CRITICS by Abburi Chaya Devi

Vimala’s classmates criticized her for what she had done. They raised eyebrows and posed the question with grave concern, “How could an educated woman do such a thing?” They have agreed unanimously that Vimala was sadly lacking in worldly wisdom. Neither Vimala nor Rama Rao has earned a college degree yet. None of the three classmates could comprehend where was the hurry for the two to get married. And even in that celebration—the marriage—they have ignored the normal practice.

Vimala comes from a well-to-do family. She was born in a very traditional brahmin family. Rama Rao’s father works as an assistant in a grocery store. Rama Rao is able to go to school only because of his scholarship money. They both—Vimala and Rama Rao—defied their families hopes and expectations and ran away and got married in Annavaram.

Vimala’s classmates could not understand whatever Vimala could have seen in Rama Rao. Rama Rao possesses no features to call him handsome—too thin, okay complexion, small forehead, and bushy hair. We can’t even say he is smart. At best he memorizes the notes and passes the tests with minimum scores. So! What did Vimala see in him to marry him? They defied their parents and got married. Did they think about their future? How could they support themselves? How could Vimala live with that good-for-nothing fellow? … The three classmates continued their criticism on these lines each and every time they got a chance.

Then followed another surprise. The three friends were shocked to learn that Vimala’s father invited Vimala and Rama Rao back to his home. Kamala explained it away, “Of course, what other choice does he have? She is his only daughter. He has no other children. Probably he convinced himself that the public scandal would be worse and decided to let them stay with him.”

“Well, my father would not have accepted it, not even if I were his only daughter. If I had done anything that is not to his liking, he would throw me out and never let me step in his home again,” Syamala commented.

Pramila hates even the word marriage. If anybody brings up the subject, she hits the roof. No surprise she resented Vimala’s action. She said, “Now, what can Vimala accomplish in life? She is hardly eighteen and is already married. Next year by this time she will have a baby. What kind of pleasure she can have in life? I can never understand whether I should be happy or sorry for such people?” That is the way Pramila lectures each time the subject of marriage came up.

When Pramila heard that the wedding arrangements have been made for Syamala, she argued pretty much on the same lines. Syamala’s parents arranged her marriage. The bridegroom just started his law practice. Probably he had to shell down a lot of money to get his business going. Everybody knows it takes time for the business to pick up.

It seems the bridegroom insisted on dowry–five thousand rupees at the least. His father was a retired Tahsildar.

From the perspective of the bride’s parents, it is a great match—the family cherishes plausible traditional values. Besides, where is the guarantee that they could bring a better match? In the present day society, is there a bridegroom that would be willing to marry any woman without dowry?… So, Syamala’s father decided to sell the strip of land they owned and perform the wedding. Syamala was hurting inside that her father had to sell the land for her wedding. She knows there are other considerations—the education of her younger brother for one thing. He is still in high school, his education means another huge expense. Life sucks. What can she do? She could find a job but father would not permit it. The only reason he sent her to school up until now, was his fear that no man would come forward to marry an illiterate woman. Let’s forget father’s feelings for a moment. She wouldn’t want to go to work either. A woman has to get married sometime or other. Why not get married while still young?—So thought Syamala. She was worried that she could never get married if she had refused to marry a man who demanded dowry. She does not have gorgeous looks to tell the truth. Where could she find a man who would marry her out of the goodness of his heart?

Syamala, for want of a better deal, agreed to marry the young lawyer that demanded five thousand rupees dowry.

As expected Pramila fired away a volley of snide remarks, “Whatever has gotten into you to pay him 5000 rupees dowry and marry him? Let me ask you this—tell me, what is the rush? Why do you have to get married now, in such a hurry? You are still a minor. Up until now, you are a dependent on your father. You are scared like a kitten for every little thing, when it comes to dealing with your father. Whatever happened to your spirit of freedom? You don’t even have the freedom to buy a saree of your choice. What kind of life is that? You might as well be dead rather than be a slave, if you ask me.”

