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Diving In Unknown Waters
Never remove this silk thread from your arm. It will ward away the evil forces.
The priest performing the prayer ceremony instructed Niyati Reddy to take care of the black thread he had tied around her arm. Niyati wasn’t sure whether she believed in it, but she didn’t mind a couple of blessings and prayers for the adventure she was about to embark on from here.
Friends and relatives gathered to bless her on her last day in the Reddy household raved about how gorgeous she looked in the yellow kanjeevaram saree with a red border, and traditional gold jewellery. Her wavy dark-brown hair, decorated with heavenly smelling fresh jasmine flowers, were tied in a neat bun at the nape of her neck. Niyati sat with her mehendi-covered hands joined together to pray before the holy pyre of havan-mandapam. She would have focused on the shloka chanted by Panditji if the myriad of thoughts crossing her mind didn’t disturb her concentration. So many confusions. Apprehensions.
Was she nervous about getting married to a man she had never met before? Or relieved, she was finally going to leave this home to have a life of her own?
For years, she had lived with different relatives at different times. After losing her parents in an accident at the age of two years, she was passed by turns between relatives as a collective responsibility transferred from one to the other. When she was ten, her maternal aunt, Meera Reddy, took her in her wings and brought her home to raise her with her four daughters. Since then, Meera and Srinivas had been Amma and Naanna for Niyati.
When Meera fixed Niyati’s marriage with Yash Malhotra, every relative of theirs lauded her for fulfilling the duty of a foster mother to a proper finalé. To educate and provide for a girl was fine but deemed incomplete in their clan until she was married to a suitable guy at the right time. Niyati was considered fortunate that Gayatri Malhotra, Yash’s grandmother, instantly liked her on her short visit to India. Without wasting time, Gayatri Dadi had asked Meera for Niyati’s hand in marriage with her grandson.
Niyati was distracted from her thoughts as the priest concluded the prayer ceremony and blessed her for a fulfilling journey ahead. The guests showered her with wishes and gifts.
Back in her room, after the festivities and formalities were over, Niyati finished packing her luggage and carefully checked all the necessary documents.
“Oops!” She held the sleek strap of her ash-grey faux-leather handbag as it tore from the fastening to its steel hook. Niyati frowned, fetching a thick needle and a sturdy thread from her drawer, folded the strap around the hook as neatly as possible, and began to sew it.
Her younger sister, Vasudha, slapped her forehead. “Niyati Akka, what are you doing? You are going to Paris tomorrow. This broken strap will give you a tough time there.”
Niyati shook her head. “Don’t worry. I’ll make it doubly secure. It won’t break again.”
“But why stitch it at all? Leave it. Take my new bag.” Vasudha’s offer made Niyati smile.
“No, Vasu. It’s one of my favourite bags. Ma gave it to me on my last birthday. It’s almost unused.”
“But this joint will look ugly.”
Niyati picked up a pink lace scarf and artistically wrapped it around the end of the strap where it was sewn, making a bow at the joint. Her expert fingers delicately fastened the knot hiding the stitch. A fashion designing professional, Niyati hardly went wrong with aesthetics. Satisfied at the look, she chirped, “See?”
“You will never change,” Vasudha nodded, pressing the trolley to zip it.
“I hope I don’t.” Niyati chuckled, taking the chair before the dressing table to remove her make-up.
Vasudha sat down on the bed, running her hand over Niyati’s bag, and said, “It’s inspiring, you know…you never allow any mishap to disrupt your flow. I wonder how you are almost always prepared for setbacks and mostly manage them well, too.”
Niyati smiled. “Problems do come up, Vasu. It’s our choice to either cry and waste precious productive time or continue to work. I’ve learnt this pretty early in life. We can train ourselves to prepare for the worst while doing our best with what we have.”
“And you’ve practised this attitude well.” Vasudha twisted her lips in appreciation. She knew how Niyati tried to make things work with whatever she received from Ma, Naanna, or life, as such. She never complained, never demanded, and hardly expressed disagreement even when unhappy. When she was placed as the last priority by Naanna, she would convince herself that everything happened for good. She never contradicted Ma’s rules or raised questions against Naanna’s decisions. Always willing to accept what they decided for her, she avoided conflict and let others win for the sake of peace.
Vasudha voiced her concern, “But Akka, marriage is a commitment for life. Sometimes, I get worried for you.”
Niyati assured her, “I’ll be fine, Vasu. Everybody is happy with this alliance.”
Vasudha held Niyati’s hand and said, “Look at you. How beautifully you’ve convinced yourself that Yash is the correct guy for you, only because everyone is happy. Almost like toys and books, Amma and Naanna selected for you. Aren’t you scared? What if something goes wrong?”
Niyati gave a long look to herself in the mirror. Her peaches-and-cream complexion looked pale. She removed flowers from her hair and loosened the bun to free her silky, dark-brown mane. For a flicker of a moment, her eyes held a blank look. Somewhere in the deepest corners of her heart, she knew she was scared. Was it the right step? How does one decide that?
