childhood. The new scenario had left me shaken to my veins and arteries.


Nikhil saw me sobbing helplessly. He came to me and held me.

“Mamtu,” he addressed me affectionately. “Please calm down Mamtu.”


“Nikhil,” I turned to him in desperation, “Can you convince Papa

not to discontinue my education?” He said he would try but probably never did.

He was worried that if he did so, Stepmother would on some pretext, ensure

that his studies in engineering were prematurely discontinued.


I alone grieved.


Truly, this was the first time such talk had come up in our

family. Our parents had always given us a modern outlook. They wanted us to

train to be professionals and to think and choose for ourselves. This was


alien. No one was prepared for the 360 degree turnaround.

Stepmother had always been shifty-eyed.


Restlessly, aimlessly, I walked from one end of the room to the



I had no one to confide in or to speak on my behalf to Papa and

Stepmother. No one to get the decision reversed. My grandparents lived in a

remote village

in Gujarat. They were of an identical view that a girl should be

married off before she started arguing.


We had lived and studied in Mumbai since childhood. This archaic

outlook had been transported into our family by Stepmother to spoil my life.

She was not

so old-fashioned as her views about her own self showed. “I must

have an equal relationship with you”, she had told Papa early in marriage.


Most parents want a boy for their first child but my parents

had thrown a grand party to celebrate the arrival of a daughter. They had

named me ‘Mamta’. ‘Mamta’ means ‘love.’


Books, texts, films had taught me to converse with great women

role models. I had loved the lives of the likes of Indira Gandhi, Kiran

Mazumdar, Indra Nooyi. Here was I, on my 17th birthday, being made to feel like

a burden, a piece of baggage to be disposed of in a garbage heap. That’s what a

marriage into an orthodox home with a matriculate groom would spell for me.


“Girls today are never satisfied. So demanding. We never

demanded anything”, that's what I can hear my future mother-in-law and her team

of obedient, scheming, semi-literate daughters-in-law would tell me.


Hubby dear would not like to be left behind. “You have a

comfortable life. Live in luxury. What more do you want?”

“Why do you want to work? I can give you ten times

your salary”.

“Why catch trains to work and break your bones?”


Without graduation, I could not become economically independent.

I would be begging for $5 to buy a pair of slippers. “My chappals are old and

worn out. I want to buy a new pair.” I'll let you know, when. Too many shop

expenses just now.”


Or, I'll have to flirt with him and wheedle out the measly

amount from him.

 “With your good looks, I shouldn’t be walking by your

side, dragging broken slippers, Janu.” I'll flatter the fat fellow. He would

say,“Buy a pair today itself.” His miserly

plump fingers doling out the money.


I didn't want charity. I wanted a husband who could understand

me, someone who I could talk to, someone whom I could buy a tie for or a sari

for myself from my own money.


If I didn't stand on my feet in the new home, my position would

be that of a full-time cook serving food to 12 members, pressing

mother-in-law’s feet, bearing insults and taunts for the small dowry “ Look

what your father has given you”. Who says the dowry is any less for matriculate


“Go home, if you are unhappy. My son will get a better bride

than you and in no time.”


“Wear a sari. Keep your head covered. Here are the keys. Manage

the house.”

“ Who, I?”

Don't argue.


I will soon lose my 26-inch waist. No time to care for me. I

will start looking like my bloated mother-in-law. A ship in a sari rocking on

sea waves.


If I'll take a book to read, I'll be chided “What a waste of

time! Go grind the masala and make Phaphras for dinner.

I love reading. “So? No food?”

Okay, let me read at night at least.

“Rubbish! Spend time with me. I’m your husband.” When I put away

the book, he dozes off before I can reach him.


I re-start reading my novel. He gets up from his sleep groggy-eyed,

snatches the novel out of my hand and flings it angrily across the room. The


strikes the opposite wall like a pellet. Its spine is broken,

its vertebrae spill out as I run to rescue whatever of its pages are intact.


Blood rushes to my brain which will go dead soon if I stay in

this jail a minute longer.


I can’t sleep. My thoughts gallop un-reined. I must not let this

marriage happen.


Hastily, I stuff my bag with some clothes and decide to escape

that night to some unknown destination.


Nikhil gets up in the night to drink a glass of water in the

summer heat and spies me sneaking out of the door. Scared for my safety, he

grabs me by my plait back into the house. “What the hell are you up to?” he

shouts at me. “Do you know what you’re doing, Mamtu?” He steadies me; I am



The family is up. Lots of commotion. Stepmother is speaking. I

retreat to my room, crestfallen.


Nikhil comes to my room, shivering. “Stepping into the night

alone in this evil city? Why Mamtu, why?”


