Thursday, August 20, 2009

Winning a wife

By Nalin Verma

I called on Nand Lal, my childhood friend, on a visit to my ancestral village recently. He is in his 40s now, showing signs of ageing with his hair graying rapidly. But he looked delightful when I met him.

“You are looking quite jovial”, I said. “Yes! I am, because, I have married my daughter to an employed boy”.

Member of a lowly caste, Nand Lal runs a small grocery shop to earn his living. “Hand to mouth’’ is the apt phrase to describe his status. Thus, finding a salaried groom in this era of dowry is no mean achievement.

Nand Lal and I had grown up together playing on the streets of our village in a remote corner of Indian state of Bihar. Kalavaty knew about our friendship ever since she became Nand Lal’s wife. Looking at her, Nand Lal quipped: “See, who has come! Bring laddoo and paani for him”.

Kalavaty wore a crumpled sari and a few stained bangles in her wrists. But she too looked joyful. Taking leave of the goat she was milking, she brought two big laddoos in a clay pot and a heavy brass tumbler full of water. “Had you forgotten us?’’ she asked.

It was a dull day with the sun missing in the grey clouds hovering lazily in the sky. But I felt refreshed in the couple’s warmth. Nand Lal and Kalavaty are made for each other. Living together for years, they have learnt the art of smiling and enjoying life even in scarcity.

Helping myself to the laddoos, I remembered how young Nand Lal had dodged his father to meet his wife after their marriage. He had married Kalavaty when he was barely 16. Kalavaty might have been even younger.

Nand Lal had wisps of thin hair on his upper lips. His father, Lekha Teli, took this as the sign of marriageable age and got desperate to get him married. He was not wrong for others in the village, rooted to pastoral lifestyle and far away from roads, towns and modernity, thought the same way. Similarly, girls were to get married before attaining puberty.

Lekha was on cloud nine when Kalavaty’s father came, offering his daughter for Nand Lal. He accepted the offer right away.

Nand Lal boarded a palanquin and we rode bullock carts, the only means of conveyance, to reach the bride’s village through muddy fields.

Nand Lal and Kalavaty were tied in nuptial knots as the baratis enjoyed the nightlong conviviality and feast. The following day, the bride was brought to Nand Lal’s home in the palanquin.

Now Nand Lal was eager to meet his wife. “I want to kiss her, taste her. I want to sleep with her”, Nand Lal told his friends.

But Nand Lal couldn’t have said so to his father who was dead against the idea of his son sleeping with the bride at such a tender age. “Marriage is fine. But coition at an early age means loss of health. Avoid sex early in life to become robust”, Lekha Teli said. Other elderly villagers had the same idea.

Lekha slept right at the bride’s door at night to prevent his son from entering the room.

Nand Lal found the separation unbearable. “My father says I shouldn’t sleep with my wife till I am 20. It’s cruel”, Nand Lal fumed before his friends. But he was not supposed to show his despair to his father.

Dying to meet her, he asked us for some clues to reach Kalavaty. A friend suggested: “It’s simple. Dig with a shovel a big hole in the rear wall of Kalavaty’s room and sneak inside when your father is asleep”.

“Wow! What an idea”, Nand Lal screamed mirthfully. It was easy to use a shovel in the thatch and mud house. Nand Lal executed the plan with perfection after it was dark. Lekha Teli, fast asleep at the door, was oblivious of his son’s juvenile antics.

Lekha saw the hole only when he woke up early next morning and went in the backyard to feed his cattle. He first thought of thieves and forced his way inside.
But to his shock, he found Nand Lal and Kalavaty sleeping in each other’s arms, oblivious of the old man’s presence. Enraged, he picked up a baton to punish the boy for “ruining” his health.

The commotion broke Nand Lal’s sleep. Sensing the danger ahead he fled, barefoot and half-naked.

Others gathered around to calm Lekha Teli. “Be normal, the heavens haven’t fallen”, I heard my father telling him. Lekha couldn’t have punished the bride for he was not supposed to beat a daughter-in-law.

Kalavaty blushed when I reminded her of how we helped Nand Lal meet her. “Does Nand Lal love you as intensely as he did when he married you”, I asked. She blushed and then covered her face with her sari.

I asked Nand Lal: “Are you sure your son-in-law’s father won’t prevent his son from meeting your daughter. “Times have changed”, Nand Lal said with a smile.

(The story had first appeared in The Statesman in 2002)


  1. Dear Mr. Verma,

    It is really a heart warming story, indeed ! Thank you very much for sharing it.

    Such love stories now exist only in classic novels. To know that such innocence is still there , throbbing and pulsating amongst all odds, kindles ones heart.

    Warm Regards


  2. Dear Anurag,

    Thanks a lot for your encouraging comment. Such comments keep me going. Best regards

  3. Fantastic. I really enjoyed reading this which describes the simplicity of rural bihar so well. Alas, the same simplicity is seen as equivalent of foolishness or worse by the more "sophisticated" cultures like those of Cal or Delhi which respect sophistry as sophistication.

    Pls write more such pieces.


  4. Dear TV,

    I am very sorry to tell you that I saw your comments quite late. Many many thanks for stopping by. ...nalin


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