Right from the beginning I had decided I would highlight the plights of widows in India in those days. It has always bothered me that widows should receive such horrendous treatment. And perhaps, the fact that I am a widow myself and have experienced some social ostracization (and that in today’s world and in the U.S.!) probably influenced me. Which is why both Mohini and Lakshmi are widows (in the case of Mohini there were other reasons as well).
It was as I started discussing my novel plot with everyone that I discovered—much to my surprise—from my aunt that my great-grandfather had married a widow the second time around. What makes it even more astounding is that he had not married a child-widow, but a widow who had lived with her husband for some years! And this in 1917. I was so, so proud. It shocked me that such an important fact had passed me by all these years.
In 1917, only child-widow remarriage was being advocated by social reformers. And even then, much trouble was given to the widow after her second marriage. Social acceptance was hard to come by. Even Maharshi Karve, who did so much for the emancipation for women, could not give social acceptance to his child-widow wife. She was not allowed in the kitchens, and had cow-dung thrown on her, too, I believe.
Under these circumstances, Ramchandra Sathe’s act seems incredible. Non-virgin widow remarriage was unheard of then. Nor did his wife, Venutai (Janaki, after remarriage,) rush into the marriage to escape widowhood. They corresponded with each other, got to know each other and then decided to marry. They also consulted my grandfather (then only a teenager) to make sure he was not against their marriage. My grandfather was just as great a reformer as his father! He welcomed the idea.
I am not one for walking down a path laid out by traditions. I guess it is in my blood!
But not too long after I discovered something quite, quite shocking (to me) re Ramchandra Sathe. Life is not all sweetness and light.
More on that tomorrow.