‘This was supposed to be the happiest day of my life,’ Nagesh thought as he waited for the Zoom meeting to begin.
As per his original plan, it was his night of home-coming.
Deciding to pack up for good after 25 years on the foreign shores had not been easy. But he had had enough.
Enough of scrubbing bathrooms and burnt vessels from dawn to dusk.
Enough of enduring the eccentricities of madams suffering from OCDs.
Enough of living cooped up in a ten-by-ten room where all he had for himself was a deck on a bunk bed infested with bugs.
Above all, he had had enough of living alone, away from all that he loved-
the mango orchards in December, the paddy fields in April, the river in spate during rains, his wife, his children, the celebrations, the camaraderie, the freedom.
He had finally decided to go back to them and had put his madams on notice two months ago. They were initially chagrined that their trusted house boy of several years was leaving, but they saw the logic in it. The man’s toil had run its course and he now had to live for himself. He had an undeniable right to it.
‘Has it started?’ Preeti madam asked from the kitchen. She had arranged for him to participate in the Zoom meeting on her laptop. The phone screen was small, and he had requested Preeti madam, the kindest woman he had worked for, to allow him to watch the event on her laptop.
He had logged in early in anticipation, imagining the buzzing atmosphere at home in his mind. Staying logged in gave him a sense of being there, personally supervising the proceedings even as he sat staring at the screen. He projected his thoughts on it, first picturing his daughter, Vanita, in her wedding finery. He had not liked the saree she had selected for the occasion, but had approved it only because she had desired it. Just as he had approved her choice of the groom. He had approved the alliance despite the huge difficulties it posed, only because she had desired it.
Nagesh was initially reluctant to give his consent to the proposal that in the view of many in his family was a windfall for someone like him. To begin with, the boy did not belong to the same village as him, although he was from the same caste. To Nagesh, sending his daughter away to another village was tantamount to sending her off to a distant land, and it evoked old memories of him leaving his parents to take up work in the Gulf.
It was only a minor concern to which he reconciled on his wife’s counselling. What blew the living daylights out of him was what came next.
‘They are demanding twenty lakhs,’ his wife said the day the boy’s family came for discussions.
Nagesh listened to her silently. He said he would think about it.
Preeti madam was livid when she heard about it the next day.
He shared all his personal concerns with her, not because she had solutions to them, but because she gave him a patient hearing, and in the end made him a cup of tea. It was enough for him to think that his problems would miraculously melt away sooner or later.
‘Are you planning to give it?’ she asked.
‘I must, madam.’
‘Do you know dowry is punishable by law?’
‘Not in our village. It is a norm there. I took it when I got married and I must give when I get my daughters married too.’
‘When will you all change?’ she asked. The exasperation in her voice faded as she changed her tone and challenged, ‘What if you don’t?’
Nagesh simpered before saying, ‘Then my daughter will remain unmarried.’