Out of nowhere, a memory comes unbidden. Padmaja is newly-married and she is visiting a temple along with a clamour of uncles and aunts and their children. They were to travel eight hours in a dusty bus to reach a far out temple in a distant village where the ancestors once lived. All through the journey, Padmaja sits next to Sudha, a 16-year old girl from her husband's family. Sudha is a thin girl with clothes that seem to float around her. Her wiry, windblown hair defies any attempt to be subdued into a plait. Her face bears a scowl throughout the bus ride and when she smiles, her frown remains frozen while the lower half of her face thaws into mobility.
“I don't care for this trip, I just want to go home”, Sudha mutters as they ease out of the bus for a toilet break. The men stand with their backs to the bus, urinating luxuriously on a dilapidated wall as the women shuffle out quickly, looking for a semi-private space so they may squat quickly and discreetly.
“You think I want to be here? She dragged me along”, she says pointing to her mother emerging from a thicket not far from where they were crouching.
Not sure how to react to this confession, Padmaja laughs, “You're probably just feeling tired. I'm sure you don't mean that.”
“Of course, I mean it. I don't give a shit about this temple or that.”
The girl had sworn. Until then Padmaja had never heard anyone swear while in conversation with her. Hearing it spat out of a young girl's mouth like that seems odd and yet, honest, affirmative.
“What?”, asks Padmaja as if seeking clarification but wanting to hear the illicit thrill of a swear word again.
“I care a damn about this lot”, says Sudha pointing in the direction of the huddle heading for the bus. “Soon, I'll leave this godforsaken country, go abroad and do whatever the heck I want to.”
As they rise to their feet, stepping aside from their own puddles, smoothing their skirt and saree, Sudha nudges Padmaja with her elbow, “I bet half of them hate this bloody trip as well. They just don't dare admit to it.”
Emboldened by having been admitted into Sudha's circle of accomplices, Padmaja permits herself a singular thought: I don't either. But I have no choice.