The caw of the crows rang in my ears as I sat on the rock, Physics book in my hand. I have always wondered what it would’ve been like if Thomas Edison was from my village. He definitely would’ve made sure one of his first made bulbs was installed in one of the houses here. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to stay in the dark all night, and I wouldn’t have to strain my eyes trying to read a single word under the sky every night.
The cosmos did seem clear tonight. But there were no stars to accompany the moon. He must feel lonely, I thought to myself. All the beauty that he withheld, and no one for him to admire it. All his knowledge about the world, and no one to share it with.
“What are you doing up so late?”, questioned my father, as I jumped due to his sudden appearance. I quickly put the book beside the rock, away from his gaze.
“I was just looking at the stars.” I blurted out, immediately regretting saying that.
“There are no stars tonight. Only the moon.”
“Yes, I meant the sky.”
“Sleep now, it’s getting late.” he said. There was a certain aggressiveness in his voice which he used when he tries to intimidate me.
“Yes, papa. I’ll be right there, in just a minute or two.” He nodded and returned to his chamber. I squeezed out my book from beside the rock, wiping the dust from its cover. With him inside, I began walking towards the banyan tree that was about three hundred metres away from my house. I picked up a hard stick lying around the tree and began digging at a spot over there.
“Hello, lovely books,” I murmur quietly, plucking out the hidden books in the hole.
“Sorry I had to wake you up so late, Einstein and Pythagoras. I just came to drop off your other friend. He was giving me company tonight. The sky was really sad today, so I needed some cheering up.” I began covering up the hole again and the mud from the rain helped plenty in covering up the marks. “Alright, I’ll see you guys later.” I announce to my imaginary, yet lovely bunch of informative friends, and return home.
A week after this happened, I went to the outskirts of the village. Father spends his day at the farm, so the afternoon is the only time in the day that I can actually get a sense of freedom. The wind was really quick that day, and the clouds began forming a group together, about to clash. Monsoon is the happiest time for the village because rain proves great for the crops. The farmers, all men, are joyful during the time, and thus the women, their wives, are also happy. And this makes me furious. How women are supposed to be happy because their husbands are happy. Never allowed to have their own happiness, their own joy, but always meant to share.
I don’t want to grow up like this, but do I really have a choice? Could I have my freedom, if I refuse to succumb to the pressure of our culture?
As these thoughts swirl in my head, I return home before the clouds burst out on the village. Upon entering, I see father, with two men sitting on our old couch. Father, offering them sweets to eat, turns his gaze towards the gate, where I stand with my hands folded.
“Where were you?” He enquired. My voice fumbled, “I just went out for a stroll.”
“Come, sit here,” he motions his hand towards a chair. “Aasha, this is Seth Bheem, and Sudhir, his son. They are huge landlords in our neighbouring villages, Shitejpur. And they are here to see you.”
“See me?” My eyes twitched, my ears guessing what they were about to hear.
“You’re going to be married to Sudhir, next month. You’re going to be the bahu of their family.”
“What? How can you fix my marriage without asking me?”
“Listen to me.”
“Papa, I’m only 17.”
“Seth Ji, you please have some sweets.”
“I’m not going to marry him.” Fury clouded his eyes as he clenched his fists, “Go inside, right now.”
I went inside his bedroom and shut the door.
Minutes later, the door opened, and I looked outside to see that the ‘guests’ had shown themselves out.
“What did you do just now? You won’t be able to find a better match for yourself than Sudhir. What’s wrong with him, huh? I found the perfect match for you, and you insult me, shame me, in front of them. Is this how I raised you?” I could sense the anger pouring out of his statements.
“You arranged my marriage without even asking me,” I say as my eyes tear up.
“I don’t have to. I’m your father and I know what’s best for you. Now, I will call them again tomorrow, and we’ll meet them again whenever they like. You will behave, or I’ll make you.”
“I won’t marry him.”
“This discussion is over.” he says, instantly locking the door, not surprising me at all. According to him, the best solution to discipline your children is to leave them locked in a room. He used this when I was a kid, used it when I was a teenager and is using the same tactic when I’m almost a young adult, who’s supposedly about to be married.
In the evening, hours after he left me alone in the room, Papa calls me out for dinner. When I stepped out, I saw him serving dinner, something he had never done before. It was always me, who cooked and served dinner, except on the days when I was ‘punished’ like today when Papa would cook. But still, he’d expect me to serve, always, and I did, always. His eyes have a serious tone, a glare that almost sent a chill down my spine. He seemingly had not forgotten about my behaviour the same afternoon, and I was still being punished. Throughout dinner, he did not try to initiate a conversation with me. Even when I tried to ask him about his day at the farm, he did not try and respond.
After dinner, I decided to pay a visit to my friends near the tree. Papa had already slept, and my mind wanted me to wander at my special place. A stick, again, lay near the tree, and I dug the hole where I kept my books. Edison, Einstein, Pythagoras, my three most loyal friends, always waiting for me at the same place. I pick out all my books, dusting off the mud, examining the covers.
A hand over my shoulder, I turn around abruptly.
“Papa?” I blurt out. “What are you doing here?”
“Show me those.”
“No, these are mine.” I tried to step back but he ended up snatching the books from my hand.
“How many times have I told you to stay away from these books. Women are not meant to study this much. Do you not remember your previous punishment for the same mistake? Or should I teach you another lesson?!”
“No, Papa. Please forgive me. Don’t do anything to those books. Please. I’ll do anything you want me to.”
“No. Perhaps I’ve been too lenient on you. You have always been a rebel teenager, and it’s time I taught you a proper lesson. Hopefully, this would be the last one you require before I marry you off.”
He pulled out a lighter from his pocket and held my book in his other hand. Ignoring my pleads and tears, he proceeded to burn all my books to ashes. Our neighbours woke up from all the shouting and cries and went on enjoying a father punishing his daughter. A lesson needed to be taught is what all of them think.
Everyone eventually went back to sleep, and my father left me to cry with the ashes of my friends.
My tears fall on the already wet ground, mixing my feelings with the soul of the earth. The moon, like every other night, was lonely. No stars to keep him company, and he was left to fight this world alone.
His freedom was taken away from him, for if he chooses freedom over duty, all hell breaks loose. The moon was beautiful, a part of many lives. Am I the moon?
Tonight, I will have my freedom. This desire for independence, I will quench. No longer will I allow myself to be controlled, oppressed.
Leaving my home, a prison, I sneak out of the village to the outskirts. The same place from which I returned to my prison today, now held a chance of a new life. Challenges, disastrous problems, but with a ray of hope.
The moon still seemed alone tonight. No stars with him… but he felt good. He finally realised that he didn’t need any of them to feel happy. He can have his freedom if he gathers courage. He doesn’t need their love, he can love himself. Now, I wanted to be the moon, tonight, I am the moon.
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