Second-Hand Stories: Marriages of convenience or something else ?
“What’s the best story someone else has recently told you (in person, preferably)? Share it with us, and feel free to embellish — that’s how good stories become great, after all.”
I was staying with a friend for a few days at her home, with her husband out of town. and though I was in her part of the world to attend a seminar, the evenings were free to chat up, shop and share titbits on life.
I must clarify that I don’t really know this lady ( I will call her M) all that well and had very little knowledge about her background. She and her husband were my parent’s friends and being much younger in age and with very little in common, I was almost a total stranger to her life and its details.
One day she told me the story of her life prior to marriage and what emerged was an unusual tale. They are four sisters and the narrative was inspired in part by her reminiscing about her maternal aunt (mother’s sister) who had died a few days back. At the mention of her aunt, her tone had subtly shifted, there was the tinge of grief, yes, but a shade of something else too. I was intrigued. Being a natural observer of human emotions and privy to all the shifting shades of it ( by dint of intuitive observation, rather than a morbid curiosity!) I wondered at the hidden shadow of a story that I felt she longed to share and yet was a bit unsure of how I would receive it. I put on my best listening face, curious yes, but also willing to be that listener who would not judge, whatever the story might be. (I generally find people too interesting to judge, unless of course they provoke or torture me on a daily basis for fun !)
Her aunt was childless and had left all her property and jewellery to one of M’s younger sisters, much to the disappointment of the others. M was the eldest of her four siblings and the last one to get married. In fact she did not strike me as the marrying kind in the usual sense — she was far too independent, hated housework from what I could see, treated cooking like a necessary evil, preferred her office to her home, was a real lover of racy jaunts on her two-wheeler (much to my discomfort ! ) all over town and when hubby called in, she didn’t seem overtly enthused to answer. Many marriage myths shattered for me in my brief home-stay with her. Oh but I digress !
Reader, do not give up on my story yet. I assure you you will regret it when it wins some award at a later time and then you can no more read it for free. Alright, since that is now out of the way, let me proceed. M was worried about her aged mother’s health and mentioned in passing that all of them thought her mother was at Death’s door, so to say, when her aunt suddenly called it a day ( to life itself). She was obviously closer to her aunt emotionally, than to her mother. Nothing uncommon there, I mused and then it came tumbling out. I casually asked whether her aunt had brought her up and not her mother and she nodded. You see this aunt actually stayed with them — her parents, M, her sisters and her aunt all stayed together in the same house. Oh so she wasn’t married then, I ventured. She was, M blurted out, she was married to my dad ! I was surprised, but not too much, for in earlier generations, a man could have two wives, though it’s illegal now except for one privileged community in my secular country. (People who want to have the best of both worlds now, just convert to this religion conveniently, no questions asked. Though I do marvel why anyone in this complicated age of complex human relationships with boogies like feminism and women’s empowerment doing the rounds would want two spouses, for whatever reasons — I would think managing one is cumbersome enough ! Begone digression, I banish you ). I let that sink in, M’s aunt married to her elder sister’s husband, M’s mother the co-wife. Compounded sibling rivalry would be an understatement, no ? M then clarified — her mother was childless for seven years after marriage. She then (whether under social pressure or the typical sacrificing mentality of yesterday’s generation of Indian wives) requested her husband to marry again. Thank God it’s not that easy now (I added my mental sub-text to the story). Her husband, pressured by society apparently and his mother ( oh the m-i-l — mother-in-law — how could she be left out of this important narrative), but in love with his wife, suggested that he would marry the sister, so that it would all be in the family. I looked at the black and white framed photograph of the two sisters and was struck by how beautiful they both were. How could any woman accept this — any angle you looked at it. And then . . . .
This deserves a new paragraph. M’s mother, before this second marriage, had a severe health issue by which she could not conceive or when she did, she miscarried. After this new marriage was held, within a month, her health problem disappeared and she was discovered to be pregnant. M had made her presence felt in the world. Talk of twists in the tale ! And after that she went on to conceive three more children, all girls. What of the aunt ? She remained childless till the end.
However, M asserted, we all lived peacefully together, in harmony and her father insisted that all his daughters study well, become financially independent and then get married. Often, it was the aunt rather than their own mother the girls ran to, to confide little things. Progressive, non-progressive, there are no blacks or whites, just greys. And then came the second twist in the tale. Hold on, reader !
M put off getting married till all her younger siblings were dipping into the pleasures of conjugal bliss. Her father was on his death- bed and she still wasn’t ‘settled in life’. She was the only example of independence going overboard. And her father wanted to remedy that. (No, in spite of all the ‘horror stories’ of subjugated Indian women that you see splashed across the media, no , that is just so not the whole story, we can be very thorny thorns at times, as M’s father discovered.) But he kind of won this battle. HOW ?
Well, M’s father made a will whereby his daughters would each get a legitimate share of his property only if they gave birth to natural children (not adopted). Otherwise, the other siblings would get an additional share. And that was one reason perhaps why finally M got married but is sadly childless still, much to her mother’s sorrow, siblings’ secret delight (my unstated view) and her husband’s alarm (my deductive reasoning) !