Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Kanyadaan - Giving away a daughter

"Kanyadaan" literally translating to "donating a girl or maiden" is an integral part of the Indian marriage ceremony. It is the handing over of the rights and duties of a girl by her parents to the groom and his family. Wikipedia describes it as the "gift of a maiden or a virgin". It is a highly valued custom. One through which the parents of the bride are believed to be relieved of their worldly sins. As per Indian customs, the groom is a form of Lord Vishnu, and thus, presenting him with their most cherished gift is seen as a matter of great honour for the bride's parents. (Of course, one can hardly miss the irony, looking at the number of cases of female infanticide this country has!)

Actually, in almost all cultures, giving away of the bride by the father is an intrinsic part of a wedding. Although, I would like to naively believe it has originated from the special bond that all daughters have with their parents, especially fathers, I know it has its roots in the patriarchal systems from times gone by.

"Giving" the bride away makes me think of her as a possession or commodity. It implies ownership. In the bygone era, it meant the transferring the bride from the custody of the father to that of the husband, when not an instant could the woman be without the headship and protection of a man! But that was in times when women had fewer rights and even less exposure. I highly question the relevance of this custom in our modern times.

Not just the treating of the bride as an object, but also handing her and her responsibilities over to someone for life is something I feel strongly against. How can the beginning of a marriage, an equal partnership, where the couple promises to love and care for each other and help each other through life's ups and downs, begin with only one taking the responsibility of the other? Is it not the responsibility of the wife to care for and nurture the husband too? Is she not taking on responsibility for his happiness and good health? Not just him, but his family as well! Then why do we not see a "Putradaan" as part of the tradition?

What I find even more astonishing is the belief that one's parents forfeit all rights and responsibilities towards one's daughter once she is given off to the groom. Can parents really ever do that? More so, why must they? 20 years or more of bringing up this beautiful child, teaching her all that she knows, caring for her, worrying, the sleepless nights because of her, and just like that, she "belongs" to someone else? She is a part of another family, leaving this one behind?

I am not against traditions, and I can lead myself to believe that this is merely a part of historical customs. But there are many who take this custom literally and extremely seriously. And many girls, spend their whole life being told that they will one day belong to their husbands. One day they must get married and become part of another house and family. That they are "paraya dhan" (someone else's wealth). From childhood she is made to understand that one day she will be given away to the right man who can successfully take on her responsibility. With the beginning of a new life, she will have a different surname, and in some cases even a new name, to mark the beginning of her new life, and the past one would have little meaning to her. And in all this, we have taken away from her identity!

Instead we must be equipping our daughters with the strength and freedom to be their own individuals. To stand and support their husbands in all their tasks. To be complete in their own right, rather than objects that need to be taken care of! I say, teach your girls that they are one day going to be equal partners in a loving marriage. They will have equal responsibility in building a successful household and family. They will have equal ownership of their life together. Most importantly, they are going to have equal say and opportunities in their married life and not be just their husband's possession, commodity or responsibility!

Monday, 6 April 2015

Forgotten Love

She was the apple of her parent's eye. A polite, shy, soft-spoken girl whose only friends were her novels and painting brushes. One could find her spending most of her free time in a world of her own, and the only mirror to her special world were her paintings, which always seemed as complex and difficult to interpret, as their creator.

So when she finished college and started working freelance as an artist, her parents thought it was time to find a prince charming for their beautiful little Diya, the light of their lives. However heartbreaking the thought, they always knew that one day they had to give their little princess away to the right young man, one who would treat her as specially, if not more, than her parents. That was their dream for their little girl.

And thus the hunt began. As was common in their community, relatives were informed to find the right match for Diya. Her parents, Rajan and Kavita, gave relatives a brief of what they hoped for in a son-in-law, each time emphasising how gentle and delicate Diya is, and to find a match suitably. And thus begun the long excruciating calls from distant relatives who thought they had the right boy for Diya. Many potentials were discussed, from Doctors, to Engineers, to Investment Bankers. Boys staying in London, New York, Sydney, Cape Town etc. But not seemed right to Diya's father, for he could not fathom sending his little girl so far away. He hoped that a loving, caring and sensible match could be found in Chennai itself.

One day, while out for a meeting with an advertising firm for a campaign for his company, Rajan was introduced to a young, bright, energetic young man named Atul. As Atul presented the planned ad campaign to everyone, he radiated confidence and brilliance. After the meeting, as he was personally introduced to Rajan as the brains behind the campaign by the head of the advertising agency. As Rajan heard the young man's credentials and his achievements at such a young age, he was considerably impressed. As the whole team proceeded for lunch, Rajan got a chance to speak to Atul alone. He asked Atul about his family, background, career plans and somewhat discreetly, his marital status.

As he drove home that evening, Rajan could not help but smile to himself. He was happy to have come across a young man who was in his mind a perfect match for Diya. And his manners assured Rajan that he could in no way hurt or harm his daughter. He reached home and spoke his mind to Kavita, who was also overjoyed at her husband's description. Only one that had crossed both the parent's minds, one that was somewhat minor to them, but would create a furore in their family. Atul was a Punjabi boy, while Diya and her family were devout Iyers. There was no way that the elders of the family would agree to such a match. But they were sure, that if Diya agree to the match, they would take talks forward with Atul and his family. The first thing was to check with their little girl, without whose consent, they were unwilling to take any steps in this case.

