Lotus, mud, good, etc

I’ve always been a good girl. I remember that day so well. Sitting on the floor , struggling over an English essay. Winning the competition would mean prize money. A few token rupees , but money nonetheless. I was tired after having helped ma clean the house and make dinner. Pa arrived early that day , and I was delighted that he had gotten me some snacks to eat. I loved the snacks they sold at those roadside stalls. I never got to visit them with my friends though , because Pa wouldn’t let me. “My daughter is well behaved and doesn’t roam around uselessly. She has never even spoken to a boy. Her head is always bent. In studies. Never even looks up, never raises her voice” , he would proudly state. “ A lotus. In the midst of this mud”. Pa thought I was a good daughter. I beamed with pride every time I heard it.

We were acquainted with a civil servant. ‘Acquainted’ may be a bit of a stretch . A big man working for the government. His wife would sometimes give us some old clothes. Pa always thought I should become a civil servant, it would give us a leg up in life. I was more intelligent and hardworking than my brother, who always insisted on disappointing Pa with his reckless behavior. So Pa went around asking anyone who would listen for help. Help with resources. Help with guidance. We were very poor, you see. Not much access to the things that mattered.

On that day, he had apparently ferried a girl to her hostel. He is an auto rickshaw driver, I forgot to mention. A girl only slightly older than I was. With short curly hair and a seemingly genuine interest in Pa’s problems. Pa give her my number and asked her to help if she could.

She surprisingly called me one day and asked to meet. She took my resume and said she’d help me find a job. That didn’t materialize though. She then said she’d help me become a civil servant because that’s what my Pa badly wanted , help me gain admission to the government run coaching center that prepared people for the notoriously difficult civil service entrance exam. She even took me to her beautiful campus and explained the entire process to me. It all seemed so tough. Pa , meanwhile, was a little panicked that I hadn’t reached home yet. “Where are you ?!” , he shouted over the phone. “I’m with your passenger, Pa. Speak to her” . I handed the young madam-ji my phone. She spoke funny, broken Hindi and assured Pa that I was with her and she was giving me advice and guidance on how to study and when to apply. So Pa calmed down and hung up.

I explained abashedly that he was protective about me and that’s why he kept close tabs on me all the time. She smiled like she understood perfectly, which was strange. I wouldn’t expect an educated and liberated rich madam-ji (with a distinctive bobcut to boot!), to understand that I was the ‘good’ daughter who was deeply loved, pushed to achieve, and yet somehow controlled and held back from living by a loving family struggling to cope in a rather brutal society. The inescapable dichotomy that the shame- honor paradigm thrusts upon people like me. ‘Characterless’ , that feared and deadly weapon of a word with which to crush the voluntarily helpless family of a girl, unless she is very very careful and usually despite that. Maybe her upper class , educated society had its own version of these things, I wouldn’t ever really know.

She seemed more eager than ever to help me after this incident. She waited on the road for 45 minutes one sunny day to give me a laptop. She had even loaded it with soft copies of textbooks I would need to prepare . I assumed that I was supposed to return the laptop and called her after a few months to ask when, and that’s when she told me she had left the city for a job . She was very surprised that I wanted to return the laptop, and said she had intended for me to keep it, use it and prepare well. I was very touched and thanked her. We never spoke again.

Of course, I didn’t clear the exam. I married Dakshesh, Pa found him for me. You see, we were too poor to afford an internet connection , a laptop isn’t of much use without one. And those e-textbooks she had given me were in English. I’ve studied in a Gujarati medium school all my life. The poor thing had been so enthusiastic about being a charitable do-gooder. Ah, life.

So anyway, I have to make dinner. I’m a good wife now. Pa has chosen well, Dakshesh is a responsible man who earns well and treats me kindly. He is so proud of me. “ A lotus in this mud” , he says. I beam with pride every time I hear it. I’ve always been a good girl.