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Lizzy S Falnikar |
November 19, 2003 14:58 IST
As Ashima and I left the office after work every day, we would talk about prose and poetry and life in general. That day, we happened to talk about Madhavan uncle and his daughter Swati.
When I reached home, the watchman gave me a letter. It was from Kusum aunty. Madhavan uncle was no more. Ramabai, our maid, was doing the household chores as usual when I broke the news to her and to my family. As I cast myself into her arms, she asked, "Swati memsaab ka kya hoga [What will happen to Swati memsaab]?"
That question took me back in time. Memories of Swati's wedding flashed in my mind as did memories of the wedding of Ramabai's eldest daughter, Meena, which was held the next day. One was an Oxford graduate while the other was an uneducated village girl. Nevertheless, we were hugely excited. Both were family weddings as far as we were concerned.
Madhavan uncle had left no stone unturned to find a suitable spouse for his darling daughter. They finally found someone who matched their expectations in terms of qualifications, wealth and status. Swati was barely a few days into her marriage when things turned sour for her. Her in-laws were quick to take advantage of her demure and genteel disposition.
Even as the harassment continued, Swati -- conditioned by our social norms -- swallowed her sorrow. What really shocked us though was the fact that Madhavan uncle refused to interfere! A married daughter returning to her father's house for good has always been looked down upon by our society, which expects them to 'adjust' in their husband's home. I wondered why someone who was as educated as he was and who belonged to the upper echelons of society could not liberate his own daughter. Swati, who was once the epitome of beauty and grace, became neurotic and had to be admitted into a mental asylum.
Ramabai's daughter Meena was facing her own problems. Her drunkard husband made life miserable for her. Within a few days, a thin and pale Meena returned to her mother's home with injury marks all over her body.
Ramabai decided she was not going to send her daughter back. Within a few days, Meena opened a crèche at home. Today, her business is flourishing. Her parents and sisters helped her stand on her feet. They were simple folk and did not care about what the gossipmongers had to say. After all, barking dogs seldom bite. Meena was saved thanks to her mother's courage.
We saw two marriages running into rough weather in the span of few weeks. Many questions had sprung up in my mind then. Today, I still wonder if education can truly emancipate women. Isn't another ingredient called courage necessary? Else, why do educated Swatis still succumb to the pressures of society while many uneducated Meenas refuse to be sacrificial lambs and create a new life for themselves?
I still don't have the answers.
Illustration: Lynette Menezes