That evening, after dinner, Kavita walked into Diya's room to find her engrossed in one of her old classic novels. Since her mother checked on her often at night, before going to bed, she thought it no different than other days. But Kavita did not just peep in the door, but slowly made her way to Diya's bedside and seated herself on a chair there. Then she slowly broached the topic of Diya's marriage to her. Accustomed to relatives discussing this topic a little too often lately, Diya listened, paying little attention to the details, till she heard her mother say "we think he is a great match." She put her book away, sat up straight and looked at her mother questioningly. Kavita, who knew her daughter inside out, knew the look. She held Diya's hands in hers and repeated all the details about Atul that Rajan had spoken of. Then she asked Diya if she would like her father to discuss the details further with Atul's family? Diya consented. Although trusting of her parent's decisions, was left curious about this young man who seemed to have impressed her father so much. So, she did what most of us from the internet age did, googled the young man. As his picture came up on a well known social networking website, Diya smiled to herself. He was indeed as handsome as her father had described. Then she looked up about him education, his interests and hobbies. Surprisingly, everything seemed perfect. From reading, to appreciating art, to describing himself as a quiet, thoughtful introvert, Diya thought her father seemed to have found her the perfect man.

As the days proceeded, Rajan increased his interaction with Atul, sometimes even calling him home on the pretext of discussing the ad campaign. Whenever he came, Kavita went out of the way to make the best of snacks and took every chance to sit with the men, during breaks in their discussions, to learn more about Atul. It seemed Atul too had become comfortable. But each time Diya entered the room, Atul seemed very self conscious. He would never speak more than a polite hello. He would dig his head in his work. So after weeks of working from home, on and off, Rajan thought it was time to get things in motion. That evening, as Atul came, Rajan took him to the garden and broached the topic that had been on his mind since the first time he interacted with Atul. He openly spoke of his desires with the young lad, his hopes for his daughter's future and his fears. As he looked expectantly at Atul for a reaction, the boy, although shocked, politely touched his feet, and asked for permission to discuss the details with his family, for without their consent he would not make such an important commitment.

That evening was a tense one at Diya's home, but with the morning light, came good news from Atul's end, asking for Rajan to visit his home with his family to meet Atul's parents. After much deliberation, discussion and argument at Rajan's family home, he was finally able to convince the elders of his family that he truly believed that Atul was the right man for his daughter. He had made up his mind, and only hoped for the blessings of the elders for his daughter.

That evening the families met, and all seemed to be perfect. Diya was welcomed with open arms into the home, and everyone raved about her simplicity, expressive eyes and most importantly, her soft nature. They valued all the things that Rajan held dear about his daughter. All his fears slowly kept slipping away. He was now getting more and more comfortable about letting go of his little girl into this home. There would be times she would find it tough, being from completely different cultures, but he was sure his daughter would have a lovely boy like Atul on her side, to help her through the way.

Atul loved Diya unconditionally. He valued her. He always spoke highly of her to his family and friend, how she adjusted brilliantly and won everyone's hearts. Diya did more for his family than he himself. Atul was sure Diya knew how much he cared for and valued her, and that she was his princess, just like he had promised her father she would be the day he married her.

But her truth was different. Diya too loved Atul immensely, and she knew he was not one who would show his love openly to her. She could not remember the last time he told her he loved her, or kissed her. Despite that she was sure of his love for her. What she was not so sure was if he valued or respected her the same way. It was not that he hurt her ever intentionally. It were his habits that raised these questions for Diya. Atul usually worked long hours. He loved his work and usually had little time for Diya. One home, he went straight to his room and just watched TV. There were times he did not even acknowledge her on his way in, and if she tried to speak, he would ask her to wait since he was either thinking something or writing a text or email to someone on his phone. And when he did speak to her, it was only when there was work. There were times she felt he was rude to her from morning to evening. It was not that he did it intentionally, it was his way of talking at home since he was young, but to her this was completely new and unacceptable. She could not fathom how he could either snap at her or raise his voice to her while they were alone and sometimes even in front of others. But he never hit her. Not once did he harm her physically, and rarely even intentionally through his words. But he still managed to hurt her a lot by all his actions. For she felt uncared for and disrespected.

One evening, when she had rehearsed the conversation in her mind a number of times, Diya sat down next to Atul, as he watched TV, and in passing mentioned her woes to him. He paid little attention at first, and just acknowledged her on and off. Then when her talking distracted his TV watching, he finally turned to her and told her to stop nagging him. Slightly taken aback at the choice of words, since Diya rarely ever spoke her heart to anyone, she walked away with tears streaming down her eyes. As Atul followed her and sat her down to reason with her on why it was wrong of her to start badgering him after a long tough day at work, Diya felt she was maybe being too emotional.

That night, many questions kept her awake. Since she knew how much she meant to Atul and how much he loved her, why was she so unhappy? Was love not enough for her happiness? After all Atul did so much for her, met all her desires and fancies. Why was she feeling so unhappy and empty in her life? If he loved her, did it not mean he respected her too? He spoke highly of her to the world, so what if he vent out his frustrations by raising his voice at her when they were alone? Was it OK to put up with it? Why did it feel wrong? Why did she not feel like the Princess within, the way dad and Atul told her she was?

That night she thought she would turn to something she had let go since her marriage, her painting. Through the night she painted, and in her art, she expressed all her anguish, concern, worries, desires and concerns. The piece was complete by the time Atul woke in the morning, and as he walked into the living room, looking for Diya, he felt her tempest through the canvas. In that one moment, he realised how much the conversation from last night meant to Diya. He just thought it to be one of those nagging things some wives are famous for, but now he knew it was time for change. It was time to really remind himself, and more importantly Diya, that she truly was his Princess. And from that day on, he resolved to tell her more often that he loved her, and to cherish the time they shared together.

But at that very instant Atul realised that the time for showing his love had long passed, for Diya lay there motionless on the sofa, peaceful, free from all her worries and pain. He hugged her tight and kissed her hard, for he wanted her to know that he did really love her!