Punjab may be the land of milk and honey but it is not the land of airports. So I found myself in a shatabdi (no complaints, excellent train!), on the way to Ludhiana, a couple of days ago.
The seat next to me is occupied by a 'typical Punjaban'. Pink suit, pink lipstick, pink cheeks, armful of red and white bangles. Add a sarson ka khet and a tall glass of lassi and I'd be on the set of a Yashraj film...
Of course there is no lassi; instead I make tea from an Indian Railways thermos. And just as I attempt to get some 'work' done (hurrah for railways - modem bhi chalega!), she strikes up a conversation.
I am a bit surprised to learn that "Pretty in Pink" - let me call her Ruby henceforth - is actually an MTech in Computer Science.
"I was teaching at ABCD (well known engineering college in Punjab) but then I got married. Now I am looking for a job again..."
Ruby's husband is in the software industry and has just joined a company in Mohali. Arranged marriage. In the general spirit of chattiness I ask impolite Indian questions: "How did you decide.. how did you know he was the *one*?"
And she replies,"I left it to my 'payerents'. I said you know what's best for me... you decide".
In fact, Ruby did not even 'meet' her husband separately before marriage. Ladka ladki ne ek doosre ko sirf dekha, with a hundred relatives hovering around with chai and barfis. As is the Great Indian Dekhne ka Tradition.
But don't boys and girls usually meet separately a couple of times these days... before making a final decision?
Yes, but in her mind, it was a 'foregone' conclusion.
They did speak about a few things. Like she would work after marriage - as a lecturer.
"Actually my husband is less qualified than me. He is only MCA, that too distance. But he was in a good job, good family, earning well... "
Isliye pitaji ko theek laga.
It's tough to find a job right now as the semester has started, she added. Perhaps she should also look for something in industry.
"No, my father told me long back ki beta you join academic line. If both husband and wife are in industry then there will be no time for family..."
Of course she has no plans of having an 'issue' for next 2 years. "I want to enjoy married life", she adds.
Great, but she does not seem too happy to me.. just one month after. I wonder, if marriage has been this compromise, a duty to be fulfilled, what happens if one fine day she meets someone who makes her heart flutter?
"You mean someone who I can really connect with."
"No it can't happen."
"Because I cannot think that way.. feel that way. I am not an expressive girl..."
Us tarah se kabhi kisi ladke ko dekha nahin... Aur agar kisi ne dekha to I won't give him a chance to get close to me.
Fresh from reading the White Tiger, the words Rooster Coop flash in my mind. There is one coop which keeps the have nots in their places. And another which does much the same for women - The 'Hen Coop'.
You bring up girls in this society *knowing* and *believing* it is dangerous to dare. And of course, to dream.
Abort your unborn ambitions at the altar of family. Ensure the heart is like banjar zameen where 'love' cannot and will not take root! In return we offer izzat, motherhood, lots of jewellery and the tag of Mrs to use on Indian Airlines...
The Hen Coop is what keeps the Great Indian Family going, even as the rest of the world hurtles towards chaos. Not that 'all is well' behind the closed doors of a courtyard where one SUV, one Honda city and one Alto (best for going to sabzi mandi!) stand proudly.
And then Ruby blurts,"Actually if I had met my husband properly before marriage.. I would not have married him!"
"The other day he told me.. he had many girlfriends before marriage.. he was working in IT and BPO you know wahan to yeh sab hota hi hai."
Better before marriage, than after marriage, no? I venture.
Her eyes flash,"What guarantee is there that he will not be tempted after marriage also? So many families, so many, I have seen like that...!"
And suddenly I get a glimpse of a completely different person.
"I told him clearly one thing. If you ever have any hanky panky with anyone.. that day, that moment I will walk out and NEVER come back."
Under the pink salwar suit, I see stripes.
I see a 'white tigress'.