For centuries, a daughter in the family always meant a liability in the Hindu household. The practice of putting a newborn girl to sleep had slowly become extinct on the waves of reforms, but the clamor for a boy in the family prevailed high in most families, especially in the villages.
The parents of a girl would start looking for a suitable groom as soon as she entered puberty.
Rukmi’s father Shankar, the mukhia of the neighbouring village, Halwada, was no different. The continual nudges from his wife, Kiki, to look for a good boy made his life miserable.
At the miraculous dream revelation show in the village Navgam, Shankar found in Mohanio, a perfect match for Rukmi.
“Arey, listen, Rukmi’s mother. I have got a fantastic idea”
“Oho, don’t you see I am in the middle of my pooja (Prayer routine) ? Can’t you wait?” Kiki, his wife, seated on a low wooden seat, was busy ringing the tiny bell around the image of Lord Krishna as the final routine of her daily worship.
“Jai Sri Kishna” , Kiki, got up with great physical effort, wrapping the loose saree around her waist, “Ok, now what is it that excites you so much?”
“Where is Rukmi?” Shankar surveyed the little house
“She must be milking the cow, why? What is the matter?”
“Guess what? I found a perfect match for our Rukmi!”
“Really?, Kiki’s eyes opened wide with excitement.
“Yes. He is Ramjibhai’s son, Mohanio”
“The poojari at Navagam?”
“Oh that lazy boy who didn’t finish his school? No no, I want a nice educated boy with a good job for my Rukmi”
Now can the mother of a girl ask for more?
“You will not believe what I saw with my own eyes, Kiki”
Shankar removed his kurta (a loose shirt) and hung it on the stand and proceeded to describe in great detail the story of Mohania.
“I think we should not let this opportunity pass. He seems to be a divine soul. Besides, the poojari family will never go hungry” Shankar folded his hands at the little image of Krishna, seeking the Lord’s blessings.
The next day, Shankar went back to Navgam with Kiki to meet the poojari and see for themselves how well off the poojari family really was.
“Mohanio is still young. We have not broached this subject to him yet” pleaded Ramji.
How the hell can they accept the very first proposal for their priceless divine gem?
“Arey good Lord, we are not asking for marrying them off right away. Getting them betrothed would be nice. They would make a perfect couple, don’t you think?” Shankar pushed further.
“Rukmi too is devoted to worshipping Lord Krishna every day” Kiki pitched in to make the case stronger, thoroughly mesmerized, as she sighted Mohanio in the next room through the half open door.
“But your daughter has cleared her secondary school, she will find it too difficult to adjust to the laid back life as the wife of a poojari” Reva blurted out unwittingly but checked herself as she saw a trace of disapproval from Ramji – a moment of reckoning for him, – a mild indictment from a bored wife of 25 years!
“Reva, why don’t you go and get some tea for the guests?” Ramji, alerted by the faint sign of rebellion from Reva, deftly changed the subject.
“Look, Ramjibhai, dowry is not a problem at all. Lord Krishna has been merciful to me. You can visit this poor little man at Halwada any time soon and have a look at Rukmi… Please?”
Ramji couldn’t quite understand how this man, a mukhia – blessed by Lord Krishna with wads of money, could call himself a poor little man. But in the parlance of match making the parents of the girl had to appear meek and submissive – transferring their liability to the family of the boy.
Reva struggled to bring the tray of tea and snacks from the kitchen. Kiki rushed to give a helping hand, bowing reverently to the little image of Merbai as she passed it on the way.
Kiki was now all for the deal.
Some idle women of Navgam, gathered around the front verandah of the house, were straining their ears to unravel the suspense of the unfamiliar visitors. Dhiru, from across the row of houses, in particular, was not happy to find Geeta in the group. Ramesh’ taunting him was not baseless after all.
It was the aarti time in the evening. Ramjibhai folded his hands and excused himself for the aarti ritual, promising to get back to Shankar soon.
Mohanio, missing in action till then, suddenly appeared before his father, as the visitors got up to leave.
“Wow, he looks as divine as my Lord Krishna.” Kiki couldn’t take her eyes off the boy – “ A Krishna with a fair skin!”
Shankar looked at this wife as a sign of validation “Look I told you“, She was on the seventh heaven.
The women had a close look at the visitors as they finally drove off on their Honda mobike. But who were they? Why had they come?
Mohanio followed his father, head bowed, towards the shrine, passing an awe-struck Geeta. Ramesh poked Dhiru with his elbow ‘ Hey brother, you better believe it”
The aarti lasted close to 15 minutes.
Reva went around with the aarti plate in her hands to let the people warm their palms from the flickering lamp and moving them over their heads as a gesture of their devotion.
“Mohania beta, will you come and sit here with me. I need to talk to you” Ramji discreetly gestured to his son.
“Yes, bhai, I will just be with you in a moment” Mohanio went in his room to put on the bright red kurta again and returned to face his father in the living room.
Ramji closed the front door to muffle the noise of the little children playing outside and motioned Mohania to sit beside him on the large swing.
“Mohania, your mother and I are very happy with the manner in which you have slowly taken up all the tasks of the poojari. Soon you will be the main poojari of the Merbai shrine.”
“Bhai, I am happy that you are satisfied with that. It is all due to the blessings of our Kuldevi Merbai. Jai Merbai”
Mohanio folded his hands in reverence to his father.
Ramji placed his right hand on his head and smiled benevolently, “ Do us another favour Dikra (Son) “
“Just tell me bhai. Your command is my wish”
Reva entered the room “Why do you have to close the door at this time?”
“Shhhhhh.. keep the door closed”
“So what is going on between the father and son, hunh?”
“Please sit on the cot and listen, Reva”
“Ok, so Mohania, we feel that you must get married now. “ Ramji gestured at Reva as if telling her “see what was going on?”
“Yes, beta, a lot of our acquaintances have been pestering us for long now. It’s about time”
Mohanaia’s face wore a quizzical look. He looked at his father “ But why?”
“Every one gets married, Beta. That’s the custom; way of life. Don’t you want to have a wife – to love you, bear your children?”
“But I am happy being a poojari – a poojari’s son. I love to worship – worship the Kuldevi Merbai. I love Merb….”
Ramji cut him short, “ The whole village knows that but you have to get settled in life – with a loving wife and children to follow.”
Reva added “Don’t you see your parents? Aren’t they happy?”
Reva’s happiness began and ended with Ramji.
Mohanio got up from the swing with a jerk that shook the swing up.
“Take your time, beta. You can think it over, ok?”
Ramji saved the situation for the moment. Reva was firm that the matter should have been settled right then.
For Reva, it would be great to boss over Mohania’s wife – just like Ramji’s mother used to – and she lived long in her Nineties. A relief from doing house chores would be a bonus.
Mohania’s face was a deadpan as he made his way to sneak back into his own little room, closing the doors behind.
“It’s Merbai’s wish, Reva, Bolo Merbai ni Jay” Ramji gestured towards Reva with his hand to reassure her that things would be just fine.