The air was thick with excitement and stifled giggles. The prospective groom, Ranjit had arrived with his family to see Juhi, the eldest daughter of the house.
“He’s so handsome!” gushed her friends as they peered from the doorway and ran back to report to Juhi who sat demurely inside, waiting to be summoned.
Juhi adjusted her flowing dupatta and flicked back her long plait. “And he is a doctor,” she couldn’t help boasting.
“Doctor, my foot,” sneered Reeta, “he’s just a compounder. All he does is dispense medicines.”
“Rubbish!” Juhi’s sister was up in arms, “He is a doctor. We went to his clinic. There was a huge queue of patients.”
“He may call himself a doctor but I know the truth.” Reeta shot back.
“That he is only a registered medical practitioner – an RMP, not a doctor.”
“It’s the same thing.”
“That’s what you think.”
“You are just jealous.”
“Why would I be jealous?” Reeta retorted. “I am going to marry a ‘real’ doctor in the city, not some remote village which doesn’t even have electricity.”
“It does have…”
“Juhi!” Her mother came bustling in trembling with excitement and nervousness, “come along. They want to see you. Now behave yourself. Keep your head down. Don’t forget to touch their feet. Speak but only when spoken to and speak softly….”
She led Juhi out, muttering instructions.
“What is your name?” The elderly man with the big mustache asked.
“Juhi.” Her voice was barely audible.
“Can you cook? And sew?”
Juhi inclined her head.
“Have you been to school?”
“Yes, I studied till Class 5.”
“Did you just go to school or can you also read and write?”
Juhi’s eyes flew up to meet Ranjit’s mocking eyes.
“I can.” She said.
“Which? Read or write?” He smirked. “Don’t mind but I am the only doctor in the entire village. I have a certain standard to live up to. My wife cannot be illiterate…”
“I can read and write.” She asserted.
He pushed forward a notepad. “How about a little test?”
She looked at her mother, who nodded encouragingly. “I know only Hindi.” She said.
“Don’t worry. I don’t have such high expectations!” They laughed.
Ranjit began the dictation.
Juhi bent her head and laboriously wrote them down with her tongue sticking out from one corner of her mouth.
After the dictation was over, everyone held their collective breaths as he scanned the notebook.
After an eon, he lifted his head and smiled. “She passed the test.” He looked at his father. “We may put her on the shortlist…”
“Wait a minute,” Juhi spoke up, ignoring the gasps, “I want you to also take the test.”
“Yes.” She looked at him in the eye. “Please take down my dictation.”
He went red. He looked at his father for guidance and support in dealing with the unheard of insult.
Her mother nudged her. “Juhi! Apologize this very instant.”
But the groom’s father laughed and slapped him on the back. “Go ahead son and show her who you are – a respected and highly educated doctor.
Ranjit gave in and accepted the challenge. But not before his eyes had burned into hers, promising retribution.
“Please check it, Madamji.” He said mockingly as he handed the diary back to her after the dictation was done. “Happy?” He turned to his father and declared, “I like her spirit. Can we finalize her?”
“You may.” Juhi spoke up. Her eyes were glittering. “But I refuse to marry you.”
There was pin drop silence.
She held up the diary. “He failed the test.”
Written for the Daily Post’s one word prompt – Better
A/N This story was inspired by a incident reported in the news last week. Hats off to her.