Is Love a Worthy Strife?

Who knew loving someone would be so challenging? Who knew the journey towards a new start together would be so distasteful?



Sneha sat on the rocking chair of her study, lights dimmed and windows open.  She held a wooden frame with a photograph of Ashish, so tight as though hanging on for life. As the breeze made the curtains do a slow waltz across the window, Sneha sat there with her gaze fixed on the moonlit sky outside. She looked more like a shadow than a real person. With her curly long tresses reaching her waist and her beautiful dark eyes sunken in an endless pit of anguish, she sat there swaying with the chair and trying to make sense of her life so far and probably even thereafter. It was the eve of her wedding and instead of taking part in the revelries; she chose to stay in the study all by herself.

Ashish was the man she had fallen in love with while still in college and the man she had pictured herself with ten to twenty years down the line. But the journey to the beginning of their happily ever after seemed never-ending!

Ashish was a boy from a conventional family from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh and she was a girl born and brought up in a liberal Bengali household in Guwahati, Assam. Their worlds met while they were pursuing their engineering degree and they had been inseparable ever since. Different yet so much alike, they were truly in love. And no it wasn’t the mushy love of pretence. Theirs was a love which had evolved while working on their disagreements; on moving ahead in life together and on standing by each other in times when everyone else stepped back. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Sneha was the Bonnie to Ashish’s Clyde; the Marie to Ashish’s Pierre and the Hadley to Ashish’s Hemmingway!

Ashish was a tall, broad shouldered and fairly handsome chap who inspite of his orthodox background had a contemporary and open-minded outlook towards life. It was his liberal attitude that attracted Sneha towards him. Sneha on the other hand was an average looking chubby cheeked girl from Guwahati. She was from a well-read Bengali family which believed in the merits of education rather than rallying in the dark abysses of false pride due to caste and creed. A firebrand feminist at heart believing in the virtues of equality between man and woman in society, Sneha never in her wildest of dreams expected being besieged for being a female. But all that changed with the entry of Ashish’s family in her life.

Are we really getting married Ashish? Is it really worth it?

Sneha was at that point in her life when everything was about to change forever. She knew she would have to face ludicrous biases of this great Indian society in the form of his family forever after. She was confused and worn-out as she slowly fell asleep contemplating the various aspects of this conundrum in her life!

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It was about a year back that Sneha and Ashish had decided to take their relationship past the sacred threshold of marriage. But little did they know what they had signed up for. Yes Ashish and Sneha could very well have imposed their decisions on their parents, however they decided against it. It was the right thing to do they thought.

Sneha’s parents had already approved Ashish as they chose to trust their daughter’s judgment. They knew that they had brought up Sneha in a manner which made her perfectly capable to make important choices in life.  And they were right, for Ashish was educated, well-mannered and well settled which was sufficient to keep their daughter happy. That was all that was supposed to matter, wasn’t it? But things were entirely different on Ashish’s side of the fence. There was stern opposition from Ashish’s father, a deterrent and obstacle that seemed impossible to overcome.

On the morning of the fateful day when Sneha’s family was supposed to meet Ashish’s father, she nervously dressed as per the ‘acceptable’ norms in his father’s eyes. Ofcourse, she didn’t like it for she was being asked to change; being asked to be someone else. A girl who was habituated with living life on her own terms, Sneha was being asked to transform into this permission seeking coy machine. She wasn’t happy about it.

“I don’t like this Ashish. If today I meet him this way he would expect the same every day. It’s not fair to him or to me. I feel suffocated” Sneha messaged Ashish as she drove with her parents to his house.

“Hey..Remember one day at a time. And no you don’t have to live your life according to his terms. But just for now, for him to accept you. Please I know it’s tough but I am there.. Always there!” replied Ashish. He knew it well in his heart that Sneha was not at all happy. He wasn’t too but to get his father past the first step he had to present Sneha in a manner that perhaps he would approve of.

Ashish was a good man with a sensible head on his shoulders. He wasn’t impulsive like Sneha. He knew it well that getting the go-ahead from his family would be tricky. It would be a gradual and long process and he would have to work his way through the various layers of objections. So for that if for a few days he would have to say things his father wanted to hear he was prepared to do that without batting an eyelid. His aim was to marry Sneha and to win that war he was ready to concede certain battles to his father.

