A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint


Posted by Pepper on April 25, 2015

Every time I walked in and out of office, I noticed B eyeing me hesitantly. Sometimes he would even come up to me, seemingly wanting to talk. But then an apparent flicker of uncertainty would make him change his mind and turn away. When it went on for a few days and I was reasonably sure something was up, I asked him if he wanted to talk to me about something. His gaze was unsure and he looked anxious.

This was unusual. B is one of our oldest employees. He has worked in our office as a peon for over 35 years. He takes pride in telling the world that he has been in our company much before I was even born. He has a reputation for being bold and outspoken. So I was curious. What was causing him to be so anxious and unsure? It was very unlike him. I was concerned. He has been extremely loyal to us and I wanted to make sure we do everything we can to make sure he is alright.

Finally he told me. He wanted the company to loan him a massive sum of money as an advance payment. The number made my jaw drop. What do you need so much money for? My daughter is getting married, he said. Here is the list of things I am supposed to buy for the boy. Saying that, he placed a sheet of paper on the table. I glanced at it. Washing machine. Microwave. Mixer grinder. Pressure cooker. Silver tumblers. It went on.

Shocked, I asked him what this was. I told him he shouldn’t be forced to buy all of this. It is dowry. And dowry is a criminal offence. Did the boy demand these things? In which case, I could help him report the matter to the police. He looked at me as though I was an alien. He said the boy hadn’t made those demands, but they were unspoken rules. The bride had to come with these ‘gifts’. There were no two ways about it. It was the way of the world. We couldn’t go against it.

I sat him down and had a long conversation with him. I tried very hard to make him believe that it needn’t be like that. He could indeed get his daughter married without having to buy these ‘gifts’ for the groom. He countered my arguments with a lot of examples from his family and village. He told me I came from a different world and I was unaware of the ground realities. He told me I would never understand his lack of choice. If he didn’t do this, nobody from his community or social circle would marry his daughter. And if she remained unmarried, his younger daughter wouldn’t find a suitable groom either. Both his daughters would continue to be a burden on him. And his community would also make life hell for him.

We talked and talked that day. My reasoning would just not appeal to him. It was all too unrealistic in his opinion. Fed up, I decided to let go. I also refused to sanction his advance. I told him I refused to support such ideas and I would not help him out in this. Over the next few days, we grew distant from each other.

I could see B getting more distraught by the day. I knew he was in dire need of money. The stress was showing on him. I had several conversations and debates with myself. Was not giving him the money solving the real problem? No. Was giving him the money encouraging and supporting such behaviour? Maybe. Since I didn’t know what to do, I ignored the conflicting voices in my head and sat over it.

Weeks passed. I found out that B had tried to get personal loans from several other sources. He had been unsuccessful in all his attempts. The worry was beginning to make him physically ill. At any time, he always looked bogged down and distressed. Despite all my inner voices, I tried to overlook his condition. I must say though, this was very hard for me. I felt torn.

At one point, his desperation peaked and he came to me with tears in his eyes. He begged me to sanction the advance. This time, he told me he wasn’t planning to buy the ‘gifts’. He would only use the money for partial wedding expenses. We both knew how obvious his lie was. I remained silent for some time. The pressure to make the right decision was weighing me down. I realised then that I would never really be able to determine what was  truly right. 

I shut my eyes for a second, took a deep breath and give him my nod of approval. He gave me a big smile and told me I had taken away a lot of his struggles. I told him I was glad. As for me, my struggle to ascertain the rightness of my decision continues..


39 Responses to “Conflict”

  1. Tough decision, Pepper. But I think I would have done the same. Atleast this way you saved him some mental angst. Sad that we can never really understand his lack of choice in this matter. Beautifully written post.

    • Pepper said

      It was really tough man. B has a very large family to feed and an ailing mother who constantly rakes up high medical bills. He is always short of money. For him to be forced to spend on these ‘gifts’ when he had other critical needs really troubled me. Moreover, he keeps cursing his fate for having 3 daughters. I don’t know how we can break this cycle if we keep confirming to these norms.

      But then, there was no way he would be willing to not confirm. I know the consequences for him wouldn’t be pleasant 😦

  2. We say we are from India. But this is proof that there are such different Indias existing within our big country. There are girls fighting to get access to new iPhone 6s and to get Sephora in Mumbai. Then there are girls struggling to go to school and to live. There are couples who cry because there are only 3 flights to their dream destination wedding. And there are couples who want to only live and not die for honor.
    My heart goes out to B.

    • Srishty said

      i know what you mean PB, i myself know people (personally) who are a part of a family where they have to always, always put the saree’s palla on their head, like, it isn’t a choice! and it may sound out of context, but my point is just this, there is so much struggle in India for basic rights and that basic is different for different people!

  3. This is something that bothers me so much. While it is not ‘dowry’, the fact that such an expectation exists is still sad. Looking closer home, my parents paid for my entire wedding! It wasn’t an unaffordable wedding by any means and I insisted on cutting off several things because I thought they were needless expenses. But the ‘girl’s parents’ bore the entire cost. My in laws are incredibly wonderful people and have pitched in equally in other ways but it still rankles me that such an expectation exists.

