February 2009, Frances Lincoln
176 pages, Paperback
Life in India, arranged marriage & marrying young, daughters thought of less than sons, hatred, friendship, charity, opportunites, a few tissues needed
Summary from Frances Lincoln
Koly's parents have arranged a marriage for their only daughter and now, like many girls her age in India, she will leave her home forever. She longs to run away, but she knows that she cannot go against tradition. On her wedding day, Koly's fate is sealed.
Caught up in a series of events that threaten to sweep her towards a frightening future, Koly finds herself cast out and alone. But sometimes courage and hope can be more powerful than tradition, and Koly learns that fate can be taken into her own hands
Marriage is supposed to be the biggest moment in anyone's life. Naturally Koly is really excited about it, and wants to be loved. Unfortunately the groom's parents are reluctant to hand over a photo or many other details for their son. Koly's family needs the honour of the marriage, so off she goes to the groom's house for the ceremony. Koly looks beautiful, but the illusion ends there. Inside she has a heavy heart. She had misgivings about the marriage. And by the time her family realise this, it is too late. In Koly's world if you turned down a marriage it brought public shame and humiliation on the family.
Being married means sharing your life with someone. Koly wasn't allowed anywhere near her husband, who is definitely not what she expected or wanted. The brief time she spends with him she does start to like him, but then he is wrenched away from her. Koly's miserable existence is worsened by the treatment from her inlaws (who, quite personally, are out-laws). They steal from her. They treat her like dirt. There are a few acts of kindness by members of the family which help make life a little bearable. But mostly Koly's life is dismal.
It shouldn't have been such a big surprise to Koly when she is betrayed by her new family, but to her it was. She was so young and naive that she truly thought it was a big mistake. I suppose it is a blessing that she wasn't sold off to someone. She had a run-in with a most unsavoury character who would have taken her away and abused her. Fortune smiles on Koly a little: as a consequence of the worst time in her life she finds peace and happiness, sprinkled with a little sorrow and grief.
I strongly admire all the widows who help Koly out. They really could have just fended for each other, but they had realised that by supporting each other through the tough times, they all had a chance at not just surviving, but leading a good life.
What stands Koly in good stead is her needlework. She does it for the joy of her marriage. When that joy disappears, she finds a way ton continue her art. It is an art because she puts all her emotions into the stitches. Other people recognise this, and provide Koly with a way of making a living.
I think this book opened my eyes as to what can happen to some widows in the world, how they are shunned by a lot of society for no good reason. I hope that this practices continues to decline, and that in the future young girls will be able to say no to unwelcomed marriage and not be cast out of their family.
Trust your instincts - if you feel someone is unpleasant and not to be trusted, try to get away from them.
Explore Gloria Whelan's stories on her website.
Be sure to check out this book of hers: First Girl (link to follow).