III. CHILD MARRIAGE
Much as I wish that I
had not to write this chapter, I know that I shall have to swallow many
such bitter draughts in the course of this narrative. And I cannot do otherwise,
if I claim to be a worshipper of Truth It is my painful duty to have to
record here my marriage at the age of thirteen. As I see the youngsters
of the same age about me who are under my care, and think of my own marriage,
I am inclined to pity myself and to congratulate them on having escaped
my lot. I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterously
Let the reader make no mistake.
I was married, not betrothed. For in Kathiwad there are two distinct rites--betrothal
and marriage. Betrothal is a preliminary promise on the part of the parents
of the boy and the girl to join them in marriage, and it is not inviolable.
The death of the boy entails no widowhood on the girl. It is an agreement
purely between the parents, and the children have no concern with it. Often
they are not even informed of it. It appears that I was betrothed thrice,
though without my knowledge. I was told that two girls chosen for me had
died in turn, and therefore I infer that I was betrothed three times. I
have a faint recollection, however, that the third betrothal took place
in my seventh year. But I do not recollect having been informed about it.
In the present chapter I am talking about my marriage, of which I have
the clearest recollection.
It will be remembered that we
were three brothers. The first was already married. The elders decided
to marry my second brother, who was two or three years my senior; a cousin,
possibly a year older; and me, all at the same time. In doing so there
was no thought of our welfare, much less of our wishes. It was purely a
question of their convenience and economy.
Marriage among Hindus is no
simple matter. The parents of the bride and the bridegroom often bring
themselves to ruin over it. They waste their substance, they waste their
time. Months are taken up over the preparations--in making clothes and
ornaments and in preparing budgets for dinners. Each tries to outdo the
other in the number and variety of courses to be prepared. Women, whether
they have a voice or no, sing themselves hoarse, even get ill, and disturb
the peace of their neighbours. These in their turn quietly put up with
all the turmoil and bustle, all the dirt and filth, representing the remains
of the feasts, because they know that a time will come when they also will
be behaving in the same manner.
It would be better, thought
my elders, to have all this bother over at one and the same time. Less
expense and greater eclat. For money could be freely spent if it
had only to be spent once instead of thrice. My father and my uncle were
both old, and we were the last children they had to marry. It is likely
that they wanted to have the last best time of their lives. In view of
all these considcrations, a triple wedding was decided upon, and as I have
said before, months were taken up in preparation for it.
It was only through these preparations
that we got warning of the coming event. I do not think it meant to me
anything more than the prospect of good clothes to wear, drum beating,
marriage processions, rich dinners, and a strange girl to play with. The
carnal desire came later. I propose to draw the curtain over my shame,
except for a few details worth recording. To these I shall come later.
But even they have little to do with the central idea I have kept before
me in writing this story.
So my brother and I were both
taken to Porbandar from Rajkot. There are some amusing details of the preliminaries
to the final drama--e.g. smearing our bodies all over with turmeric
paste--but I must omit them.
My father was a Diwan, but nevertheless
a servant, and all the more so because he was in favor with the Thakore
Saheb. The latter would not let him go until the last moment. And when
he did so, he ordered for my father special stage coaches, reducing the
journey by two days. But the fates had willed otherwise. Porbandar is 120
miles from Rajkot--a cart journey of five days. My father did the distance
in three, but the coach toppled over in the third stage, and he sustained
severe injuries. He arrived bandaged all over. Both his and our interest
in the coming event was half destroyed, but the ceremonies had to be gone
through. For how could the marriage dates be changed? However, I forgot
my grief over my father's injuries in the childish amusement of the wedding.
I was devoted to my parents.
But no less was I devoted to the passions that flesh is heir to. I had
yet to learn that all happiness and pleasure should be sacrificed in devoted
service to my parents. And yet, as though by way of punishment for my desire
for pleasure, an incident happened which has ever since rankled in my mind,
and which I will relate later. Nishkulanand sings: 'Renunciation of objects,
without the renunciation of desires, is short-lived, however hard you may
try.' Whenever I sing this song or hear it sung, this bitter untoward incident
rushes to my memory and fills me with shame.
My father put on a brave face
in spite of his injures, and took full part in the wedding. As I think
of it, I can even today call before my mind's eye the place where he sat
as he went through the different details of the ceremony. Little did I
dream then that one day I should severely criticize my father for having
married me as a child. Everything on that day seemed to me right and proper
and pleasing. There was also my own eagerness to get married. And as everything
that my father did then struck me as beyond reproach, the recollection
of those things is fresh in my memory. I can picture to myself, even today,
how we sat on our wedding dais, how we performed the Saptapadi,/1/
how we, the newly wedded husband and wife, put the sweet Kansar/2/
into each other's mouth, and how we began to live together. And oh! that
first night. Two innocent children all unwittingly hurled themselves into
the ocean of life. My brother's wife had thoroughly coached me about my
behaviour on the first night. I do not know who had coached my wife. I
have never asked her about it, nor am I inclined to do so now. The reader
may be sure that we were too nervous to face each other. We were certainly
too shy. How was I to talk to her, and what was I to say? The coaching
could not carry me far. But no coaching is really necessary in such matters.
The impressions of the former birth are potent enough to make all coaching
superfluous. We gradually began to know each other, and to speak freely
together. We were the same age. But I took no time in assuming the authority
of a husband.
= = = = = = = = = = =
'Saptapdi' are seven steps a Hindu bridge and bridegroom walk together,
making at the same time promises of mutual fidelity and devotion, after
which the marriage becomes irrevocable.
'Kansar' is a preparation of wheat which the pair partake of together after
the completion of the ceremony.