The idea of letting her doll go was troubling innocent eight-year Neha beyond imagination. Barbie was marrying Ken who belonged to Neha’s friend, Charvi.
Charvi imitated a boy’s mother, “You cannot walk out of the commitment you gave me “.
Neha retorted generously, “Charvi, you mind if Ken stays with Barbie at my place”?
Charvi snapped, grabbed Ken by his plastic arms and zipped out of the would be bride’s home. She definitely disliked the idea. Today, eight-year olds have no hesitation in expressing their thoughts.
Both the mothers approached the neighbourhood kids to resolve the mild altercation and mutual embarrassment, mostly caused by Neha’s action. They thought Neha was mean and selfish by disagreeing to keep up with the tradition of “Bidaai”.
Neha hid behind the large sofa with her Barbie straightening its curled locks with silent straight strokes as she struggled to solve the age old mystery around a girl’s fate when she was ready to marry and leave her parents’ home.
“Dadi, why is it always the girl that leaves her home to live with her husband and his family, why can’t it be the other way round?”
Neha’s Dadi in her mute capacity wondered what to say without uttering a word as the complainants were yet to approach her. Neha trusted Dadi who solved all her riddles of life and thought the lady with silver hair might help her avoid this inevitable separation from her lovely doll. She always looked up to Dadi in times of moral dilemmas. Also, while wanting to shield herself from Mom’s frequent scolding, the old patriarch was always around.
Her Dadi was a retired magistrate from the Family Court. She adored her granddaughter whose razor sharp eyes matched her intellect but Dadi was still light years away from accepting the fact that Neha was a super sensitive child, a trait she thought, she acquired from her mother.
Dadi’s face lit up under the yellow light and the sharp skin folds were visible from a distance. It had the depth of the ocean. She stopped the slapping of knitting needles that were busy shaping a light blue “baba” suit for a new arrival. Her eyes veered outside the window at the flowering gulmohar tree with its deep intense saffron Palash flowers in full bloom.
This early dawn of reality from Neha threw up a spell. Dadi travelled back in time by over half a century. She saw herself standing in the courtyard of her Multan home-now in Pakistan-when she had evolved into a beautiful woman from a little girl. Dadi thought of the ritual that was born in her village courtyard and turned into a tradition gradually. This “totka” (a kind of a harmless trick that involves simple steps to fix evil, bad occurrence in life and relationships) helped hundreds of girls settle and stay married with husbands who were sometimes good for nothing drunkards, wife beater’s, or were hungry for dowry parents or a compilation of all.
Dadi’s memory of the day when she planted the first sapling in the courtyard to mark the beginning of a new cycle of life was crystal clear. And, thereafter every month, she looked forward to that time of the month when she was allowed to plant one more seed, nurture and take care of the ones planted earlier. Dadi loved getting her hands smeared with mud and water while tending the saplings. The shrubs and the trees that had grown around the boundary wall of the Haveli were once upon a time planted by her mother and other women in Rai Saheb ki Haveil as part of this ritual. Unaware and ignorant Little Dadi had learnt to nurture life as other woman smiled and laughed while she was at it.
Dadi’s grandmother laughed out aloud perched on Charpoy and hurled full throttle blessing in her baritone voice, “Chori, Laddo water them enough and properly and learn to be like mother earth and take care of my trees.”
The little Multani girl would retort and scream back, “I will take them with me along with my gudiya. Ammaji, they belong to me, I planted them”.
The little girl’s response filled the courtyard with laughter as she ran all over the place shouting,”I will take them. I will take them.” It sounded almost like a song of innocence.
Dusk lit up burners and “chullas” in the evenings. The big monthly celebration ended with a quick reprimand in Ammaji’s authoritative voice that silenced one and all in her Garden of Eden. The little girl that grew up to be a magistrate and with passage of time turned into Neha’s Dadi with a small garden of her own was silenced too.
“Dadi, Order, Order, bolo na, What happened? Why are you quiet, tell me na why always girls always have to leave her home?” Neha had sprang up by now, after sorting the messed up hair of the doll, and stood close and next to the rocking chair with her little feet firmly planted on Dadi’s long right foot, and gently pulled away her face from the window to grab her attention.
Dadi came out of the spell, and pulled Neha closer. She looked at the tall and majestic Gulmohar tree again. She ran her fingers gently through Neha’s hair. “My Sweetie Pie, girls leave their home and go and live with their husband is because…” Her grandmother’s reply from the Courtyard in Multan that silenced her decades back resonated again and became her voice”. She tried hard to stretch “the pause” and “because” as long as the trunk of the gulmohar outside and spoke in Neha’s little ears: “Because, trees can’t move from where you plant them, they grow best in the environment you plant them in. My sweet pea is smart and blessed with the ability to grow and nurture her garden. All the boys you play with are like trees born with a kind of limitation or a disability, they can’t move.”
Neha was puzzled as she tried to digest this, but wasn’t at a loss of words when it came to matching grandma’s standards. To impress Dadi and avoid reprimand, Neha like a deft lawyer popped a supplementary question, “Dadi, is that why Daddu walks with the help of a stick and you don’t and is that why Daddy never fights with Mom and always listens to her?”
Dadi chose to ignore Neha this time and went back to watching the deep intense Saffron Palash that had spread all over and were dancing in the wind. She had been watching this dance of the famed flame of the forest for years after returning from the court or when she was watering the plants in the evenings or even when cooking.
The pitiful cracks around the trunk often led her gaze towards the earth where the tree must have sprung up as a sapling. The tree must have spread its tentacles within the dark deep soft recesses of red and brown earth, entangled the roots, in search of stability to stand tall and firm on the ground above firmly rooted forever that would be its home for ever. Trees, she thought never have to leave their home.
Her reverie was jolted by her husband’s booming voice, “Magistrate Sahiba please come and join me for tea.” Almost naturally, she replied, “Coming, my Lord.”
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