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Chapter 3 – Kuala Lumpur and its charm

They had now reached the magnificent city of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. It was a much busier place than the small towns she had passed by on the way, Aruna’s keen eyes observed. Shop houses lined the city and it had an old world charm to it. The wooden structures bore a warm and cordial look and feel to the atmosphere of its surroundings, reminiscent of the nature of the people living there. There were countless businesses and restaurants in its vicinity. There were huge signboards in bold Chinese characters displayed at the front of the shop houses flaunting the name of the companies and nature of businesses that the traders were involved in. The Chinese were always so colorful in their ways, her brother-in law informed Aruna just to take her mind away from the impending meeting with her future in-laws.

Aruna had never seen so many signboards across town with words written in Chinese characters. It was so foreign to her and she thought most definitely that the place they were passing was the Chinatown of Kuala Lumpur. Just as that thought hit her, her brother in law echoed the same sentiment. He said that they were passing a part of town where the Chinese population was the largest as compared to the other races, hence the distinct Chinese influence there.

Aruna saw that the Chinese area they were passing was busy with city dwellers and shoppers going about their daily businesses. Chinese songs blared loudly through loud speakers on the pavements and corridors of the shop houses. and the whole area was filled with much color and fanfare. Her brother in law told her that the Chinese were prominently businessmen in Malaysia.

As they passed “Chinatown”, Aruna saw a few goldsmith shops and noticed the signboards written in English and Tamil. Her eyes quickly riveted to attention. She was very inquisitive to know about the Indians who lived in Malaysia, and any little thing that she saw or witnessed about their presence in the Country, captured her interest. There was a “little India” in Kuala Lumpur too, Aruna gathered as she recognized some of the businesses to be that of Indian owned proprietorship.

However what caught her attention were a few goldsmith shops in a row with many of its customers of Indian origin sitting around on high stools and looking at the gold ornaments displayed in glass showcases. It was so typical. Indians had a fascination for gold and invested quite heavily in them. She contemplated asking her sister if she bought her jewelry from any of the goldsmiths there, but since she was still in a sulky foul mood, she just kept quiet instead. It did awe her, this new land with its many different kinds of people, different languages and its surroundings. Even the name Malaysia had an allure to it only she couldn’t quite place what it was. It sounded like a name out of a fairytale.

They drove into the busiest part of Kuala Lumpur – the Central Market. Before that Aruna saw a fountain in the middle of the city and was enthralled by it. Water gushed out of the fountain and flew high into the air. She thought it the most beautiful sight ever. It refreshed her senses. What a novel idea to have a fountain in the middle of a city. On days when one feels the weariness of life, they can sit by the fountain and just relax and unwind. And on hot days it becomes a balm to tired eyes.

Central Market was filled with traders and fresh market vendors. Aruna witnessed with overwhelming interest, the everyday life that ensued in a city like Kuala Lumpur. The traders were tireless in their pursuit for customers to buy their products. She heard some shout out their yields for sale, summoning customers who walked past them to buy from them. She saw housewives crouching in front of vegetable sellers and choosing their products with care. Some were bargaining, fiery in their language and some others walking away after a failed attempt at negotiation.

It was such an interesting sight, watching people from all walks of divide come together and succumbing to each other’s way of life. A few trishaws rode past their car as the driver drove slowly in the city so that Aruna could have a look and get an idea to the way of life in Malaysia. People rode on trishaws to get from one place to another in town. The trishaw riders were mostly Malays and Aruna thought it was such a hard way to earn some money as a living. But they looked contented and happy and had a big smile on their faces for their passengers and she also saw one pass by having a long conversation with a passenger while taking her to her destination. Aruna wanted badly to take a ride in one of them. It would probably be the most exciting part of visiting Kuala Lumpur, she thought brimming with excitement.

How far would the trishaw ride take her? Was it only used in the vicinity of the city? She made a mental note that she would take that ride as soon as she could.

