Book Excerpt

Lila could not sleep that night. She tossed and turned waiting for the elders to cast their votes. She paced up and down in her tiny bedroom, adjacent to her grandparents’ room. Everyone had insisted for the room to be given to a young boy, just in case they needed anything at night. Her grandfather had brushed away all protests on the assertion that “she is as good as any of your sons”. Throughout her stay at the mansion, they had showered her with favors for which she found no good reason. At times she even felt irked by her grandmother’s noticeable partiality towards her. Lila knew this favoritism rankled her aunts immensely.

Today, the same people were taking a decision about her future. Dinu kaka had actually brought a proposal of marriage from a 28-year-old head clerk. Manu Kaka carried news clippings of the unrest in Delhi as a prelude to the imminent Independence of the nation from British rule. Each one came ready with a well-rehearsed argument designed to bring to an end the drama of Lila’s audacious aspiration.

She sensed her Aji was also up in the next room. The chattering of voices below died down. She heard the lights along the long corridor downstairs being turned off one by one followed by the creak of the wooden stairs under Ajoba’s portly figure. The conference over, the chairperson was retiring to his resting quarters.

Aji met him at the top of the stairs in the veranda. Lila strained to decipher the whispers and muffled conversation. All she could hear was the indecipherable drone of her grandfather’s deep voice interspersed with Aji’s sweet, slightly nasal one.

She had to know. She came to the connecting door and put her ear to it but that wasn’t much help either. She gently pushed the heavy door crack open and listened. The patriarch related to his wife everyone’s reservations at this one girl receiving higher education at such a great cost. Her grandfather appeared to be in agreement with them. Lila’s heart thudded as she eavesdropped barely breathing. He also added that one of her uncles had serious doubts Lila would be able to pass the tough examinations at the Medical College, which would be a colossal shame. Her grandmother softly asked, “Do you think she will not pass?”

“I would bet my last penny on this girl surpassing even her matriculation result.”

“Then why is it such a hard decision?” Aji asked in her soft voice.

“It is a huge expense and none of these men in our house would be willing to pitch in if I ever need a supplement or if something happened to me”

“Nothing will happen to you.”

“It is still a big amount of money.”

Silence ensued. The old couple weighed their options and nobody spoke for some time. Her grandmother cleared her throat. She usually did that before speaking. Then Lila heard the words she would never forget.

The old lady’s voice quavered, “If that is the only snag, take all my gold! Use it for Lila’s medical college expenses. Whatever you do, don’t deny this girl an education”, she urged her wise husband.

Lila stood rooted to the ground scarcely believing the old lady’s passionate assertion. The near sacred connection between an Indian woman and her gold was legendary and for no reason would she ever part with it.

Moved by the extraordinary gesture, Ajoba looked intently at his wife and taking her hands in his, he whispered, “Anasuya, you know I would never take your gold. I have my answer. Lila will be a doctor.”

Lila’s wobbly legs could hardly carry her. She flopped on the soft bed and dissolved in tears, overwhelmed by a mixed flood of gratitude, relief and nervousness.