I went to visit my newish friend on the 3rd floor this afternoon. I made an appointment for an Indian oil body massage (abhyangam) which was bomb and per typical Indian tradition, M and I stayed back to chat over homemade chai and snacks. Although I never asked her, I knew 3rd floor (3F) was no longer married/separated/man-less; there was never any sign of him around and her two kids seemed quite content that way. I figured it was none of my business and when she felt like sharing, she would. And today she did. She started off telling me about how at age 16 she used to suffer from extreme arthritis. Eventually the story developed into how at 17, she was forced into marrying ‘that man’. She explained:
“I was wrapped up in a nice white sari and asked my parents why this was happening. They told me it was because that man was coming to see me. ‘See me for what?’, I innocently asked. ‘Marriage.'”
She continued to recant the painful 12 years she spent in a remote village outside of Bangalore in what sounded like utter slavery. My chest grew heavy as she told us how her in-laws treated her as a prisoner by locking her up in her room, starving her during 5 months of her pregnancy. Her Punjabi neighbor secretly fed her when the in-laws weren’t around. 3F’s eyes grew weary when she spoke of the housework she did from morning till eve, leaving little time for anything else. She and her ex (who she mentioned was also violent) went through a nasty dowry-case battle for 4 years and are recently divorced.
The whole concept of a dowry blows my mind, its absurd and disgusting.The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a dowry as property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage. Apparently the groom’s side of the family can demand anything from the brides side: foreign cars, land, and stacks of gold are common requests. Women are treated as a form of trade merchandise whose value is to be determined by everyone except her. M reminded me how many people in India believe in and still practice the dowry system today. I’m grateful for my forward-thinking reformist maternal grandparents who were Arya Samaj members. My grandfather (Nana-ji) and his brothers fought to bring an end to the dowry system. Nana-ji and Nani-ji never implemented the dowry theory in their household despite having 5 daughters.
It’s hard to imagine 3F experienced such hardships because when you meet her, she immediately glows. It’s the tough times that made her as strong as she is today, that’s for sure. Her kids are too cute and her family is a small, happy one. She swears that after her kids are married she will retire to her ashram in Bangalore forever in the presence of her Guruji. Her older kid’s response: ‘But MOM, who will look after MY kids and help me cook??!’, to which 3F cleverly replies, ‘we’ll find you a nice good Indian house-husband.’
Gotta love that attitude.