Writer Rani Rao Innes pens an insightful three-part story about the need for freedom and the desire for roots, exclusively for the readers of Unboxed Writers. This is the final part.
They went early to the station and the train hadn’t arrived. Sipping a hot paper cup of masala chai, Sapna watched the ‘railway children’ running back and forth selling water to the passengers of another train. She realized with a shock, the little rascals were filling the plastic bottles with tap water and selling it by the cup. “That’s awful!” she said. “They are cheating those passengers.” “Listen. These are Railway Children. They live on the platform and survive by their wits or starve. Many have run away from home because they have been abused. Some live with their mothers who clean three or four houses to make ends meet. Their fathers are either drunks and live off the wife and children’s earnings or have scooted off. Some marriage, huh?”
Sapna looked more closely at the two lads near her. They had beautiful faces with matted curly brown locks and bright black eyes. One had the same dimpled cheeky grin like her Arjun. It saddened her to think such brightness would not last, and their sparkling eyes would gradually cloud over with despair and hopelessness. She tried to chat with the older boy. He proudly told her he was the eldest of three children. The younger brother ‘worked’ with him in the station and they managed to send their youngest sister, Jaya, to school on their joint earnings. Sapna was pleasantly surprised that it was the girl who went to school. Before she could ask any more, he saw another train come in and raced away with his bottles of water. He probably did not want his sister to end up a servant like their mother, she thought. “Still want to report them?” Maya nudged her, “Easy to judge on a full stomach, yeah?” Sapna grimaced silently.
Maya had a point. She was an exception in a country that dealt women a raw deal. She remembered a recent piece on female infanticide in the papers and about the government paying Rs 1,800 to mothers who gave birth to girl children. But she’d also heard that many of these mothers willingly or under duress, took the money and then killed the babies. The parents blamed dowry as a reason why they couldn’t afford daughters. Again, she imagined Maya saying “Some marriage, huh!” At least her parents were not offering any dowry to get her married, she thought wryly – although they could afford it! Arjun’s family did not want anything more than her hand in marriage. Neither did Arjun. He only wanted her.
During the night, as the train rocked and soothed her, Sapna again thought of Arjun and his love for her. Wasn’t it just as important to be loved and needed?
She thought of her parents and the arranged marriage they’d had. They did not speak in terms of ‘love.’ They simply said they belonged. They depended on, needed each other and had been completely faithful to each other. Her mum always said you had to work at a relationship. It took effort but it paid off. They wanted the same for her, which she’d thought was a bit too tame. She also thought of all the wedding arrangements they would lovingly have made. Yet they would understand if she didn’t want to go through with it. They would be devastated but would hide it. They’d only ever wanted her to be happy. Their main concern would not be for the cancelled nuptials but for what they perceived as the wrong decision on her part. They truly believed she would be happy in this marriage with Arjun, and a life which included his kind parents.
She had always been a bit of a gypsy, without strong roots anywhere. Born and brought up in one place, educated in another, now working in a third, she’d always felt a bit anchorless. Her family was her true anchor which she’d always tried to break away from in her spirit of independence. She thought of some of her western friends and their “free spirits.” Were they truly happy moving away from home, having many partners and no time for families? She’d begun to consider her lifestyle in London, with its restlessness and a different type of disquiet. She’d told Arjun about the two men in her past but he’d brushed them off saying what happened before they got engaged didn’t matter. Now and the future did. Sapna had always been the girl for him. And he had waited.
By the time the train pulled into Bangalore, Sapna’s eyes were searching the platform. She knew, in spite of all her doubts and fears, what she really wanted – at least she hoped she did. She also knew Maya would think of her as a wimp. But she was not Maya. She wanted for herself what her mother had. A good man who would take care of her, be a good father to the children she wanted so much, someone who would not become an alcoholic, abuse their sons or reject baby daughters. They would welcome life into this world and try and make it joyful and secure. As she jumped off the train, she heard someone call out her name. She looked up to see Arjun smiling and striding towards her, arms outstretched. She felt safe.
Rani Rao Innes is the senior partner and lead trainer of Link Communications, a specialized communications skills company based in the UK. She has regularly presented courses and training workshops for private and public business sectors as well as students and teachers in the UK, Belgium, Malaysia, Japan and India. She has also been active in theatre for 30 years and was the director of Canterbury Players in Kent for eight years.