I'm No Hero, story by Sushma R. Doshi at Spillwords.com
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I’m No Hero

I’m No Hero

written by: Sushma R Doshi



“No,” I say.
“What?” asks Ma. Incredulously.

For the past …I don’t remember…how many years, I remained a mute spectator to my sister’s humiliation. Every day. Every single day.

“Apply the new fairness cream I bought.”
“Try turmeric paste for your complexion.”
“Wear a padded bra. You are too thin.”
“Straighten your hair in the salon. It’s too limp.”
“You could try and smile a little more. Men don’t like the overtly serious type.”

My sister, Mira di. Elder to me by three and a half years. Mira di had always been a happy child. Eager to please. Gentle. Never heard her say a “No.” That was a privilege solely granted to me, The Male Heir Of The Family. Mira di never resented this. She knew her station in life and was content with it. An average student academically, she was well aware of her limitations and unapologetic about it. Her only ambition in life was to marry well and have children. I make it sound rather simple. It might have been less of a struggle for her to become an engineer or a doctor.

The ordeal started when our parents, Ma and Baba, initiated the process of arranging a match for Mira and the first boy…the first prospective groom came to “see” her. We were all excited. Snacks and sweets were bought from the best shop in town. The best crockery reserved for special occasions was carefully taken out of the locked glass showcase. The boy was an officer in a bank. He entered our home accompanied by his family with a cool assurance. I watched Baba standing with folded hands. Ingratiating.
“We’re simple folk. Mira is a good girl,” Baba said, bowing down, a slight pleading in his voice. I hoped the boy was worth it.

I was shell shocked when the boy said…”No.”
“No?” How could anyone refuse to marry Mira di? Ma and Baba were also disappointed. But they rallied around and played it down.

“It’s just the first proposal. We’ll get better ones.”
“Arranged marriages take time to fix.”
“A woman gets married where destiny has fixed it for her.”

I could tell the rejection hit Mira di badly. But only for a few days. I was relieved to see her recover and spring back to her usual irrepressible self.

The next proposal and subsequent rejection disconcerted us. Mira di had tried to look as pretty as possible and smiled the best she could. There wasn’t much discussion after the apologetic telephone call.
“We’re sorry… If only the girl had been a little more fair…”
I was nonplussed. For me, Mira di was the most beautiful girl in the residential colony we lived in.
Ma laughed wryly when I told her the same.
“You are her brother. You love her. But when you search for a wife, you’ll also be choosy.”
Huh! Trust Ma to take a different angle in any situation.

The blinding sunlight of the hot summers gave way to dark thunderclouds and incessant rains. Festivals continued to be celebrated and Ma prayed with more fervor.
“Let my daughter get a good groom.”
I welcomed the chill of the winter which soon vanished with the appearance of spring. I passed out of school and joined College. My interest in the opposite sex burgeoined. I understood why men rejected Mira di. I fantasized about fair vivacious women. Voluptuous but not too voluptuous. Coquettish. I wanted it all. Busy with exams, friends and fantasies, I gradually became indifferent to the boys…sorry now men with their little troupe stepping into my house at regular intervals to reject my sister. I shrugged off the atmosphere of gloom and the inundation by all our aunts and uncles with unsolicited advice in the aftermath.

“I think there is an evil eye. Consult a tantrik.”
“The stars are not in proper alignment. Should I book an appointment with an astrologer for you?”
“Call a priest…perform a puja …complete with a Hawan…will drive away all the evil forces.”
“Mira needs what is called a makeover today….these boys don’t want traditional-looking girls.”

There were a few mumbles about the unsaid …the dowry.

“Pity the girl’s father doesn’t earn enough to get his daughter married.”
“Can’t deny the truth that plain girls need a fat dowry.”

This was a reference to the fact that Baba worked in a small private firm and earned just enough to give us a decent life. A small salary. Just that. No means to earn by taking bribes. No black money. It meant no marriage for Mira di.

I watched an exuberant Mira di transform into a listless pale shadow of herself. Her self-esteem was unable to bounce back after being smashed to smithereens for the umpteenth time. Most of her friends had got married and there were now whisper …suggestions.

“There is a widower….good man…with two kids…ideal for Mira.”
“This man…a divorcee..no fault of his…wife ran away with another man…fortunately no kids….will be good for Mira.”

Ma looked permanently worried. It was imperative that Mira di get married before Baba retired. Baba tried to retain his good spirits but his brisk gait slowed down to a hunched trudge. His cough weakened his loud baritone to a hoarse gruff.

It was the seventh of August when the tide turned. The unbelievable happened. The man said a “Yes.” Ma couldn’t believe it. A businessman living in a big city. His mother had passed away and his father was in a hurry to get him married. They didn’t want the dowry.
“They just need a woman to take care of them and the house,” said the mediator.
It was amazing what a Yes could do to our house. Ma started cooking with vigour and the smell of coriander, saffron and cardamom wafted through our house. Baba looked relieved. A burden had been lifted off his shoulders. Though the cough still troubled him, his voice regained strength. Mira di looked relaxed. The guilt of being a burden on Baba and the fear of remaining a spinster for the rest of her life had proven to be more taxing than she could handle.
“Are you happy?” I asked her impulsively one day.
“Of course. Why do you ask?” she queried curiously.
“Well.…you hardly know your husband-to-be. Aren’t you worried?”
Mira di laughed. Carefree. That sound….after so many years.
“This is an arranged wedding…a match fixed by others. I’ll get to know him after I get married to him.”
She paused.”Wish me luck,” she said gently clasping my hand.
I nodded, squeezing it tightly with a catch in my throat.

Mira di ‘s marriage followed by her farewell left a void in the house. But as they say, life goes on and problems are never solved. They’re just replaced by another. Baba retired with no pension. The firm deposited a fixed sum in his bank account. Baba said that we would run dry in a while and we did. I completed College and it was time for me to shoulder the responsibility of the family. I managed to secure the position of an accountant in a private firm. I saw my entire life ahead…duplicating Baba’s. I swallowed the feeling of dread as I rose every morning to catch the bus to work. I thought it couldn’t get any worse. I was so wrong. Baba’s cough was diagnosed as cancer. Treatment was expensive. There was no smell of cardamom and saffron emanating from the kitchen anymore.
“A solution has to be found. You need to get married,” Ma said matter-of-factly.
Real bright, I thought. Another mouth to feed.
Ma looked at my uncomprehending countenance impatiently.
“There is a proposal for you. Nice girl. Decent family. The dowry will give us the means to treat Baba’s cancer.”

We enter the house with cool assurance. The girl’s father stands with folded hands. Ingratiating. I know I’m not worth it. The girl walks in holding a tray with neatly arranged tea cups and sits on the cheap cane chair. Plain. Her eyes. Big. Anxious.
“We’re simple folk,” the girl’s father says. We understand the implication. No dowry.
Ma’s face becomes reserved. She signals to me silently.
“We’ll let you know. We have to go,” she says politely.
“No,” I say.
“What?” Ma asks incredulously.
“We’ve made our decision. The answer is yes,” I say.
“You’ve lost your mind,” Ma snaps in a low tone. “Are you trying to be a hero for the girl?”

No. I’m no hero. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for Baba’s medication. I don’t know what lies ahead. But I did what my conscience told me. I can’t destroy that hope I see in the girl’s eyes. This one’s for you, Mira di.


The End



di – elder sister
hawan – a ritual involving offerings to a consecrated fire
puja – act of worship
tantrik – occultist

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