When Sneha and her parents reached Ashish’s house he greeted Sneha’s parents, touched their feet and took them upstairs to where his father was. With the initial round of pleasantries from both sides, they were all finally seated. They sat facing each other, with Sneha’s parents on one side and Ashish’s father on their opposite. Ashish’s father sat with one leg above the other like a war-lord in his court. That was odd for it wasn’t polite with Sneha’s mother sitting just opposite to him.

Why is he sitting like that? Sneha thought.

Sneha sat fidgeting with her mobile as Ashish’s father scrutinized her as though she was an alien from a distant planet! The ‘prospective bride’ being all coy and never looking directly towards her ‘potential in-laws’ might have been a norm in Meerut but not where Sneha had come from. Being apologetic for being a female was never asked of her till that very moment in life! What she grew up believing was the complete antithesis of what she had to be for him to accept her into their family! Well little did she know that falling in love with Ashish would also entail smothering the gutsy feminist inside her at every step of the way!

What is happening? Why is he looking at me like this? Am I some animal in a zoo?

It was a bitter pill to swallow for she had never imagined herself in a situation where she would be put on display to be ‘approved’ for marriage! Questions or rather diktats were fired which she and her parents dodged with maximum possible restraint! With each passing moment the suffocation intensified but she had to bear it all for love, for Ashish; didn’t she?

“Mr Goswami I understand that your daughter is in a relationship with my son but marriages don’t work this way in our society” said Ashish’s father.

Which society the one’s where women have no voice uncle?  was what Sneha sat thinking.

“I think our children are educated and capable to decide their future on their own Mr. Gupta and if they are happy we should be happy too; shouldn’t we?” replied Sneha’s father. Sneha looked towards her parents who were patiently talking to Ashish’s father and they were doing it all for her.

“See my son is very eligible and there are people willing to pay as much as I ask for him. It’s not dowry but it’s a tradition you see. I have a long list of eligible girls at home from our caste and community lining up to marry my son” said his father. He further went on to add “How can you approve of this? Aren’t there boys in your society Mr. Goswami?”

Here comes the talk of dowry! And oh yes that’s not dowry, really uncle are you so naive? And yes there are boys in our society too Uncle and you know what they have parents who behave better! But what can I do, of all the guys in the world I had to fall in love with your son. I guess I deserve it!

Sneha shot a disparaging look at Ashish at this question from his father. She perhaps wouldn’t even mind if her father would give a befitting answer to Mr. Gupta at that point.

“Well that is not the point is it Mr. Gupta. Since we have all come together today and since our children have made up our mind, we should just facilitate and ensure they have a great wedding”.

Ashish’s father however continued shooting one question after the other to Sneha.

She was asked if she knew how to drive. Sneha couldn’t understand the relevance of the question though.

Is he interviewing for a driver or a daughter-in-law! Phew!

“No uncle I don’t but I can always learn!” she said.

“Girls in our side know how to drive you know dear” said Ashish’s father.

Really when do they learn? Where is the time after all the household chores? Are they allowed to go out alone?

“How much do you earn for I know many girls in our caste who earn more than you? Why should I choose you?” he asked this time.

You should choose me because your son loves me you see uncle!

“Enough to look after myself and my family uncle” she replied again.

“I cannot happily allow you in our house dear but since my son is adamant I have no choice!”

Ahhh well what can I say!

It was as if he was sugar coating insults towards her and her family. She wanted to give answers but then Ashish had pleaded her not to.

Sneha wanted to cry at that instant and it was by a whisker that she was holding on to a brave face. She was angry, hurt and disappointed by the things she and her family were made to hear. At one point she wanted to even rebuke Ashish in front of his father for putting her through all these.

“Do you know how to cook?” he asked her.

“No Uncle but I am learning” she replied.

“Girls in our side are great cooks. Why didn’t you learn it?” he asked.

“I never got the time uncle. I was busy with my studies” she replied as politely as she could.

“Hmm...” he murmured.

Your son eats food right? Does he know how to cook? If not then why the expectation from me!

Sneha never believed that being a girl she had to learn cooking. Infact she hated being in the kitchen. Ashish too never expected her to be a cook. He was well above all these so called prerequisites.

