February 14, 2021 6:10:42 am
In 1996, Santosh Kashyap and Keerti Raikwar met in Kanpur, at a birthday party for her cousin Billu. She had come from Indore to visit her cousins and it was love at first sight for her. She wanted to ask Santosh to marry her, but at the party, he was surrounded by boys and she couldn’t speak to him. Even after she returned home, she could not forget Santosh’s smile. Keerti knew that it would not be easy to marry Santosh — she came from an upper-caste family and Santosh belonged to a backward caste from Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri and worked as a driver. “Two months after the party, I asked my cousin to discreetly check if Santosh was interested,” Keerti, now 46, sitting in their home in Lucknow’s Keshav Nagar.
Kashyap, now 48, says he had never dreamt of marrying Keerti “as she was an officer’s daughter”. “My father died when I was five years old and we were cheated out of our ancestral land by our relatives. I began working as a driver early to make ends meet. When I met Keerti, I had nothing. Until we completed the pheras, I thought our wedding would be stopped for one reason or the other,” he recalls.
The biggest opposition to the match came from Keerti’s aunt, but Keerti held her ground. “I knew I wanted to marry him. He was nothing like the men I saw around me, who drank and largely ignored their wives. I wanted to have a partner who would share his life with me, not someone who treated me like a cook,” she says, sipping tea that her son Shyam, 20, a mechanical-engineering student at a private college in the city, has just served.
Over the next three years, the two wrote letters to each other till Keerti’s father finally relented. “He told me that he would give his daughter’s hand, but after that, we were on our own. But I never wanted any dowry. We suffered a lot financially in the first 10 years of our marriage but we built our lives from scratch,” says Santosh. When they bought the land in Keshav Nagar, it was a completely underdeveloped area. Over the next 20 years, they built one wall at a time by themselves, as there was never enough money to employ masons or builders. Now, the house has a terrace garden, a small studio for their daughter Shalini, a Class IX student who wants to be a professional hip-hop dancer, and a temple.
From financial assistance to advice about their children’s education, the one person who stood by them was Santosh’s employer of more than 25 years, the owner of a paper-manufacturing company. For everything else, they had each other. “Because we loved each other, we got past the highs and the lows,” says Keerti, now a field officer with a local NGO.
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