Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/59

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
49
EVERY-DAY LIFE OF INDIAN WOMEN.

who roam the world at will, and whose interests are often fixed far more outside than inside our homes, it may seem remarkable that such infinitesimal restrictions and numberless customs as are found in full swing in an orthodox Hindoo household should be remembered and carried out with the exactitude demanded of the womenkind; but if we consider that these make up their whole life, and that they are called upon to pay attention to nothing else, their capacity for recollecting when to veil and unveil, whom to address and avoid, when they must run away, and when they may speak, ceases to be extraordinary. And regarding these customs of social propriety, I must say that the more one studies them the more one is impressed with their perverted ingenuity. They seem purposely invented to make the unfortunate victim of them as uncomfortable as possible. The Indian woman, isolated from the outer world by custom, is again by custom isolated as far as practicable from all the male members of that little inner world to which she is confined. Free intercourse, even with her own husband, is not permitted her while yet her youthful capabilities for joyousness exist. No wonder, then, that absence of jollity is a characteristic of the Indians generally, for the happy laughter of a home is denied them by custom in the most persistent manner.

Every person belonging to the European races, an Englishman especially, well knows how much common meals tend to social sympathy; how powerful a factor they are in promoting pleasurable family existence, and in educating the young to good manners. There is nothing of this sort in Indian upper-class society. There the men and women dine strictly apart, the women greatly on the leavings of the men, and that, too, in messes of degree, very like those in a royal naval ship. Paterfamilias dines by himself, then the other men together in groups, according to standing, waited on by the women under fixed rules; and lastly the women, when the men have done, our poor young bride coming last of all, obliged often to be content with the roughest of the fare.

No imported woman may have any relations with those males who are her seniors. Every bride is such an imported woman, and all the household which she enters, who are the seniors of her husband, are her seniors. This at first generally includes nearly the whole family, and must necessarily for a long while include the major part of it. In all her life she never speaks to her husband's father, uncles, or elder brothers, though dwelling under the same roof, or, to speak more correctly, within the same inclosure, for an Indian house is what we should call a courtyard surrounded by sets of apartments. On the other hand, paterfamilias has not only never been spoken to, but technically never even seen, by any of the younger women of his varied household, except those