 

Syamala’s spirits sunk. Kamala was a little more decent. She congratulated Syamala as a matter of courtesy, if not anything else.

 

“What do you mean? Are you saying there is no pleasure and comfort in marriage?” Syamala asked furtively. Pramila gets excited anytime someone raises such questions. She enjoys such debate. “There is not an iota of happiness in marriage,” she replied, as if she were speaking out of experience.

 

“You are educated but sadly lacking in worldly wisdom. I saw one million families. I have seen the young couples who were just married. And the men and women who fell in love and got married. I have seen the old couples. Let me tell you, I’ve seen them all and scrutinized them thoroughly. Not a single person told me that she was happy. My mother and father fight constantly. My father says you are living with me for 30 years and still did not understand the kind of person I am. I am who I am and that is the only reason I am still living with you. Anybody else would have taken to ascetism and ran away the day after our marriage.

And my mother’s response is that is nonsense. I put up with your abuse because I am who I am. Anybody else would have killed herself either by hanging or drowning. That is how my mother talks. Syamala! You tell me. If they really had experienced any pleasure in their lives, would they talk like that?”

Syamala is not good at debating. All she could do and does is to reflect in her own head. She was trying to understand Pramila’s words.

Probably there was some truth in her argument. My parents also get on each other’s nerves pretty much the same way. But then what about the romantic evenings they spend sitting on the terrace in the moonlight, laughing, teasing each other, and having a wonderful time. Pramila is crazy to talk that, she is stubborn when it comes to her beliefs. She says there is no happiness in marriage. I have seen so many young couples on the beach, walking hand in hand, looking happy, as if there isn’t a care in the world. Pramila claims that every woman turns into a slave the moment she is married. Why should anybody think only in terms of slavery? Vadina [sister-in-law] always does things that please my brother. My brother hates onions. So she quit eating onions although she liked them very much. And that wasn’t even my brother’s idea. That was not a reason enough to regret marriage as far as Vadina was concerned. A woman takes pleasure in doing things for her husband…

Syamala continued to ponder over it for a long time. But then, she knows she can not convince Pramila in this matter.

Pramila constantly talks about her sister. It seems their father did not send her older sister to school. Several marriage proposals came in her sister’s way. They all made her [the sister] sing and then back off on some pretext or other—the girl is too dark, too short, not educated… Soon after the bridegroom leaves her sister would break into tears. Finally the day came when her parents could marry her off to a graduate, after paying four thousand rupees dowry. That young man agreed to marry her, only giving in to the pressures from his parents. Starting the second day, the bride and the groom were at loggerheads. He was so good at pestering his wife, how come he didn’t have the guts to defy his parents? Pramila says both the parties are equally stupid—the parents who arranged the marriage and the man who married her sister without really caring for her and was harassing her. It seems Pramila tried to talk some sense into her sister several times, I am telling you, finish schooling, get a job. Listen to me. Marriage means throwing away your freedom. Don’t do it. Now Pramila has all the freedom she wants. Whatever she says goes. Her father never says no to her under any circumstances.

Kamala is a kind of naïve. Her father sends her to school and so she goes to school. Her father is also making inquiries regarding eligible bachelors. Kamala does not object to his efforts. She is like a kite, flying whichever way the wind blows. She never thinks about her own life. But then she does have some beliefs of her own. She strongly believes that her parents have her best interest in mind, and that they are working hard to make her happy. Kamala’s father is not such a hard-nosed traditionalist either. He is giving her education since he has understood the importance of education for girls in modern times. He also has understood that a woman must be married, therefore looking for a bridegroom. They are middle class people. They cannot afford to shell down thousands and thousands of rupees and fix up with a great bridegroom. Her father has concluded that he would do everything in his power and let the chips fall where they may. The way he saw it Kamala could either get married or earn a living on her own.