I am defenseless. Words fail to come out of my mouth. All I had

wanted was a fresh breath of air from early marriage, from a caged life, lived

with the sole aim

of bearing and raising children for the slob.


Papa didn’t say a word to me that night. He looked pensive. He

knew my state of mind and was probably concerned that if pushed too far, I

might take my life. 


Stepmother was her usual self, taunting and raising imaginary

boogies. “I always knew she would run away with a guy and bring shame to us.

Who will marry her then? Tell me”, she said, addressing my father. “I’m going

to lock up the door at night and whenever she is alone in the house.”

 “No one is going to lock up Mamta,” I heard Papa thunder.

No one. Is it clear?”

Stepmother had never heard him speak to anyone like this,

including her. She shut her mouth and retreated.


A 17-year old had been kept confined to the house since the day

her world turned a cartwheel. Her pain was unbearable. She would be told to

stay at home until the day of her wedding and depart from there for her

husband's home and be told never to return until her death.


The NGO for destitute women wouldn't have me because I had

parents. The working women’s hostel wouldn't have me unless my parents signed

my application. I tried to run away but was discovered and brought back.


I felt defeated and desolate. I kept brooding. 


Next day father arrived home earlier than usual. Stepmother

would return much later.


I decided to talk to him.


Handing him a cup of freshly-made tea, I asked him “You’re are

back early?”

“Yes”, he said. “I was not feeling like staying on at work. I

took half a day’s leave.”

The thought crossed my head: Could he have come home to speak

with me in private? He was very sensitive. I sat down beside him.


After a while, he asked me if I was all right.


“Papa, do you ever think of Ma?” I asked him instead.

His face twitched in pain. His reply startled me.

“Yes, very often.”

“I too”, I said.

“She was different”, he said. “This situation would never have

risen while she was alive.”

“Yes, both of you wanted me to excel in studies and become a

Chartered Accountant.”

“I want to support you but I don't know how to. She will make

life hell for all of us, especially, you. You will not be able to get anywhere.”


I kept thinking awhile. As in a flash, it occurred to me what I

would do in the circumstances.

“Will you pay for my enrolment in an online course?”

I asked Papa.

“Which one?”

“The Indira Gandhi National Open University offers a two-year

accredited course in the Bachelor of Business Administration for a paltry fee

of $100. It has the job value of graduation from college. I will

repay you the fee by tutoring children in Math.”


Papa looked at me. “Of course, I’ll pay for your course, Mamta.

You don’t have to repay the fee, child. Just tell me when, and I’ll pay it in

an instant!”


I felt overjoyed to hear him speak like my old Papa. He had

tears in his eyes when I told him, “I want to work while studying.”


“ You can but I’m afraid your Stepmother will again raise hell

if she knows you want to go out to work.”


“I will tutor the junior school children of our neighbors inside

our house. I will contact the mothers who had asked me for it six months ago.

They know my Math is good.”


“That’s a brilliant idea, Mamta. I’m with you on this. You are

clever and determined and will succeed. I’m so proud of my daughter whom I

haven’t seen smile for a while.”


With that, he hugged me and patted my head. “Forgive me, I

should have spoken with you much earlier. I should have stood up for you that

day itself. If you wish to resume college, you can.


“The online course will be better because I want to work



After a while. “Tell me why did you want to leave home?”

“I didn’t want to be married off without a degree and to an

uneducated man”.

“That is my word to you”, promised Papa. I will select someone

truly worthy of you in education and taste. By the way, let our discussion

remain between the two of

us. Everybody need not know everything.”

I nodded and felt lighter at heart after a long time.


When Stepmother returned, he informed her casually that I would

be offering tuitions to children from home. Surprisingly, she accepted his

decision with docility because she had had a taste of his tough side the

previous night and did not wish to repeat it, lest she loses him forever.


I was happy Papa had found his voice and begun to assert.

Stepmother had mistaken his gentle nature for weakness. She would never again

dare to trouble his children.


I smiled, feeling validated and vindicated. I set about planning

how to get my first batch of students together to start the tuitions from next


February 21, 2020 18:32

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Ola Hotchpotch
13:13 Feb 28, 2020

nice story. The father supporting the daughter's online education and the stepmother not so powerful after all. Brother seems so helpless and in need of support.


Viney Kirpal
07:17 Feb 29, 2020

Thanks Ola. You are sweet to say so. Yes, you are right about the stepmother and the brother. Cowards and bullies are siamese twins! Thanks again.


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Pamela Saunders
15:07 Feb 26, 2020

Well said :)


Viney Kirpal
06:59 Feb 27, 2020

Thanks Pamela. Your comment was so encouraging.


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