It was a normal day. I woke up and got ready for college. I chose one of my four every day wear kurtis and legging and looked at myself in the mirror. A big red pimple on my nose was staring back at me.
“Pammi aunty is visiting tonight, come home early” Said my mother.
“Okay” I said and left
Pammi aunt’s visit meant that I had to change the entire look of my house. Tuck in all the clothes inside the cupboard, ensure nothing is popping out from anywhere, clean all dust on the windows, make sure there are no cobwebs and make my house tip-top as if it’s brand new. Even though I had done all these things last time, she had pointed out that our house needed re-coloring. My mother left no stoned upturned to please her and so, we had our house re-coloured within a month. My mother wanted me to get married as soon as I completed my degree and Pammi aunty was the only person who would suggest the right “groom” prospects for me. I hated my mother for doing so. I hated the fact that I had to depend on a stupid fat woman to find me a partner. A partner, I was supposed to live with for my entire life and next seven lives too. But I had to do things as my mother wished. I hated the fact that my mother considered me a responsibility, more of a liability.
I met Mona, my only friend, during the lunchtime. She eyed me from top to bottom and made faces. Probably I looked like a clown in the over-sized kurti I was wearing. She pointed at her ripped jeans and said I should try something like that. I felt as if I was being made fun of in the entire college. I talked to Mona about last semester’s results and how I had topped this time too. We gossiped about everyone’s grades. I pointed out to Rohan, that idiot had failed, and we both laughed. Who fails in humanities anyway? It’s the easiest stream. This was our final year; I hoped I would get the gold medal at convocation.
“This would look cool on you!” She got all excited and started showing me all the discount offers on ripped jeans online.
“I told you, I can’t wear all this.” I said and shoved away the phone.
“But, why?” She said annoyingly
“I just, can’t, you know.” I said.
The last time I wore something of my choice was probably when I was a 10 year old kid. My father had taken me to buy me a dress that I liked. I missed him every day and every moment. I could not fathom the fact that he had left us 6 months ago. It was unbearable for me. My mother chose what I was supposed to wear because I had to look like a decent girl that society approved of.
Lectures after lunchtime were a joke. Few students were sleeping while I was daydreaming thinking about all the pretty dresses that hugged my body which I would have worn, if I hadn’t been born in a middle class Indian family. I skipped a lecture and went home early. Mother had already started tidying up. I helped her in cleaning the hall and then in the kitchen. She gave me a red salwar kameez that she had chosen for me and told me to get ready.
Pammi aunty’s visit was a total disaster like always. As soon as she entered she scanned entire house and looked at me disapprovingly. She sat on the sofa like a potato with a face that looked as if there was dung below her nose. I brought her a glass of water and my mother started talking to her. There were talks about sons and daughters of other people in my family. They also talked about the recent divorces and affairs of our distant relatives.
“Yeah, of course it was going to end you know, I knew it from the start. There was no way he could have handled that kind of a woman” Pammi aunty said slyly.
‘That kind’ of woman certainly did not mean the good kind. My mother was all excited and joined in with great enthusiasm. They continued to talk about that woman. They hated her because she was strongly opinionated. They hated her because she had short hair. They hated her because she was smarter than her husband. My mother started praising me saying how obedient I was, how I listened to her and dressed up like a decent girl, how long and beautiful my hair were. She appreciated my looks, but this is not me, I thought. I felt trapped in my salwar kameez and long hair, I felt trapped in the way I was supposed to look. Is this me? I served them samosas while they started discussing about our house.
“You know, all these things are old fashioned now. I got my house renovated by a professional interior designer last year” Said Pammi
“Yeah, we were also thinking to do the same” my mother said embarrassingly.
“Look at all this old furniture and curtains they don’t go with the color of your walls. You should change the look of your house if you want to get Neha married to a nice groom.” she said.
This was too much. Last year we had spent a lot of money on coloring our house. The only income we had was my father’s meager pension. Despite having many skills, my mother did not take up any job or start any business. I always wanted to take tuitions to cover some of our expenses. But women from our family weren’t supposed to independent like that, what would people say? This year Pammi aunty was expecting something new and this would cost us a fortune. I have had enough of this. Why does she do this? Does she know how hard it was for us to manage everything?