She had never nursed any fancy ideas about love and relationships. For twenty-four years, her life had revolved around studying and learning skills to survive, ignoring the male attention she inadvertently received. Life wasn’t easy for someone who had become an orphan at an early age. Safety was always her first thought, closely followed by survival. Living with different relatives, fighting a row of insecurities and fear, and learning that financial independence played a decisive role in aspiring to live your dreams didn’t come easily. She grew up yearning for a secure professional life.
But her foster parents and other relatives had a different opinion. They asked her to carry her dreams to her husband’s home. Niyati didn’t argue. She had no option, either. She had always felt deeply indebted to Ma and Naanna for everything they had done for her. It was her turn now. She was doing this for them. Consequently, her marriage was fixed with Yash even before her college degree was finished.
Niyati admitted honestly, “Yes, I’m scared. I don’t know what to expect. And whether I should expect anything, at all.”
Her eyes turned to the vision board on her wall. She had pasted fashion sketches of couture-wear on her board, designer gowns with frills, flounces, and layers; pieces of silk, brocade, tweed, and lace prettifying them; pictures of awards and trophies given to the best designers worldwide; cut-outs of fashion shows, ramp walks, and fashion festivals.
Everyone said she was lucky as her future in-laws owned one of the biggest fashion houses in France, and she could work there as a designer. But Niyati felt awkward, having to depend on Yash or his family for a career or money. Not initially, at least, until she had proved herself.
She asked Yash’s Dadi, Gayatri Malhotra, about applying for an apprenticeship with another company outside the family to broaden her knowledge and experience before working with their brand. Her in-laws accepted her request. She was free to do anything she wished to, they had said.
For six months before her engagement, she studied tirelessly for her final degree exams, signed up for online courses to learn the French language, and applied to several fashion houses for internship training. After multiple rejections, she was finally accepted for a prestigious scholarship and training in Technology of Design at a renowned fashion brand – FashDes – based in Paris.
“Still talking?” Meera entered the room and sat with the girls. “It’s a big day tomorrow, Niya. Get some sleep.
“I don’t feel sleepy,” Niyati spoke on a choked throat, as if a tiny baby was being removed from her crib, “I wish I could take all of you…and all my things with me.”
On the one hand, her uncomfortable dependence on the Reddy family and her foster father’s indifference made it easy for her to leave. On the other hand, Meera’s care, her sisters’ love, and her personal belongings held her back. Meera patted Niyati’s arm and stood behind her to comb her hair. Niyati lowered her face to hide her tears.
Meera tied Niyati’s hair in a loose braid and said, “We would have loved to arrange the ceremony here. But when Gayatriji said they want to announce your engagement with Yash on this Valentine’s Day in Paris, we couldn’t refuse. It seems like Valentine’s Day is celebrated grandly there.”
“Yes. They are launching a new perfume on that day, and it’s Yash’s grandparents’ wedding anniversary too, on 14th February.”
Meera knew it. Still, Niyati narrated the content from Yash’s last email, sent to her almost two months ago.
Emails from Yash were as perfunctory and mechanical as his phone calls. They had talked on the phone a couple of times, but their small conversations usually ended with exchanging pleasantries and basic information, followed by awkward silences. Meera had convinced Niyati it was nothing to worry about as some boys were introverts. That is why they felt shy to talk. Even Niyati was an introvert, she had reminded her.
Meera said, “I wish I could attend this function. But you know how we can’t afford six additional air tickets and accommodation in Paris. So, we decided to send you alone.”
Niyati shook her head. She knew that.
Meera continued, “Gayatriji offered to arrange the air tickets and stay arrangements for us. It’s kind of them to do so. But we can’t take such favours from the groom’s family. It doesn’t leave a good impression. I’ve saved some money. We’ll use that for your wedding.”
“Promise me, Ma, you’ll be there for the wedding,” Niyati whispered.
“Of course! We’ll be there,” Meera said, “The wedding date will be announced soon after the engagement. We’ll book the tickets accordingly. Until then, Gayatriji will take good care of you. She has assured me.”
Niyati turned around and threw her arms around Meera, “Ma, I’ll miss you.”
Meera stroked her hair and warmly hugged her back, “I’ll miss you, too. But I’m happy. As if a huge responsibility is taken off my shoulders. I feel like a relieved mother today.”
Niyati wished she could feel relieved too. She might have accepted this marriage as fate, but she had never felt secure about unknown waters. She knew she had taken a colossal risk, hoping for the destiny to take over and do the magic for her.
It was one thing to hope for good to happen. Totally another to close your eyes and believe in dreams. However, reality is not a slave to dreams. It may or may not oblige.
The enormity of a decision hits only when one is placed amid storms. No one can sit at the shore and imagine the depth in the centre of the pool. One has to dive in, right in the centre, to know the fight in the swim.
Niyati had decided to dive in.
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