by Kuli Kohli
*Trigger warning: The following story contains descriptions of rape and sexual assault.
Deepika had brought misery to her mother ever since she had been born 21 years ago. Her mother had wanted to get her eldest daughter off her hands from the age of 16. The only way to do this was to find a suitable Indian boy who would marry her and look after her, yet not be allowed access to her finances, as that control would still belong with her mother.
Where would she find suitable boys that matched up to her expectations? Certainly not in the UK! She had searched around the city of London, having no luck close to home. She’d put an invisible “FOR SALE!” sign on her daughter without Deepika’s permission. Deepika had no idea of her mother’s intentions.
Deepika’s mother was like a stepmother to her, she never seemed to praise her like she did her other two children who were both able-bodied and ‘normal’. Deepika thought maybe she had been dumped somewhere and her parents had found her. They had brought her home to use and abuse. It was a thought that had embedded itself in her mind. She felt rather ashamed to call the woman her mother.
Mother was a mature looking woman, appearing years older than she was. Her dark eyes constantly showed artificial love towards Deepika and her friends. However, the truth was clear; she was a devious character full of poison for her eldest daughter. Her awkward body language said it all. She was a very good actress and always used a very sharp high-pitched voice.
“I always do my best for everyone, but I never seem to get rewarded for it.”
Deepika didn’t quite understand what rewards she was after and why her mother wanted people to think she should be worshipped and offered money like a goddess for just being present.
“I have done so much for you; you should love and respect me for it.”
There was no point in arguing with her because she made people feel bad and guilty. Deepika felt like shutting off when she was around and tried to ignore her, an ordeal in itself.
Deepika had been born with a disability that affected her whole body, but she tried to live with it as if it was quite normal. It was not the disability that was the problem; it was the lack of awareness and education about disability. Just because Deepika looked a bit odd in the crowd didn’t mean she was not worth a thing. In fact, her disability made her outstanding in many positive ways, but she didn’t quite know it; her inexperience and lack of family support or love made her feel like she was worthless.
Her mother had an image in her mind of a perfect suitor, someone she could manipulate and use as well. Her plan was to keep her daughter and son-in-law living with her so she kept all the control. Also, most crucially, she was petrified of losing Deepika’s income and benefits, yet she didn’t want to take care of her disabled daughter. The journey ahead was not going to have a successful ending as her mother’s intentions were selfish.
The story began when Deepika had been introduced to a gorgeous, emerald-eyed young man named Heera (meaning diamond) who had been recommended by someone from Deepika’s mother’s village in Punjab, India. Deepika did not want to marry anyone at all. She wanted to live life freely and do as she pleased, but the culture of marriage was overpowering, and she could not fight against her family over it.
Deepika had met Heera the last time she had been to India and she had been attracted to him; his emerald eyes twinkled on his fair, flawless face. When her mother said,
“What do you think about marrying Heera? He is a real diamond I’m told… Well, you’ve seen him.”
Deepika had been pleasantly surprised by her mother’s choice. She had looked away shyly and secretly accepted. Her mother whisked her away to India as fast as she could before Heera’s family changed their mind.
Every time Deepika visited India, her homeland, very seldom and not very homely, it was a shock to her system; it was like immersing into a frozen lake; her brain froze as if she was dreaming in a nightmare. The foggy madness of India and its people as if they lived in a world of their own.
Deepika hated all the stares and negativity she got from people, young and old, rich and poor and even the beggars on the streets, who seemed to live with a million different disabilities and diseases worse than herself, looked at her like she was from the moon. Deepika thought,
“God, where am I? Take me away from these people, please…”
Did the cows and donkeys wandering in the middle of the roads of Delhi also look at her funny? She clung onto her mother’s arm tight; she didn’t want to fall down.
“God, isn’t there anything else simpler than getting married to some man I hardly know half way across the world?” she quizzed herself.
When they reached their destination, the holy city of Amritsar, after a long and tiring train journey from Delhi, Deepika longed to sleep a day or two. She had only two weeks leave from work, so there was no time for fun or to get to know her future husband; love was certainly out of the question.
Her cousins, uncles, and aunts greeted her with love and respect, which was not surprising; maybe they were looking for something in return as always. Their eyes were fixed on their suitcases,
‘What had she brought for them, from that perfect world called England?’
