Dolly Koghar reflects on her bucket list that never saw the light of day.
Mais oui, I didn’t have a bucket list and neither did the men of my era. To our elders, we were pawns in the game of upmanship on the chessboard; we weren’t to speak, but be the spokes to push the family wheel upwards financially and socially. Consequently, to make us look polished and seem like high-stakes marriage material, we were shipped off to boarding schools in the Himalayan foothills where we learnt to prattle in English. This was nevertheless at the risk of us sprouting wings and flying out through the floodgates of possibilities available ‘out there,’ beyond the threshold of our preassigned roles.
But there was always this one unattainable mirage that shimmered enticingly in the far-off distance: the wish to have been born ‘American,’ not necessarily from the U.S. of A., but to be White. The TV had translated being fair, with light eyes and hair that wasn’t black, to mean the freedom to have stylish haircuts; wear sleeveless dresses and lipstick; and to sit and stand with freedom of stance, and allowed a dream of doing or becoming something. The fancy goblets and a cigarette dangling from the corner of the mouth, or held just so, looked pretty cool, though luckily, I was spared the tug to give in to those temptations, or did I really have the freedom to choose?
Our moondae grew up, ‘knowing’ they’d join dad and Dadaji in the Sampheng family shop; to become yet another bolt of fabric, awaiting their turns at the desk, underneath the framed Guru Nanak Dev Ji and King Rama IX; the epitomes of responsibility, honesty and grit.
We embodied the nursery rhyme “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” which goes, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby, in the baby carriage”, though in reverse order. Love didn’t count. Our elders ‘knew’ the joree was ‘made-in-heaven’ and sparks would ignite after marriage. The matchmaking did seem to work, at least the façade of it, since we were betrothed while still enfants and well before any exposure to the world of emotions and genders.
If unfortunately, a blessed liaison turned out a true-blue made-in-hell one; it was the mother who’d failed to pass on the traits and sanskars to her beti, failed to tell her to bite her lips and hold her tongue and her emotions and carry on, come what may; hadn’t trained the girl into her wifely kartavya and duties. Then, of course, we Indians can always fall back on our indigenous justification, called Karma. Whatever happens is the consequence of our past lives’ actions, and since there’s no one to blame, grin and bear it! Anyway, there used to be no turning back, all doors were shut and bolted. C’est tout!
Nevertheless, we had our fair share of scandalous love-at-first sights when cupid shot arrows across the gender-dividing aisle in our Pahurat Gurudwara, to the oohs and aahs of adolescents and the chee-chee of the superseded elders, who predicted an impending tragedy from the word GO!
In Punjabi, we betis are birdlings; homing pigeons without a home. In the nest she’s born into, she’s treated like a paraya-dhan, an entrusted fragile property to be prepared as a Stepford Wife in her husband and his elders’ nest. She’s born to fulfil her roles as daughter and sister, then wife, daughter-in-law, and mummy, and then resign to the eventual and coveted position of dadee; granny-dom to a grandson. The prerequisite would, of course, be for her to first bear a son of her own, who would then bring a wife to perpetuate the vansch with the birth of the pota!