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Living an 'Everyday' Life


Rajni Palriwala

BRIDE AT TEN, MOTHER AT FIFTEEN: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN UNKOWN INDIAN WOMAN
A Project of Sethu Ramaswamy
Roli Books, Delhi, 2003, pp. 174, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 7 July 2005

As Sethu Ramaswamy takes us through memories of her childhood, youth, and marriage, the events in her life and the times in which she lived, one forgets at times the message of the title. This is the narrative of a woman who was brought up to believe that marriage was her destiny, who entered marriage and had her first child when she was still playing hopscotch and knew nothing about running households and bringing up children. Yet what today we perceive as a dissonance between age and responsibilities is the story of so many women of her times and indeed of many young women in contemporary India. The passages towards the end of the book in which she sums up her life trajectory, her desires, fulfilled and frustrated, and her reflections on her marriage are poignant and telling. They remind us of what writing this memoir means—the many women who cross what society and intimates allow them or think they are capable of. People tend to see the world and their environs from the perspective of their work and immediate concerns. However, these concerns can take them beyond their immediacy—can pull them outwards and beyond. For many “unknown Indian” women, their work, focus, and agency revolved around their family, their children, their home and their spouse. Yet their experiences in fulfilling responsibilities in these arenas meant that they could not ignore the world outside—the events, personages, socio-political trends, and expectations, even if gender roles and social relations were constructed on the implicit assumption that they could.   Through the course of Sethu’s life and that of her many kin, acquaintances, and her daughters we see the changing social fabric of middle class, upper caste India, the shifts in the hopes and desires of and for women of this section. We travel from Ceylon—Kandy and Colombo—and South India—Trivandrum to Delhi, from colonial rule to Independence and then briefly into the westward diaspora. It is a story of the professional class in India where people from many religions and regions met at work and socially, where modernity and progress were the aspiration and self-image with which they lived, and empathy for the less fortunate was valued. Yet familial networks were kept within the bounds of class, caste, religion, and region and gender roles were maintained. The value of time and friendships and kin ties were not ...


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