Thank you so much to all my readers for your wonderful comments at my previous post!
As mentioned there, I am doing a three-part series of my grandmother’s clash with the conservatism surrounding so-called traditions surrounding Hindu widows. The three parts are:
1. Initiation into the the cruel realities as a Hindu widow
2. Shrugging off ‘tradition’ and harsh rules
3. The final rebellion: remarriage
This is the second part:
My grandmother’s mother was perhaps the most forward-thinking, broadminded lady of her time. She herself, as a widow, wore white and followed the tradition of keeping a separate kitchen to cook her own meals, but she did not flinch in encouraging my grandmother to follow the path she chose. With her firm and unwavering support and the tolerant attitude of her own in-laws, my grandmother dared to lead as normal a life as possible. The only habit which she broke off was applying vermilion powder to her forehead, the mark of traditional Hindu married women.
It was not as if there were no outraged voices raised for the defiant stance she took against regressive tradition, but with her mother’s and siblings’ loving support, my grandmother was able to weather many storms. These also gave her the impetus to grow up and blossom out of the sheltered existence and upbringing she so far had in a conservative, traditional household.
Such was her rapid ‘training’ in this regard that when a distant relative saw her eating fish one day; a perfectly common meal in a Bengali household; and expressed his grief and shock at the sight, she did not flinch. Facing her accuser, she calmly asked why he felt that it was wrong.
“Why??!! Because it is an insult to your late husband. This is the way you express your grief at his death and by eating heartily as you seem to be doing now, you are dishonoring his memory!!”, was the sharp answer.
My grand mother was thoughtful. “Is this the only way one can express one’s grief then? If I forsake all good food, wear a ragged white sari and sit in a corner and weep all day, would that truly mean that I am grieving for my husband? Do I not have any other duty; such as taking care of my in-laws and my children, and should I not maintain my health for their sake?”
“And, if this is truly the only way to express one’s grief at his death, then why do other people in his family not do the same? His parents, his brothers and sisters, even you; why have none of you stopped eating fish and meat? Why have you not stopped wearing fine clothes? Surely, you loved him as much as I did! Then why am I the only one who must grieve in this way?”
Never again did my grandmother have to face any ridicule from that person.
A few decades later, when a Bengali movie came out where the female protagonist was a widow, my grandmother was amused to hear the same lines, almost verbatim, coming out of the lead’s mouth!
And, then, in the final act of rebellion, she married her second husband, my beloved granddad.