Aruna heard her brother in law say something to his driver and it sounded vague to her. Then the car made a turn into another road which looked quite deserted, and they were soon heading to the residential area where the boy and his family lived. The houses there were made of bricks and stones. She wondered if the family was wealthy. It looked like an area where the wealthy lived. There was a school nearby and a row of shop houses. A grocery shop stood out in view at one of the shop houses. Everything was within the close proximity of the houses and she guessed that it was a very conducive and convenient place to live in. She wondered too whether she would have to stay with his family once they were married. The thought stifled her.

Before she could scrutinize the whole of the environment in the residential area, they reached their destination. Her brother in law got down from the car first. Aruna sat still and rooted to her seat. She couldn’t move and did not feel like getting out of the car. Tears welled up once again. She tried to suppress them but it was hard to hide her turbulent emotions at that moment. Her sister got out of the car and held the door open for Aruna so that she could get out. She saw that Aruna was close to tears again and whispered in her ears. “Don’t cry Aruna. Be brave. I am here with you. Everything will be alright. It won’t look good if your in laws saw your tears.” Aruna nodded, hesitated for a moment before getting out of the car, put on a brave front in spite of her rapid beating heart and followed her sister into the house.

Aruna saw an old lady standing at the entrance of the brick house saying something to her brother in law with a smile etched widely on her face. She guessed that the lady was extending a warm welcome to her brother in law who was also laughing at something she said. The house was painted brown and yellow and the garden was beautifully maintained with rose shrubs and bougainvillea mounted on long wooden benches placed just outside of the house. The stone pathway that led to the house was decorated with pebbles running alongside it. It looked like a garden out of a gardening journal, so colorful and vibrant. There was a pond by the side of the garden. She took a quick peep into it before she walked up the stairs to the house. Yellow and gold fishes swam in the pond and green plankton swayed in its glistening waters. It calmed her nerves quite a bit just as the fountain she had come across in the city earlier, had done.

As soon as the old lady saw Aruna, she rushed to greet her and guide her up the stairs, into the house. She hugged Aruna and welcomed her warmly, expressing her happiness at seeing Aruna and inviting her graciously into the house.

Aruna guessed that old lady was her future mother in law, since it was her first time meeting her. But then, she had guessed as much earlier when she saw the old lady at the entrance of the house extending a welcome. Her future mother in law beamed at her, repeating quite a few times that she was so happy that Aruna had finally set foot in Malaysia. She went on to tell Aruna that she had prayed really hard that the journey by sea for Aruna would be a safe one, and related how glad she was that God had answered her prayers.

As Aruna was ushered into the house, her brother in law and sister followed her inside. They were seated at the living room and the old lady sat down to join them. She excitedly related to her brother-in law and sister that she had been anxiously waiting for the time when she could see Aruna and speak to her in person. And repeated yet again how happy she was to finally get to see her. After some time of mindless chatter, which was what Aruna thought it to be, the old lady got up to go and prepare some tea for her guests.

There was another door from the living room area that led to the dining room and soon after she had prepared the beverage for them to drink, the old lady invited them to sit there and have their tea.

As Aruna went to take her seat at the table, the old lady pulled up a chair next to hers and told Aruna to sit beside her. Aruna sat down feeling awkward and compelled to sit next to the old lady. Then the old lady continued talking to her sister and brother- in law, at the same time keeping an eye on Aruna and smiling at her every now and then.

Aruna had still not seen any other member of the boy’s family except for his mother from the time they arrived at the house. She was burning with curiosity to see the boy, wondering what he looked like and at the same time dreading the proposed meeting with him. Would he be as friendly and warm as his mother? Was he looking forward to marrying her? And how old was he? All these thoughts kept running in her head while his mother was chatting away over a cup of tea. When she put the cup of tea to her lips, it tasted too sweet and Aruna didn’t finish it and put the cup down again. Her sister noticed Aruna’s unfinished tea in the cup, and silently signaled her to finish up the drink. Later Aruna would learn that it was a sign of disrespect, to not finish any food or drink that was offered to her by her future in laws.

