I was introduced to the word ‘dowry’ even before I could spell it. I think it was one of the first few words I learnt, not at school, but at home. I knew that this five-letter word was the reason why my parents quarrelled, why my granny refused to give milk to my mother, why mom washed clothes in winter with ice-cold water, and why she often sobbed silently in the bathroom. But a four-year-old me didn’t know what the fuss about dowry was.
One day, I sneaked inside the bathroom, sat beside my crying mom and asked her, ‘What’s dowry?’ She whispered, ‘Dowry means things like furniture, a motorcycle etc.’ Hearing that, I got up, took her hand in mine and said, ‘Mom, come let’s go and bring a motorcycle.’ She told me that we couldn’t do it because she didn’t have money to buy one.
Later that year, when my schoolteacher asked me what my aim in life was, I told her that I wanted to buy a motorcycle for my mom. She smiled. And my classmates laughed. I quietly stood there, amidst the peals of laughter, thinking that if a motorcycle could solve my mother’s problem, I’ll surely buy one for her when I got older.
Meanwhile, without a motorcycle, my mom’s life continued to be the same, full of tears and scolding. As the bitterness grew, my grandparents moved out of our shared house to live with their new daughter-in-law who had brought dowry. I felt thankful that at least dad had stayed back with us. But soon I realised that although he was here, his heart had moved out along with his parents.
Thirteen years later, when mom had saved money by teaching tirelessly, she bought furniture — a sofa set and a dining table. I looked at her as she tied sacred red threads to the feet of the sofa with tears in eyes. She explained, ‘This is my dowry.’ But even furniture couldn’t make our home my grandparents’ too. Suddenly, I remembered the motorcycle. Well, it was still missing from my mom’s dowry. Maybe they would love us after she bought a motorcycle too. After some more years of tireless teaching, instead of a motorcycle, she managed to buy a car on loan. But even a car couldn’t make my grandparents and my dad love us.
I still remember those unshed tears in mom’s eyes waiting to fall down on that bathroom floor. I remember the years my mom and I spent struggling to be good enough, to gain the affection of my grandparents and dad. But somewhere in this tearful journey of life, mom and I realised that our love for each other was enough.
But I still wait for the beautiful distant day, when a little girl won’t have to ask her mother sitting on the cold floor of a bathroom, ‘What’s dowry?’ And her first aim in life won’t be to buy a motorcycle, for her mom.
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