By Veda Agarwal
A Burden Conferred
It’s a baby girl, says the Doctor, and simultaneously faces fall.
Her father beats his palm against his forehead,
her mother’s heart sinks down, down into the womb that is now empty of her creation.
“How will we pay for her dowry?”
This is the question they ask,
Now and decades ago.
For although she is not a burden on her mother’s body,
she is now a burden on her family’s finances.
A few years later and finally, finally she can begin to work.
She can begin to work in her family’s home,
an extension of her mother’s deft hands and sweaty forehead,
instead of playing outside with the boys, learning to sweep the kitchen.
Instead of learning to read or write, learning to serve her father,
Or any male, of any age or any status.
After all, she must be trained.
The family chose death of spirit over death of body,
Unlike her ancestral generations,
and she must show the return on their investment.
As her husband adds to his resume,
She begins to add to her own,
her “biodata”, the modern wedding resume,
for the husband she won’t even meet until the wedding day.
On his resume: business, management, finance,
On her resume: cooking, cleaning, culture.
Her family begins to apply on her behalf,
Having tea and biscuits over small talk,
Discussing the weather, the news, their daughter’s future.
While she, hiding in the kitchen,
Eagerly awaits her fate.
Will it be causing her family’s bankruptcy?
A life dedicated to maintaining her husband’s home?
Perhaps some emotional or physical abuse?
Once she is accepted, there is no going back.
She must leave her workplace for another,
And leave her old “life” behind,
Like her mother, her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother.
She is no longer a woman,
She is not a daughter, not a human.
She is her husband’s wife,
and as she circles the pyre her hands in his,
Tears drip slowly down her cheek,
the tears that haven’t stopped since the day
It was deemed that she was a burden,
A burden that has now been conferred onto another.
Vadini Agrawal studies Computer Science as a freshman at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The poem above expresses through narrative the reality that many Indian women face, where their lives and value are derived from marriage. She was inspired by her own experiences with Indian culture, seeing for herself how women are viewed by Indian society. She was also inspired by readings of “Black Candle” by Chitra Divakaruni and Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa, both of which explore a variety of women’s plights, all of which center around marriage. Her experiences and her readings mesh to create this narrative of women yesterday and today.
**Cover image from here.