“Life is not meant to be easy, my child but take courage: it can be delightful.” – George Bernard Shaw
My consciousness has been grappling with doubts and questions since its embryonic stage, We belonged to panda community, which earned its livelihood by attending to the pilgrims (cf. Baidyanath temple). But my father had renounced the traditional family profession of pandagiri (priesthood cum tour guide) because he did not find it respectable. He was the first graduate of the community. He was the headmaster of a middle school. He along with his friends had established the school to make modern education accessible to the community. My friends were better off economically, still we were treated with deference by them. It was baffling. Why they should respect my father, who has openly repudiated their status even though it had meant choosing to opt for economic hardship for the family? He was a deeply religious and secular person at the same time. He was my role model.
At personal level, I was acutely gripped with a sense of rejection because of my dark complexion. I was routinely reminded that I was ugly and unacceptable. I felt an urge, since my childhood, to get acceptance by commendable acquisitions.
I, as a child, found my surroundings stagnant and perplexing. People were deeply mired in superstitions, Illiteracy and status quoist formulations. There was poverty, epidemics, poor health care, child marriage, child widows and to cap it all misplaced sense of divine sanction for immutability of their belief system. As I grew up, I organised my friends, school students and others by interventions and holding regular discussions about the sad situation.
Problems of Child marriage, dowry together with related customs and the soar of child widow were the favourite topics to get attention. The need to introduce and encourage widow marriage was emphasised intensely. I was particularly passionate about widow marriage. At that time ideal and average age of marriage for a girl was ten years. Child widows were not uncommon.
I hoped our discussions highlighting the malady would induce some young man to come out and offer to take the plunge, but it did not happen. Ideal requirements for a boy in my opinion were that he must be economically self dependent, clear in conviction and free from superstitions . He should be ready to face hardships and be able to take care of his wife with due respect, so that she may be able to come out of the superstitions ingrained in the traditional consciousness of a woman.
I myself was still a student pursuing my first degree.
But things changed for me when I graduated. Now I could get a job and be economically independent. I fulfilled the criteria So fairness demanded that I consider myself as the ideal candidate.
My wife was a child widow. She was widowed just three months after her marriage at the age of eleven years. Her parental family was our close neighbour. We often talked as neighbors do. I found her a progressive person open to new ideas. She was eighteen when my campaign was underway. I broached the idea and persuaded her to my ideas and to take a plunge. It was a very difficult choice for her. She was already reconciled to her fate and she was assured of a stable family and social support system. Acceding to my overtures meant jumping to instability, insecurity and illegitimacy. I did not have much to offer except prospects of a life of probabilities, and dreams. I particularly talked about the conflicts of day to day living, having our children and joy of parenting. I told her that under our care they would be unique unlike any other child. They would be the treasure of the society. I had to persevere for four long years with my efforts. Initially she rejected my offer but our friendship continued. With my persistence she yielded. It all culminated in our elopement. I put sindur in her hair and we became man and wife.
In the event of a man and a woman taking unilateral decision to marry defying the prevalent societal norms it is celebration of the bliss of individuality. It defies the boundaries delimited by communities and tribes. It is called love marriage. But when it is for a cause, instead of for personal gratification. it is erroneous to designate it as a love marriage. Because it needs the individuals to compromise their personal aspirations.
As I look back it has been a great learning and fulfilling experience. Living would have been quite dull without this ordeal. I had deprived myself of all the accomplishments by just one step. I had divested myself of all the support system. I had hoped that we will assiduously build together our support system. My resources were limited and none of us was good in management of the limited resource. I see in retrospect, I was naive. I had no inkling that life is not meant to be simple; I had not put thought to the fact that it was my commitment to the idea not hers. I had no idea that she may have her own aspirations.She had just responded to my invitation.
Commitment to the idea leading to unmitigated love for my wife (by default) has defined my living. My living was no longer hazy or diffused. It became focussed. It became a celebration of conflicts. Once we took the plunge,all the boats were burnt. It became incumbent upon us that our relationship is stable and commands acceptance and legitimacy from the community. Validity of the idea was now intertwined with our survival. I had demolished all the support system except my job built onerously over the years by me . There were people hoping and wishing us to fail. There were people who honestly expected that some divine curse would visit us. They were people who felt that we had committed a sacrilege and would be punished by divine dispensation. On the other hand there were people who believed in me and who wished us well. My previous engagements with the youth and the community at large had induced a sense of support and solidarity for me , They were watching silently. And there were those who viewed it as a usual ‘ boy meeting a young, beautiful, and smart widow next door’ romantic escapade.
All of them had to be disappointed.
Over and above I had to contend with a very intense sibling rivalry; even though my father was a great and effectively legitimating support. My brother was elder to me and my classmate too during school days, We had a peculiar and unique bondage between us. I had inadvertently entered in his personal space by being his classmate. While he loved me very much, seemed to be proud of me, he was simultaneously much uneasy with me, he felt eclipsed. Our elopement created an opportunity to claim the space vacated by me. He grabbed it zealously. He was now the axis of the family, but he was very insecure about his status. He felt threatened, whenever he sensed favour, approval and sympathy for me from our father and friends. He feared that I may reclaim the space. That would be disastrous for him. He resisted me doggedly. I understood his anxiety and insecurity. But I could not afford to have him his way. It was incumbent upon us to remain in unbroken contact with the community and family for two counts; That the community has accepted the idea, our children get their niche in the system and we can contribute to my old father’s care. In spite of his persistent and stubborn pursuit my sibling could not persuade my friends to abandon me. His insecurity with me created a difficult and sensitive challenge for me. It resulted in humiliating treatment to us and baffling situations for our children. He was affectionate with them while being hostile to their parents. On the other hand our father was a great legitimising support. He told me. “Society was created by man for his security and support. Society was decorated with laws and customs so that the it is strong and stable enough to keep individual safe and secure. But when these laws and customs make men and women insecure and vulnerable, the purpose is defeated and they need to be challenged.”