Time passed slowly for Aruna as she sat listening to the idle talk the old lady had with her sister and her brother-in law. Their conversation totally disinterested her. She couldn’t bring herself to call the lady anything other than “old lady” because no matter what, Aruna thought her a stranger. She looked at the old lady’s features and wondered if the boy had similar features to his mother.

She knew from her sister that he was the only son and that he had a sister for a sibling. Each time she glanced at the old lady, her thoughts swayed to how he was as a person and his apparent looks. And each time she thought about his looks, she cut short the idea of forming an impression of him in her mind. With disdain, she realized that she couldn’t bring herself to even think about how her future husband looked like without feeling some trepidation in her.

Aruna caught a glimpse of their old family photo hanging on the wall next to where they were seated. While her brother in law and sister were busy chatting away with the old lady, she looked at the picture of a young boy and a girl standing next to the old lady and her husband. He would have probably been in his early teens in that photo and had curly hair and big round eyes. His sister was a little shorter than him with similar features so she presumed that the sister was the younger one. She wondered where the old lady’s husband and the sister were at that moment. She inwardly hoped the sister and she would get off to a great start, and become good friends so that she could have someone she could talk to and be a friend to her, in the family.

As she turned away from scrutinizing the photo further, Aruna caught the old lady looking at her and tried to avert her glance away from her, but it was too late. The old lady looked her deep in her eyes and told Aruna to call her Amma. Aruna’s weak smile caught in her throat when she heard that. “Gosh, this was getting to be really embarrassing,” she thought. “And it looked like it was getting rather personal too!”

Amma had noticed Aruna scrutinizing the photo on the wall while talking to her sister. Quite suddenly Amma referred to the photo on the wall, pointing to it, speaking like she had read Aruna’s inquiring thoughts and explained that her daughter was in India studying medicine, and that her husband had gone out to the Grocer’s to get some provisions for the house. He would be home soon and then Aruna can meet her future father-in law. Aruna blushed when she heard that. “So then, when would the daughter be back,” a mean tiny voice questioned in her head? “Who cares! It went on to say.”

Amma didn’t quite clarify when her daughter would be back, so then and there, the thoughts Aruna nurtured to have a great friendship going with the daughter, flew out the window! She didn’t even want to think where the boy was when she heard that the father was out to the Grocers? In fact, she hoped that he would be far away someplace too, and only make an appearance when they had left the vicinity of Kuala Lumpur! Aruna just didn’t feel like being nice to anyone or thinking good thoughts at that moment of time. She was so fed up with what was taking place around her.

She looked hard at Amma and scrutinized her outward appearance. She had greying temples and wore her oiled hair up in a small bun. She had the same big round eyes as the boy and girl in the photo did and was short in stature. She wore a sarong and blouse and looked every inch like a “matron in a nursing home” that everyone in her village had told Aruna about. She spoke fast, with a quick smile for every sentence that she uttered and at the same time delivered it with the serious connotation that was required, based on the conversation that they had going. She was not at all pretty like Aruna’s mother was and most irritatingly was overly concerned about Aruna. Aruna did not like her show of affections for her at all! It simply irritated her because it came off as not genuine to her though she found her sister and brother-in law more susceptible to it. It was more of a put on to get her approval, Aruna thought disgusted.

Every now and then during the course of her conversation with Aruna’s sister and brother-in law, Amma would turn to look at Aruna. Aruna wondered whether Amma was trying to figure out what Aruna was thinking whilst listening to her conversation with them. Each time she looked, Aruna smiled sweetly at her in return. Perhaps she was trying to analyze Aruna. Anyway, at some point in time, Aruna heard Amma comment that she found Aruna to be a very shy person. Her sister smiled at that comment and agreed wholeheartedly. “Yes Amma, she is very reserved too, so unlike me,” she heard her sister retort in a kind voice. “But then who could blame her Amma, this whole place is new to her,” her sister went on to elaborate.

