Marriage by Dr. Rajendra Prasad
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of independent India spearheaded many social reforms, besides contributing to the freedom movement under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership. It is paradoxical to note how his own life was blighted by the regressive social practice of child marriage. Happily though, the marriage endured, and Dr. Prasad led a happy married life.
The story .. He was just thirteen when a routine summer holidays visit to Zeradei turned out to be a watershed moment in his life. He was summoned by his father to his presence, where a Mukhtiar from Arrah, and his younger brother, a lawyer from Ballia were already waiting. They asked a few simple questions to the 13-year-old, then in Class 5, and declared him qualified. The boy was approved to marry their daughter, who was surely still younger.
Then the rituals started. The Tilak, or a formal agreement between the would-be groom and bride’s father went through. This is the betrothal ceremony which normally precedes the marriage. Clothes, utensils, cash of Rs.2000 came from the bride’s side.
Dr. Prasad, then a boy of very tender age, had a principled father. He was reluctant to accept the cash, but relented to take it after much persuasion. During those days, two thousand rupees was considered a princely sum.
The bride’s side ensured a dazzling marriage procession, and generous ornament gifts for their daughter by giving more money as the Tilak amount. Thus, the two sides, virtually tied each other in a bigger bills through this system.
Dr. Prasad’s family were passing through a bad patch financially during those days. Multiple factors had contributed to this. There were some deaths in the family, the zamindari income had plummeted due to famine conditions, family expenses on education, and some legal bills were draining the family’s coffers. But, his father took it as a question of honour. He spent lavishly on the marriage and towards the ornaments for the bride.
Think it out …
- How was the author’s marriage finalized .. It was a short and simple affair. From the girl’s side, her father, a Mukhtiar, and his younger brither, a lawyer from Ballia came. Dr. Prasad, then a 13-year-old was called. He was asked a few questions by the visitor duo, and the marriage proposal was finalized.
- What idea of the ritual of Tilak … Tilak is a ritual that binds the two sides to perform the marriage ceremony at a later date. Gifts come from the bride’s side, the quantum and value of which is to be matched by the groom’s side in marriage expenses.
- What was the financial ……………. Dd it affect ………….. The author’s family was passing through difficult times, financially. Mounting expenses due to a series of things like death in the family, falling income from zamindari, legal expenses etc. had put the family in a tight spot. Yet, the father of author went out to perform the marriage in grand style and gave sizeable gold ornaments to the bride.
Horses and elephants used to form part of marriage processions. Their numbers were a measure of the grandness of the procession, but the family could arrange just one elephant and a few horses. That day was an auspicious one, and quite a few marriages were being held on that day. This created great demand for the elephant and horses.
The marriage venue was Dalan-Chapra in Ballia district, some 40 miles away from Zeradei. It was going to be a two-day affair. In the absence of sufficient horses and elephants, palkies were requisitioned to carry the entourage. The author’s elder brother came on the horse back, and the father and other elders got into a palki. The author was given a silver-plated palki that had an open top. A canopy was provided to provide protection against the hot June sun. The wind blew and dislodged the canopy, making it look like a giant, unwieldily balloon. For both the young groom and the carriers, the wind played a spoil-sport.
The party encamped near a village for the night. The next morning, they resumed the journey. They had to cross the Sarju river. The bag and bagged were ferried by a boat, where as the elephant had to swim the waters. But he was in no mood to go along. He wanted to head back home. No matter how much the mahout coaxed his elephant, the latter remained adamant. Later, he was tied to the boat, so that he could be dragged along. The elephant refused to oblige, and the mahout had to take his elephant back. The marriage procession had to go ahead with no elephant. For the author’s father, it was disgraceful. During his own marriage, scores of elephants had formed part of the procession, and for his worthy son, not even one! He was distraught.
The party had lost quite some time in making the tusker change his mind. So, the procession began to hasten its pace to make up for the lost time. Suddenly, they saw some elephants coming from the other side. It emerged that they were returning after finishing a procession. Quickly, a deal was made, and the tuskers joined the procession. The author’s father was beaming with joy. Finally, the party reached the destination at 11pm.
The delay in arrival had caused some anxiety in the bride’s side. Despite the inclusion of additional tuskers, the procession was somewhat lackluster, they felt. The disappointment soon vanished when they say the array of gifts, sweets, clothes and the ornaments the author’s father had carried as present. They were impressed, but whether they had similar joy with the groom or not remained unclear.
Think it out …
- How does the author describe ……. The author is bemused to recount his memory of the marriage party. It was supposed to be a grand show, a long march of 40 miles, but fell short of the expectations. The wind dislodged the canopy of the bedecked palki of the author, and the disobedient elephant declined to accompany the procession. Despite the late inclusion of elephants en route, the procession was perceived to be lok-key. However, the array of gifts turned the opinion to upbeat.
- The author’s father had wanted to take a procession of multiple tuskers and horses, but even the lone elephant that could be arranged refused to go to the destination. The author’s father sadly remembered his own procession that had scores of elephants and horses. Fortunately, the party met a herd of tuskers returning from some other procession and had it hired. It lifted the author’s father’s spirits.
The two-day road journey on a palki had sapped the author’s energy. He felt asleep in the palki itself, and when the party reached the bride’s place late in the night, the young bride groom slipped into a deep slumber. The nuptial rituals were to begin, and it took quite an effort to wake up the boy groom. During the mandatory rituals, he struggled to sit erect, as his tired body weighed him down.
Details of the marriage ceremony have faded off his mind over the years. He recollects the doll’s marriage that he played with his sister in his childhood. His real marriage was something akin to the doll’s marriage. The author was too young then to fathom the importance of such a function in one’s life.
The author had no say in the marriage, and in the rituals that preceded it. He just followed the priest’s instructions. Sometimes, the women in the house intervened to smoothen things out. The author was oblivious of the onerous responsibility coming on to him. He simply knew a stranger was going to come to their household, just as one had come for his elder brother.
As per the customs, the author left behind his young wife. She was come later when a party from his side had to go and fetch her ceremonially. The practice is called Durgaman.
There was another custom the author remembers vividly. A newly brought bride had to be secluded in her room strictly. No one could come anywhere near her. When she came from her paternal home, she brought two maids. They were to be at her beck and call all the time. She could communicate only through them. No adult was allowed even to the courtyard, except the cook, and tender-aged boys of the family. Even the cook had to announce his coming loudly before passing through the courtyard. This extremely stifling system was mandatory. It was known by the name Purdah. When the daughter-in-law wanted to go to the bath, the passage had to be completely deserted. The maids would block off her view by holding curtains around her. She had to pull her veil down even when her mother-in-law or sister-in-law went to her room. The author had managed to see her fleetingly only once or twice in those years.
The young wife of the author went through the same restrictions when she arrived in her Zerdei home. In due course of time, the rules were relaxed.
Think it out …
- What are the author’s remarks about his marriage.. The author reflects thoughtfully how he was trapped in his marriage with no role at all. He was a pawn whose destiny was controlled by others.
- How does the author describe … Durgaman is the ceremonial coming of the young daughter-in-law to her husband’s home, some days after the marriage.
- How does the author narrate … Purdah was an absurd seclusion of the new daughter-in-law in her new home. She had no freedom to move, speak, or mingle with anyone, nor did any male member had the same. She had to communicate through her two maids. Even while going to the toilet, her view had to be blocked off by hanging bed sheets around her.