[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Short Story by Akshat Jain – Issue.XXXV : December 2017 ” main_heading_color=”#1e73be” sub_heading_color=”#8224e3″ spacer=”line_with_icon” spacer_position=”bottom” line_style=”dotted” line_height=”1″ line_color=”#1e73be” icon_type=”custom” icon_img=”id^48|url^http://ashvamegh.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Ashvamegh-ICO.jpg|caption^null|alt^Ashvamegh Journal Icon|title^Ashvamegh ICO|description^null” img_width=”48″ main_heading_style=”font-weight:bold;” main_heading_font_size=”desktop:34px;” line_width=”3″ margin_design_tab_text=””]modernity in…[/ultimate_heading]

Akshat Jain is a 25-year-old trained in the social sciences. He completed his graduation in Economics and Political Science from UC Berkeley in 2013 and his Master’s degree in Media and Cultural Studies from TISS in 2016. Currently, he is freelancing and looking for more permanent jobs.

The Woes of Marriage

Ram Narayan was in a state of terrible anxiety. He went to the Shiv temple, said the prayers he had learned by rote a long time ago, made his humble offerings, ate his daily breakfast of idli-sambhar at his brother’s stall and went on to his boss’ house to assume his duties as a chauffeur. I say he did all that but the situation was a little complicated. While his body was going through the daily routine, his mind was really stuck elsewhere.

Last night, he had reached home at nine as usual. His elder son was watching the news on TV while the younger one was studying, or at least pretending to, in a corner. As soon as he entered, the elder one, Shyam, got up and brought him a glass of water. Ram sat down on the sofa and took the glass in his hands. It was cold. Ram was pleased. It had been a tiring day after all. Like every other day.

His wife came out of the kitchen and told him the dinner would be read in 15. He waved her off and concentrated on drinking the cold water and resting his feet. Shyam came and sat next to him.

‘Papa, there is something I have to tell you.’

‘What is it? You need money? Let me get my salary.’

‘Na, it’s not that.’

‘Did they throw you out of the job?’ Ram got angry just thinking about that and sat up straight. ‘Did they?’

‘Na papa, they like me, I am a hard worker. It’s . . . It’s something else.’

Ram relaxed again. ‘What is it? Hurry up and tell me.’

‘There is a girl . . .’ Shyam stopped, looked up at Ram who had not yet registered what was happening and continued, ‘of another caste.’

The younger one, Laxman, looked up from his books. The situation was getting interesting even for him. He wondered what his father might do, would he slap Shyam or would he first call their mother.

Ram slapped Shyam and in the same breath, shouted for his wife, LAXMI. Then he proceeded to thrash the boy some more. It was only right, everyone thought, including Shyam who was only too happy to be thus expiating his enormous guilt. After a good five minutes Laxmi thought it had been enough and taking hold of Ram’s hand, she told Shyam to get out of the house. Which he did. Leaving behind a heavily perspiring Ram.

‘You know this isn’t good for you,’ she cooed in his ear, ‘don’t you. Getting your bp high like this, do you want to kill yourself?’

‘Come,’ she continued, ‘it’s nothing, come, eat food, take your medicines and sleep.’

First, Laxmi sweet talked Ram’s mind into ease and then the medicines finished off the rest of the job. But, as soon as he woke up, Ram could not think of anything but the events of the previous night. He called Shyam, his phone was switched off. He cursed him under his breath and left for work with a bad taste in his mouth.

When he reached his boss’ house, he knew he was in for it. He was ten minutes late and his boss was standing at the gate looking at his watch, going red in the face. He gave Ram a bloodcurdling look and started hurling insults at him at a speed only a boss of long standing can manage. Ram just looked down and waited for it to end. In his 22 years of service for this man, he had been through thousands of such scoldings.

Usually, Ram would have made some excuse when his boss stopped for breath but today his mind wasn’t on it so he just kept quiet. The boss noticed. After all, they had been doing this regularly for a very long time. It was almost a habit for both parties, almost a role they had to play to keep their identities intact.

‘So,’ the boss shouted, ‘you’ve finally grown lazy enough to even offer excuses or is it that you’ve discovered a new boldness.’

Ram looked up. The boss saw grief in his eyes.

‘Why, is everything alright?’ The boss asked, suddenly concerned.

‘Yes sir . . .’ Ram began.

Having heard what he needed to, the boss cut Ram short, ‘good, now come, we need to go visit the chief-secretary.’


Shyam didn’t really have to go far when he left home that night. Ram’s younger brother lived five houses down. That’s where Shyam had started sleeping anyway, ever since he got a job. But he didn’t directly go there.

First, he walked to the park that was some three kilometres from his house. It was a big one, in the centre of the city. It remained open till late in the night, manned by security guards, all the rich folk of the city went there for jogs and walks. Shyam went there to meet his girlfriend. Like many of his friends.