Aruna was thankful that her sister came to her rescue with the last sentence but she knew deep in her heart that she was just not in the mood to be friendly with Amma or listen to her idle chatter. It all sounded lame to her. This whole fiasco of a marriage! There was not much she could say and anyway she did not want to partake in their conversation at all. She was in a way furious that Amma chose her to be the bride for her son. Didn’t she have anything better to do? Did she even consider her age and if she had completed her studies? What was her reason for choosing her to be her son’s wife? There were countless other girls in the whole of India who would give an arm and a leg to be chosen by her. Aruna felt disgruntled with Amma and could not bring herself to look at her without seething inside with rage anymore! She was just waiting to get back to the hotel and then leave to Dungun.

However, to her dismay, the conversation suddenly took on a different twist and Amma invited them to stay for dinner! She eagerly told them that she planned to cook something special for them that night and insisted that they accept her invitation. Amma wouldn’t take no for an answer, she said. She wanted them to meet her husband and her son that night and was sure that Aruna would be curious to meet her future husband! Aruna thought her heart would stop that very minute when she heard Amma saying that. How horribly wrong Amma was! The last thing she wanted to do was to meet him in person, curiosity or otherwise!

And to her further dismay, her sister and brother-in law very graciously accepted the invitation and told Amma that they would go back to the hotel first to freshen up, before coming back later in the evening for the dinner. Having just arrived in the morning, they thought it best that Aruna at least had a short rest before dinner and since they had gone straight to Amma’s house to visit her after picking Aruna from the port, she would be looking forward to a little rest first.

Aruna felt her heartbeat race and then stop for a moment. Was there no end to all their plans for her? She just wanted to cuddle up in bed and have a long good night’s sleep. All these plans and activities lined up for her suddenly made her weary and angry. She was not interested to have dinner with Amma and her precious family. She just wanted to go back home. Didn’t anyone get that?

Then Amma continued with her conversation, telling them that her son would be delighted to know that they would join them for dinner that night. He would be back from work in the evening. Her sister and brother in law nodded enthusiastically and said that it sounded like a fine idea, and that they appreciated Amma’s invitation to dinner that night. They too were looking forward to meeting her son.

Aruna’s sister and brother-in law then turned to look at Aruna and she believed that the scorn on her face showed clearly, because her sister suddenly turned pale when she saw the look on Aruna’s face. Her sister directed an annoyed look at Aruna at the precise moment she noticed the scorn, that suggested, “behave yourself or….” and Aruna noticing her sister’s chagrin and annoyance, just turned her glance away from her, sulking. She was disgusted with the whole marriage proposal! She didn’t quite like Amma too. Amma was trying too hard to be nice to them!

After Aruna saw the angry look on her sister’s face, she so badly wanted to get up from the table and go and sit next to the pond. She felt suffocated with the way everything was planned out for her, not to mention spoken on her behalf. It looked like she had practically no say in anything! She wanted so much to be back in India and be with Nila. She missed her best friend who she could relate anything to and thinking about Nila brought tears to her eyes again.

Well, she should have run away from home instead of listening to everyone and now having to face this ridiculous situation in a Country so far away from her own. That would have been the best thing she could have done to avoid this purely unnecessary tie of a marriage proposal! It was simply unbelievable that she was sitting in her future mother in law’s house and waiting to meet her husband to be. She didn’t like that she had to be nice to everyone surrounding her even if she didn’t feel like it.

Whilst she was deep with runaway thoughts and feelings which were purely a dramatic interlude to her thoughts, her brother in law and sister stood up to say their goodbyes to Amma. Aruna stood up quickly as well and plastered a smile of sorts on her face. She caught her sister looking at her with a hopeful look. Amma then walked them to the entrance of the house and the three of them left after telling her that they would be back for dinner later that night. Well, she had been waiting to get out of the house much earlier, and hopefully her enthusiasm to leave wasn’t reflected on her face, Aruna thought quickly.

