A Beautiful Wife.
Immense amount of commotion was heard from outside the Mishra household today. Neighbours found that very odd because the Mishras were known to be the most gentle and peaceful family in the Moga neighbourhood. A peep inside and Oh God! The roof was intact but all hell was breaking loose.
Jaikishen aka Pappu, Mishraji’s youngest son had recently been engaged to a nice looking girl from within the extended family. All preparations were in place as much as they could be for the big fat wedding in a month’s time. Jewellery bought, wedding card corrected, brand new sherwanis stitched, sarees in perpetual transit making full use of the return policy, the Halwai menu revised four times by now and the endless check list not-at-all reducing by the day. Essentially, a normal Indian marriage. That too happening in the family after twenty long years. Big deal indeed.
Ah the crisis. A modified version of the popular movie Queen was playing out in the central courtyard. Pappu had suddenly developed cold feet and wanted to call off the marriage for some inexplicable reason. The family patriarch was livid to put it mildly. “How is that possible?” “Going back on our word would be catastrophic.” “Why did you agree to the proposal at all?” “Is there someone else you have in mind?” Short of getting physically thrashed, every possible pressure had been applied on the poor lad by now but he would not budge.
With all efforts going down the drain, it was left to Mishraji’s elder daughter-in-law, Shobha to try her luck at convincing Pappu. Shobha, almost fifteen years elder, had brought him up like her very own child. After all, he was just five when she had got married into the family. Sobbing uncontrollably in her lap, Pappu appeared to be a man possessed. After a lot of cajoling, he finally blurted out in Punjabi, “Bharjai, Apni jai soni koi le aa, te mai shadi karangan.’ In other words, “ I will marry only someone who is as beautiful as you are.”
She sure was beautiful, but had never been so complimented in her life. With tears rolling down her face in unison, Shobha knew what this tribute meant. As she moved her comforting fingers through his hair, she was transported to a past only a few knew about.
Flashback to a tiny street in Ambala called Kotwali Bazaar owing its name to the tiny police post at the end of it. Bansi, a petty shopkeeper selling ghee made from cream bought in wholesale, was all that he did. A very contended family; God-fearing Bansi and his wife with four respectful sons, they thought they had everything in life except a daughter. And when she did arrive after a long, long wait, the family was beyond the moon. She was literally the darling of the family and never short of love from a doting parent or elder sibling.
Fondly named Shobha meaning ‘beauty and grace’, the day she stepped into school, children awfully cruel they can be, made her realize that she was far from it. She had heard every synonym of ‘ugly’ by the time she passed out of school. The pock marks left over from a skin ailment didn’t bolster her case very much. With a ‘not so great’ academic record, absolutely no looks to boast of and hardly any dowry to bribe a prospective husband with, Shobha’s future appeared rather bleak. Bansi and his wife, a worried couple blindly fell for the first proposal which finally came their way for Shobha after a search for two years.
Approaching her 20th birthday, she found herself married off to Mishraji’s elder son, Madhav who had not even reached the precincts of High School and was quite unemployed. Spending the day vagabonding in the streets with the likes of himself, he would come home only to recharge himself. Mishraji himself, leading a hand-to-mouth existence as a clerk in a private company, had given up on Madhav. Maybe marriage will do him good, his friends tried to be helpful. However, with hardly anyone else ready to risk a match with a tramp named Madhav, Shobha found herself as destiny’s child in the Mishra household.
Accepting her ‘fately’ lemons and the subtleties of her situation, Shobha set about making lemonade. As it is, with her docile disposition, she was not a threat to anyone. Plus school had taught her a thing or two about firewalling adversity. Brought up in a cradle of extreme affection at home, love was the only language she knew. Tending to everyone’s need with tenderness, Shobha appeared to be softly omni-present with her caring ways. The Mishra family till now in perpetual turmoil, had never experienced such a breath of fresh air. From Sr to Jr, they all fell in love with the kind angel from above.
Madhav, used to daily berating, suddenly found himself to be a subject of extreme compassion from his better half who steadfastly refused to give up on him. He was after all her only bet. Convinced of his own worthlessness, Madhav could not fathom the reason for her love for him. He however surprisingly never once commented on her looks. Unhurriedly over time, Shobha became his only island of comfort, his shade in the sun in a world without purpose. He would fight with everyone at home but would not let anyone speak a word against her. Unable to convey his feelings, he knew not that he was falling in love with her.
A bit of pillow-talk one day and Shobha gently suggested to Madhav if he could start contributing towards the stretched finances of the Mishra domiciliary. No skills, no will and no money, a heady combination it was. Magically, Shobha pulled out some stored away money and helped fund a vegetable-selling cart for him. The expected snide comments from friends and family lasted precisely a week. But Madhav was finally earning and that was a huge step. First thing in the evening after coming back was his ritual of handing over his money bag to Shobha with his day’s earnings.
Shobha, in spite of absolutely no knowledge of accounts had a simple formula which she had picked up from her mother. Save half his earnings and everything will be fine. Unbelievably, in twenty years, Madhav progressed from the cart to a Khoka (shack) to a small Kiryana shop to a bigger hardware shop. And only two years before, he had taken the plunge and set up a small scale industry dealing with locks. Only Madhav was privy to Shobha’s 50% savings recipe behind the family’s success story at every stage. He expressed little but his love and respect for Shobha grew boundless.
Pappu having done well in college had joined Madhav to run the family business. He had been a silent witness and admirer of the family’s transformation over the years through Shobha’s loving ways and endless toil. And today overwhelmed with the thought that an unknown entrant in the family could possibly displace her and change everything, he was seized with fear and hence the cold feet.
A knock at the door suddenly brought Shobha out of her dazy stupor with Pappu hugging her and his words still ringing in her ears “I will marry only someone who is as beautiful as you are.”
With Madhav in her thoughts and tears in her eyes, she whispered softly, “Fikar na kar puttar. Jinna pyar karenga oonu, oni hi soni ban jaugi.” Fear not my son, the more you love her, the more beautiful she will become.
Mishraji’s sigh of relief said it all in the evening. A reluctant Pappu had relented.
Postscript: Just in case you were wondering, Shobha does exist.
First published at seekmediation.com on 16/06/21
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