I grabbed the plate from her hands and said, “Aunty, I think you had enough samosas, you are getting so fat, I think you should exercise and avoid eating oily foods” Both my mother and Pammi Aunty looked petrified. Mother tried to stop me but I continued.
“Oh and By the way, what is your stupid, useless son Rohan doing these days? Do you know he has failed in last semester? Has he told you about it?” I interjected.
“Just shut up Neha, Is this the way you talk to your elders? What’s the matter with you?” My mother was devastated. I had failed her; I wasn’t supposed to behave like this, what would people say?
“Rohan didn’t tell me about this.” said Pammi aunty. She was probably thinking what people would say if he had really failed.
“I am sorry, Pammi. I don’t know what’s gotten her. I think she has gone mad. These are not the sanskars I gave her, would you have some tea?” My mother pleaded.
“No thank you, I am leaving now Rekha. I thought after the death of jeejaji you needed us. But if you will be insulting your own cousin like this then who will be with you?” She said
“GO AWAY, We don’t want you and your suggestions anymore.” I said
Pammi aunty didn’t say a word and went back home. My mother stopped talking to me. She was very angry. Both of us did not have dinner that night. I was about to fall asleep when my phone rang.
“Hello, I’m Rohan” he said.
“Oh...Hi. What’s the matter?” I said
“What did u tell my mother? She is continuously crying since she came home. Why did u tell her that I had failed? Look, Neha, I might not be as smart as you but this does not mean you can make fun of me or insult my mother. I didn’t confront you in the canteen but speaking to my mother like this is too much” He said angrily
“I.. I’m sorry..” I said
“Sorry? You hurt her on purpose, didn’t you? Okay Bye.” he said
I could not sleep after that call. I felt bad. Yes I had hurt her on purpose. But didn’t she do the same thing to me? Wasn’t she trying to make us feel insecure? Every time she visited us, she tried to demean us by making fun of our house, indirectly about our financial condition. What wrong did I do? Did I gain anything through all this? My mother was hurt, I was hurt, Pammi aunt was hurt and Rohan too was hurt. I felt like crying. I felt miserable. Two wrongs do not make right. I should have been kinder. I shouldn’t have been so rude. I am always so careful about what people would say that I am scared to live my life on my own terms. Can’t I also be careful about what I say to people? And what I say about people? Aren’t I one of the people who say things?
Pammi aunty and Mother both had discussed in detail about someone’s hardships and difficulties in a nasty way. They thought she deserved that kind of treatment. Talking bad about an opinionated woman gave them some temporary relief from the insecurity of their own unmarried daughter or failed son. Those were their insecurities that were gossiping, not the real Pammi and Rekha. They demeaned others out of their own insecurities. They gossiped and when both of them realized that their own son or daughter might become a topic of talk like theirs, they felt bad. They seemed to be jealous of each other too. Pammi hated the fact that her cousin Rekha’s daughter was smarter than her son. She doubted her own abilities because her cousin was praised more than her in childhood. She took pride in being married to a rich man and took every opportunity to make Rekha feel insecure about her own financial condition. She had always felt bad about her obesity and I pointed out just that, in a cruel manner.
In the morning, at college I made fun of Rohan thinking he hadn’t heard what I was saying. I realized my mistake. I felt insecure about the way I looked and could not tolerate people making fun of my clothes so I had to feed on someone else’s insecurity. It made me feel good for that moment but I realized that I was one of ‘those’ people, people who say things.
How beautiful this world would be, only if we were kinder, more understanding, and less nasty to each other? Everyone would be able to live freely embracing their talents working on their shortcomings. What would happen if we stopped caring about “what would people say” and be more careful while saying things? I fell asleep while talking to myself. Next morning was a new dawn in my life. I had decided to be unapologetically me. I had decided to be me and help others to be themselves. I had found an answer to the question “What would people say?”