Deepika’s mother had not even done any shopping for her daughter, for she was about to be given away in a strange land to some strange family, let alone for the ever-hungry relatives. She had collected old clothes and old gifts from the loft and stuffed them in both suitcases. Her daughter did not even have a special outfit or jewellery for the ring ceremony that would mark their engagement.
‘How could this event go ahead?’
‘Nobody is going to marry her without wanting something in return, probably a visa for life in the UK and a large dowry.’
She didn’t want to be used and abused and then thrown away, a thought that disturbed her. It was the ‘What ifs…?’ that killed her positivity, but she had to trust someone sooner or later, so why not do it now as her mother’s choice?
Heera and his family lived literally next door to Deepika’s relatives in Amritsar. Deepika held on to her mother like a child as she was terrified of what Heera would say or do to her. However, when he came to visit them, he was shy too; he didn’t even speak to her or her mother.
“What did I tell you Deep, he is a proper, respectable lad, isn’t he? He bows at my feet and will not even utter a word until he is spoken to,” Mother boasted at her choice of son-in-law.
That was okay, only if she was staying in India for a couple of months; two weeks were going to fly by and she needed to speak to Heera desperately. She tried to pluck her courage up but as soon as he came near her, she thought she would collapse in a nervous heap. She wanted to know and believe this was not a mistake – it was the real thing.
The next couple of days had to be spent on shopping in Amritsar for the ring ceremony. Deepika didn’t have to do much to look her best; her female cousins and sisters-in-law did it all. Deepika kept thinking, how stupid is this? Entirely or partly – she was getting engaged to a total stranger she hadn’t even spoken to. How would he guarantee he would look after her? He didn’t even know what her needs were!
“Mom, please, tell me, are you sure he will look after me?” she asked her mother, time and time again.
Even her cousins and relatives said that everything would be fine.
It was the big day, the ring ceremony; guests started arriving in their beautiful brightly colored saris, suits like butterflies in a meadow. Deepika wore a pink salwaar kameez with a heavily embroidered dupatta. Her cousins made her look remarkably beautiful with light make-up and fashionable jewelry. She was really dreading the ceremony, as she was worried about what people thought about her, beyond the fake friendliness society produced.
‘What do they think about a woman like me really? Mad? Stupid? Impossible to be a wife… Oh God, what am I destined for?’
Finally, all the guests had arrived, and both Heera and Deepika had completed the ceremony, which amazingly went quite smoothly. The commotion and comments of relatives were a problem, although Deepika received many good blessings from guests and the experience of her first actual Indian marital ceremony was not as bad as she thought.
Following all the formal procedures of customs and culture, Deepika and her mother went to the Embassy in Delhi to apply for Heera’s entrance visa to the UK. Once his name had been placed in the queue, the real drama began.
Deepika’s mother decided to visit some relatives in Punjab for a few days and left her daughter in the safe hands of her sister. Deepika was a worried about being left on her own with her distant family members who knew nothing about her, but she thought it would give her some time to get to know Heera. The next day, Heera’s older brother told Deepika Heera was waiting for her in the old detached room of her aunt’s house. She was escorted quietly by her future brother-in-law,
“This is your chance to get to know Heera a bit better,” he smiled.
Heera was sitting in the room on an old wooden bed. He smiled at Deepika as she walked into the room. Behind, she heard the door close and a padlock click. She hoped his brother had not locked them in the room; she tried not to show her fear as she sat on the chair opposite Heera. She fidgeted with her fingers and was extremely nervous about being closed up between four walls with a stranger who was meant to be her life partner.
Heera started a conversation and asked her to sit with him on the bed. Deepika suddenly felt frightened but did as he said. He looked at her, his gestures unloving, his jade green eyes lustful and hypnotic.
“You do know you are my fiancée now and you belong to me,” Heera whispered, putting his hands on her thin skinny hand.
“I’m not your wife yet, so please don’t touch me like that yet.”
“Yet? Of course you are my wife, because actually you have my ring on your finger,” Heera smiled gently taking her hand into his.
“No, I don’t even know you yet. Please don’t do this,” Deepika begged snatching her hand away.
“Please, Deep, I won’t hurt you… I promise.”
Deepika suddenly felt extremely uncomfortable.
“I think I want to go back, they are all waiting for me.”