She heaved a big sigh of relief in the car when they were heading back to the hotel. The scenery before her did not excite as much on her way back, as it did in the morning when they were on their way to Amma’s house. There were just fleeting images to her now, without really registering in her mind.

The drive to the hotel felt a little uncomfortable for Aruna. Her sister and brother in law were quiet in the car and she wondered whether they were in any way upset with her. Maybe her disinterested look and non-participation plus the look of scorn on her face directed at Amma earlier, got them a little unnerved and fretful. Aruna felt a little guilty for making them feel that way. They had been nothing but gracious and kind to her from the time of her arrival.

Aruna decided from that moment, that the best thing for her to do was not to hurt the feelings of her sister or brother in law in anyway, at least not intentionally or even Amma’s feelings for that matter anymore. Aruna knew that it mattered to both her sister and brother-in-law how she behaved and treated Amma and her family. Well, she would do what they wanted her to do from now on, she determined. If she needed to look happy and excited at the prospect of getting married, then that is what she will portray on the outside, in order to make them happy. There was no point in making everyone miserable about the whole situation.

In the end, she realized that if she made her family miserable, she will also be miserable and it will eventually ruin all their relationship with each other. Aruna thought sadly that she did not come thousands of miles away from her home to create uneasiness and friction among her family members.

They reached the hotel and she heard her brother in law instruct his driver to pick them up around seven for the dinner. The driver nodded and sped away in the car after that.

Her brother in law had booked a single room for her to stay in the hotel, and it was on the upper floor from where they had booked their room. They accompanied her to her room to make sure that everything was alright and then told her that she should be ready by seven, and made their way back down to their room. Her sister told her to have a good rest and take things easy. She kissed Aruna on the cheeks and left.

Aruna looked around her room. She saw the immaculately made bed and couldn’t wait to stretch out her tired limbs on it. The clean white sheet spread out on the single bed was so inviting. She had to have a bath first, she thought practically. A part of her just wanted to jump into bed and go right to sleep while another side of her knew she had to cleanse herself of all the dust and grime from the ship, and the onward journey to Kuala Lumpur that morning.

Aruna resolved a little dramatically that it would be the first bath that she would take in Malaysia, namely Kuala Lumpur and smiled at that thought as she entered the bathroom. To her delight, the bathroom had a bathtub in it.

After two weeks of bathing in the small cubicle bathroom of the ship cabin, it felt good to have a luxurious bath in a bathtub. Aruna filled the tub with tepid water, added a few drops of perfumed soap in it and got excited when the soap bubbles filled the tub. She had seen it done many times in the movies. She then got into the tub. She lay there for a long time, closing her eyes and enjoying the luxurious contentment of relaxation and bliss.

The water felt warm and refreshing and as it came in contact with her skin, Aruna felt the tiredness from the long voyage and journey that had riddled her body, leave her tense and stiff body. The soap smelt delicious on her burnt skin as she lathered it all over her body, massaging it at the same time. She rubbed its softness on her hands and her feet and she felt the tautness in her body dissipate. It was simply heavenly to be able to unwind in the warm waters.

She shampooed her long hair and the scent of the shampoo was so invigorating. It smelt of lavender and rose water all at the same time. Tears pricked her eyes as Aruna realized that for the first time in her life, she had the privilege of having a luxurious bath.

She loved it and would have stayed longer than necessary in the bathtub but the warm bath made her feel groggy and light headed. She now wanted to get that much needed sleep that had eluded her for most part of her voyage and the bed outside was so inviting.

As Aruna got on the bed, she felt so grateful to her sister and brother in law for allowing her to have a room to herself. It accorded her the privacy and alone time that she needed, so that she can reflect on what was happening to her. Even if it was only for a few hours, it would allow her to delve into her own thoughts and examine her muddled up feelings.

