Memoir : My First Struggle

~Sulochana Manandhar~Sulochana Manandhar

Winter, after stubbornly ruling the valley for months, finally folded back its icy wings, slowly and unwillingly. Spring was there, again and had brought back warmth to the earth. Trees were green again, flowers started blooming and birds started singing – exactly as in the previous years. But that year’s spring, for me, was something more than a cyclical repetition of seasons. It seemed to have brought a lot of gifts to me – dream among them. In the snow at the top of Mount Everest …That spring was somewhat different because I had just stepped into my eighteenth year of life. The world was so beautiful through my young eyes and life was so sweet. So much did I want to caress and decorate the dear life I had got with the most beautiful ideas.

But cruel reality had slowly crept towards me and emerged with a horrible knife, to cut my dreams into pieces.

One of those beautiful spring days, I returned from school, as always, lost in my fantasies all along the way. The environment at home was unusual. Everybody seemed to be busy with something unusual. Everybody seemed to be busy with something unusual. There were many new things on display. I could not understand what was going on. I was going to was going to ask my mother, when she appeared with a little hesitation and a strange tenderness in her eyes. I found her unmistakably different that day. Somewhat embarrassed by her strange gaze, I looked into her eyes. She seemed to be impatiently waiting for this occasion. She said tenderly, “Why so late today?” Listen, my child, you should not fool around anymore. The date for your wedding is fixed.”

“What?” I was shocked as if have fallen down from top of a tree. Why? I had never even thought of marriage. And now, the date was fixed!
She was saying, “Anyway, a girl should get married someday. Fortunately, we have got a proposal from a very good family. We can’t afford to turn down this offer.”
It was then I realized what they were preparing for. Everything was being prepared for my marriage.

I was shocked and embarrassed at the same time. I felt a sort of pain as I realized that I was no longer a child and that the time to leave my mother was not far away. The wishes that were sprouting in my heart, my dreams and the new ideas about life which I was so proud of … all these seemed to be falling to pieces. I could not utter a single word. Tears were streaming down from my eyes.

I was terribly disturbed and confused. One thought after another, fragmented, bubbled through my mind. “Who is the man whom I am supposed to accept as my husband?” I did not know him at all, nor had I ever seen him. What is he like after all? How compatible will our ideas and wishes be? Will I ever be able to accept him as my life partner? My God! I’ll be a different person after the marriage. Probably everything will be decided by others for me. I will not belong to myself but to somebody else.”

“NO! NO!! There is still a chance. I must find a way to get rid of this calamity. I must think of some way out.”

I thought of my sisters. They were married that way, too. Many girls were married that way. The marriage would be decided by the parents, once the girls were grown up. This was the custom.

“Maybe, they had had their own dreams, too. What happened to their dreams, their feelings and sentiments after marriage? Possibly these were dead. Or, maybe, still alive in some of the more fortunate ones. Some of them might have forgotten themselves and adapted to the new situations while many of them might be suffering spiritually.”

“Does my mother love me?” I asked myself. I could not deny that she did love me. All parents love their youngsters. They had not yet learned to understand them. Most parents felt that material prosperity would bring happiness to their children. The wealth and social status of the partner would be the decisive factor when fixing a marriage for children, especially for the girls. They did not understand that love was essential for happy married life. My mother was of the same ilk. She fixed the marriage for me, though I did not even know the person I was supposed to marry.

“Shall I meet him to get some preliminary knowledge of his ideas? But what is the use of seeing him when everything was fixed. Shall I accept the marriage then? It is possible that he may be a very good man. But he may be bad as well. Even if I managed to have a talk with him, that first impression may be illusory.”

“No! I can’t let my fate be governed by others. It will be a crime against myself.”

As these thoughts passed through my mind, I strongly felt that I was not ready for marriage, yet, I built up enough courage to tell my mother that I didn’t want to marry. Never had she expected that I would oppose the marriage. She firmly said, “No! You are going to marry. This was decided two years ago and there is no way to cancel it.”