Pramila studied hard, aiming to pass the B.A. exam in the first class. Kamala also worked hard, worrying about her future. Syamala did not take it seriously. She was only looking beyond the examinations and was hoping that her life would be much easier after the exams. She would not have to worry about anything. Her life is going to be peachy one way or the other. She could walk down that road with her eyes closed, no problem. She was sure that her worries and her father’s worries would be over as soon as the examinations are over.

As everybody expected, Pramila passed the examination in the first class, Kamala in the second class and Syamala finished in the third class. Syamala was not ashamed of her third class. She was content that she met her own goals. She would be married soon enough. Whatever ‘the class’ has got to do with anything? She still could boast of her degree in front of everybody. Next month she would attain the status of a homemaker. What else could she want?

Kamala’s father told her that he could not pay for her tuition anymore. He could not fix up her marriage either. She found a temporary position in the same college she attended. Kamala was elated that she landed a job and that she didn’t have to sit at home doing nothing.

Pramila registered in Law School, hoping to become a lawyer. Her joy knew no bounds. She has come to be known as the smartest student in her class.

***

Out of nowhere, Syamala’s parents have gotten the news that the bridegroom’s parents changed their mind. They couldn’t believe their own ears. How could they? He—an educated man.… and the parents—civilized, appeared to be so at the least. Whoever could have guessed that they would resort to such heinous act? It seems somebody else offered to them an automobile, and one thousand and one rupees each to the mother and his sisters. The other bride was not educated but well-trained in household duties. She is not a beauty but okay. So they have decided to grab the other party’s offer. They were getting ready to celebrate the wedding the very next week.

Syamala’s father tried to reason with them, “What about us? Haven’t we agreed to perform the wedding? We looked for the most auspicious day and set the date in Sravana month. How could you drop our agreement and humiliate us like this? What are we supposed to do now?”

“Well, you just have to find another alliance, I guess. What else can you do now? Drag the groom’s party to court? Fight with them?” replied the person who brought the message.

Syamala heard those words from behind the walls, went into her room, threw herself on the bed and cried her eyes out. Mother tried to console her, with tearful eyes.

Pramila and Kamala heard the news and came to comfort Syamala. Syamala couldn’t look into their eyes and speak. She never thought she could be humiliated this way, not even in her wildest dreams. She was priding herself on the fact that she was more fortunate than Pramila and Kamala. Now she felt doubly humiliated that the God has taught her a lesson for all her high and mighty attitude.

Pramila, instead of comforting her, got on her case as usual, “Didn’t I ask you on that very day—what was the hurry for you to get married. Did you listen to me? I knew even then that money was more important to that educated idiot than you. You went wild looking for some marital bliss.” For Syamala it was like rubbing pepper on an open wound.

“Come on, it is no big loss for you. Go back to the college with the money your father set aside for your dowry, you can get your Master’s degree in no time,” Kamala suggested in a matter of fact tone.

 

Only Syamala knew that she was a loser on both counts. She spent rest of the year crying her heart out. She however did not run out of luck though. She has a great future. In recent weeks, her luck smiled on her again, despite a few disturbing instances. Her brother brought in a match. The boy did not ask for dowry. He was of dark complexion, let’s admit it, he was not handsome but has a good job. He earns four hundred rupees a month. Possesses excellent qualities. Syamala agreed to marry him without fuss. This time the wedding was performed right away, no more delays for any reason.

Syamala went away to Vijayawada with her husband. She also wrote to Kamala and Pramila about her new life as soon as she got there. She specifically wrote that her husband loves her very much, he treats her royally, and that she is the happiest woman on earth. Pramila was so busy with her studies she had no time respond to any letters. There was not a day goes by when she could be seen without a book in her hand. She would finish school soon and start her own practice. She has been dreaming about her unfettered life. But then the luck always plays its hand in uncanny ways. Pramila’s health was ruined for all the studying she did day and night. She fell sick right before examinations. .. Cough … fever .. her family wondered if it meant tuberculosis and got scared. She could not write the exams that year.

