The groom says “I will cherish you, provide for you, be responsible for your happiness and welfare, and for children still to come.” The bride complies in return, “I will take care of our home and our household, I will provide nourishment and be fiscally prudent.”
It was an enchanting idea, writing about the seven vows that complement the Vedic ceremony that brings Hindu couples together as they circle the incense-filled fire in their best finery. My only memory of the vows is giggling through the priests chanting in Sanskrit while protecting my ‘lehenga” from the fire as we circled around it, all the while trying not to step onto the many little offerings of fruit, sweet, and water that glimmered as they caught the light from the embers of perfumed wood.
It’s a big, fat promise we make, one that we should never take lightly. To provide and be responsible for the welfare of another being and beings to come over a few decades could weigh you down, but the pomp, confusion, and giddiness of being in the eye of the storm actually propels you into what seems like a fantastic idea. I apparently also promised to take care of my household and wonder if I have actually done justice to that vow over the years. This was not just about dusting the thin layer of grey gathering on the teak table we purchased 10 years ago or even the underwear order from Gap for children aged 13 that just plonked through the mail slot yesterday. The household needs to stay together through loss and failure, it needs to find laughter in lockdown and build memories and moments that we will discover when we rummage through the loft when 13 becomes 21.
It did cross my mind that for all the misogyny that surrounds women growing up in India, the ancient chant is rather democratic and equal. I am lucky to continue to feel cherished by my spouse, not because he promised it, but because mutual respect to cherish back and show it, which is equally important, has largely existed through my marriage. There will clearly be days when we might want to trip each other into that blessèd fire, usually relating to a disagreement on the grocery order, but fortunately, we still want to find warm feet in bed on a cold night.
The nourishment I am responsible for is not just limited to a good butter chicken on Saturday night but the development and growth of our minds. Can we still enjoy a good sparring on politics and keep that respect while we vote differently? Can we respectfully change the other person’s opinion and not ridicule them or make them feel small for their thoughts? Over several years the hurt comes from the small things we don’t respect in each other and while the chicken can arrive via the best takeaway, the nourishment of the heart and mind remains only ours to control.
Financial responsibility being the woman’s forte in the Indian context took me by surprise, I must admit. I thought of old Bollywood films and realised that most times the silver locker keys jangled elegantly around the sari-clad waist of the lady of the house. In the modern context, this differs in various households but money can be the cause of much doom and gloom in a marriage. I grew up in a fairly frugal environment but never felt I was wanting, my husband grew up in a frugal environment but has always been exceedingly generous with money, he will spend on others in a way he will never spend on himself. We have argued many times about this and have to consistently work hard to see each other’s way. It isn’t something you can change because of its behaviour that is ingrained in you, but you do wish for better gymnastic skills, it’s all about walking the tightrope and keeping your balance!
As I reflect on my shimmering, very magenta “lehenga” and henna’d bare feet taking the next steps to another promise, I am reminding myself that I must enjoy this time as I cherish and nourish this bond we have built. The school bill will of course continue to remind us both of the welfare and happiness we promised for children that were still a twinkle in our eyes.
The fire continued to be fed and there were still more vows to come…
– The Railway Woman