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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/58

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48
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

grades, both male and female, dependent chiefly upon age and distance by blood from the head of the family; and as everybody is married in India as soon as the time for it comes, the chances are that the last-made bride is, in the nature of things, in the very lowest place.

In the average Indian family the strictest domestic economy is the rule of life, and the household work is done by the women of the household, not, as with us, by paid servants. Servants there are, of course, in all Indian families, but they are, as a rule, on a totally different footing from the European domestic, being for the most part independent persons with a clientèle, for whom they perform certain customary services for a customary wage. The distribution of the daily work, down to that of the most menial kind, lies with the materfamilias, who may be best described as the oldest woman in the family proper under coverture, for widows can have no authority. The cooking, as the work of honor, she keeps to herself, but the house-cleaning, the washing, the care of the children, the drawing of the water, the making of the beds, and so on, is done by the less dignified members of the household, as she directs; and whatever is most menial, most disagreeable, and the hardest work, is thrust upon the bride. She is the servant of the very servants, and must obey everybody. It is hardly, therefore, to be wondered at that, after her previous training, it is by no means an uncommon occurrence that she has to be forcibly broken into her new way of life, that she is for ever sighing after the flesh-pots of her father's house, that there are various "customs" which enable her to revisit it at stated times after the marriage, and that the law is often invoked to oblige brides to return to their husbands' families after the customary term of such visits has expired.

Not only is our bride thus turned into a drudge, often unmercifully overworked, but from the day she gives up her childhood to the day of her death—it may be for sixty years—she is secluded, and sees nothing of the world outside the walls of her family inclosure. It should always, therefore, be borne in mind, when trying to realize Indian female life, what a very important thing the domestic economy is to a woman; how largely the petty affairs of the household loom upon her horizon. Her happiness or misery, indeed, entirely depend on the manner in which the affairs of the family are conducted. Now, considering that the female mind has for centuries been mainly directed to this all-important matter, it is not astonishing to find that such questions as the proper method of eating and drinking, and of domestic propriety generally—the intercourse, that is, which is permissible and right between the various members of the household, male and female—have long been regulated with the utmost minuteness. To us