As the train shrieked to a halt at a station, she entered the third class AC compartment. She was followed by a swarm of women and men, girls and boys who had so many luggage bags and cartons, that they shook the entire compartment to place all the baggage in place. She sat down near the window with an old lady with tears in her eyes, the old woman was instructing her to embrace her new life with love and respect. The newly wed bride was looking down at her bangles which were colorful and bright. Her head was covered by her saree which her mother, which I presume the lady sitting next to her was, kept adjusting for her. Her body weight was not very capable of taking the weight of her saree it seemed. She sat on the berth opposite to mine, adjusting the end of her saree.
As she was absorbing in all the priceless information to married life that her mother was pouring her, a man, but a boy like man entered the compartment, he immediately had that new groom, the new son-in –law aura to his persona. The bustling in the compartment stopped as everyone started making space for him. The girl flinched and recoiled. The train blared for departure and the family members rose up to leave. The mother hugged the bride who started crying inconsolably. The groom sat in the corner, too engrossed in the newspaper he had brought along. He seemed unperturbed to the whole family drama being unfolded. Then a boy not more than 15 years of age came forward to hug the girl. She cried a little more as the family started to move out of the compartment. And the train left. I could see the whole family huddled on the platform bidding their goodbyes! And slowly the train caught up speed and the platform was left far behind.
She sat there glancing outside the window without batting an eyelid. I looked at her and she appeared lost, it seemed that tears had welled up in her eyes, but she hastily wiped them off by the nook of her saree. She sat there unmoved glancing outside the window for a good one hour while her husband busied himself completely in the newspaper and then his phone. The chai wala came chanting “Chai, Garam Chai” in his monotonous baritone. The groom ordered one and asked his bride if she wanted any, she refused. It’s the first time that she had raised her head directly and I got a glimpse of her. She was fair, with a bright red lip color, wide red bindi and red vermillion filling her centrally parted hair. She looked young, perhaps 20. As her husband sipped his tea she again got back to watching the scene outside the window.
I got back to the book I was reading before seeing the newlywed couple and put earphones in my ears. I saw the groom approaching the girl and try to hold her hand. She flinched, but she made no effort to free her hand from his grasp but she was visibly discomforted. Her husband caressed her cheek. I saw that she was not willing to be touched, but from the look of her husband he seemed to be believe that he had the right. I coughed to make them uncomfortable on purpose; there was a certain urge in me to free the girl. He moved back a bit and started fidgeting with his phone.
As the train moved between the mountains time passed, the groom excused himself for the washroom. She just nodded and kept straining out of the window. Something in her piqued my curiosity. After all she was a newlywed, why did she lack all the charm and happiness around it. I was just going to start the conversation with a ‘Hi’, when her husband barged in with another man laughing and clapping his hands. As they entered he introduced him as a childhood friend, and said that he was accompanying him in his compartment for some time. The friend offered the bride to come along but the groom answered in negation for her. She sat there nodding her head and said she was comfortable here. As he left the bride went back to stare out of the window. I was perplexed by this time and finally muttered a ‘HI’, to which she looked at me confused. I asked where she was travelling, I was being intrusive I guess as she still had not responded to my HI. She did not respond to this either and I decided to go back to my book offended and hurt. Its then when she spoke, “We are going to Mumbai, my husband has a job there”. I told her that Mumbai was a great place, I visit there often for work, and she would like it there. I told her that I was originally from Delhi and that going to Mumbai is always memorable because that place is different and very accepting. She kept listening to me watching outside the window in between. I stopped talking realizing that I had been talking for quite some time now. After a while she said, “You like going to Mumbai because you always have a chance to come back to Delhi, the place which is home to you”. I was baffled by this response, I wanted to ask some more but she added on her own preventing me feeling encroaching. She said that her husband four months into their courtship after engagement and one month before marriage had announced to her that she would not be coming back to her place ever. If any of her relatives wanted to visit her they had to travel to Mumbai. He wanted nothing to do with the place anymore, where apparently he was born too but now he felt the place was too tawdry. I gasped at her, as she moved her stare from outside to me and smiled with tears in her eyes. I asked her why had not she reasoned with him as this was not a practical thing to do. She said that theirs was an arrange marriage and reasoning with him would have meant calling for trouble. She had not told anyone in the family except her brother who was too young to do anything. She had decided to live with it. I could not say anymore, her tale had explained her sadness; she was leaving behind the city she grew up in, the family she grew up with someone who had decided to start the relationship on his terms. I could not muster the courage to talk to her anymore; I opened the book and started reading again.
She was still looking out of the window when he came back again with a tray of food. She did not want to eat but he forced her to. As the train screeched to a halt again at a station, a young couple entered the compartment, they sounded happy and gay. They sat next to me and I could see that girl would not stop talking. She instructed her husband to keep the luggage in a specific way, her bags on the upper berth, take out the chargers from the bag and the husband abided. As they sat down they said their hellos to all sitting in the compartment and I responded amicably. Just then the girl pointed out, “Darling, you realize that this summer we have to go to my parents’ place to stay as you promised, you know they miss me a lot, right”. And the boy answered in affirmation. I looked back at the bride sitting across me, she gave me the look as to say look at the irony. Just then the all talkative couple left to see the outside view from the door of the train at the behest of the girl. And the groom sitting uttered “What a henpecked husband”. I flinched in disgust and anguish.