He whatsapped her on the way. ‘Going to the park, see if you can come, love you.’

He walked along a little more. Having thought of something, he took his phone out and sent her another message, ‘told pa about us. He thrashed me. But don’t worry, he will agree. Even if he doesn’t, I earn my own money now and I will marry you. Come meet me in the park. Love you lots.’

He noticed that she hadn’t even seen his last message. That bothered him a little bit because she was usually quite prompt in replying to his messages. The phone was as if attached to her body. She never missed a notification.

But he kept walking along and soon, he reached the park. He took his phone out and checked WhatsApp. She still hadn’t seen the messages. Now, he was actively concerned. He sat down on the bench and started staring at the screen hoping to cause something to happen on the other end. And something did. She came online. The grey ticks turned to blue on his phone and his heart skipped a beat. She was typing. She entered. ‘Was eating dinner.’ ‘Sorry.’ ‘See you in a bit.’ ‘Gotta think of an excuse.’ ‘Love you lots and lots.’

She came twenty minutes later and sat down next to him. Even though the park was some four kilometres in circumference they could always find each other in it. It wasn’t rocket science. They had just decided which bench to be found at, standing or sitting depending on whether it was full or empty. This late in the night, it was usually empty.

He held her hand and she sighed. They looked at each other and smiled. He kissed her lightly on her lips. She blushed and looked around. He held her hand tighter and she reciprocated. This went on for a while.

After the two tided over the initial shock of seeing each other in the passionate throes of love, they started to discuss the matters most urgent at hand. His father had all but refused to let them get married and she was sure her father wasn’t going to react very kindly to the proposal either. Moreover, there was the fear that if she told her father, he would just send her to the village and get her married forcefully.

The two lovers sat and thought of what they could do to proceed most peaceably.

‘See, I will go ask my dad tomorrow, man to man, no shitting about, if he agrees, then I will come with him to your house and ask your father for your hand in marriage. Your father, being of lower caste, cannot refuse for he will cause great disrespect to my dad who has deigned to enter his house and ask for his daughter’s hand. And thus we will be married.’ Shyam said confidently in an effort to reassure her.

‘But will your father agree?’ She countered and keeping her head in his lap, asked him to sing her a song.

‘He will have to.’ Shyam said with finality, ‘I have my own life to live, I cannot live according to some villagers he thinks he is attached to.’ He then proceeded to kiss her forehead before singing her a popular melody.


After Ram had snuck all the bits and pieces of the story in between the phone calls his boss was constantly busy on, he asked, ‘so what do you think I should do?’

‘Who is the girl? How is her family?’ The boss asked, feigning interest while writing an abusive email to his lawyer.

‘Well, I don’t know, didn’t ask him who the girl was. But what’s that matter? Can’t let him get married to a different caste. My community in the village will throw me out.’

‘First, go see how the family is. These days, we have to listen to our children.’ The boss shook his head. He wasn’t sad for Ram. He was sad for himself. His own elder son had married a girl from another caste and he had had no choice but to acquiesce.

Ram kept quiet after listening to his boss’ suggestion. He had already made up his mind while narrating the story. He hadn’t actually been asking the boss what to do. He had just posed the question rhetorically. He knew that he had to go back home and tell his son in no uncertain terms that the marriage was not possible.

Why only last year he himself had prevented his father’s youngest brother’s youngest son from getting married to a girl of a different sub-caste. How would it look now if his own son went about flouting the rules? What would his uncle say and his cousin whom he had threatened and pressured into giving in? How would he ever face them? They would laugh at him. He would definitely be cast out of the community and would never be consulted in any important matters or invited to any of the community functions. His life would lose all meaning. Instead of being a respectable man in his village, he would just remain a pauper in a city dying at the beck and call of a fat merchant.

He had to explain all this to his son. His life would be finished if Shyam didn’t listen to him. As far as Ram was concerned, all he had in his godforsaken poverty-ridden life was his face and now it was up to his son Shyam to save it by sacrificing his own desire. But as far as Shyam was concerned, Ram’s respectability in the village was a joke, the village itself was a joke, he was a city-bred boy and he had a life to make in the city and he would be damned if he let some relics from the middle ages dictate terms to him.

And thus the contest was set. Between father and son. Both poor. Both bearing the worst of what their times have to offer. Father, uneducated, living a thousand miles from home in a small hovel with his wife and children, employed as a chauffeur with no other prospects in life, only has a past to look at for comfort and a village to look to for a sense of worth. Son, educated in cheap government schools, employed as a low-level clerk, in love with a girl from a similar family, wants to get as far away from the village as possible, the city has all the charms, his dreams reside there, the village is like a dead weight pulling him down, holding him back, not letting him become what he has the potential to become. The son must leave behind the village to gain respectability in the city. The father must hold on to the village to hold on to some shred of humanity degraded by menial jobs in the city.