By Vaibhav Vats
FOR FOUR YEARS, Umesh and Pinky exchanged furtive glances. Their villages were separated by a few kilometres, but it was not distance that posed an obstacle. “We used to look at each other while passing by, but never got a chance to talk,” says Umesh. In the Jat-dominated villages of Bharatpur, speaking to the opposite sex is the first act of courage.
But Bharatpur also has chaotic, unruly traffic. “I had a minor injury, after a collision with a speeding motorcycle,” says Pinky. “He took me to the hospital for first aid.” They made up for lost time. “I bought her a mobile, and we talked nonstop,” says Umesh.
Umesh remembers getting anxious when one glance of recognition could prove apocalyptic. Their love blossomed in a climate of fear, like a great work of art. Then the inevitable. “One of her uncles saw us on the bike,” says Umesh. Pinky’s relatives tracked her for the next few days. Pinky was drowned in a sea of insults and beatings. “They locked her up for a month in a relative’s house in Mathura,” Umesh recalls. Where they grew up, an incident like this usually ends relationships, but Umesh prepared for flight by opening three bank accounts and getting ATM cards. “We did not stop, even when the clutch wire of my bike broke. I got it fixed only after we got to Delhi,” says Umesh.
WHAT FOLLOWED, too, sounds like a Hindi film. With a deep sense of irony, the couple call it their ‘honeymoon’. Scared that their compatriots from the village would follow them on the Delhi highway, they flew to Mumbai, landing there at 3 am with nowhere to go. After that, they spent a few days in Goa. With money dwindling fast, they arrived in the relative safety of Pathankot, Punjab, where Umesh’s brother-in-law served in the army. Two days later, they got married.
Two hours after they got married, the Rajasthan police arrested Umesh and slapped him with a kidnapping charge. Meanwhile, Pinky’s panchayat declared the marriage illegal claiming that they belonged to the same gotra. To this day, neither Pinky nor Umesh knows what that means. “It was concocted to show their authority,” they say. Pinky lived under extreme coercion — there were even attempts to get her forcibly married. But the thoughts of Umesh, suffering in jail, consumed her. “After all that he did for me, how could I betray our love?”
Today, the couple is still struggling. They live in a tiny rented room along the railway track on the outskirts of Jaipur. It is a sparse space, without a bed or an almirah. Umesh works in an insurance company. Pinky has turned 21, finished her BA and is thinking about becoming a nurse. At 26, Umesh’s neat haircut and sober clothes are a world away from his earlier wild look. He volunteers with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to assist similarly distressed couples. He talks at length about the days after they eloped. “Odd. We never felt scared then,” he says. “But thinking about it now fills me with dread.” Ask Pinki whether she had felt scared too? “Haan, par jab pyar kiya to darna kya,” she replies.
Photo: Anshika Varma