She wished that she could stay in her room and savor the richness of staying in a luxurious hotel and not go anywhere at all. But then, it would only be momentary pleasure, she reminded herself. She had a lot more things to encounter and think about after this temporary respite of having a bit of privacy to delve and think about what was happening to her at the moment.

She acknowledged that the time spent on the ship had only increased her fear of facing an indefinite future in a foreign land. But now that she was already here, her fear wasn’t so pronounced now that she had a general idea of how the place looked like, and of its people.

Aruna was glad to admit that her future wouldn’t be as bleak as she imagined. There was a totally new world to experience and adapt to in this Country and Aruna was ready to accept the change it would bring about to her. Or was she?

Aruna lay on the bed and closed her tired, heavy eyes. She drifted off to sleep almost immediately. Her sister would wake her up later to get ready for the dinner and she was expected to pick up the phone in the room when it rang.

The phone rang at sharp six that evening, and Aruna jumped up from her bed when she heard its first ring. She answered it and told her sister that she would be ready and waiting within the hour. Her sister asked her to wear something pretty to make a first good impression to the boy. “Put on a little lipstick Aruna,” she said and make sure that your hair is braided well.

Aruna’s sister gave her a few other instructions very quickly. It is important that she speak well and only when spoken to, and not show her displeasure at anything that was being said about the wedding, no matter how it affected her. She is to be courteous at all times and not have a worried look about her face. There is absolutely nothing to worry about, her sister concluded, a little sharply this time and hung up the phone.

Aruna listened attentively, absorbing everything her sister said and promised to abide by her instructions and do exactly what she wanted her to do. Her mind was a blur at that moment. She was still a bit groggy, from lacking rest and sleep and she dragged her tired body up from bed knowing that she had to be ready within the hour. It wouldn’t do at all if she was late in any way.

Aruna opened her luggage and looked for the suit she wanted to wear. She had already made up her mind about what she was going to wear for the dinner before she plopped onto the bed to sleep earlier, and only hoped that her sister would approve and find it an appropriate outfit to wear for the occasion. Aruna had neatly folded it and packed it in her bag together with a few other suits her brother got her before she left India. Her brother had also bought her a beautiful red sari with tiny gold motifs to wear on her wedding day.

Aruna looked at her wedding sari in the bag just then. It was covered with a translucent plastic cover but the color and gold motif stood out beautifully through it. She had not really paid much attention to the finer details of the sari when her brother had handed it to her while she stood packing her clothes and essentials to take with her on her voyage, on the last day of her stay in India.

She did however see her brother look teary eyed and sad as he gave it to her and gathered that it saddened him very much to know that he wouldn’t be able to witness her wedding celebration. In fact, it affected the whole family. Everyone in the house was sad that she was leaving them to get married, and that they would not be able to share the auspicious occasion with her.

She felt the same way too, she thought choking up at the thought of her whole family and especially her brother, not being there to witness the most important day of her life. She didn’t dare look at his face just then because he had repeated countless times to her that he didn’t like to see her cry. It always made him unhappy. And didn’t she shed enough tears already? It is supposed to be a happy occasion he had reminded Aruna just a couple of days before her departure. She was sitting in a corner and thinking about her ill-fated life when he said that. She would never stop crying, she thought her stubborn trait showing in her.

She had taken the sari from her brother’s loving hands and put it in her bag without really looking at it. But the gold in the sari even then had caught the glint of the neon light above her and made her take note of it somehow. The sari was beautiful and she couldn’t deny it. She had looked at it shimmering in the light. Then she looked at her brother standing next to her with a sullen expression on his face. After a couple of minutes of silence between them, she thanked him for it.

At first, Aruna didn’t want to utter a word to her brother as there was something so final about receiving the wedding sari from him. Then in sudden realization, she decided to thank him for it as she knew that it was an expensive purchase for him and his family, and he probably wanted her to wear something that was from him for the wedding. She was after all his baby sister, as he often referred to her playfully.

