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She Must Be Black, No?

Posted: March 28, 2012

So many people who read my post ‘A Little Girl Who Grows Up To Be A Friend’ seem to think of me as part of a rare breed of fathers, simply because I always wanted daughters and did my best for them. I don’t think I am special. I am an ordinary father who at one time struggled against a lot of odds so that my daughters could have the best of what life has to offer.

Let me go back in time to that point when I had just gotten into the Civil Service. I was suddenly inundated with offers of marriage from people known and unknown. Dowries were offered, and they were refused- I was told by ‘well wishers’ that IAS officers command the fattest dowries, and all I had to do was just say yes to any of the offers that were being received day in and day out. I still refused.

At this point my maternal aunt took upon herself to make me see ‘reason’. She suggested I should at least see some of the girls and then decide. Girls are not commodities to be seen and rejected, I said. Relatives threw up their hands, but my parents for some reason remained silent through the unfolding drama. ‘Iss ka dimag kharab ho gaya hai’– his brain has stopped functioning- was the last comment I heard from my aunt.

Whatever was happening around me was so unreal and so demeaning, and one thought that came to my mind was what if I have a daughter, will I end up parading her before prospective grooms and in-laws? My heart said no. Will I go around offering dowries to ‘eligible’ grooms? My heart again said no. [Much later in life a lady friend of mine told me that when her prospective in-laws had come to see her, she was asked to lift her saree above her ankles so that they could actually confirm that her face was not artificially fair, and that the color of her ankles was as fair as her face!]

I ended up marrying for love – horror of horrors, I married a Malayalee – Madrasi to many of my relatives, and as I learnt, anything south of the Tropic of Cancer is Madras. When I announced my intention, my aunt-in-chief asked the scintillating question, ‘she must be black, no?’ My family are Arya Samajis- proud Aryans, and here I had turned Aryan history upside down by venturing into Dravidian territory. And no dowry in the bargain!

Now I am half Malayalee, except that I don’t follow the language. I don’t follow Punjabi either, even though it is my mother tongue. My daughters speak fluent Malayalam when they don’t want me to know what is going on. They are a mix of all that is best in the North and the South, or so I hope. They will not be paraded like cattle, nor will grooms be bought for them. They are proud human beings, and not just responsible, but responsive as well, as I expect them to respond strongly to all that is unjust and unfair.

To end, here is a matrimonial ad I found in a leading newspaper: “22, fair, homely, attractive Hindu virgin; 5’ 3”; convent educated; having traditional values with modern views; …… caste, belongs to a leading business family from UP, seeks well settled…groom from the same caste; sub-caste no bar. Boy should be between 25-30 years, teetotaler, vegetarian, well settled businessman, IAS, IPS, doctor, engineer. Girl’s uncle (chacha) is a senior government officer. Early, decent marriage; reply with horoscope and photo (returnable); contact box 1234

What parent parades a daughter’s virginity? And isn’t it an oxymoron “traditional with modern views’? My translation is that the poor girl has been given an education but has not been allowed to think for herself.

Do tell me what is meant by a ‘decent marriage’.

Pic credit: Shadow Doll (Used under a Creative Commons license)

I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management

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