The doctor advised her to take rest and assured her everything would be okay. Pramila felt like her life became worthless and all her dreams crumbled like sand castles. She became lazy because of too much resting. She was studying only because she had to. Somehow she managed to pass the exam but she did not have the enthusiasm of the old days anymore. But then, what else can she do? … What is the point of all her studies if she does not put it to use—start practicing. She couldn’t sit at home chitchatting with other family members forever.

 

Pramila joined as an apprentice in some law firm. This Pramila is not the same person she used to be. All her sharp wit, intelligence, and mischief are gone. She now works but not putting her brains to work. In the past she used to argue bluntly and doggedly. Now is the time she should be using her skills but her brains are not working anymore. She lost even small cases for failing to argue effectively. She started wondering what went wrong in her life. She knew she was missing something but was not sure what was it. She started to think seriously about her life. What is it she is going to accomplish in life? What kind of happiness she wanted? Could she accomplish it? Has she achieved the freedom she sought after? Could she achieve anything at all? Where will this life end? How long has she have to live like this? Where would be her place after mother and father are gone? Pramila realized for the first time that she might have to live alone and the thought shook her up. Her head is filled with numerous somber thoughts. She began to see her environment for what it is for the first time.

One day Pramila got bored and so went to visit Kamala. Kamala has changed a lot. She is even more exuberant than ever before. Pramila looked at herself in the mirror in Kamala’s room casually. She saw a skeleton of herself in the mirror. Tears sprang to her eyes. Kamala kept asking again and again why Pramila was so down. Pramila was not even sure. What could she say to Kamala? She has learned from Kamala that Syamala has been writing to her regularly, that she has a baby girl now. The worst thorn she felt in her side was Kamala’s wedding round the corner.

Pramila set her mind to get better. She started taking medications to gain strength. She tried her damnedest to regain the enthusiasm and courage she once had. Her attitude has changed. But then the circumstances have changed too. Her mother and father stopped bringing up the subject of marriage. They are tired of talking about it and so dropped it. As long as they were keen, she was not. Now she could not go to them and say mom, dad, I want to get married. Please arrange it. Her pride came in the way. How could I? she asked herself. She was not discouraged though. She has come to a decision—she will get married. Then the came the next question—who could she talk to? She couldn’t think of anyone she could openly discuss it with. For some reason, she couldn’t open up to Kamala. She couldn’t write to Syamala. Who else is there in this world for her? At home, mother and father are minding their own business. In all, she has been spending most of her time in the lawyer’s house. He is a nice person. His wife also is a kind woman. She is not educated but civilized. She is a pleasant person to be with. They have three children. The eldest son is about ten years old. The next one is a girl, seven. The last one a four-year old girl. All the three are quite charmers. Pramila plays with them often. She is spending pretty much her entire time dawn to dusk in their house, but for her court appearances.

Syamala came from Vijayawada to attend Kamala’s wedding. She came two days early to spend some time with her family. She had a bath, left her child in her mother’s care and set out to visit with Syamala.

Kamala was winnowing the flour.

“What is this—you are making your wedding preparations yourself? Any idea how long since you have written to me?” Syamala said, teasingly.

Kamala apologized. “Almost a month, I think. Kind of lazy, you know.”

They got into a chitchat, reminiscing the old times. Pramila’s name came up in the conversation.

“Isn’t she in town or what? Or may be her education got to her head. She didn’t even reply to my letter,” Syamala complained.

“Oh, Syamala, I forgot to tell you. Pramila is in town alright. You think her education has gotten to her head. That is not the case at all. Poor thing. She has changed completely. She lost weight so much, she is just a skeleton now. She was down when she heard that my marriage has been fixed. She couldn’t even talk to me freely. Rushed out. I wrote to you sometime back that she had started as an apprentice under a lawyer, remember? He is nearly 40 years old and has three children. While his wife was at her natal home for delivery, these two got married. Pramila’s mother and father sold the house and moved in with their son. After I heard about her marriage, I haven’t seen her yet,” Kamala replied.

[End]

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, December 2002.

[Published Telugu original entitled vimarsakulu in Telugu Swatantra, 16 July 1954]

 

 

 

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