NTMN: We assume that you want to keep your daughter illiterate. Is that so, sir?
Father: It’s not what you think. We are certainly not denying the right to education to our own daughter. We just want her to go to a co-ed school.
NTMN (jaw dropping): Co-ed? Really? And why?
F: Bah! Everything is a problem for you people. If we would have decided to send her to an all-girls school, even then we’d have got two-hour TV coverage.
NTMN (taking a glass of water to mellow the awkwardness): We’re sorry, but why do you think this is a better option?
F: Marriage. What else?
NTMN (almost spit water on the flowers in a vase): Marriage?
F (snatching vase away): Look, you know very well how expensive it is to raise kids these days. The neighbours kept telling me to start saving dowry money since she was two, and—
NTMN: Since she was two?
F: Yes, and she’s four now and I still haven’t begun saving. The price of organizing a marriage is getting steeper day by day. How are we going to afford it for our daughter?
NTMN: Is that how you thought of this idea?
F (twirling moustache importantly): Of course. We decided it’s better if she goes to a co-ed school, finds a suitor early on and then gets love-married all by herself. That’ll save us the worry of organizing a big fat Indian wedding and arranging dowry for her.
NTMN: We appreciate your foresightedness, sir. But all this for the marriage of a girl who hasn’t even grown up yet?
F (nostrils flaring): You reporters don’t have brains? Can’t you find out the logic? (pauses)
(We just stare blankly.)
F: Don’t you see? We want to save our girl from the distraught of getting rejected in future.
NTMN (brightening up): Oh yes! (pause) How?
F: See, pre-marriage state is a currish affair these days. It’s just like picking an object of universal liking and then haggling over its price. Lesser the price offered, more the chances of the deal getting snapped. We don’t want our poor child facing the gash of rejection.
(takes a deep breath)
And if Kapil Sibal can do away with 10th boards to save the students from the fear of failure, can’t we do something like that for our own daughter? She’ll definitely get hooked with a guy in co-ed. That does our job.
NTMN: We-ell, that does sound… promising…
(We sit there puzzled and motionless, looking like zombies. The girl’s mother arrives with a tray of snacks.)
Mother: Please have something.
(We politely refuse a biscuit.)
M: I know you people might be having a lot of questions in your mind, but it’s in the best interest of our daughter. Arranged marriages are no good these days. Heavy dowry is no guarantee for satisfaction of in-laws.
(At this point, we are taken aback by the pithy usage of that particular word. We instinctively grab a glass of water.)
We don’t want our doll getting flogged for petty things every other day. And now that love-marriages are in fashion, we too want to earn the credit of being broad minded parents who allow their children to marry whomever they want.
NTMN (tentatively furrowing eyebrows): But how are you so sure that your girl will fall in love with some guy?
F: Oh come on, these happenstances are common in co-ed schools. And not sending her to an all-girls school will ensure her ‘straightness’ too.
NTMN: Well… There’s no way you can fault that logic.
(We thank them and get up to leave. Making our way out of the house, we see the girl sitting with her colour box and drawing a rough sketch of her parents. She seems oblivious of the scurrying movement around her. Beside her sketch book, we find a dietary sheet.)
NTMN (pointing at sheet): And what is that for?
F: Oh, that? We’ve made a diet plan for her. She must be fit and healthy. Boys don’t lay their eyes on fat girls, you see. Much like the ‘ladki dikhana’ in arranged marriages, where girls are paraded before unknown prospective grooms. The difference here is that our girl would be flaunting her beauty around some known people.
NTMN: So you’re just parents trying to think modernly in a very weird manner?
F: What’s weird about it? Now come. I’ll drop you at the station. I have to go the gym anyway to fill up a membership form.
NTMN: That’s impressive. You gym?
F (laughing): No, it’s not for me. Although it would be useful, now that my daughter’s going to a co-ed school! No, it’s for her. By the time she’s sixteen, the membership rate will be far far higher. We’re just sort of reserving it for when she turns sixteen.
(The reporter finds it unnecessary to say anything and just nods along. We quickly make the excuse that our respective great-grandmothers are in hospital beds and just run to the station alone.)
(ed. Satat Mishra, Priyanka Mehta)