Sirmaur, Himachal Pradesh. She was a young bride of a scheduled caste in a remote village in Himachal, he was a travelling seller of shawls from Uttar Pradesh. I only heard the bare bones of the story, but it is easy to flesh it out. A young girl with no real choices before her, newly become a wife to a man she had never met before. She probably discovered that marriage meant the end of whatever little freedoms and joys she was allowed at her old home. Having spent the first one-and-a-half or two decades of her life in one village, she would now spend the next five in one house. And then a man came along, carrying warmth and softness on his back, with his tales of all the lands he had seen; she was enchanted. When he offered to take her with him, can we really blame her for accepting? Apparently, the good people of Himachal can. They hunted down the couple, beat the man to within an inch of his life, and returned the woman to a life now even more fettered and harsh.
I was told this story by T as we sat and talked on the roof of his house. As we looked over the valley, he also spoke of the forests he had lived his life in. When I asked him if he earned any money by selling pine resin, he told me that is a sinful way to earn money. 'It hurts us so much even when we are pricked by a thorn. Can you imagine cutting into a living tree? What agonies it must feel!' T is a handsome man belonging to one of the Thakur families of himachal, and only saved from pomposity by being the younger brother. Instead, he is full of the graceful courtesy that only hillmen seem to possess. He made up a bed for me to lie down in when he saw me flagging. He looked hard and long for a meswak tree when I said I had not seen one before. On my expressing an interest in butterbeans, he picked them for my dinner. Together, we picked over and prepped the beans on his roof by the light of a full moon.
T was also part of the group that beat up the seller of shawls. When asked about the number of children he has, he says two, meaning only the two sons. His first born, his daughter, is not worthy of being counted. He prefers women not to be tej (sharp/fierce/assertive). As he saw me safely on my bus, he placed a small bundle of beans in my bag.
This is a sad and complex world.
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