baba – Father, kohl -natural black eye liner, bindi – a coloured mark on forehead worn by women, bhajan mandalis – religious music troupes. The story is satirical take on survival. The protagonist’s stand is merely a satire.
This is a guide to surviving life successfully.
Chapter 1: Background
I warn you, there are too many characters in this story, but you would love the drama. Please bear with me when I describe the characters and their lives, sometimes it might get a bit out of hand, but I assure you that it is very important for you readers. The real names have been substituted with characters you may have encountered in books. It is both discrete and reduces complications.
My name is Hansel and my older sister is Gretel. Our ages are a year apart, she was more like my twin. We were fortunate to have our parents alive. Who cares where we lived anyway? Our childhood memories are filled with us on a filthy dumping ground that served as a football/playground, pungent, stinky, ammonia, and methane in the air we breathed, a 250 square feet room that housed a minimum of 6 people at all times. The kitchen was in the corner and the bathroom…the bathroom was a community one. More like olfactory fatigue – like the nurses who get used to the smell of rubbing alcohol and blood, ours got used to this and more.
My father had two siblings, a brother, and a sister; let’s say Alpha and Beta. To avoid dowry, Alpha married Zulu while Zulu’s brother Yankee married Beta. See, I told you it gets confusing, but bear with me please. Alpha and Zulu lived next door, hated children, and thus bore none. Nature’s mysterious ways, right? Yankee was an alcoholic and Beta was a control freak. Within a year of their wedding, their daughter Cinderella was born.
The sibling pair Yankee and Zulu fought a lot. After their parents’ death, Yankee killed Zulu over a property dispute and was jailed for the same. With this ends Chapter one leaving Beta and her daughter Cinderalla to seek asylum at our 250 sq. feet house. And they all survived.
Chapter 2: Cinderella, Gretel and Me
Cinderella was a slow learner. She repeated classes, was extremely quiet, and had some developmental problems. Her mother was protective and controlled every aspect of her life, from how she dressed, what she ate, and where she went. But Cinderella didn’t mind it either. She addressed our Uncle Alpha as Baba. He showered her with a lot of gifts and loved her like his own daughter. Eventually, Cinderella stopped going to school.
Her mother said, “She’s gotten her Father’s genes. Dumb like him.”
Her mother dressed her up every morning. She had well-oiled almost greasy hair, plaited in two, talcum powder puffed face, Kohl in her eyes, and round black bindi. She used to go to the corner dairy every morning to buy milk and sprint back home. All she did was eat, sit, shit and sing. She sang any song she heard, effortlessly and mesmerizingly so. She would sing and go mute immediately without expecting appreciation or applause. She sang praises of the Lord in temples and bhajan mandalis.
My sister, Gretel was extremely gifted. She could memorize anything and do math almost like a computer. She was expected to cook and clean as she got older. She was denied a college education. “Girls should get married. Education is for boys” my father would say and everyone would chime in. That is true, women are meant to bear babies – baby factory. Men are ATM – Any time money. Right? Since supply was limited and demands were higher, the only two earning members of the family – My father and Alpha decide to get both the girls married. That is how it ends for Gretel.
I went to college like all boys. I wasn’t as good as my sister, but who cares right? I was born to do this. I went to college to get a degree in commerce. There I met a girl, Rapunzel. Long hair, mesmerizing eyes, and a smile that could break anybody’s heart. Prince was my best mate, he helped me get her to date me. We were in a serious relationship and I intended to get married to her.
That’s how three different teenagers survived the shit storm.
Chapter 3: Marriage
The family arranged Cinderella’s wedding. Abruptly and suddenly, she was married off to a man. He didn’t know anything about her and was dumbfounded ultimately when he discovered she was abnormal. Yeah! Who would want to marry an abnormal ugly girl? Her mother tried to control their married life as well. Eventually, Cinderella was banished from her in-law’s place. Girls can only survive if they can cook and clean. She didn’t understand her duties.
My sister Gretel tried sabotaging many alliances. The secret of survival for a woman is different from that of a Man. She finally gave in and got married. “A girl is her husband’s property after marriage. For good or for bad” said our mother while sending her away. She started a family with her husband, performing womanly duties.
One day Rapunzel declared “Let’s get married!” to me. She wanted to elope, get married in secret because her family wouldn’t allow it. I replaced my sister’s gold ornaments with fake ones. She got married wearing imitation jewelry and nobody noticed. We wanted to start a new life and needed the money right. I gave her the gold and asked her to wait for a week. A week later, she married Prince anyway.
“I am pregnant with his baby,” she said without flinching.
“Is that why you wanted to get married soon?” I asked.
She said she loved me and Prince was a mistake. But it got complicated and out of hand. She didn’t have the heart to burden me with another man’s baby. So, they got married.
“But what about the gold?” I asked. She said she would give it back to me as soon as she can and that she needed money. Love makes you do crazy things. Love makes you survive.
Chapter 4: Survival?
Cinderella after moving back to my parent’s house continued with her daily routine. She was a burden. Women whose marriages are unsuccessful are a burden to society. I was tired of taking care of them, giving them money, but it is my duty. She went singing, got some money. It was a shame, but she did it anyway. She died painfully at the age of 39, under a bus. The weakest one never survives.
Gretel ultimately understood that her ornaments were replaced with fake ones. As soon as I got them back from Rapunzel, I pleaded with my sister to accept my apology and take the jewelry back. She shut the door on my face and stated that she loathed my existence. That was the last time I ever saw her. I kept the gold.
I survived heartbreak. I gave shelter to Rapunzel after Prince died and her baby as well. I am a self-made man, I survived poverty, hunger, and a bad life. Rapunzel is paying for what she did to me, she has to cook, clean, and take care of my house. Her daughter fears me and rightly so, She is her mother’s mistake. Let me tell you, what goes around eventually comes around.
I am the survivor.