My 93-year old grandma is bedridden. She’s physically unable to move but the power of her mind is fascinating. She is incredibly wise.
Her perspective on life is beyond me and I only wish to obtain even half the knowledge she has acquired. Her life has not been easy to say the least, but her satisfaction and outlook would say otherwise.
I plan to share many of her enlightened thoughts over time, but for now, here is a story.
Arranged marriage is a whole new concept nowadays. What it means is dating someone pre-approved by your parents, for a short period of time and with the intention of marriage. If it doesn’t seem to work out, move on to another pre-approved candidate.
What it used to mean is something totally different.
My grandma is from an area called Kapadwanj. My grandpa is from Zher, a village nearby. Ideally, people get married within their samaaj or society. One that shares the same cultural and religious views. However, the ratio of males to females is skewed and often, the males must find someone outside their village who fits their requirements.
The ideal age for marriage for women at the time was teens. As soon (or right before) a woman hits puberty, they are at the peak age of marriage. Many times, though, their partner has been chosen out for them as a kid or even when not yet born.
My grandma was 19 years old (older than the average age of marriage) when she married my 40+ year old grandpa. Key, I typed married, not met. Because they met when they got married.
It used to work as a trade. One village would trade some of their females for another and so on. The samaaj would be the same, but the locations would vary. In my grandma’s case, she was one of four who got placed with a male from Kapadwanj. It’s not as cut-throat as it sounds, but the thought process that “parents know best” really played a role. Her parents approved of my grandpa as he came from a good family and was working, though he was blind in one eye and over 40. They knew my grandma would be okay due to the good reputation of the parents of my grandpa and also from a financial standpoint.
Without even a look from either side, their fate was decided.
They followed the traditional steps of marriage and having several kids and they lived… ever after.
Happily? Maybe. When I ask my grandma if she wanted to get married or wanted to get married specifically to my grandpa, she doesn’t say much except that that is how it used to work. Happiness is not a factor, really. You obey what your parents say and work things out, compromise and somehow, things fall into place. It’s the way of life. You follow the steps laid out for you by your parents, eventually get married to whomever they decide, live with the partner and his parents, perform the wife and daughter-in-law duties on a daily basis, have kids, and so on. It’s the flow, with or without happiness.
I asked my grandma if she was happy or is happy. Her answer is always, why not? I have a working body, I have food and I have people who care for me. It’s surprising, to say the least, the way she cherishes the basics, or the essentials, in life.
Life before wasn’t slightly easy. Everything was done by hand. To get drinking water, she had to walk to the closest well to fetch a bucket or two. To clean clothes, she had to walk to the lake, a few kilometers away, to wash the family’s clothes in. She had to cook the basics, which most of us go to the many stores nearby and purchase, herself. Her day-to-day life was filled with cooking, cleaning, and other responsibilities, not only for herself or her husband but also for her in-laws and kids and any other family members. But that was tradition and she accepted it. If things get tough, you work it out. Splitting up was not an option. Not that she ever considered it, but that was how it worked before. Compromise and accept.
India, before, was a very male-dominated society. Majority of the time, it was the women who had to do the continuous compromising. Not that the males didn’t but women had very less say in comparison. Though, sometimes there were bigger issues in a marriage, for example, the husband would be abusive (verbally or physically) or the woman wasn’t treated as family from the in-laws, or anything else, the woman had to stay in the marriage. They chose to. Before, that was the way it was.
And though that is a huge issue, there are still some great lessons I learned from this.
I admire the way my grandma perceives life. I aspire to be as satisfied as her, despite the troubles and hardships. I appreciate the act of compromising in a marriage and the acceptance that you’re in it for the long run. Though, there are clearly flaws to it, the bare elements are admirable: importance of family, compromise and satisfaction.
I cherish the wisdom my grandma brings upon the world. She says this is how life used to be, whether it is right or wrong she’s not sure. But the concept has changed nowadays and people are more independent and open to other thoughts and emotions. No longer do people rely on their parents to make this important life-decision for them; they rely on themselves. And no longer do people sacrifice themselves or their happiness for the sake of staying in a flawed or abusive marriage. She will never say if one way is good or better than the other but she notes the differences. That is what I love and admire about her – she has accepted the past and at the same time knows the future is different.
More on grandma’s stories and viewpoints in other posts!
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