“We are a very cultured family Sneha. For example we offer water to visitors when they come home. You are from the north-east right. It will be very difficult for you to fit in our culture” said his father.

What does he mean from the north east and what does he mean by offering water? So does he mean we don’t treat our guests well or that we are a bunch of nomads living on trees? Please get your facts right uncle and yes we give our guests snacks and even food accompanied with beverages not just water!

Sneha was trying hard to suppress her anger. But it was beyond the point of control, the ludicrous statements by Ashish’s father hurt her and the fact that she wasn’t at liberty to retort further aggravated the insult. She gave up and finally tears rolled down her eyes and before she knew it she was sobbing uncontrollably. These were the tears of anger and frustration!

At that moment the questions stopped. Seeing his daughter cry, Mr. Goswami who had so far held his nerve looked at Ashish’s father and told him “Mr. Gupta we have brought our daughter up with lot of love and care. She is educated and capable. We have agreed to give our daughter into your family perfectly knowing that the part of India you belong to in infamous for dowry deaths and other mal practices directed against women. My daughter doesn’t know how to cook but she is perfectly capable to employ a cook. We trust your son and hence we are placing our trust on you too. Please don’t treat her like an unpaid servant, treat her like a daughter and let our children be happy.”

Ashish’s father didn’t reply but just nodded. It was as if he had understood and was willing to leave the shackles of ancient norms behind. Infact, Sneha thought the same too. After few minutes of silence, Ashish’s father looked at Ashish and then turned towards Sneha’s father and said “Don’t worry I will treat her like a daughter. Everything will be fine”.

That statement seemed to be in a tone which was the complete opposite of what he had so far been speaking in. Did he really have a change of heart? Was that it, the end of all hard feelings and obstacles? The wedding dates were finalised and the preparations began.

But then began the next arduous round of petty demands from Ashish’s side. Yes, Ashish’s father was true to his word he would keep Sneha as a daughter but the way daughters or in fact daughter-in-laws were looked at in his part of the world. The pseudo-superiority complex seemed never ending.  Ashish’s father was doing right by the books he knew, the only books he knew. But that was not relevant in the current context but it was too late in his lifetime to teach him that. Sneha’s family went about the preparations, sometimes annoyed, sometimes times angry. Ashish and Sneha too weren’t exactly elated at the prospect of a wedding. They just wanted to get it over with. The perfect wedding turned into an affair of satiating Ashish’s father; into an affair of manoeuvring  Sneha’s parents tactfully through all the things which in their eyes weren’t worthy of a sensible and educated household.

Sneha and Ashish had fights each trying to explain the perspective of their sides to each other. Ashish didn’t understand why Sneha couldn’t bend a little and tolerate his father’s wishes till their wedding. Sneha on the other hand hated it that Ashish never stood up to his father when the latter’s demands were unpleasant and uncalled for. The days leading up to their wedding were filled with bitterness and ill-feelings. It was hard for Sneha’s parents started having doubts about how their daughter would be treated by Ashish’s father. There were moments and days when they wanted to call off the wedding. This on and off battle till the last day drained out the romance from their wedding.

“My father agreed to the wedding inspite of being taunted in his circle. Why are you behaving this way Sneha? So what you have to wear a certain dress or cover your head for a few days is it that hard?  said Ashish irritated with Sneha’s constant complaints.

“Ashish he agreed because you also wanted to marry me remember. It’s not like he did a favour? And why should I do things I don’t believe in? All the time he keeps telling me that my family needs to give this and that? You know very well I do not like such things?” Sneha tried to reason.

“Please Sneha, as it is this journey has been hard. We have had to battle everyone. I cannot change my father over night. It is not really his fault you see. This is where he has spent his life and that is how he thinks” he reasoned too.

“But why am I being asked to pay for it? Every day I get to hear that there are far more deserving girls for you. Does he have to make me listen to all that?”

“He is alone; if my mother was there he would still have handled it better. Give him a chance please”

“Fine I am willing to give him but how many chances. He hurts me; he makes me reconsider the decision of being with you every moment of the day. Is that fair”

“Listen to me, this is a phase. Everyone is a little off their game. Give time and trust me. We have been together for over five years what makes you think we can’t weather this storm?”

“I don’t know. What if I am all alone there and you don’t stand by me? While I know you can’t be rude to your father but then what about me? Where will you draw the line?

