Meera stood before the mirror looking resplendent in a red banarasi saree. She was decked in her mother’s gold jewellery and her hair was done in the most fashionable manner. She looked like a new bride except that she wasn’t. Whole house was abuzz with preparations to welcome the guests. Meera’s would be in-laws were visiting today. The match was almost fixed, the groom’s family just needed to confirm Meera’s complexion. “These days a lot of people write that their daughter is fair but they seldom are. No… no… we don’t doubt you it’s just that Ramesh needs an assurance” Mrs. Trivedi, her would be mother-in-law had said unabashedly on phone.
Meera’s mother had taken every precaution. She had sent Meera to the best beauty parlour in the locality in the morning and had asked the beautician to use all her expertise to make Meera look fair. After three hours of pointless massaging and treatments Meera left the parlour looking redder than ever. If she looked fair or not was now for Mrs. Trivedi and her family to judge.
Meera wasn’t dusky but she wasn’t fair either. One couldn’t easily classify her complexion. When she remained at home for longer periods she looked a few shades lighter but when out in sun she looked the exact same shade of bronze. She stood before the mirror, her face reflecting the red of her saree, her heart shivering with an unknown fear. A large envelope lay across from her. Meera opened it to reveal a beige paper but before she could open it her mother entered the room.
“What is this? You haven’t yet put on the gajra? They will be here any minute. You need to look beautiful.”
“I need to look beautiful.” Meera repeated heavily.
Her mother detected a tone of dissatisfaction and in an attempt to cover up said “My girl is beautiful. I meant you shouldn’t look shabby.”
“And all this will make me look neat! Don’t you think I look like one of those whores standing near the Meena bazaar signal? Why do I have to put on this lipstick? Maa do you know my skin is itching after all that ointment rubbing?” Meera fired her mother with her long pending rants.
“But it makes you look beautiful!”
“Oh come on Maa! Even you know all this isn’t going to make me look fair.” Meera said disheartened.
Her mother sighed. Meera’s mother never thought that her daughter wasn’t beautiful, in all fairness, Meera was blessed with sharp features which many of her light skinned friends lacked. But she was also aware of the reality, Meera had been rejected by seven different grooms just by looking at her photograph. It was the first time that a family had agreed to visit and meet Meera in person, and so her mother had left no stone unturned to make Meera agreeable.
“Don’t say such foolish things, silly girl!” she said affectionately.
“Maa I don’t want to be rejected again!” Meera said in a low tone. For her it wasn’t a taboo anymore. It happened to her so many times that she was now fed up and wanted the circle to break sooner than later.
The constant rejections had earlier bothered her. She felt worthless and was ready to settle for any match. It was her sister-in-law who instilled confidence back in her. Before going to the US she had said “Didi, don’t worry about what they say. You are beautiful and they are foolish to reject such an educated girl like you. Look at me, what use is my fair complexion, when I can’t even write an application for Visa.”
Meera had laughed but it was a funny reality. Meera was the most educated in her family. She had completed her PhD in Victorian Literature from Delhi University and often helped university students in their studies. After multiple rejections from would be grooms she had finally decided to frame her own path and had sent her application to Kerala university for the post of Assistant lecturer. After a round of interview she had been selected. The envelope contained her joining letter. But there was a glitch.
A new match had been fixed and they wanted the wedding to happen as soon as the groom approved Meera. They were to visit today.
Her mother tightly pinned the gajra in her bun and Meera came out of her reverie. After a moment of looking at her daughter’s face, she said
“They won’t reject you this time. Not when you look so beautiful.”
Meera rolled her eyes. “They have come.” called out her aunt from the veranda and her mother began to leave hurriedly.
Meera grabbed her pallu and said “Maa… maa…what about my joining?”
“Beta now only they can decide whether you ought to join or not.” said her mother.
After the compulsory greetings, Mrs. Trivedi found herself in Meera’s house, sitting in the living room she eyed the room with a calculating look. The family looked affluent enough and their son was settled in America. She could expect some heavy cash in dowry. Now only the girl must be fair skinned enough.
The families were introduced and carefully prepared delicacies were offered. Everything was attributed to Meera’s excellent culinary skills. The families began chatting, Meera’s family rather nervous and Trivedi family rather pompous.
