She was an orphan. Her mother worked 14 hours, sometimes even more, at houses of the rich to make enough to light the lantern at night and feed her and her other sister two morsels of bread every night. If they ever got lucky, they got to celebrate a little sugar on half a piece of bread each. They wore clothes that had already been handed down two generations. Sometimes, the banker’s wife would give her mother a new dress on a happy occasion. Another time, the lawyer’s wife would buy her a new pair of shoes on Eid. Her mother would neatly wrap them in torn bubble wraps and lock them away in a rusty steel trunk. Sometimes when she complained about not getting to wear new clothes, her mother would tell her to stop talking about it. It was her dowry. What she’ll get to take to her new home. If she tried saying more, her mother would tell her that no one would marry her if she was dowry-less. No one at all. She used to wonder. Isn’t taking someone’s daughter enough? Why is a girl priced? Is it that a daughter’s such a burden that you have to demand a reward for taking that burden off the parents’ head? What was dowry? Why did it even exist?
She was seventeen. Time a poor man feels that he’s had enough of his oldest daughter. Time that a poor man has to “marry her off”. But there was no man in her house. Her mother had worked from the sweat of her brow to collect tidbits for her dowry. To at least give her something she could call hers. But right now, hiding behind the chipped wooden door of the only room in the cottage, she could hear her mother talk to her “buyers”. Buyers who only bought, never gave. “We are poor people. We don’t have anything more to give her. Please don’t do this to us.I have another daughter still left to marry off. Please have mercy.” She could hear the helplessness in her voice. She could imagine the helpless expression on her mother’s face when her father died 6 years ago leaving her mother with two little girls, one still in her arms. The tears blinded her and she had not wanted to hear more. She pressed both her hands to her ears, shutting out the voices. She never found out the crux of the discussion. Then she was married off in a week. A happy marriage, it seemed. With dreams of hearts and roses, love and affection, she left her house.
How wrong she was, she was to find out in the coming days. It began with sarcastic remarks and taunts which were rained down on her like it rained in tropical rainforests. The constant reminders of how she couldn’t bring home enough cash or jewellery or furniture were called upon her more than her name. Then came occasional beatings from the husband on mother-in-law’s order followed by getting locked up in the brooms closet and having to go hungry for more than a day with not even a drop of water to sooth her throat. She wasn’t supposed to cry. She wasn’t allowed to beg for mercy. She was bound to suffer because she was a poor woman’s poor daughter with a poor fate to accompany her life. At nights, his financial frustration mingled with his sexual frustration. His violent tirades bruised her, hurt her but her lips were zipped. Because she was poor. And poor women weren’t gifted with tongues. Maybe that’s how God made it.
That night, they pulled the final straw. The flames engulfed her blackening body, her screams uselessly echoing, reverberating back into the small cottage based on the secluded outskirts of the village, where no one could here her agonized pleas. He is the Most Merciful, then why had His people become such animals who tore at the flesh of their fellows? He is the Most Generous, then why did His people kill her for Rs 50,000/-? Was that all she was worth of? Was that all a woman’s life was worth of? Was that all her mother’s bearing worth of? 9 months, she carried her little flower, safe and secure in that womb. Today, that poor woman would wish that her daughter had never left the safety of it. Rs 50,000/-? Was that all she was worth of?