“Trust me please. Just trust me. I can’t say anything more than that!”

Sneha looked at Ashish and hugged him tight. His arms were where she felt the safest outside of her home. She knew if there was anyone apart from her family who loved her as much as they did, it was Ashish. They were both apprehensive and frustrated but then at the end of the day they did love each other.

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It was the night of their wedding finally when the sacred fire burnt in the centre as though Lord Agni himself bore witness to the everlasting alliance; the priest chanted verses out of religious and sacred texts; lights twinkled; sweet scent emanated from the flowers and the incense sticks that adorned the entire setting; Sneha looked like an angel descended from the heavens above in all her finery and sparking red attire while Ashish looked like a prince waiting to carry his beloved away unto the land of happily ever after; the whole ambiance was nothing short of mysticism personified. Or, was it?

Ashish’s family sat all snot nosed on one side with condescending faces. Sneha’s family sat alongside the couple performing rituals trying to be perfect hosts but equally annoyed at the sneering and disrespectful attitude of the visiting party. Yes this was the ‘divine’ setting of their love marriage.

As the holy fire grew stronger and the night grew younger; Sneha, the bride in red fumed at her future in-laws giving a thundering peace of her mind to Ashish in between the chants. Ashish meanwhile annoyed with the commotion gave her a livid reply. They looked at each other with fury and resentment instead of gazes full of love and affection. At the dinner hall, they refused to eat from the same dish but at the same time maintained the perfect smiles for the guests and relatives. They hated every moment of this mockery of a marriage function. Neither liked the music or even the decoration; all they wanted was for the drama to be over!

The wedding night and they were finally alone in the room where they were supposed to unite in the presence of the moon and the stars along with the soft yet sweet smell of the roses that decorated their bed. But did they? Well they looked at each other and suddenly without saying a word hugged each other tight. Ashish shivered while the heart beat of Sneha grew louder by the second. No it wasn’t due to each other’s touch or warmth; it was due to the anxiety and pressure they had been subjected to. They sat that way the whole night; Ashish pondered on what havoc must have raked at his side while Sneha felt really low realizing she had to go to the family whose members had so far only put down people close to her heart.

Yes, it wasn’t a typical fairy tale marriage. Yes, neither of them was excited about the D-Day. Yes, she didn’t choose her wedding outfit just to give a chance to her family to feel good at choosing it for her. Yes, he worked at his wedding as though it was his relative’s. Yes, he never got pampered at home before the ceremony. Yes, she did not receive romantic messages from him on the eve of their wedding. Yes, there was no exchange of mischievous glances or silent messages between them. But they had something that very few couples do. Their love was rock solid inspite of all the bitterness and the not so perfect atmosphere! They conquered the impossible and got what they desired; a life with each other; a life together. Of-course, they had to fight and undergo unpleasant experiences for it but that sole hug on their wedding night said it all. They were in love and it was a marriage all worth the strife!

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It was the same study where Sneha and Ashish sat together looking at the pictures of their wedding for the first time in ten years. Yes, it had been a decade since that fateful night where they united infront of the holy fire. The experience of it all was so sour that they had till that very day, ten years down the line, never looked through the pictures or the wedding videos. But there was always a first time, and this was theirs’.

“I never thought that I would be able to look through these pictures and manage to smile” said Sneha who has aged a bit but still looked happier and far more contented than she did on the eve of her wedding.

“I told you Sneha that we would have a good life together, it was just a matter of time!” said Ashish. Time had been kind to him and he looked even more dapper today than he did ten years back.

They had built a life together. The strife, the struggle was all worth it. Love did conquer all and they did reach their happily ever after!

Suddenly a small arm wrapped around Ashish’s neck from behind his chair. He looked behind and it was their daughter; their life, Palki. He pulled her infront and took her on his lap while Sneha placed a kiss on her cheeks.

“Were you going to start without me Daddy?” asked Palki.

“How could I?” he said and they sat together, a happy family, ready to relive in good spirits the period of discord that led to everlasting bliss.

Oh Love, the most beautiful of all emotions;
Oh Love; the elixir of life;
You are certainly the most charming notion;
But are you, love, a worthy strife?

Yes I am the true devotion;
Your perpetual companion of life;
Yes, I may not always be the happiness potion;
But I certainly am worth the strife!

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