A traditional tour

What do you do when you are jobless for three months? Go wherever your mom takes you of course. So did I. I went to a remote village called ‘Pothunuru’, which is around 150 KM from Kakinada, the place where my maternal grand parents live. The occassion was the marriage of a distant cousin. Primarily, I wanted to roam around in the farms and perhaps drive a tractor (I have had this penchant from the time I was born. There was a tractor in front of our house in Bangalore when I was 1-2 years old). However, neither of this was possible due to the extremely busy schedule. We stayed for a total of 24 hours and it was quite an experience. It was not just joy that was contained in this experience, but a lot of pain.

Before I discuss the traditions, I would like to state that hospitality extended by my uncles was top notch. I was touched by their kindness and their happiness on seeing me around. My uncles are four brothers. The marriage was the first uncle’s daughter’s, who had completed her B.Sc and was in the first year of MBA. The second uncle, perhaps knowing I liked working, decided to make me run a few small errands. On the other hand, the third uncle was not ready to give me any work, since I was their guest and guests don’t work. The fourth uncle, the most active and the busiest, made sure I was getting to roam here and there. What impressed me was their collective working. While the marriage was in the first house only, it hardly felt like that. It was like four elders toiling a lot for their child, something I wouldn’t see very often in cities. Further, the aunts were also extremely hospitable. What more, all the people were quite kind. This made me wonder, does a cosmopolitan atmosphere lose a sense of down to earth attitude and kindness? Perhaps yes. Anyways, I can’t really argue much, since the districts of East and West Godavari are very famous for their hospitality.

Since I was a boy and boys don’t directly participate in the marriage process, I was roaming here and there, running errands, trying to keep myself busy. However, as evening approached, I was totally free and decided to look at some of the events of the day. Quite mundane and archaic. That is how I understood the events. The first one was what is called in English as ‘Nail Cutting’, where, after a long period, the bridegroom’s nails are cut in the public, perhaps telling the whole world that she is going to get married soon. Isn’t it enough to see the thread around the neck? Or that she is roaming around with her husband? Part of the same event involved making her sit between four wooden cart logs. When I asked my aunt why it was done, she did not have an answer. I guessed that the first time this was done, it was because they wanted some form of boundary to assert the importance of the bridegroom and that these cart logs were all they found immediately. You see, this is now mundance and archaic. Why do we follow it? Is it blind faith? More than that, I see it as a fear of the unknown. That doing something against the ‘tradition’ might have very bad repurcussions. Similarly, the follow up event was bathing her. This involved, bringing five pots of pond water with great pomp and show. Once again, perhaps this was how it was done long ago, when that was the only method to get water for bathing.

A small detour here. I will tell a little about my aunt, about whom I mentioned above. She is my mother’s sister and in all terms, opposite to her character. While my mom is bubbly and has a tendency to follow the society, my aunt is quite reserved and believes in education. She is quite patient when it comes to answering my weird questions and I think she is quite knowledgeable about our tradition, and hence, she is my target at most of the times. She was married when she passed 10th class, thirty years ago. I guess she was lucky that she got a very supporting husband. She pursued law and even attempted civils but she was not successful, due to medical reasons. But she is a good lawyer and takes up a civil cases. All her three daughters, who are quite close to me, are highly qualified engineers and doctors. I can give the credit to my aunt, who is very supportive of education, as well as my uncle, who is perhaps one of the best fathers. Not just that, my aunt has helped a lot of her maids to pass Bachelor of Arts examinations. She also appreciates me when I question our traditions, our religious books and law in general. But is telling about my aunt in this article relevant? Yes it is. She is one reason I can still have some faith in our system. She is one person I can turn to and tell that there is bad in this society and that education (please don’t confuse education with mere literacy) can help reduce this problem. You will also realize at the end of this article that she is in stark contrast to another case study I am going to present in the coming section.

Coming back to our discussion, does this notion of tradition hurt? On the surface, it might not seem like. Following a bunch of not so harmful traditions does not really seem to hurt. Perhaps not and perhaps yes. I might not be able to see the immediate effect of these traditions, so I won’t comment on them much.

However, there is another tradition which I want to comment on in the context of Indian marriages, in particular, in our clan. The marriage as an institution itself! During this whole process, I got to know that another of my cousin, who just cleared her 10th standard, was looking forward to work as a civil servant. I thought it would be a good social experiment to brain wash her and find out what she was actually thinking. I found out that she is quite naive (of course, for her age, I can’t expect anything more. At that age, all I wanted was a new bike!), and that she had some altruistic views. She wanted to start an orphanage sometime down the line. She wanted to bring drastic changes in low level administration by being a collector. Noble thoughts. I showed her the dark side also. I told her that she might get bumped off in the process, or that her most loved one’s might get bumped off. She was undeterred. Strong personality. She was ready to resign if she had to choose between that and getting corrupted. Confused little child? I was impressed. I was almost going to congratulate her on her ambition, since I don’t know any girl in my family who wanted to work in the administrative wing. Then came the jerk. Her mother wanted to get her married as soon as her 12th grade got over. That, in my view is a crime. Can’t she have the liberty to choose when to get married? Actually not. The society is constructed in such a way that, if a girl does not get married early, her chances keep reducing exponentially, not something the parents would want. Let us, for the time being, tolerate this ‘tradition’. Now, this in itself should not be a roadblock for her ambition. Contrary to this, this is the greatest roadblock. The husband will not(statistically high chances. 9/10 husbands) allow her to study, since she might start commanding him! Bleh, that is not true you might say. One of her own uncle prevented his wife from continuing her education! This is not a one in million case but one less than a million in a million case! I had to agree with her. I could see that a child who has a noble ambition with a strong personality is being denied her right, because the society does not agree.

Now tell me. Is our tradition correct? What are we trying to safeguard? Whom are we trying to control and why? What are we trying to prove? Are we in a position for bringing change, or are we helpless?

Our tradition is not correct. It is archaic and does not apply in this age. Any tradition that prevents education is wrong. We are trying to safeguard our ego, our old notions, our head in the public. We are trying to control the helpless for this purpose, as we have been taught that the bread winner is always the supreme of the house and that the woman should be multiple levels below him. Education is seen as a threat to his power. Can’t they see that it will only help the family? Unfortunately, we can’t change this construct. It is so deep in the society that trying to mend it will only make you bleed. It is a viscious cycle and it has no exit. For the first time, I am apologetic of my clan. Nope, no one in my clan, except a few, share these views and I will get rebuked, if not beaten for saying this. So what do I do? I write an article, pouring out all my frustration and shut up. Welcome to my society. Where giving Rs. 1.5 crores of dowry is seen as a prestige well earnt but spending more than a few thousands on education is seen as an investment wasted.