Wife: So, you have decided to leave tomorrow? Can’t you stay home for tomorrow and then leave the following day?
Husband: You stop being adamant about this. I must leave tomorrow.
Wife: I will not ask you again not to go. I pray, please keep me informed of your wellbeing once in three or four days. I cannot live without knowing your wellbeing.
Husband: Yes. I will do as you requested. But, how will you inform me of your wellbeing? Just as you would like to be informed of my wellbeing, would I not be interested in your wellbeing?
Wife: What can I do about that? If I were also educated like you, I would be gladly writing letters to you every day. I can ask my younger brother to write you occasionally.
Husband: If you had learned to write, you could be in a position to write to me all your thoughts lay in your heart. Even if I write to you, you are not competent to read those letters and for that reason, I cannot write all my thoughts. Don’t you have to seek someone else’s help to learn the details in my letters? I have been asking you since the day we got married to learn to read and you turned a deaf ear, is it not so? At first, I ignored it, thinking you were still little. Even after you had grown up, you would not drop your childish behavior. Will you learn to read and write now at least? Or, you will confirm and continue to be stubborn?
Wife: What can I do if get angry with me like this? I also would entertain the thought to learn to read like other women now and then. But my grandmother used to say that women must not learn to read and write, educated women lessen the lifespan of their husbands and that it was written so in the sastras.
Husband: Is that it? Women in the past imagined such thoughts without proof. The thought women lose their husbands, if they received education is sprouting up in recent times. These words are prevalent only in older women but not found in sastras. Sastras actually state that women must study. After I went to Chennapuri (current Chennai), I will send you a good book. In the meantime, you learn to write and read from your brother.
Wife: That is nice. Don’t I have things to do but learn to read and write?
Husband: I am not suggesting that you must quit all other activities of yours. Women cannot avoid the domestic chores. You can finish your housework and after that you can learn to read, in stead of wasting your time in meaningless chatter with your neighbors. You will also learn about a few benefits of having education and the disadvantages of illiteracy. In fact, I am surprised that you are still not interested in acquiring the language skills.
Wife: What is the purpose of that education? To write letters to their husbands? Do we go to offices like you and work? If I learn to read and write, the neighbors will laugh at me, and make fun of me. They will not even to stay away from me. Why would I want to seek some small rewards and court that pain of rejection? We are not going to be separated forever, is it not so? Even if we consider it long time, we are not going to be separated for more than two years. After that, what is the use of this education for me?
Husband: It is natural for you to speak like that. You do not know the advantages of obtaining education and the ensuing benefits completely. One must not at your ignorance but pity you. Even if you had a morsel of education previously, you would not entertain such idiotic thoughts. It is not strange that you should think that education helps only to obtain a job in an office and helps you to write letters to your husband. But if you think carefully, you will understand the flaws in your mode of thinking yourself. People would not become educated if only they had learned the script. Only those, who had read the great books written by others, and could interpret them, can be called “educated.” Such education sharpens one’s intellect. The invaluable and lofty thoughts from those books settle in the readers’ heart and make them noble persons. The evil qualities resident in their hearts would be replaced by noble thoughts. They would become qualified to acquire the worldly knowledge. Reading new books would elate one’s mind. People would feel relieved of their innumerable worries in their everyday lives briefly and be happy. There are several such benefits from education. I can assure you without doubt that if you set your mind to it and learn to read, you’ll enjoy reading, and even forget to eat and sleep after a while. You will know yourself that among all the pleasures the pleasure of reading is the best. Let it be for the moment. A wife must be supportive of her husband in this life forever. And the wife cannot perform her duty fully unless she is educated. The husband who returns home after a long day’s work would not have to jot down the household accounts; an educated wife could take care of it herself. That gives respite for the husband.
Wife: If the woman were not educated, couldn’t she remember the accounts?
Husband: Yes, you women do remember some of the accounts related to house. But you also make mistakes very often. The educated women would not make such mistakes. When the washer man takes clothes for washing, you will memorize as, “two times ten is four.” And you’ll take back the clean clothes as you remembered them. You will not know if he brought a pillowcase in place of a coat. In the same way, when the milkman brought milk, you would draw a line on the wall. If somebody else inserted an extra line between those lines, how would I [sic.] know? That is the extant of your math, right. If you were educated, there would not be such embarrassment and differences, is that not so?
Wife: All that is true. Then, why did the ancient scholars have written that women must not receive education?
