'They think you can plunge it into somebody's stomach or use as a weapon to high jack the plane'. I laughed jokily.
We were marching on to gate N0. 126.
'That is stupid, what can you do with that, it cannot even cut her eye-lashes well'. it came from Naveen. We all broke into a nice laugh. The tension was somehow released.
At the gate, the passengers were already lined up at the counter. After our turn, we climbed down the steps to the hall for the final wait for boarding. The place was crammed and dimly lit. I surveyed everybody who sat over there. Anxiety smothered me as though a veil was slipped over my head. What is the time, I checked on my watch, it still showed the south African time, adding two hours to that I got half past four, meant another half an hour for their flight to land. Even then, how would I recognize her? Her face from the Facebook I had printed onto my mind. From the wall pictures, it was difficult to say whether she had put on any weight.
Naveen found two seats at one corner and made me and Jyothi sit. He stood nearby.
The air felt stuffy, as it felt 25 years back, at the chemistry class room at St. Thomas College.
We were the exiting masters batch of that year. Remained were three days to bow out from a seven years gleeful college life. Only an examination had to pass. We would be darting in different directions, some on job-hunt and some hunted down for marriage. It was possible that some of us would ever meet again. The air was heavily laid with parting emotions.
'What should I do? Angi, please help me'. Nilu called me to a side. She appeared jittery with stars blushing her eyes.
'He proposed to me, whether I should be his wife', her voice cracked in excitement. 'Something I have been dreaming on for all these years, but when it truly touched me ....I am at a loss.'
Nilu and Nandu were one among the many love-birds in our campus. All had possibly shared the same dream too, to get married one day and live together. But love was a risky affair in that part of the world so that, that one day never came true for most. Lover-boys might lament, my hands were tied, poor me, I had to agree for the alliance my family had insisted, otherwise how could I have earned the dowry to marry away my sister or something like that. Lover-girls would weep, how long could I suffer my parents' pain, in the end I had to say 'yes' and by the way where was that bastard? Sacrificing love was an act of altruism for it placed family allegiance at a higher pedestal. Families reined supreme in the name of tradition and social status. It was no secret that their means were of oppression, cruelty, authority and injustice but the end justified the means was the consolation. A people searching for family stability in the mayhem of injustice and cruelty. What a twisted mentality!!
And there was Nilu and Nandu a rare pair, challenging that injustice. And I was given the most honorable task in it, to assist them. She was right, in all seven years, I was her most favorite friend, indeed helping her, came to me as a honour. Her eyes were begging. I knew, her father had plans for her, to send her to teacher training, buy a teacher job at a handsome bribe and to register her with the local marriage broker.
It was an unquestionable tradition that a parent had to do and a daughter had to agree. Instead, by any chance if she dared to find a match herself, that was the end of herself and her family. It did not matter her match was good or bad. The choice lowered the menfolk's honour. My help to uphold Nilu's choice also meant me dishonoring the men in her family as well as mine. In extension, it meant dishonoring all men in our extended caste-group in the entire village.
To make mattes worst, her choice came from a lower caste. Nandu bore the age old discriminative tag of a lower caste. Caste is an identity there to mark out people. It assigns people to baskets of racial confinement so that their superior and inferior blood never get mingled. Once mingled the new-borne would be Pickens and Mickens, not humans.
'His brother is settled in Bombay. He has plans to send Nandu overseas. For us Nandu's job is very important'
'Do not worry Nilu, this is your life. Be strong. I am happy for you''
'I did not know it would be coming so soon like this....'
'You should be happy, that it is coming like this..'
' But Angie I am scared. You know my father. At the same time, it is not possible for me to live without Nandu.
'Do not worry Nilu, you will be always together. I shall be there for you'.
I stood to my promise. After three months, I accompanied her to a nearby bus station, where Nandu had waited for her. They together boarded a bus to the nearby railway station from there they boarded a train to which two seats were reserved to Bombay.
I had few hours left after bidding them farewell to catch the bus home and had to wait till the dark descended on earth to cry. To cry; my guilt that I dishonored all caste-men in the entire village; my joy that I could midwife the union of two people in love; my pain that my favorite friends were getting farther and farther away that I might never see them again; my fears whether they would be able to keep up to their promises and my pride that they made me the witness of their union-their parent.
