Anaita walked in half in her sleep into the kitchen, she almost stumbled upon the chair by the kitchen counter. She yawned as her hands searched for the light switch.
As the light went on, she saw two bowls and spoons with ice smeared all over them lying by the counter.
“Oh when do they have it, I should lock my kitchen the next time,” she thought as she switched on the radio. She went about cleaning the bowl and spoons and stood looking around at the kitchen wondering what to make for breakfast.
Karan, her husband usually liked bread but the kids loved pancakes. She also had to make some kheer as she had promised her kids the day before. She looked at her watch, did she have time to make them all. She was up exceptionally early today as she couldn’t sleep much yesterday night, her shoulder was paining quite a bit again. She stretched her arms up in the air, said good morning to herself, and walked up to the fridge.
Anaita came from a quaint little village from Rajasthan. She had a small lovely house with a courtyard in between. She remembered spending most of her time in the courtyard as a kid. She would always run across the fields when an airplane would fly by. She still remembered once when she was unwillingly making kheer on her grandmother’s orders in the kitchen, she ran out as she heard a plane go by. She followed it for as long as she could, when she did come back, she was reprimanded badly by her family as she left the kheer on the stove, which had been burnt by then.
She still remembered her grandmother grumbling, “what is she going to do, she can’t even make a simple kheer.” Her mother just looked at Anaita with rage, Anaita’s naive self argued “so what if I can’t make kheer, I want to be a pilot, I will fly those planes one day,” she added pointing out to the sky. Her grandmother had looked at her in disbelief. “You want to go fly a plane, who do you think will feed your family when will be up in the air,” she had yelled pointing at the air.
“I don’t know, I don’t care. I want to fly dadi,” Anaita had argued.
“How dare you defy your grandmother,” her mother had yelled as she had held her hands.
Anaita rubbed her hands where her mother had held her, she shook her head as she tried shaking the memory off. She simmered the gas and put a fistful of rice in the milk, just as her grandmother had taught her and yes she did know how to make a prefect kheer now much to her grandmother’s delight.
“Anaita, have you lost your mind, we didn’t say much as you were just a child then but now you want to join this armedi foruses? What are you thinking, you are a girl! Do you not realize that.”
“It’s not armedi foruses Papa, it’s armed forces,” Anaita had said with pride all over her face,“so what if I am a girl, I saw an ad on tv a week before telling girls to join, we can go papa, I can,” Anaita had reasoned with her father.
“Yes that stupid ad, I am telling you Rajesh” her grandmother had started looking at Anaita’s father,”I saw it too, these people on tv also have lost their marbles, if girls will go out who will run the house, take care of the kids. Now they want to send girls to the border and fight,” her grandmother added making a disdainful grimace.
“ .. but we can dadi,” Anaita started when she was shushed by the father.
“Enough Anaita, you are not child anymore who can still keep making these childish demands and expect us to fulfill them. You are a grown woman now, and should realize your responsibilities, now go to the kitchen and help your mother make snacks and tea,” he ordered Anaita, as he pointed his hands towards the kitchen. “Be like your mother, she works tirelessly running the house all day,” her grandmother snided. “Ya well I don’t want to,” Anaita remarked under her breath as she walked grumpily into the kitchen.
Anaita sighed at thinking how much they wanted her to be in the kitchen, she looked around at her kitchen, “why did everyone expect us to be best friends?” She shrugged and got back to whisking the eggs.
“Papa, okay I will stop talking about getting out, can we not do this, I don’t want to get married,” Anaita had said with tears in her eyes.
“Anaita, I am not doing this because of that, it’s what is expected of every father having a daughter of your age,” Rajesh had said holding her hands,
“Papa, please,” Anaita started when a plane soared above their heads, the sound filled the air. Anaita just looked up at it, it seemed farther than it always did today, she closed her eyes shut tight to not let her tears out.
As she had looked at her grandmother, she was standing right beside her, she added sarcastically, “you want to go there,” she said looking at the sky, ”ask your to- be family who is going to come soon, we don’t want this on us.” Anaita’s 18 year old self did ask her to-be family in her innocence, who rejected her much to her surprise as they didn’t want a girl with ambitions. Her family were enraged at what she had done and had vowed to get her married by the year end.
She shifted her bangles as she thought of it all and waited for the pan to heat up for the pancakes. A system she had tried so hard to shake but in vain. Everyone around her ridiculed her thought. Nobody understood why she wanted to take such a strong stand on something that seemed so bizarre to them.
“She wants to fly a plane, Anaita, can you at least be realistic,” she was told.
