Pen Against Sword

To practice self-expression even when freedom is denied may sound foolish and unreasonable to many people. Yes but regardless, a bird must not quit singing for it is in her nature to sing; better she demand back her freedom with it. Because, this has been so throughout history: art remolded from purely a thing of beauty into that which arose passion and revolt against tyranny!

However, what's unfortunate is that hardly any birds sing when caged. First they submit; then they forget; ultimately to refuse if they ever sang! Their song is literally crushed out of them through tradition and institution. This is bitter fact wherever you look but rejected whenever you ask. The question remains: If made to remember will she claim what was hers to keep?

A short feminist story about freedom and choice.

"Mumma?" Pari spoke in a whisper; her gaze directed downward. "Lately I don't think before saying," she confessed repeatedly curling-uncurling her fingers. "I stay always in conflict with myself; heart so full with suspicion and anger; you know what I mean?"

Vivek who often played peacemaker between his sister and mom was stumped. Not in his wildest dream had he imagined Pari becoming ever so remorseful for her incredible naivety and stupidity. Even so, suddenly, an existential crisis loomed in front of him for real!

Pria sat close to her repenting daughter; giving her a nice gentle motherly peck on the cheek. "Ah, this is the life," she exclaimed in her disarming fashion as Vivek looked on. "Trust me sweetheart, I've been in your shoes before." After a brief pause, Pria leaned in: "And you know what?" she said; smile beaming all over her face, "This too shall pass!"

About twenty years ago, Pria joined an art school in Delhi much to the displeasure of her family. Her father, Ashok, a beefy brown man with unusually thick moustache did not speak for over a month, or so it seemed. On the other hand, her paper-thin mom, Hema; she stayed pale as ever thinking that their daughter was deluded.

"I will get so much to learn Papa!"

Ashok was annoyed, indeed furious, over what she claimed. He gave his only child a beady-eyed look, "Oh really!" He glowered. "How's it going to secure a job that commands an adequate salary?"

"Your bestie Manisha is training to become a teacher, isn't she?" Hema intervened before Pria could think a fitting comeback.

She retorted. "What is that got to do with me?"

"Why can't I pick that I want to do for the rest of my life?"

Her charcoal-black eyes intensified; mouth dried with anguish.

"Alright then!" Ashok agreed in a total turnaround leaving both Hema and Pria momentarily startled, "let me finish," he added. "I permit you join this group but on a condition that you marry the man I pick for you."

Hema gave a sigh of relief; Pria seemed rather flustered. "Wait what you propose is not even fair!" she argued.

"Oh but it is," Hema, as her habit was, interrupted again. "Just so you know Pria, this is still a country of matchmakers and arranged marriages."

Pria rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Think you pulled a masterstroke?"

"Scoff all you want but I honestly feel I'm being cruel only to be kind," Ashok stressed emphatically. "Don't I know what is best for my girl?"

"OK then what have you on mind?"

"Wait a second," Vivek butt in. "Mom, did you give in to the pressure?"

"Baby a great many men I met during that time what do you know?" Pria replied. "Well that is how arranged marriages are; It is like being forced to choose between different flavors of cake when actually you want the ice cream," she sniggered.

"Then why'd you take dad?" Pari inquired eagerly; Vivek followed up, "Yeah, and whatever happened to your career in arts?"

Pria pressed her lips firmly as she recalled. "I got jeers and mocking laughter when I let them each know my situation."

"But your father," she continued, "Despite his traditional garb; he had a bit more welcoming outlook."

Pria felt a euphoric sense of freedom as she described the events of a dim and distant past. Time seemed to slip much like sand between the fingers; but she had traveled too far down the memory lane to stop; so she resumed. "About my art," a small glimmer of joy showed in her eyes, "Come with me," she gushed!

Leading them inside the little used storage room at the back of their house; numerous important artifacts remained unattended all laden with dust bunnies. Among them scattered were smelly newspapers dated eighteen years back; yet stiff as new! She lifted one up and wiped it clean with bare hand.

"Look," she pointed to the bottom of second page.

A short feminist story about freedom and choice.

Pria explained, "When this cartoon was published I was employed at the office of famous Indian illustrator R. K. Laxman."

She brushed her fingers across the picture; overjoyed to see it once again even if in a different setting. Many other similar drawings which chronicled Indian life and politics she unveiled.

However, her casual play with nostalgia did not sit well with the children; caught up in a deep silence the two were amazed, shocked and dumbfounded; shaking their heads in disbelief! That is because as easy as it may be it proved rather difficult to accept whatever truth revealed after all these years.

Pari's nostrils flared. "How do we not know this?" she demanded. Vivek nodded gravely; his quiet crimson turned face showed how important he considered the circumstances.

"But you never asked."

Pria gave a trivial reply.

Even so they look among themselves for the reason that it made sense to both. They realized just how little they cared; at school against her name they wrote "housewife" time after time whenever it be called for without them having to trouble further; back home absorbed by their own dilemma and rightly so but they just never asked!

"Truth be told?" Pria admitted with a heavy heart. "I had not bothered either."

She breathed in deeply; savoring the silence and then spoke: "Until now that you made me remember!"

To be continued...

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