Too Young to Know
I was born in Assam, a beautifully vibrant state in Northeast India; as the tourists say. Its beauty was a tourist itself; there for vacation, selecting its serenity and condoning its severity. I grew up in a small home with two younger sisters and one younger brother. Ma, Baba, my sister, brother and I lived in a single room home with a thatched roof.
The serenity and severity of Assam were yin and yang. As much as the tourist hopes for an elephant encounter, we prayed for a serenity without them. They would come, silently, in the night. The occasional offspring walking noisily about was about as much of a warning as we would be given. Maasi respected the elephants; “You must be hungry like the rest of us,” she would say, “take what you need.” Others tried to fight them, but in the end, they were either left with no home to protect, or no life to protect it with.
We owned a rice field behind our house. Ma and I would process the rice by hand. It was an arduous task to harvest, dry, hull and filter the rice. Baba would then embark on a 5 kilometer journey to sell the rice at the market. Nanaji had bought the rice field years ago, but the records were never changed to reflect the sale. When he passed away, the seller claimed the land to be his, for it was legally in his name.
Money became scarce. Baba went to work in someone else’s rice field, earning only 1 rupee a day.
I was six when Baba got a job in the water supply industry in Bhutan. By the time we moved, our six member family had been reduced to four. My brother had been sick for one year but my sister passed unexpectedly. They were only children.
When I was 12, I began to work as the maid for a family of four; they were very nice to me. I took care of the children and called their parents Mama and Papa along with them. The children called me Didi (sister). I worked for the family for about three years, after which I was married.
A friend had talked to my parents about a boy and they eagerly married me off. Two years later, I had my first son. He died within a week of his birth.
I was only seventeen then and I kept telling myself that things would get better, but nothing did. I had two children. My husband started seeing another woman and soon after decided to marry her. When I confronted him and his family, his mother said “my boy will be married, who are you to say anything?” This was normal in their family; his father had three wives himself.
His mother had tried to poison me. Baba threatened to break my bones if I left my husband. “Go ahead,” I said, “break my bones; then who will work to provide for my children? Will you?” He was quite after that.
The village people still say I was wrong for leaving. In their minds, a woman should stay with her husband no matter how severely she is beaten or disrespected. “It is God’s decision when you will die,” they say, “you won’t die just because you are beaten.” The villagers gossiped tirelessly behind my back; I told them to say it to my face.
I had left when I was pregnant with my third child. He stays with me, but I haven’t met my other two children in a long time.
I could have gone to the police; I was too young then to know better.
A brief biography of a wonderfully kind woman I met in Delhi, India. All names have been omitted.