Husband: In that case, let me explain to you the disadvantages of not having education. If you were educated, you would have read the sastras yourself and would have learned what they have said in those sastras. In the sastras I have read, I never found any statements saying women must not study. I mean that no sastras had made such statements. Some women like your grandmother would spread the words they had heard. And people like you believe them because you are not in a position to verify them, and so pass the ideas to others. Thus, due to the blind faith, several reprehensible beliefs are being spread in the name of sastras in our country. Nobody seem to care and verify whether these beliefs were recorded in the sastras or not. There are a few, very few, who would want to verify the authenticity of those statements. But there are countless scholars, who would keep them under their spell and make them commit numerous evil acts. Thus, we do not see many people who would use their brains bestowed on them by god, and examine the good and bad of their actions. This being the case for the educated men, it is not surprise that women do not step outside of their slovenly world. Now at least you must step out of that well of inanity and see the light of knowledge. Today it is of greater urgency for women to acquire knowledge at a much higher level than men did. The reason being that women have the additional duty of educating the children yet to be borne, and help them achieve greater success. Typical for children to take after their mothers. If mothers were uneducated and ill behaved, their children turn out to be so; and if the mothers were educated and principled, their children would be just as well behaved. It is only proper that children should take after their mothers rather than fathers. Take your own case. Now you are unwilling to learn to read only because you have listened to the ill advises of your mother and your grandmother, who were uneducated themselves, is it not right? Your children in future also will be uneducated. Children are by nature tuned to learn by listening and watching. On scholar wrote that the education children receive from the scholars does not equal the knowledge they receive from one worthy mother. Therefore, it is important that women learn to read at least to make their children worthy citizens.
Wife: Would I go against your plausible goals? If you like me to be educated, I will start tomorrow. I am fully aware, regardless of my lack of education and dullness, that I am duty-bound to wear my husband’s commands on my head and that I have no other god except my husband. I will not be scared even if my grandmother reprimands me, and neighbors taunt me. I will learn to read and please you.
Husband: Is that true?
Wife: Absolutely and undoubtedly. Ever since I heard your good preaching, I am anxious to read books. Now on, I will write the letters to you in my own hand. You should send me a good book as soon as you arrived in Chennapuri. I will write letters to you, but then, I am also worried that you might laugh at my writings.
Husband: As soon as you have learned to read, I will send you books with great pleasure, several of them in fact. You make sure that you will set your mind to it without fail. How long do you think it will be before you have learned to read and write letters to me?
Wife: How can I give my word specifically to you now? What an auspicious day it would be when I receive the letter written by you. You cannot imagine the pleasure I would feel at that time. I am elated even at the thought that you have agreed to learn to read in recompense for all the talk I have been pouring on you. Right now, I see it in a dream: You are sitting here with a paper, a pen and an inkwell to write a letter to me. The pen in your hand is shaking. Your face is pale with fear and embarrassment. The letters on the paper are in different sizes, big and small. In between, there are ink spots splattered on the paper. You want your first letter to me to be perfect, you are trying so hard, yet you see them as irregular. Your heart will not allow to send it and so you will fair copy it on another paper with meticulous care. You are not satisfied with the second draft either. Your heart sank. You got tired of it, and put the same letter in an envelope, had your brother write the address and mail it. My face lit up happily at the sight of the letter written with your own hands. My friends noticed it and teased me. I pretended to protest their teasing but I was pleased inside. I read the letter from my dear wife again and again. That was not enough for me and so I read it several times. Each time it gave me a new pleasure. Aha, what a pleasure it is! In addition, I am having one more dream.
I was sitting in our bedroom with our son, called Sumati. You were sitting next to me in an armchair and reading aloud an article from a monthly magazine for me. As I listening to your sweet voice and watching your brightened face, I was experiencing heavenly bliss. And then, I dreamed another dream also.
You were sitting with Sumati and Savitri and teaching them how to read amiably. Aha, our children were so well mannered! The passersby were amazed at the humility and concentration; they would stop, pat on their backs and give them a kiss. There was not one person who had not praised our children. The indescribable pleasure you and I experienced as we listened to the praise poured on our children cannot be matched even by the people who had amassed the fruits of their good deeds in thousand lives. Then the people who saw us commended us as gods who took the human form.
Wife: You are speaking strange words. Are you saying you are dreaming while wide-awake?
Husband: I am not saying jokes. All these things I have mentioned as my dreams–are they ever become realities or do I have to be content with the dreams only?
Wife: They will be a reality. Definitely they will become a reality.
Husband: You are the goddess of home and Saraswati (goddess of learning) as well. That being the case, no surprise that your word will become a reality. Will write to me in six months?
Wife: Certainly I will try to write to you. And then, I will be scared for fear of being ridiculed by you.
Husband: What is that? Will I laugh at your letter? You do not know yet. For a couple like you and me, who care deeply about each other, what we do between ourselves is going to be something special between us. For outsiders it might be a small thing but for it is not so.
Wife: I will start to write after five months. But you must start writing to me every two days informing me about your wellbeing. If you write each letter separately, and not in cursive writing, I will try to read it myself. That is all fine. You should also return home soon.
Husband: As the exam time approaches, you cannot ask me to come home soon.
Wife; You will come home, if you get vacation, is it not so?
Husband: Definitely will come.
Wife: Since I listened to every word you have said, you should also listen to my words.
Husband: Let me know what that is?
Wife: You should come home for Deepavalil
Husband; Yes, I will come.
(The Telugu original, strividya, was originally published in 1902 in a monthly magazine, Hindusundari.)
Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, January 2007.)