A few Excerpts from my novel Across Borders: today, on International Widows Day https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Widows_Day
These excerpts are from the 2nd chapter of Across Borders titled, “The Two Wives”. The cover and blurb are below, please enlarge to read…
Baba was bewildered at the irony of a woman so young and beautiful, destined to lead an existence devoid of colour, severing all ties with humanly pleasure.
As a widow, Ashalata was supposed to stay out of the way of visitors, especially young, male ones like Baba. But she had come to lead the doctor to her brother’s bedside.
Ashalata’s planned bidaai (farewell ceremony to the new bride) turned out to be her farewell indeed. Life bid her good-bye that day. In Hindu society then, the death of the husband led to the killing of a woman’s soul. She thereafter lived her life as a corpse, shrouded in white, in the confines of her house, at times even a single room. It was as if she lived in a sealed coffin that had been lowered into the earth.
Ashalata had barely known the man she married, but was ironically expected to love him in death and remain loyal to his memory. Baba was pained to hear of the cruelty Ashalata had suffered.
A widow should be allowed to lead a happy and complete life, having already suffered the loss of the husband, Baba mentally reasoned. The only way Ashalata could even dream of fulfillment now, he thought, was perhaps through remarriage and motherhood. A Hindu widow could choose to remarry then, or remain single, as legalized by the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act of 1856. But Baba doubted her interest in remarrying. She had very apparently chosen a life of widowhood for herself. Those like Ashalata who intended to stay single, dedicated their lives to the upbringing of their family, or lived in the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. They were respected as brahmacharinis (celibate women dedicated to spiritual pursuits) and lived life as monastic’s wearing plain white clothing, as Ashalata did. She ate only vegetarian food with no onion, ginger or garlic, even though some Bengali widows ate fish. Unlike meat and spices, fish was not known to be heating on the body and therefore not a threat to their celibacy. Ashalata cooked her own meal, of a mere fist of rice, boiled with a few pieces of vegetable. She ate once a day, in her room, all by herself.
Widows who chose not to remarry could opt to be initiated by a swami to be a sanyasini and wear yellow or orange saris. Then they did not participate in community functions such as weddings, except to observe or give their blessings. They led prayer groups during holy festivals, gave discourses if qualified to do so and performed pujas on occasions, where there was a gathering of people for spiritual purposes.
According to the general guidelines for widows in Hindu culture, widows who intended to remarry could follow the customs of an unmarried girl. She could dress like before marriage, without using red kumkum on her forehead, using the black one instead, signifying she is open to marriage proposals. Ashalata had chosen not to remarry. This was clearly depicted by her plain attire.
Baba was appalled that a woman like Ashalata should become so submissive to the pressures of society, allowing it to dictate how she led her life. But then that is how the social order was, a woman had no identity without a man in her life. Ashalata’s situation perhaps, in addition to her youth and beauty, led Baba to fall in love with her, in spite of his
The Two Wives
much married and parental status. Perhaps her being within her child-bearing years had something to do with it too, raising his hope of bearing male children through her. But Baba knew it was not going to be easy to change Ashalata’s dedication to her widowhood. First thing he had to do, Baba realized, was help Ashalata identify a cause. She lacked the will to really live; burning in the cinders of failure destiny had relegated her to.
It was ironic that fate had given Ashalata the good-looks and calibre but not the opportunity to be a wife and mother. Baba, in order to reinstate her interest in life, decided to strike her compassionate chord. He tried to awaken in her the desire to be needed, by making herself useful in society, to the poor and the ailing. He asked her if she would be interested to come to work with him at his clinic. Ashalata seeing a ray of hope and purpose in her dark-cloud filled life could not turn down this proposition. This was possibly what God had planned for her all along, she thought optimistically, to be of service to humanity not just to one man in marriage. Her life took on a new meaning, and colour returned to it, in spite of the white saris she continued to wear. It felt like viewing a rainbow in the sky, at the first rays of the sun after a shower, even amidst a drizzle sometimes.
PS: the above photo is downloaded from the internet – had no photo courtesy.
To know more about International Widows Day please click here: https://www.india.com/festivals-events/international-widows-day-2020-history-significance-of-the-day-and-theme-for-this-year-4065701/amp/
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