    • Pepper said

      So let me share something here. My inlaws spent for my entire wedding. Traditionally, only the girl’s side pays..We had decided to split the wedding expenses, but my inlaws refused to take our share in the end. They said they had 1200 guests and we had only 40 guests from our side in Chennai. They didn’t think it was fair to make us pay 50%. They’re incredible people.

      We spent a lot more than they did in just the Mumbai party here, but the actual wedding ceremony and reception that was in Chennai was fully taken care of by my inlaws. The thing is, this is logical according to Mint, because we hardly had any guests of ours.. But I continue to feel super guilty an awkward when I think of it.. It is so unusual for the boy’s side to pay fully. I’ve tried to not feel guilty, but I guess subconsciously I still do. And then my own guilt rankles me. .. So I totally know what you mean.

  4. RAMAN said

    Ahhhh, SIGH. But this should change, dowry should no more be a social necessity.
    But he was right too; we are in other world, world of upper middle class and very educated people who don’t mind mixer grinder or even a washing machine. But there is another world, of less educated people for whom dowry is a birth right. They give dowry to their sisters, expect dowry for their brothers. Yes madam, that is ground reality. It should change but who knows when it will?

  5. RAMAN said

    Sharing on my FB. May I? Anyway, I am sharing.

  6. Bikramjit said

    Well such is the way of our society. . We say things have changed but alas they have not. . A minor changes yes..but same old rules ..
    Last year my cousin got married she went from UK .. The boy was from UK. . He is highly educated and modern but .. oh yes.. The “gifts” had to be given and I was the donkey who had to carry them all the way from UK to india to give to the boys family who again probably brought it back..

    Oh yes why cud they not take it here saves the hassell of carrying.. but no.. had to be shown..

    You did the right thing and helped a man in need else he would have been In so much pressure. . Also working for 35 years I am sure he deserves a bit of help too..

    It is sad the way things are but they are the way they are.. ask a father who has to marry the daughter .. I know we married my sister.. people say they don’t want dowry etc etc but beleive me it has a new name now “gifts”

    My best wishes to the man on his daughters wedding .. Wishing everything going good on the day and may she live happily in her new home..

  7. Though it was a tough decision, it must be the right one in those circumstances. Even if you had not sanctioned the loan, he would have struggled for it at some other sources. It sure will take some years to change the thinking of people in these matters. We just have to keep trying and hope that things would change for the better in near times.

    But it was a beautiful post !

    • Pepper said

      That was my logic too. Me not giving him the money wouldn’t make him change his mind about giving those so called gifts. He would borrow from elsewhere and be more stressed. It is this thought that prompted me to sanction it.

  8. Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

  9. Rugved said

    What quandary. guess nobody can afford to be socially ostracized and unfortunately that is what compels us to conform. Nevertheless, these experiences will only help you have a very holistic insight on every aspect.

    • Pepper said

      Quandary is the right word, Rugs. It is sad how the system dictates to us. Human beings aren’t designed to live in isolation. Because of this we force ourselves to abide by most norms. Ostracism is greatly feared.

  10. You did the right thing. Please don’t torture yourselves over that decision.Take care. Good luck.

  11. Shweta said

    There are times in life when you are not able to decide whether to listen to your heart or your brain!!!
    I remember once debating about child labour with my dad and all he said is “your bookish logics do not feed their families. They work during the day to feed his ailing mother and try to study in the night. If I did not employ him citing child labour, he would remain hungry and wouldn’t be able to study as well!” This shut me up. For good!!!

  12. ashreyamom said

    i can understand.. it must have been a really tough decision.. his mind is already preset.. we cant change it in short time.. but may be he will realise by his second daughters wedding..

    • Pepper said

      Not much scope for him to change his thought process. He has 3 daughters and one son. The oldest is married. She is regularly abused by her husband. Physically too. Yet, he doesn’t want her to end her marriage and get back with him because he doesn’t want an additional person to feed. Now he doesn’t mind paying even a higher premium (read dowry) for his other daughter just to make sure her husband will treat her well.. sigh..

  13. I think you did the right thing by sanctioning that loan & taking off the worries of B. Sometimes, you have to forget every logical thing and listen to your heart. As for the issue of these age old traditions being still prevalent under different names, we have a long way to go….

  14. Hey, so i typed out an essay length comment for this 2 days back, and couldnt post it because wifi got cut and i lost the comment and didnt find time to type the whole thing again. So here i go (Please dont post it, its wayy too long, i just wanted to share the incident with you)-

    I faced something very similar 2 years back. We are friends with this family from my hometown, Nagercoil. They rent my uncles house which is right in front of our grandparents house. When i say “friends”, i just mean my mom and the mom from that house talk when we visit my hometown. Nothing more and nothing less. They have 3 children – 2 girls and a boy. The family struggles to make ends meet. The father is a daily wage worker i guess, and mother is a tailor. Yet, they provided a good education to the kids and the eldest girl was working with Infosys. The parents would talk about her so proudly to my mom. The girl was to go on her first onsite visit to the US. They all were super excited and proud.

