Afsar Bitiya…

Savitha was sitting on her sofa, sipping a cup of tea she prepared a few minutes before. She was feeling a bit exhausted. It was a tiring day at office, as were the other days. “It’s not easy being an IAS officer; especially being a woman you have to face criticism, male ego and intolerance and there always is a bunch of higher authorities who will doubt your abilities”. But she had no one to blame as she had chosen this path herself in her mission to bring about economic, social and educational reforms in the community from where she belonged. Her husband, also an IAS officer shared the same line of thought and fully supported her and that was one of the reasons why she fell in love with him. Blushing a little remembering her college days when she was doing B.Sc. in Political Science from Delhi University and when she met her prince charming, she sipped again from the cup. “Tea is a little bitter”, she thought; just the way her father liked. He would always insist on a cup of tea made from the hands of her mother. He would never drink the tea made by anyone else; not even her; except the day which she distinctly remembered.

It was a warm Sunday morning in the month of May. Birds were chirping in the sky looking for food. It was a difficult task for them to fly in the afternoon when sun would be emanating fire from its mouth. So they rushed from their nests in search of twigs that could last the whole day. Lajjo, their cow was enjoying her morning fodder laid down in her mane. Savitha was solving the Integral Calculus problem which Masterji had given the previous day as homework. Unlike her other friends, she loved studying. She always stood first in her class and her teachers were very fond of her and always spoke highly of her. Even the principal of the school was impressed by her intellect, discipline and respect for teachers. He would give Savitha’s example to every child in the school. She had just entered Class 10th and she knew it was time to work even harder as this was the year of Board Exams. Her father had just returned from the fields when a neighbor called him out. Savitha’s father owned a small land in which he grew some wheat and vegetables which was enough for the survival of the family. Her father had to work really hard to earn living for their large family comprising of her mother and two younger sisters apart from her and an elder brother. Her brother had turned out to be a complete jerk. He was thrown out of the school due to his consistent bad performance and involvement in indisciplinary acts. Neither was he a helping hand for his father in the fields. To add to the grievances of the family, this year was turning out to be a lot worse than the previous years on account of less rainfall and rising cost of fertilizers.

After a long chat with the neighbor, her father entered home with a big smile on his face. He called out her mother in a high pitched voice. Although her father had not called Savitha, she peeked through the slits of the door into the room in which her Bapuji was talking to her Ma. After hearing to their conversation, Savitha felt like throwing up. She could not believe her ears. Her dreams began to fade in front of her tearful eyes. Her father had just fixed her marriage. The boy was six years elder than her and worked as a clerk in the District Municipal Corporation. Since he had a government job, the members of the boy’s family were demanding a heavy amount of dowry, 5 lakhs to be precise along with valuables for all the relatives of the groom’s family and a motorbike. Though this demand was quite difficult to meet, her parents were quite happy that their girl is being married at a proper age to a Sarkaari Babu.

Savitha entered her room and looked into her notebook which displayed an unfinished problem. “One day I will become an IAS officer and buy a house for Ma, Bapuji”, she remembered herself saying to her school Principle to which he had replied “Sure my dear, you are capable of achieving anything and you will make everyone proud”. A drop of tear fell on the notebook dissolving the paper and making the contents on it blur. She felt helpless and cheated. I can’t go against my parents; after all my aim in life is to make them happy. From the beginning, Savitha had always obeyed her parents; she could never break their heart. But won’t this marriage cost too much? How will her father manage to get a heavy loan from the village Baniya(moneylender) and even if he somehow managed, would he ever be able to repay it? Perhaps they had to mortgage their house. “Oh no, this is wrong. I have to stop this”, a sudden urge stemmed within her. She sprang up in confidence and went to the room where her parents were discussing about their assets and how to make other arrangements.

“Ma, Bapuji, I don’t want to get married now. I want to study more and become an IAS officer”, she declared defiantly. For a moment her parents were taken aback. Her father strained his brow and settled uncomfortably on the charpai. Realizing the graveness of the situation, her mother came up to her and said smiling, “Every girl says that Bitiya. One day every girl has to get married; the husband’s home is her real home. If you don’t get married at a proper age, villagers will start spreading bad rumors about you and our family”. “Am I a liability for you? You want to send me away from you”, she asked crying. This time her father was quick to answer. “Pagli, why do you think like that? Is it possible for us not to love you? Marriage is an essential norm and everyone has to go through it. We have got such a good match for you. You will live like a queen there”. Savitha’s tearful eyes met her father’s and she said in a persuasive tone,” I want to take care of both of you .I love you so much. I want to give you every happiness in the world. Is getting me married the only responsibility and moment of pride for you? Is it so hard for you to let me live my own life and fulfill my dreams; to allow me the same sense of freedom and responsibility towards the household as bhaiya is provided with? He is not even willing to take them up. Is it good to force him to do so? I am confident I will keep you happier than he ever can. If I perform well in the Board Exams, they will provide me scholarship. I am good at studies, I will manage to study on my own. I don’t need any resources to be spent on my education. I just need your complete support and trust. I want to marry a boy who doesn’t ask for any money, who loves me for the person who I am and who is as educated as I am. He should be able to take care and respect you the same way as I do. I don’t care about what other people think about me. But your opinion is very important for me. In the end I will do as you say, I will never go against you and make you feel ashamed in the society because of me. Please Bapuji, please Ma, I will never disappoint you.” Saying this, Savitha knelt down and put her head in her father’s lap.

After a long silence, she felt a gentle hand rush through her hair. Her father raised her face and kissed her head. “I am sorry Savitha, I was wrong. You made me realize my mistake. Do whatever you want to. Live your life. Prove yourself in your eyes and the rest of the community who believes that girls are just a liability.” For the first time Savitha had seen her father crying. She wiped his tears and looked towards her Ma. She smiled and said, “I am sure you will make us proud. We are with you, dear”. She ran and hugged her mother. She thanked God for giving her the best parents in the world who are so understanding and liberal. “Bitiya, zara chai to pila apne hath ki.Ab tu samajdaar ho gayi hai. Kal ko afsar ban jaayegi to time nahi hoga na”, she heard her father say from behind.

Savitha was disrupted from her thoughts by the sound of running footsteps approaching her. “Mama I came first in the Quiz Competition”, a young girl cried. The child rushed upto Savitha and showed her trophy to her Mummy. Savitha took her happily in her arms. A feeling of completeness and contentment filled her soul. Today every person in her village said “Beti ho to Afsar Bitiya jaisi”.