We used to visit our home at regular intervals during vacations and as and when my father’s health demanded our presence. Those were occasions of our endurance test. I was particularly distressed for our children. They had not be apprised of their disputed status in the family by us. I have had some sort of apologetic emotion for my children. They were denied the average ambience that a child is entitled to. They were adored, envied and loved everywhere while they saw their parents battling rejection at their parental home.
They were made to remain aware of the constraints. They never complained regarding the quality of food, or clothing provided to them. They did not put forth any demand. Each of them was differently shaped by this experience. The eldest sensed that survival is possible only when each of the five stand together. The middle one got the understanding that he has to take care of himself for survival. For the youngest her two brothers were assurances of support.
I had soft emotions for my wife since very early time. She was beautiful, smart and bright. Getting her as wife as also as a comrade in responding to commitment to the idea was a bonus. I visualised a dream come true. I was clear that we had no option; that we had to be faithful to the idea and to each other. It was clear that the onus was on us to prove that the idea was worth. I was clear that I had unwittingly mixed my personal fortunes as well as of our children with the legitimacy of the idea. I could not afford to adopt an exclusive career.
I knew that I have taken upon myself to prove the legitimacy of the idea, to prove that it is worth. We had to prove that it was not a usual a boy -a girl affair. It was in pursuance of an idea. People were watching us. I knew that it can be achieved only when our conjugal ties remain strong and able to withstand the strains. I was aware that the path is completely uncharted, that I will have to chart my path, , that I have burnt my boats , that our survival with dignity would prove the idea. I was optimistic that we will be able to prove ourselves equal to the task. I had had a formulation ; We have taken upon us to prove the legitimacy of the idea.
The two of us were differently committed to the new life. I had greater responsibility, because it was my call and she had responded to it.. She had led eleven years of her life as a childless widow; her whole adolescent years believing that she is to live an uneventful life. Now all the opportunities had opened up. It must have been a confusing situation for her. I had led my wife up a garden path. I had devised a smart plan. It was to invest in the next generation. That would be the best gift to my wife as well. I had seen that people with bright and lovable children were acclaimed while successful persons with worthless children fail to claim attention.
We were constantly challenged on several fronts. We discovered our handicaps. Our resources were limited and none of us was efficient in the management of resources which were modest all along. Over and above our bonding was incompatible.
It has been a learning and fulfilling journey. I had a very naive understanding , a simplistic view of life. It was that my wife would be overwhelmed at having the invitation to join me in the adventure. I had thought that our love for our children would resonate for us during our old age. I thought that our bondage would endure tough times. So we have nothing to worry for adverse and demanding situation.
I had devised a smart plan. It was to invest in the next generation. That would be the best gift to my wife as well. I had seen that people with bright and lovable children were acclaimed while successful persons with worthless children fail to claim attention. I did not have any grand plans for our children; I planned for the very humble wish, “May our children be Manushya. That fulfils everything, Being a Manushya means being able to take charge of oneself. It also means having human qualities, It means you are aware of your bondage to others. You know that you are a component of the community and an individual at the same time. It enables you to command love, respect and acceptance of all who happen to know you. Moreover that way our children would be able to support themselves with dignity and will not be pollutants. We shall find happiness in sharing the bliss of parenting.
Keeping in mind that an individual is shaped by his genes, environment and chance events, I tried to inculcate reading habit in them. May they be addicted to reading books. My understanding was that this will help them to do good in their curricular studies resulting in success in getting established. They will be able to sustain themselves. Moreover they will learn human values from books. My understanding has been that books are the best teachers. Our ego remains unbruised. When a man teaches we may resist receiving( learning) . But nothing stands between books and the reader.I used to make books of different streams available to them within our modest means.. I was sure, this way they will learn human values. I myself, mostly refrained from preaching . My crunch was that for children parents’ words are not so effective as their conduct. This would make them respectable individuals and help their potentialities to find expression. It was also my understanding that doing good in their studies would help them to gain economic independence.
Coincidentally Our children appeared to have rare potentiality since their infancy. I would not like to believe. I would think that to every parent his/ her child is unique. Every child is a thought in the mind of God. Parenting requires you to recognise, identify and develop that thought. I was very sensitive, lest my limited resources and conflicting environment do hinder their blossoming.
Thoughts such as the following served to guide me –
1. Every child is a thought in the mind of God, and our task is to recognize this thought and help it toward completion. – Eberhard Arnold”
2. Expression of the perfection, already present in a person, is education;knowing to learn, learning to do, learning to be, learning to live together – Swami Vivekanand
3.Learn to respect the child
4. ‘‘We seek to establish disciplined freedom, that state in which the child feels free to work, play and express himself without fear of those whose job it is to direct and stimulate his efforts into constructive channels. As things are, we may not expect of them high academic effort, but we can take steps to ensure that their limited abilities are exploited to the full.’
‘We encourage them to speak up for themselves, no matter what the circumstances. We hope they will learn directness without rudeness, and humility without sycophancy.’
It draws attention to the uniqueness of each child. You need to identify it . Parenting requires providing opportunities for expression of their potentialities It is like deciphering a code. A parent struggles between the conflicts of possessiveness,sharing and liberation. It has been a learning experience.
I may or may not have read these quotes at the time, but in retrospect I can say that I was steering my boat in the wisdom of such thoughts.