Heera smiled, he took her hand again and tried to kiss her.
‘Oh my god!’
Deepika was in shock as well as surprised. She didn’t know how to react to this. ‘What was he after? Her affection or her virginity?’
That thought frightened her and she backed away. She tried to escape from his grasp and ran to the door, her heart beating so fast she thought she would pass out. The door had been locked from the outside and she knew there was no way out. She felt like screaming but her voice had dried up.
She didn’t know whether to cry or laugh, everything was hazy and she sensed the lusty hunger in Heera’s eyes and smile. He grabbed her, pulling her trembling skinny body close to him and undoing her nala-belt from her salwaar. She tried to hold up her salwaar but it was impossible as he laughed at her and pulled out her nala in one attempt.
“This is what we do when we’re married. It doesn’t matter if it’s now or after…” he kissed her hard with no emotions or passion.
Her muffled whimpering, begging him to stop,
“No… Please no!”
Those words didn’t matter to him at all nor the fact he should be gentle with her and could be hurting her. It was like a nightmare but real. A humiliating experience, something she knew she would have to live with for the rest of her life. Something she wanted to shut out of her mind.
This was not love, it was not the kind of love she had expected like in the fairytales or Bollywood films she enjoyed. This felt cheap and it ruined everything she thought love could have been.
‘Is this what people enjoy, the most popular subject for the human mind?’
It was a disgusting experience; she never wanted to have sexual relations with anyone ever again. Her trust in men had been shattered.
Fifteen minutes later, she was released from the room like a lifeless rag doll and expected to return quietly to her cousins as if nothing had happened. Whatever had happened between those four walls was meant to be a secret, as Heera had told her. It was something that should not be shared with anyone else. She didn’t know what to think. The sunlight strained her eyes, the eyes had experienced an assault, a rape, and tears fell secretly.
It was not the last time it happened. Heera and his family had planned these attacks cunningly. While Deepika’s mother was away within three days, her daughter was raped five times. She wished she had gone with her mother and wished her mother had not been so stupid to leave her vulnerable daughter in the hands of these immoral crooks.
Deepika could not keep it a secret any longer, as it was mentally and physically tormenting her; she didn’t want to get pregnant, which she had realized was Heera’s family plan. When Mother returned and asked her if Heera had treated her nicely, like the gentleman he portrayed himself to be, she burst into tears and told her what happened while she had been away.
Her mother was in shock and said,
“You mustn’t tell anyone about this, not even his family. If any member of Heera’s family asks you anything about this you must deny it.”
Deepika was so frightened and assumed her mother was doing this in her best interest as she thought she knew more about the people who lived in India than she would ever know.
“You must not get pregnant, though!”
Her mother kept repeating to her daughter, as though it was all Deepika’s fault for sleeping with her future husband.
Heera’s mother, who was a typical Indian wicked mother-in-law type of a woman, changed her tune.
“My beautiful diamond of a son is going to marry that disco dancer? We do expect a very large dowry for someone like her… a couple of cars, gold for every member of our family and lots of money.”
She was making fun of her even before Deepika had become her daughter-in-law. What would happen afterwards? They would probably marry and use her for their British visa and then divorce her or, worse still, dispose of her by killing her.
‘Heera? He is not even close to being a priceless diamond.’
When mother and daughter returned home to the UK, her mother called off the wedding because she did not want to spend money on the dowry, in these circumstances. Deepika’s cousin phoned her and confirmed in detail the evil intentions of Heera’s family after the wedding.
Deepika had lost in love, losing more than just love; she’d lost her faith in her mother, men, herself and her mental health. She didn’t want to remember her ‘first time’.
Kuli Kohli is a creative writer, poet, and full-time council worker. She was born with mild cerebral palsy in northern India and moved to England at an early age. She now lives with her family in Wolverhampton, UK and works for the Wolverhampton City Council. She’s been a dedicated member of Blakenhall Writers’ Group for many years and helps organise and run the group. Her poetry, prose and articles have been published in anthologies, magazines and online. In 2014 she put together a collection of her work, “Rag Doll,” which has been received well by all kinds of audiences. She’s written a novel “Dangerous Games” about living with a disability in an Asian household, which she’s hoping to get published. She’s a regular blogger on Disability Arts Online. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as visit her website www.kulikohli.co.uk for more details.