Shobha was feeling totally downcast during the long drive through the countryside. It was not because of the pot holes in the route.  She was feeling deeply hurt. There was throbbing pain inside her. 
          'Why is Ramesh treating me so shabbily?'  She grieved.

          They had stopped at the supermarket in the city to buy Complan and Boost for Amma (her mother-in-law). While waiting at the billing counter, she had picked up two magazines from the magazine rack and placed them in the basket along with the other items.  Ramesh simply gestured to her with a slight motion of the head and a quick glare at her, ordering nonverbally to keep them back on the rack.
          What else to do but swallow her pride !
          No freedom, whatsoever, even to make her own choice.
          A slave, a veritable slave !
          Gloomily she glanced at the country scene.

          'Every thing is fast changing, she thought. In her teens, it was her passion to travel through the country side.  The road side used to the lined with shacks and thatched houses in the past.  Men and women, sheep and cattle, gutters and puddles, ponds and canals elsewhere. Those were a part of the rustic setting she enjoyed.  Her imagination used to run riot. Her dreams were fascinating with hen coops, flocks of ducks, swinging, their backs, water bodies and ponds in the rustic landscape. Mud and mire on their scanty dress, grime on their body!  'Fantastic!  Shobha used to think in her girlhood. She thought that kind of living was real living, living close to earth, one with nature!  She did not bother then to think if those people were happy with their lifestyle, whether it gave them real joy, the joy which she envied, the joy she coveted. The only thought she nursed along the years was that they had freedom, nothing restrained them. There was no taboo; so she imagined!  She longed to live like one of them; she dreamt of living in a shack!  It was her habit to weave a tapestry of her life in the rural setting. The rough journeying through the country road always fascinated her.

          Over the years the country life changed. Paddy fields and water bodies vanished. Concrete jungle met every eye.  No more broken benches or sagging coir-woven-cots were to be seen in the front yard of the shacks. Molded plastic chairs and sofa sets were there in the portico of garishly painted RCC structures which they called their homes. No human anywhere to trigger her dreams. Perhaps, they were indoors, eyes glued to the television serial. Nothing was there to enliven her dreams, nothing colorful enough to delight her!.

          'After all, why do I need colors how? I have lost my dreams; I don't need colors any more!  Shobha felt more sad and bitter. She recalled the lovely days of her girlhood. Full of fun!  Summer holidays were spent in Achan's (father) ancestral home. Only casual visits were made to Amma's (mother) home.  Children enjoyed their stay in those heritage homes. Something regal about the lifestyle; the elders were duly held in high esteem; what fun and frolic the children had in the rambling household!  When the holidays ended, they departed with the pain of ending the joyous days!  Playing hide and seek and enjoying country games and sports. Children didn't bother to know the philosophy of heritage, their customs and traditions. All that mattered was that they could enjoy life with an abandon during their holidays.

          Shobha remembered how she awaited the trips to Amma's heritage home. Like everyone, else, she knew that she was Ramesh's bride-to-be. It was customary for him to marry his aunt's daughter.  Ramesh had always been smart enough to get things done his way by falsely quoting her. If she ever innocently blurted out the truth or simply denied it, Ramesh would glare at her; shut her up with a wringing of her ear. Acha, Shobha wants to see Gemini Circus'.  Ramesh would play with his father.

          Uncle would 'hmm' in agreement because of Sobha and off would the children go to watch circus. Cunning Ramesh!  So many were his cunning projects in those days.
          'Even today he has nothing but projects!'.  Shobha thought with much disgust.
          She knew that even today he is making use of her 'influence' to his advantage.
          Shameless creature!
          For the sake of monetary gain he would stoop to any level and utilize her 'charms'.
          His ways are too disgusting to share with others.

          'Does he not realize that, I have my own wishes, my own opinions?'  Shobha wondered. It is long since she has stopped expressing her opinions, sharing her views.

          'Many a time, he had insulted me with contempluous outbursts, 'foolish woman'.  I have no voice. I have only a face. I am a smiling face!  I need to smile to 'influence' people for his projects. Now-a-days I have no likings.
          I don't even have any favorite color.
          I dress up with what Ramesh chooses.
          Dressing up!
          It is not as 'I' that I accompany him. I have lost myself.  It is not me. It is only a 'she', a gender significance!.

          In the career guidance class, I had decided to join the professional course, the Guru had recommended. That 'dream' was shattered by Achan (father) in the wedlock with Ramesh as had been customarily arranged. There was no choice. I had no voice. Those were days when I won the prize year after year for reading the largest number of books and submitting excellent brief of each book. Today even the scent of fresh pages is alien to me'.  Shobha recalled remorsefully.

          The car came to a halt at the courtyard of Ramesh's heritage home. Shobha opened the door and stepped out mechanically, her feelings deplete.

          'Ah, you’ve reached here before us!'

          Ramesh walked briskly towards the men who were formally dressed in suit. Shobha put on a pleasant expression. With a demure smile, she followed Ramesh. He introduced his wife to the guests, who rose from their seats in the portico and came forward.

          'Mr.... meet my wife, Shobha'. The guests should be charmed by her beauty. She knew very well what Ramesh expected of her.
          Smile bewitchingly. Greet each one in the group and make them feel at home.
          After casting her spell on them with her charming ways, it would be her duty to convince Amma and make her concede to the proposal.

          They are tourism promoters. The heritage home in being signed up for home-stay. These men are Ramesh's prospective partners in his mega project in the city. The heritage home needs to be modernized to their liking for home-stay. For housekeeping and cooking they would engage the personnel qualified for hospitality management.

          'Is Ramesh planning to send me over here under some pretext, I wonder’ Shobha grieved as she explained the project to Amma.
          She felt sorry for Amma. Yet she camouflaged her words with much love and put on her best manners to her mother in law who, of course, was also her aunt.
          'Amma, you will have to come with us to the city. Not immediately. Only when the documentation is completed and the contract finalized’.

          Ramesh busied himself to entertain the guests and deliberately checked Amma from raising a protest or even expressing her opinion about the antiquity of the heritage home and its sanctity. Her views were chocked up by his earnest efforts to make the guests feel pleased with the traditional practice at the ancestral home in receiving guests in style.

          Shobha could feel Amma's anguish. How could Ramesh do this to Amma!.  She became part of this wonderful heritage as a fourteen year old girl, when she crossed the threshold solemnly as uncle's bride. A noble lady who fed and nurtured nieces and nephews along with her own children in the interiors of this sprawling heritage home!
          Her heritage.
          Shobha struggled to stifle her grief.
          Amma is being uprooted from her natural habitat, her home during the long, long decades.
          Being transplanted!

          Is it repotting? To an alien ground!  For Ramesh's success uprooting is inevitable. Relationship does not have significance on the road to success.

          Like Sobha, Amma is only a glorified slave.



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