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in Delhi: A Memoir|
While Babuji was checking on doctors, hakeems (physicians who practiced a Greco-Persian form of medicine), and vaids, other members of the family were busy finding “better” cures.
My Bhua Parvati, Babuji’s younger sister, was a very religious woman. Everything in the world, according to her, happened according to the pre-written will of Rama or Krishna or Vishnu or Shiva—the four major Hindu gods. Her faith in her gods was inimitable and unshakable. Her life itself was inimitable and full of faith, despite all the personal catastrophes she suffered and prevailed through.
Bhua Parvati was nine years Babuji’s junior. Just like all the girls of her time, she did not receive any education—not even the three Rs. She could not read or sign her name, but she could count up to 1,000 and had a good concept of lakh (100,000) and crore (a billion).
She started to work in the kitchen before she started to crawl and did not stop until, close to age ninety, she was carried out for cremation. At the ripe old age of nine years, she was married to Bhagat Ram of Lohara village. Bhagat Ram was much older—twelve or thirteen. As was the custom at that time, the bride and groom never met each other during the four-day wedding ceremony. She did not know why she was dressed up in a red suit, wearing jewelry, with her hands and feet covered in red henna. Nor was she sure why she had to be veiled from all the people in Lohara, where she stayed for only one day. She was brought back to Gagret in a red cloth-covered palanquin carried on the shoulders of four young men. The very next day, she resumed her normal life—cooking, bringing water from the well, washing clothes, and cleaning the house. For her, the wedding ceremony was nothing more than a four-day vacation from work. Bhua Parvati was supposed to go to her husband’s home when she was thirteen or fourteen and start her married life, but Bhagat Ram died of some illness before that. Thus, Bhua Parvati became a widow before she was a teenager and before her marriage was consummated.
Widows did not, and still do not in most cases today, marry a second time. A woman’s marriage, according to Hindu scriptures, was like a glass; once broken, it could not be put together or fixed. So Bhua Parvati never married again. As was required of a widow, she wore simple, white clothes and no jewelry or makeup, had her head shaved, and ate very simple and Spartan meals.
She had a house in Lohara, where she spent a total of about one month in a year. During the rest of the year, her home was our home, and she was everyone’s aunt. Babuji loved and cared for her. Bhabhi was not very fond of her, but appreciated her since Bhua Parvati worked all day long and took care of everything. However, her real full-time job was spoiling her nephews and nieces, including me.