I was dumbfounded. I could not find any way to convince her.

The preparations for marriage continued. My resistance was totally ignored. As the days passed by, every step in the preparation seem to add a heavy stone on the mountain beneath which I was being buried. I was helpless and felt more and more restless. I repeated again and again, “No! I don’t want to marry. I don’t want it.” But nobody bothered to take it seriously. On the contrary, relatives, neighbours and even friends would come to congratulate me and to make fun as is usually done with girls preparing to get married.

I would become irritated and feel offended. I would find myself a silent corner and cry bitterly. What a hell of a marriage!

I went on struggling, but they wouldn’t listen to me. To cancel the marriage would be against the family dignity. Promises were already given. Furthermore, to cancel the marriage at that point meant admitting the inability to keep one’s daughter under family discipline. My mother was not going to admit that.

I was so tired that I was almost ready to give up. At that important juncture, a friend of mine came to tell me that she was having exactly the same problem. She was struggling too. This added some strength to me. We encouraged each other in our struggle against forced marriage. We even thought of running away. But where to? It wouldn’t be practical. And to convince our parents seemed impossible.

But my continued resistance started showing some effect. Not that they considered my request to cancel the marriage, but they were afraid of the possible outcome of y resistance. My mother tried to convince me by all means. I was not ready to give up nor was she. The tug of war continued. I again knelt down at my mother’s feet and begged her to cancel the marriage. She was moved. But the fear of losing face in front of relatives and society was stronger. With tears in her aging eyes, she knelt before her daughter and begged me to listen to her.

“What shall I do! Shall I put my darling mother in such a difficult position? But what if I don’t? Shall I throw out all my dreams and ideas and destroy myself for the sake of my mother’s so called prestige?…”

In that strange quandary, I even thought of suicide. But again, life was too dear. And to commit suicide would be admitting defeat. But I did threaten them with suicide. I had thought that it would have some effect. But was of to no avail. They dismissed it as a bluff.

Fear, anger and agony were eating me. As the proposed day of the wedding was approaching, I was in more and more of an abnormal state of mind. So much so that I could have taken some drastic measure. Just at that point, a sympathetic teacher of mine emerged with a very good advice. He asked me to do some propaganda work so that my unwillingness to marry would reach the ears of the would be groom. I followed his advice and started telling everybody I met that was against the marriage.

It worked! Just fifteen days before the proposed date of wedding, a messenger from the other side came. He was silent for quite a few minutes, creating a very uneasy atmosphere. Finally, as if in a great pain, he said, “We heard of everything. Since the girl is not willing, we can’t force her into this marriage.”

I felt as if the weight of a huge mountain was removed from my head. I thanked him silently.

But it was a great shock for my mother. I was blamed by relatives and neighbours for making my mother lose face. They were surprised. My mother cried bitterly and spat at my face, saying, “You are no longer my daughter,” She would not speak to me for a long time to come. It was very painful to hear that from my darling mother. Being the youngest of her three daughters, I used to be her most beloved child. I suckled her breast until I was three years old and slept with her till the age of fifteen. But now, I was no more her beloved child. I was a curse to the family.

That struggle against a forced marriage was won, but at the cost of my relationship with my mother. But while writing these lines, I feel that the price was not too high. If not for that struggle, I would not be able to write these lines so freely. It gave me many things – self-confidence, freedom and deep knowledge of my society. I profoundly felt the need of social revolution. That incidence encouraged many girls who were either my friends, neighbours or relatives. Some parents were affected as well. My mother, too, later became an opponent of forced marriage. She is quite satisfied with my present marriage, and is a darling loving mother, again.

Sulochana Manandhar
Shanghai Medical College, Box 40
Foreign Students HostelRm 403
Shanghai, P.R. China

(Source : November 2003 Issue of SATHI)

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