After a few hours havoc erupted in Nilu's home. News took round from ear to ear, home to home, village to village like the lethal smell of a cobra spit. The honour of men were scuttled and thwarted. The wounded male-pride snowballed like the ice peaks in the Antarctic, rammed into the soft foothills and crash landed causing a tsunami.
As expected, I was not spared in that tsunami. Witnesses came forward to give evidence against mine that I was the accomplice in the crime committed by Nilu and without further hesitation I was pronounced guilty by the entire village.
Men in my family had to prove their allegiance to their caste-honour. They interrogated and tortured me and subjected me to all kinds of physical and mental abuses. At least a hint on the hideout of Nilu and Nandu would have made them stop.
Then the final verdict came that sealed off my destiny. Within two weeks a marriage was arranged for me and I was banished to Africa where my husband was employed. In the first place I liked that, for I had longed to get banished from my home, my village and my country where only injustice is done to you if you are a female.
In ten years time, my marriage ended up in divorce after having two children.
Now when I think of it, it was all good. Otherwise, what would have happened to my children. I know they still have the wounds within the depth of their mind. But they will get over them. That is better than living in constant agony and pain. Waking up in the morning seeing blood oozing out from their mother's head and body would have turned them inhuman, incapable of having a normal growth. He was a holly cow in his family. His milk, flesh, bones, hoof and even the skin they had owned. The poor thing could not realize it, what he wanted from me was to be his duplicate, another holly-cow for his family.
That cut the last straw between me and my family. A daughter divorcing her arranged husband is a disgrace to her family.
'They have landed amma', Naveen showed me the status message on the flux-board in the waiting room.
It took some time for the passengers to arrive at the boarding gate. The moment she appeared on the steps leading downwards, I spotted her. She wore a nervous look in her eyes. Nandu, Yathi and Ravan were close behind. Next moment both of us were legging. We would be forgiven for being so unconscious of the world around us. Until we were clutched in each others arms, we did not notice the funny glances from all around. I could not blame them, they did not know our story.
Nilu the girl, metamorphosed in front of me into a charming lady and Nandu to a strong man. Yathi and Ravan, Naveen and Jyothi thanks goodness to the technology, they were already FB friends. When they emerged as real, we were all celebrating families for the first time. Children of a divorcee, of an intercaste couple were still taboo for the respectful Desi community wherever they are. They think such children are a bad influence on their own children.
When the plain took off we felt we were truly ascending to the heavens. Three and a half hours from Dubai to Kochin was a nice break for us to get connected.
It did not surprise us that nobody among the airport crowd at Nedumbaserry was waiting for us. We drove in a hired car to the hotel that was booked for our two days stay. From there we were on an all India tour.
Next day, at our breakfast, I mentioned the ongoing Indiblogger contest; 'Love marriage or Arranged Marriage'.
'That is awesome' Navin was the first to react, 'but how can they choose here to marry the love of their life other than in the films'
'True' Nandu supported him. 'More over it is not the 'love-marriage' part that is important. If so, all Western marriages would be working'
All eyes glanced at him to know then what it is
'Love is only an attraction, a spark in the eyes. Can you deny that?' he passed a loving glance towards Nilu.
'Not at all', she smiled. 'It is the Communication, the Connection and the Commitment that makes the couple stick together. In an arranged marriage, these three have seemingly less chances.'
It made me think about myself . How many times, I have thought over it, if only we could communicate each other honestly and openly.
'Navin and Jyothi were feeling a bit uneasy. The way Yethi and Ravan were close to Nandu might be causing pain in them, I felt sorry for them. But if he were here, how cleverly he would have crafted uncomfortable scenes to upset everybody. I felt happy that he was not there.
'More over, how can you be with a man or a woman whom you do not know'
'Exactly'. Children went on with their discussion.
I felt happy at the way they expressed their views on love and marriage. Why can't they? They live in places where they are not restricted by vulgar traditions, so they can think and act freely. In fact freedom does not kill people only oppression.
I wished we too had that freedom twenty five years ago. Next moment I thought, forget that, are the children in Kerala or India having that freedom even now?