Break of Dawn

By Prishanti Pathak

Her dusky skin glowed warm as the first rays of the dawn broke. My little child couldn’t wait to caress the coarse, sandy ground with her tiny, tender feet already cracked by the desert dryness. Untainted, sweetened by pure innocence, my little girl was spilling out with laughter as our dog licked her skinny limbs. She smiled at me, her chipped off front tooth stood out and I broke down from the inside. It pained me to see her so blissful and liberated, devoid of fear. Happiness wasn’t meant for her; she was a girl, and every merriment she sought was transient. Her father, my husband came in and set aside his heavy turban, glaring at my child. He detested her, and I despised him for that. He had wanted a boy, I gave him a daughter. Tara, my daughter, slyly crept away into the desert plains, intoxicating the barren land with her carefree splendor.

The ground yearned for her light-footed thuds, and wind lilted along with her sweet giggles. Her tiny bangles jiggled and I glanced outside to see her skipping towards the fields- her tattered skirt skimming the ground. We were destitute. My husband was an old local merchant with an unsuccessful business. He smoked bidi and muttered curses under his breath- that’s all he does. I sat by the mud stove, choking on the smoke- it had become a duty. To be devoid of mirth, of liberty, was a compulsion for me in this battered hut. My thoughts flitted back to my early days, when oblivion was so sweet. I used to giggle back then too, relish the funniest thoughts that tinkled in my mind with my friends. Then one night my mother dressed me up in a red sari. It was beautiful, and so heavily adorned that I could barely bear its weight. My arms were bundled up with red bangles, eyes were lines with dark kohl. I was decked with the ancestral gold jewelry all over. The 12 year old me was made to sit by the wedding pyre. A boy, almost as tall as me, was made to sit by my side. He was supposed to be my groom, and I was his bride. He looked disgruntled, perhaps detesting my presence next to him. I couldn’t blame him, we were two little strangers plucked out from the solace of our exultant lives and bound to each other for life. We were promised to each other by our parents; I was sold off to bear his children. The wedding trumpets sounded loudly, and folk songs invigorated the matrimonial ambiance, our imprisonment was celebrated and I was marked with a vermilion paste on my forehead- symbolic of a married woman. From the next day on, till this date all I have done is slump down by the mud stove, choking on the smoke, cooking for everyone. My husband intends to get Tara married away soon for the money. But I will take her away by the break of the next dawn.

Image: Soumik Mitra via Flickr

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