Meera sat in her bedroom, an ominous feeling gripped her heart. The last line of her mother kept booming in her ears. What use was her education when she had to depend on a stranger to take the most vital decisions of her life.
Through the half opened door she heard Mrs. Trivedi say “Bhai Sahab everything is nice but where is our bride? Our Ramesh is eager to see her.” She ended with a rather vulgar laughter. Meera cringed. She had never been one to judge people instantly but this woman did not give her good vibes.
Soon her elder cousin came in her room to accompany her to the living room. Meera walked with slow pace as instructed by her mother and felt stupid for doing so. What if she walked fast? Would it mean that she is not modest enough?
She reached the living room, her head bowed. What had she done to keep her head bowed and not look at anyone while everyone else looked at her from head to toe and analysed every bit of her body to conclude if she is worth marrying.
After a few minutes she was asked to sit down. Meera could feel Ramesh’s eyes fixed on her and yet she couldn’t raise her eye to have even one look at him.
Mrs. Trivedi began instantly “Mrs. Dubey you have a beautiful daughter. She isn’t fair enough…” she stressed on the word enough “ but she is Ok. I think we can make do with her.” Meera felt like a cattle in that moment. “I mean we can make her look fair by the time of the marriage, you know these days there are so many fairness treatments in market. They are wonderful. She will glow like a pearl.” She ended with a smile.
Was she doing an advertisement for fairness creams?
“Now Mrs. Dubey I am not those women to waste time. I have brought up my son with much hard labour. After Mr. Trivedi passed away it was me and Ramesh and I have done everything possible to ensure his happiness. Gave him the best possible education and fulfilled all his demands. He is an engineer in Bangalore and you know what lifestyles he might have in such a big city.”
Meera’s parents nodded in agreement. Mrs. Trivedi felt a sense of exhilaration, she was winning after all. There isn’t a more desperate man than one who wants to marry his daughter.
She continued “We are educated people Mr. Dubey , don’t think we are asking dowry from you but yes we do expect gifts becoming to my son’s status in marriage. We have our relatives to answer to. You know how nasty relatives can get.”
Meera raised her eyes to look at her. Mrs. Trivedi sensed revolt in Meera’s eyes but she wasn’t going to lose ground on account of a girl.
“Your daughter isn’t fair so we would need to compensate with gifts to our relatives. I don’t mind her being dark but I can’t stop my relatives from telling tales. I hope you understand.” She had played her cards well.
Mr. And Mrs. Dubey couldn’t but agree. It was after seven rejections that someone had agreed to marry Meera. They nodded in agreement. They knew their son would be enraged but what use was his anger when he couldn’t find a good enough groom for his sister.
After few more indirect jibes at Meera’s complexion and threatening references to relatives, Mrs. Trivedi was finally able to close the deal. Meera silently looked on, her soul battling against what was happening. She looked at her mother and entreated her to ask what she had been wanting to ask impatiently.
“Ramesh, son, Meera has been offered the place of an Assistant professor at Kerala University…” began her mother but was interrupted by Ramesh.
“She doesn’t need to work. Women don’t work in our family. I earn enough for both of us.” This was the last nail in the coffin.
“How much do you earn?” A low and sweet voice asked. For a second no one discerned who said this but soon they realised Meera was talking. Ramesh looked at her dumbfounded.
“How much do you earn?” Meera asked again.
Ramesh cleared his throat and said “25000 INR per month.”
“I have been offered a salary of 50000 INR per month. It’s double your salary.” Meera said.
“What’s your qualification?”
“B.Tech “ Ramesh said mortified.
“I am a PhD. Doctor of Philosophy. And if I don’t marry a moron like you I will well be a D. Lit. soon.”
“What??” Ramesh and Mrs. Trivedi said in unison.
“What is she saying Mrs. Dubey? Has your girl gone mad?” said Mrs. Trivedi.
“No, I haven’t gone mad. And please spare me your shock.” Meera stood up and turned around to leave but stopped at an afterthought. “By the way, why don’t you use those fairness treatments on your son that you were recommending to me. Don’t you think he would look too dark beside her if you finally find him a fair bride?”
Meera left the room to finally type in her letter of acceptance to Kerala University. She had finally found a place which judged her on her talents and not on her complexion.