The Wedding Bells Toll
Voices floated across the courtyard, and traveled to the window of a small house, in a remote village, the walls of which appeared bright because of being painted only a couple of weeks ago. There were lights strung everywhere and the air was heavy with the scent of flowers. People stormed all over the house, busy preparing food, singing, and dancing. Some, huddled together in groups, were talking. Everyone was dressed in clothes fit for a grand event.
Inside, near the window, was seated a young girl, in a beautiful red dress, adorned with jewels from head to toe. She was too tired to even acknowledge the delicious smell of sweets wafting out of the kitchen. The past few days had been exhausting: rituals to attend, things to arrange, and on top of that, carrying the weight of the dread that had settled in her heart. Soon, it would be time for her to get married.
Everyone she could lay her eyes on seemed to be happy as if they were celebrating something. The truth was that the girl was not even sure of what all those preparations were for. She did not feel excited at the prospect. All she wanted to do was play with her brothers and sisters. She remembered her mother telling her how she would get married and go to her husband’s house. The thought had scared her, and she had asked her mother not to send her away. All she received as a response was, “You are going to be sixteen soon, Radha. A girl should be married while she is young. And what is there to be scared of? He has a nice job and will provide for you.”
Radha sat up with a start when she saw her mother standing at the door. She was saying something to her- calling her outside. It was time. It took all she had to drag her feet to the mandap, helpless eyes falling on the faces of jubilant guests. Coming closer, she could see a man, a lot older than her- the groom.
The whole situation felt wrong, she felt suffocated. Would she still be able to go to the village school with her siblings? What if she declined to marry this person? Would anyone listen to her? These thoughts consumed her and made her nauseous.
Radha went through the entire ceremony, without even registering what was going on. The priest’s voice was a mere humming in the back of her head. Before she knew it, it was time for them to leave. The happiness that was there on her parents’ faces had given way to tears, but the relief was still evident in their expressions. She hoped she could feel the same way.
Paying their respects to the elders, the newly wedded couple made their way out of the courtyard; The groom, a thirty-year-old widower, with someone new to take care of him and his parents, and the bride, a sixteen-year-old girl, whose dreams and freedom had been crushed in a matter of hours, bound to a person for the rest of her life.