Published in The Kathmandu Post
How many of us have seen a lady arrange the marriage of her husband in the name of bringing more happiness in the family? We have read in fictions or seen in films such an event elaborately portrayed, but hardly in real life. Marriage of the husband is the most painful event in the life of the wife, but if she consents to let it happen or even manages it from beginning to end, it is an exemplary sacrifice of a woman we hardly imagine in Nepali society. Evidences are there that a woman can do it if she realizes that in her sacrifice lies the happiness of her husband and herself. We may take it to be a fiction, or we may recall Guru Prasad Mainali’s “Naso.” We may at the same time predict the coming of another Subhadra. But I saw such an event happen in a family of my very near relation and participated the ritual before, during and after the entry of the bride, all the time wondering that Mainali had picked up this reality long before it took place.
When the couple were in the prime of their youth, they performed all rituals as directed by prevalent mores before finally yielding to modern diagnoses which proved the lady herself to be a failure – that she was unable to become a mother. This led her to comply with the second marriage of her husband in their mid forties.
The husband would not go for “legs in two boats” at this age but there was this greed of his relatives who slowly made him feel that all that the couple had toiled for would definitely fall in their hands. Why not do something to guarantee the safety of their hard earned belongings? This precipitated the couple to find a way out to teach these people a fine lesson which rather was to run the risk of letting a stranger enter the house. They would adopt a child, but that would not bring an easy solution, because they thought they were far ahead the age of cuddling somebody’s kid. So, what they actually decided was the better solution though it did not please both of them and their sympathetic relatives.
Our long standing cultural values make it difficult for people in our society to escape the temptation of being certain about the security of their possessions after their death. They want to guarantee that there is someone to look after their present earnings in the future though they may not earn and save anything at all. At the same time, however, many couples may be cursing their plight for the foolishness of giving birth to half a dozen, and worrying about how they can be fed today. But, couple like my relatives do not stop craving for a child, and will not, because the society deems them fit with one at least. In our society, the fact remains, women have to take the blame for the absence of a child in the family, because our education has not been so sufficient as to convince everybody that males can also have biological fault. So, if a woman proves a failure, she cannot avert the possibility of her husband’s marriage. One more problem here is that we are not very comfortable with the concept of adoption, which is a comfortable means of averting the trouble of childbirth to many in foreign countries.
Though educated people may be skeptic about it, the women will continue to bear such blames so long as the society is under the spell of superstitions. In a family without a child, my relatives for example, we find at least two females compelled to make certain sacrifices and compromises, and expect challenges. The first old lady has to share her husband and household with the new one. She has actually complied with the bitter fact of allowing another woman in the house hoping that there would come a child in the house at least from her husband and she would try to satisfy herself with this achievement. And for this she has defied all goading and guiding of her sympathizers. The new one, bold enough to be the second wife of an ageing man, has to adjust herself as a co-wife and a wife. Moreover, she has come as a harbinger of bliss to the family without surety of success in it because it is not in her hand alone.
The husband has also decided to forfeit the status of a man with only one woman, and above all peace of the household that had lasted for about thirty years. A man with two smart wives generally does not expect continuous peace in his house. Happiness had prevailed the house until his mother passed away last year. During her lifetime, nobody dared to say anything about the future status of their property. She hardly complained for the absence of an heir in the family, and never deprived her daughter- in-law of her long deserved role of a daughter in the house. How important the place of a parent is in the life of the children no matter how old they are! The man knows that the step he has taken is what his mother never advised him to; she knew it was not free from nuisances. Now the challenge for him is to let the old one have her own way and make the new succumb to the same despite her new choices, because this is the point they have agreed upon. He should not snatch the rights of the first and also deprive the new of hers all the time keeping his own status intact. Being a husband of two, the world says, is not easy no matter how much one in the family is bound by promises to others. However, it is unwise to say that all co-wives fight and a man with two wives always “weeps in the corner.”
As this marriage is the result of mutual understanding and adequate promises, and a rare event in real life, they may set a rare example of two peaceful wives and a husband living together. If they continue to respect their promises and bind themselves further with more understanding, it is possible that we will not see Mainali’s Subhadra in reality. But so long as the social values and its followers interfere with an individual’s choices, such marriages continue to become compulsions, and put families in the state of confusion and future uncertainties.