Her father had been cremated in the morning by fellow slum dwellers, her mother had been dead for as long as she could remember. She spent the evening with the neighbor’s kids and the next morning, a man came to take her to where he said her father had wanted her to go. They reached Howrah station, and after a long train ride followed by a bus ride, passed under a blue overhead board which read ‘Haryana Welcomes You’. They got down at a village which a white board called ‘Farmana’ in black letters. She had gone to school until the day before her father’s death. She was thirteen.
The man held her by the hand, exchanged her for a thick bunch of hundred rupee notes with a man who had a missing front tooth, and left. The man with the missing tooth gave her a new pair of clothes in the evening, and married her in a little ceremony. She didn’t know his name. He was almost thirty, and reeked of tobacco.
The next morning she woke up sore, her pillow wet with tears. He showed her the kitchen, the fields and the hand pump.
In the first year of her marriage, the women at the hand pump would jeer at her, call her paro, a female outsider.
She would cook his lunch, take it to the fields and help him there. Sometimes, while coming back early to prepare dinner, she would look at the crimson sky and try to remember the evenings in Kolkata, her friends, fish, Durga Puja.
By the time the year came to an end, their neighbor also got married. The girl was from Hyderabad, was older than her, almost seventeen. A different dalal had brought her. Her name was Sabina.
The day after Sabina’s wedding, she went with her to the hand pump and stared at the women who called her paro.
They started going to the fields and the weekly market together, telling stories about their childhoods, and about their husbands.
Once, she told Sabina that she had skipped her period two months in a stride. Sabina opened her eyes wide, put her hand on her mouth, smiled, and told her that she was pregnant.
She has ten children, nine sons. Sabina has five, all sons. Now they worry about getting their sons married. There are no girls in the village, or in the adjacent villages. They will also have to ask a dalal.
P.S. I wrote this story inspired from an article about India’s worsening sex ratio,which featured in The Economist earlier this month. The sex ratio for Haryana is 830 girls per 1000 boys, as per the early data from National Census – 2011. It is one of the lowest amongst Indian states.