“ .. because I have a dream, don’t I have a right to dream now..” she had argued.
She took a deep breath thinking of it all. She tried shaking it off yet again as she made breakfast for her family.
She checked her clock, it was almost time for breakfast. She took out the toaster to place the breads and then mixed the kheer gently, it was almost done as its aroma filled the kitchen, her grandmother would have been beside herself looking at Anaita with her “best friend,” she had always wanted her to befriend. Just then her husband walked in, with her two kids. They were all dressed up and ready for the day.
“Good morning,” Anaita said looking at Karan as she hugged her kids, “ouch,” Anaita said as her younger son rammed into her, she rubbed her shoulders.
“It’s still hurting?” Karan asked looking at his wife.
“Yes, but don’t worry it will be fine, did they have a bath?” She asked looking Karan.
“Yes mom, we did. See dad managed to put his tie straight, by the way mom you should stop working so much. You injured your shoulder, because you don’t think about yourself when you work,” her daughter said.
Anaita smiled looking at her family, “it’s okay, I love what I do, you know that.”
“Yes we do, but you should just relax,” Karan said pressing her shoulders . “Let’s have breakfast and leave, shall we?” Karan said looking at the kids. They nodded. He then looked at Anaita, “why don’t you sit down, I will serve.” They had their usual breakfast in the morning, Karan told Anaita to take their daughter to the music class in the evening as he would be late at the bank he worked in.
Anaita nodded making a note of it in her mind, she would drop her daughter and pick then pick up the groceries later. Once they had their breakfast, Karan helped her clean the kitchen. She handed over Karan’s purse and his office bag. She packed the lunch for her kids and placed them in their bags. She did everything on time, properly and meticulously just as her family had wanted her to be, she thought as she looked at her family photo by the wall, she saw her parents and her grandmother smiling like there was no tomorrow at her wedding. She shook her head yet again.
“I will give my daughter her wings to fly, bigger than my son’s for she would need to soar through against people’s mindset,” she thought hard as she dusted the photo, and all the other beside them. She went around dusting the hall. As she walked past the sofa, she unknowingly adjusted the cushions on them. She looked back, her hall looked neat. She nodded to herself and walked out of the hall.
She walked into her room to change. She tied her hair into a bun. She took out her shirt and pant from the wardrobe, it was blue in color.
“I know Anaita, you have different dreams, but for us it unfortunately will always be only a dream,” her mother has consoled her once.
“Did you ever have a dream?” Anaita had asked her mother with swollen eyes.
“So many, but Anaita I didn’t … we don’t have the choice to do anything about it,” her mother has sobbed as she looked at all the photo’s of Anaita’s prospective grooms lying beside them.
“I don’t want to stop dreaming mom, I don’t want to give up. If I have a daughter tomorrow, I will tell her to do the same,” Anaita had said.
“Then you will only make yourself and her miserable,” her mother had sobbed even more this time.
She smiled to herself, if only her mother could see her side, she would have realised, she did .. they did have a choice, they only had to will it.
She put on her badges and epaulette on her shirt. She looked at herself in the mirror. She had fought the odds, she did not give up on her dreams, but gave it all she had. Why dream it if you can’t chase it? She kept telling herself. She had told every prospective groom that came forward what she wanted to chase. She stood her ground no matter the amount of backlash she had to face. She knew in her heart, she had to do this not only for herself but for all those struggling to spread their wings just like her. She fought till one day a boy so in love with her finally gave in to her dreams and so did her family seeing her resoluteness.
She was today a fighter pilot, and yes she did fly those planes now, she was also a mother, a wife, a homemaker but most importantly she was a woman with an indentity she took pride in.
She looked at her uniform with pride. Every morning as she wore it, she realized she had more than her family to be responsible for. She had a duty towards the country first, a duty she took pride in.
Yes she did go to the border and fight now, not as a weaker gender but as a strong, fierce officer, an officer with great valour.
As she put on her cap, she held her shoulder’s, it still hurt her. She had wounded it months ago on an undisclosed mission. She rotated her shoulders, took a deep breath, put on her cap, adjusted it and walked out. She walked into the hall. She could hear her daughter talk to her father,
“It’s so nice to have mom home, I can’t believe she will be leaving again in a months time.”
“Don’t worry, she will be back home soon, as always,” Karan said looking at his daughter.
“Ya I know,” her daughter nodded, scanning the newspaper for a while, she continued. “there are so many attacks nowadays, the world is becoming so unsafe day by day.”
Karan looked at her daughter, he put his hands on her shoulders, smiled and said, “as long as there are people like your mother out there to protect us, we are all safe.”