Marrying off daughters and other stories

Velu is a taxi driver my husband and I know well. He has two sons and a daughter. The good thing is he owns his taxi, he saved up to buy the car. But it means his life is tough–going on long distance assignments at a moment’s notice, getting by with little sleep (or sleeping in his vehicle), missing regular meals, being plagued by backache, so on and so forth. But Velu doesn’t mind the hard work. As the sole breadwinner, he is used to it. Besides, he wants his children to have a good education.

Rani, a mother of three, is a cook. Like many domestic help–she works in two or three places to earn a decent living because her husband is a drunk and of no help at all. She used to cook for my family too at one point but not any more. Rani’s mainstay was her long-term employer–a family where she had been the cook for some 10-12 years. Two years ago, this family decided to sponsor Rani’s daughter Anitha, then 15 years old, for a beautician’s course in Bangalore. The beautician’s course, from a very well known training institute cost over a lakh. So the sponsorship was a godsend. It seemed Anitha would be able to train as a beautician, get a job, earn a good living… That was the hope.

Recently, Velu called us. He needed Rs 10,000 urgently, to pay his childrens’ school fees. “I have to pay it by May 15,” he explained. Since my husband did not have that much money at his disposal, he gave him about Rs 4,000. “Pay it back if you are able to,” he told Velu. Could a government school cost this much in fees, I wondered. Velu explained that his children go to an English medium, private school. So he is willing to sacrifice, scrimp and save and occasionally, ask for monetary help. And who can blame him?

And what happened to Rani and her daughter? Anitha completed the beautician’s course last year. But just a month later, Rani got the girl married to a boy in Kanya Kumari. Anitha was not even 18. Aghast, I asked the mother why. “She could have worked as a beautician and helped you financially,” I pointed out to Rani (she was still working for me then). But the mother did not agree. “This was a good proposal, Amma. My priority is to see her settled,” Rani stressed.

The incident left me unsettled. Rani and her daughter had been given an opportunity, I felt. Anitha could have risen above the drudgery of a domestic help’s life. At the same time, an unmarried daughter is something all parents dread, (unmarried sons who are wastrels or drunks even, are never a problem!). Why is society accepting of good-for-nothing sons while casting aspersions on employed, but unmarried girls? I’ve seen so many of my own female friends and acquaintances slowly sink into desperation because, despite their qualifications and talent, their identity is defined first and foremost by their marital status. So who can blame Rani for what she did?

As for Velu, he managed to pay the school fees. He is a good father, and a prudent man–he has insurance policies in his childrens’ names. His daughter is in high school now, the sons are younger. In a perfect world, his daughter will go to college.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?