The Sisterhood

A Spartan affair, this union. The groom, seated in front of a smoking fire, bends sideways at anointed time and ties the yellow cord round his bride amidst a low chanting of entreaties to the one above and a shower of turmeric-coated raw rice grains sprinkled by a motley group of curious onlookers. The setting is at the Mariamman Temple, a small granite floored and walled courtyard that is the hamlet?s communication node to the divine. The chants continue and something strange follows: the groom, bends again in his squatted position to the other side, and amidst a second shower of rice grains, ties another sanctified yellow cord around the neck of yet another coy bride.

Strange indeed – a double wedding, two women and one man!! This is stuff for the tabloids! Not so, friend, not if you were from here, this tiny chilly dwelling in the nether sholas of the Nilgiris. Not if you?ve seen a  middle-aged widow struggle to bring up two growing daughters- in a village populated by a male majority of drunks, womanizers and no-gooders. Minding her business, staying off street- side tap gossip, avoiding gaze and contact with ogling men, the trio stays low, till time catches up – the girls have to be palmed off. The younger one, eighteen, a sprightly oily- pigtailed cheerful lass who sang Tamil film songs as she gathered firewood, and the other a year older to her, her sister – dealt a cruel blow by deity and disease. Polio had crippled her in early infancy itself, reducing her to crawling on two spindly legs. Unable to work, she stayed home, attending to all domestic chores as the other two women eked out their day, working to earn for their keep and hearth.

""…to an impoverished, proud family of three women, this double wedding is divine intervention and blessing….""

Close knit and passionately bonded, the women, were aware what was in store. The younger sister knew, sooner than later she?d find a man – but her sister? She was doomed. That thought hurt, even in their dreams. As expected, one after another suitor, looks away disdainfully from the polio stricken girl, instead, proposing to the other healthier sister. Six men, six rejections. Enough to break the hearts of both the sisters and wrench the sleep from their mother?s moist eyes.

Then, the miracle! By a strange quirk of fate – the younger sister lays down a stipulation. The man who next wants her hand, must also agree to marry her sister. If no, then its no from me too. In three months, she finds a man who nods. Yes, he will marry both – and they are. The sisters still stay together, six years after they were wed. They are still inseparable; their mother drops in once awhile to see them. The common husband, surprisingly, takes care of both quite well – for I?ve seen him physically carry and help his crippled wife, as his other wife giggles as the trio board a bus, off to the city to watch a movie.

Illegal? Immoral? Unjust?

Who cares? Not the villagers, who are proud they endorsed the union. Not the younger sister, who found her own ingenious way to thwart kismet. Rural India, always finds a loophole out of a mess, and how. For us city bred and urbane, all this may appear bizarre – but to an impoverished, proud family of three women, this double wedding is divine intervention and blessing.

Are the sisters happy? I really cannot tell, but I do see them now and then, when I go up the hills for my annual holiday. I can hear the younger one singing loud and cheerfully, as she plucks virgin tea leaves from the low bushes, Rehman?s lilting composition from the film, Roja, ?chinna chinna asai?.  Beyond the shola crest, tucked in the morning mist and fog, I see smoke rising from the sides of a tile roofed tenement. Here, her sister is she?s busy too (and maybe, singing too) stirring the pot for the family?s afternoon fare.

In all my years I?ve never heard or seen a more concrete or pronounced exhibition of family bonding and sibling love than this one.

Author: Dr. Arunachalam Kumar- India