The child bride
Snehalata sat decked as a Bengali bride in a red and gold Benarasi saree ,with red and gold ribbons woven into her hair ,under a diaphanous red and gold veil. She also had on many gold bracelets, necklaces, rings and huge dangling ear rings. It almost seemed that she was weighed down by the weight of the gold. She wore a white mukut made of shola, the traditional bridal headgear. She was fourteen, excited to be getting married , so many new sarees and jewelry. Actually, it was the lure of exquisite possessions that finally persuaded Snehalata to agree to marry a man ten years older than her.
Snehalata was an excellent singer and dancer. She was also skilled at swordsmanship. However, she had no interest in academics or formalized schooling.When her parents were approached by her uncle with an ‘excellent’ match, they agreed to it. They had three daughters to marry off. India had gained her independence more than a decade ago but society still had the same norms. Having unwed daughters was unacceptable to any parent.
Snehalata knew her groom was a very handsome and educated man. He came from a good lineage. Subir’s family was not well-established financially. But that was a minor consideration. What mattered most was that the family had good education and good values. These were things that the parents considered. For pretty Snehalata, the only consideration was the glamor of being a bride.
When Snehalata stepped into her new home, the reality of marriage struck her. They had no honeymoon. It was not considered at all by anyone. But, she did have a huge battalion of in-laws to please. And please them she did in her own way…
Her father-in-law was half blind. She helped him with his passion for gardening, fed him and helped look after him. Her mother-in-law and sisters-in laws were harder to please. But she did manage to gain their affections over time with her cheerfulness and willingness to work hard. As long as she didnot need to study, she was willing to please. She had been taught by her mother to please all around her. Her brother-in-laws regarded her as a friend and treated her as such. Snehalata was never left alone, even though Subir was out from 7 am to 7 pm. He worked hard as an accountant in a bank, gave the right exams at the right time and rose to be a trusted officer.
However, here was an issue. Snehlata’s mother-in-law insisted she go back to studies…just the thing Snehalata had wanted to avoid for the rest of her life. Now, she couldnot refuse as the whole family, her in-laws and her parents, insisted on it. When she was big with her first child, she had to appear for her graduation exam. Snehalata was cross with her mother -in-law and mother for making it happen. She felt embarrassed. While her batch mates wore fashionable skirts and talked of movies and concerts,she had to avoid crowded places for her baby and cover her pregnancy with a saree, for in those days most married Indian women still wore sarees. Her batch mates were not married…she was. So, she felt she was missing out on the fun and had worst of the two worlds. She had to study and she had major family responsibilities!
She passed,if not with flying colors with decent scores,thanks to the supervision of her husband and in-laws. She had her first baby…a little doll-like girl, who they decided to call Durga. Snehalata just fell in love with Durga as did the rest of her extended family. She was like a cherubic doll with a pink and white complexion and black curly hair. To put the rebellious Durga to sleep, Snehalata sang her melodious lullabies. When Subir’s family heard her sing, they wanted her to develop her talent. Subir’s elder brother, Harish, ran a music school. He was a gifted musician. He pushed her to sing on the radio. Snehalata sang like a lark and enraptured not just her husband but whoever heard her sing.
“You should study music,” said Harish. He wanted her to do her masters in Indian vocal classical. Snehalata tried to shy away from the suggestion.
Snehalata just loved to sing…she didnot really want to be tied down to exams and tests. She wanted to look after her baby doll, Durga. By now, Subir’s family had stabilized financially. Snehalata would design exquisite frocks for her baby daughter and get the tailor to execute the design. It was like dressing up a doll! She was also expecting her second baby.
” No. Let her wait a while,” said her mother in law. ” When her children are a little older, she can pursue her masters. I like my daughters-in- law to be accomplished. Then, they can have a life outside of home and think bigger.” Snehalata’s mother-in-law had never been to university but she had figured out that to give the future generations a better life, she needed educated daughters-in-law. Snehalata adored her mother-in-law but could never empathize with her sentiments regarding women’s formal schooling. She had married to escape the tethers of formal learning and here she was being forced to go through all the things she didnot want. She didnot want formal schooling.
She still remembered the time her English teacher had made her stand outside the classroom for not being able to recite a poem that she had been asked to memorize. She still remembered the way the numbers danced awry for her when her maths teacher explained complicated algebra to the class and the low math grades she had! She was terrified of having to study and that too, something she loved…she was scared of under-performing in a subject she loved. She knew she would be safe for the time being… at least as long as the kids were young.
Snehlata’s second baby was a boy. He was bouncing and big and loved smiling. They called him Probir. Probir and Durga had a merry childhood surrounded by loving grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. As they grew older, Durga and Probir both seemed to have a flare for math and music.When the children were fourteen and twelve, Snehlata’s mother-in-law again broached the subject of her formalized training in music. Harish and Subir were all for it . This time the kids were on their grandmother’s side.
Snehlata realized that the children really wanted to see her do well. It was important for them. Snehlata’s conceded. She started training with the famed Singbandhu brothers. Her children helped her study rhythms, which involved some amount of math,in the process developing a love and understanding for Indian classical. Probir wanted to learn the tabla and his sister wanted to pick up vocal classical. Mother and children trained. The children didnot appear for exams. Snehlata did and came out top of her class. She had tears in her eyes when she got the result. She had so enjoyed the whole process !
She didnot know who to thank…her husband, his brother, her mother-in-law or the kids!
Snehlata , who had married to avoid formalized education, became a music teacher in the secondary section of her children’s school. She performed on stage and on radio. She was really happy to go to school now and was very popular as a teacher.
Over the years, she had overcome her fears and developed deep endearing relationships with her in-laws and husband. From a child bride, she had matured to a wonderful human being. The lure of sarees and jewelry had given way to a passion for music and family.
The child bride had bloomed.