It took him 10 hours & 40 minutes to reach the rural hamlet. He had a lot of hope for this women-led weaving cluster, so much so that he had negotiated a few B2B orders for them, & this was the first time he was meeting them.
By the time he finished touring the campus & seeing the improvements, it was time for lunch. His lunch box was ready in the production manager's office, cooked by one of the workers. Not wanting to sit inside the room & eat, he excused himself, went out & sat under a tree.
That's when two young women came & sat under a nearby tree. The first thing he noticed about the young lady was the curiosity in her gaze. And soon enough she asked, "Do you like our village?" with a mouth full of lemon rice, he nodded - Yes.
Unsatisfied by the reply, she probed further, "You must be from Bengaluru, no?" & before he could say NO, she continued, "I don't like your city". Diverting the matter, he asked, "For how many years are you working & are you happy here?" for which she showed her middle three fingers & said, "well, I could do with a salary hike". Despite her friend elbowing her to stop talking, she continued, "can you recommend a hike?"
He again changed the topic & asked, "So what does being an independent woman mean to you?" & she replied, "It means no man can tell me how I should live" before he recovered, she continued, "I never wanted to be this independent in the first place. My elder brother passed away during covid in your city, & we could not even see him, & now I am the earning member of the family".
Apologising, he enquired, "Have you been able to save some money?" she answered, "Hmm...my parents want me to get married, but they are unable to find a boy for me because I have decided to continue working in this village, stay with my parent's & look after them" & continued "as no boy wants to move in with me, I have decided to shop for a groom. I have saved enough money for dowry" His "What!?" went unnoticed while she said, "no one can tell an independent woman how she should spend her money".
When he choked, she offered, "Do you want some water? I have used citron instead of lemon in your lunch! Is it too bitter?"