As Aruna stood reminiscing about the sari and her brother back in India, her heart clutched with pain and she missed him she thought in willful resignation. He had taken the place of her parents after they had died, and she had the utmost love and respect for him. Her sudden thoughts reverted back to the present and she resumed getting ready for the dinner.

Aruna took out her beautiful yellow and red traditional Salwa Kamis to wear to the dinner. It had a soft yellow shawl to go with it and it was one of her favorite outfits. She had only worn it once for a wedding and so it still looked new. Everyone had complemented her when she wore it. She had a yellow and red bangle to wear that matched her outfit and she wanted to pair it with her gold chain and earrings that she had kept safe in her bag, while she was travelling on the ship.

Since it was dangerous to wear her gold ornaments on the ship, she had not worn any jewelry during the voyage. Her brother had warned her to keep a look out for thieves and cheats and to be extra careful with her personal items and jewelry. She was not to tell anyone about the jewelry she was carrying in her bag. And Aruna followed all his instructions diligently.

Aruna took out the box with her jewelry from her bag. Her mother’s necklace and earrings together with a few of her bangles were in the box. Her mother had worn them on her wedding day and before she died, she had given it to her brother for safe keeping until it was Aruna’s time to get married. Her mother wanted Aruna to wear her jewelry on her wedding day. It was a very thick necklace and the bangles were very heavy. Aruna wondered what her mother’s gold jewelry weighed.

It is a traditional custom for brides in India to adorn themselves with thick gold jewelry to show their affluence and wealth in society and it is a custom that has been in place for generations. Brides sometimes wear gold ornaments and jewelry that can weigh up to 100lbs or more depending on the status of the groom and the dowry payment requested by him and his family. These matters were usually discussed when the marriage proposal is presented to the groom and his family by the bride’s family members or by a marriage mediator.

Aruna suddenly wondered if Amma had requested any form of dowry from her sister and brother in law for her son to marry her. She guessed that Amma would have already inquired about the wealth and status of her brother-in law and possibly made an in depth inquiry into their state of financial affairs before asking for her hand in marriage. Maybe that was why Amma wanted her for her son. She knew that there was some affluence and wealth in the family, not to mention the status that her brother-in law possessed as a respected member within the Indian community in Malaysia.

Arranged marriages were like that. The groom’s side would normally inquire every tiny detail about the bride and her family. And being wealthy on the bride’s side would only enhance a proposal. Most times, the brides were at the mercy of the groom’s family with their unreasonable demands. It is an unfair situation the bride is hurled into and it has been the norm in an Indian family since time immemorial.

Aruna wondered why the brides’ feelings were always the last to be considered – just as in her case! Well, she decided then and there that she would never do it to her daughters! She would start with making the change towards ignoring the dowry system and be a firm advocate against its policy. If a boy wants to marry her daughter, well he has to be able to pay for the wedding and be able to provide for her financially. That’s the way it should be.

It irked her to think that in every element of society in India this malpractice of the dowry system existed, and people just went along with it without a care for the bride and her family. Even the poor practice it, Aruna thought disgustedly, hence why some baby girls are subjected to torture and ridicule among their kin and community. Some poor baby girls are even killed when they are born. Isn’t that a sick thing to do!

And it totally bothered Aruna that some of the parents’, who are not able to meet the financial demands of the dowry system, borrow extensively to get their daughters married and live a lifetime paying off the debts. There is so much injustice in the dowry system that Aruna hoped that someday it could be eradicated – simply erased from the face of the earth! People have to stop supporting the system and change their way of thinking before that can happen, Aruna reasoned.

While all these thoughts were swimming in her head, Aruna had already put on her outfit and her gold earrings. She wore the matching bangle and adding a touch of lipstick. She was ready to go for the dinner. She now waited for her sister to make an appearance so that they could both go down to the lobby and leave to Amma’s house.

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