    Then, sometime last year when i was visiting home in Pune, i overheard my parents talking about loaning a huge amount of money to someone. On further enquiry, i learnt that the family had found a “perfect match” for their eldest daughter and wanted to marry her off asap. And they needed money for the dowry and had called up my mom for help.

    I was mad. Very mad. Not because i was bothered about the money, but because i felt we could have used the money for someone who really deserved it – for a poor kids education or for an animal shelter. Helping someone with dowry seemed such a waste of money to me. Now, i must tell you, in my community, dowry is as default a feature in a wedding as the wedding lunch is. And people are proud of it. I have close relatives who proudly announce that they gave their daughter 150 tolas of gold + car + cash. Its just the way weddings take place. When i tried to explain to my mom about how wrong it is, she simply said, yes its wrong, but thats how it happens. And that the family’s happiness lay in their daughters wedding and “settling down”, and that dowry was just a small price they were willing to pay for it. Ugh.

    I gave it some thought. And somewhere began to agree with my mom. Not everyone has the strength to be a hero. If this family chose to not pay up, they would never be able to marry off the girl. Which is unacceptable for them and in the society they live in. It would only cause them more anguish. It’s the only way of life for them. I could understand all this with respect to the parents.

    What i was still angry about was the daughter. She was independent and working in Chennai. Very educated. Where was her self respect and self worth? Where was her sense of right and wrong? How could she sleep in peace knowing that her parents were calling up random people, pleading for money for her wedding? Did she not care about her parent’s dignity? I began to judge her very harshly. I could never ever ever put my own parents through such a predicament.

    Then i thought some more. Life for her, is very different from mine. Her upbringing, her thought process, why, even her notion of independence is way different from mine. I cant blame her for it. That’s how she grew up. I am this way because of the environment i grew up in and the factors i was exposed to. Maybe, a free spirited hippie might look at my life and turn their nose up. Similarly, she is a certain way because of where she grew up and the circumstances she was subjected to all her life. I might feel sad for her, but she wouldn’t even realise there is something missing in her life. Because for her, this is the only way life can ever be 😦

    My parents did loan them the money. And she did get married. I visited my hometown 2 weeks back for my sis’s wedding. That girl happened to be visiting her parents the same time. With a visibly pregnant tummy, and a mangalsutra (thick enough to leash a dog), gleaming at her neck, she was the picture of happiness.

    However hard i try, i cant comprehend this happiness. But tt made me see things in perspective. Who am i to judge her happiness? Who am i to decide whats right and wrong for others? Why should i expect people to be heros and stand up to social evil? I cant do it myself! I bet 30 others are looking at my choices and shaking their heads in disapproval. But it is what it is.

    Phew. That was long. My point is, dont feel guilty. You gave B and his family a little bit of respite from all his worries and he will eventually be overjoyed when his daughter is married off.

    If i had to give a horrible analogy, then i would see it as – when i went shopping for my birthday, i saw a top with pineapples on it. The price tag made me choke for a second. But then, it had pineapples. And it was my birthday. So whatever. The top is mine now. I suppose its a similar equation for B or that family i know.

  15. Nitya said

    Pepper, you did the right thing. It’s a tough world out there for people who, like B told you, think that the world doesn’t understand ground realities. We can only fight one battle at a time and we have to lose some if we want to win the war. By losing this battle, i think you have helped ease his immediate need and you *may* have given him something to ponder about.
    It’s a long road ahead, all we can do is keep fighting the good fight as and when we can.

    • Pepper said

      I know I helped ease his immediate need, but I really doubt I gave him somethign to ponder about 😦 .. The only thing he may ponder about is how unrealistic I am.. sigh

  16. Boiling said

    This was a very tough situation to be in Pepper and please don’t beat yourself up. You did the best you could and I honestly do not see other ways this could have gone, even though I also do not support it.

    I feel no amount of reasoning would have changed his mind. He would have taken money from you or someone else. You know, i was thinking about exactly this the other day – we talk of so many ideas but how many of them can really be implemented in an average household in India?

    The old man will not change. The only glimmer of hope we would have is if the daughters refuse to get married like this. Clearly, as his daughter did not (or could not) stand up to this, he will end up paying all his life for an expensive wedding.

    I feel the daughter should understand the pains her parents are going through (of sourcing for money etc) and focus on education/ job instead of a wedding. When the daughter complies, we cannot expect the father to go against the grain. But how can the daughter come out of the brain washing herself? It is quite complicated.

    I remember that Satyameva Jayate episode about dowry. I lived fact that the rich Delhi girl was okay with dowry and gifts but the spunky middle class girl did a sting operation. So, I believe class does not always matter in these cases.

    • Pepper said

      His daughters were never educated. They had to discontinue education after 12th grade because B wasn’t sure it was worth paying for their studies after that..He was sure they would never be ‘allowed’ to work once they got married anyway.. We tried very hard to get him to agree to put them through college, but gave up eventually. They weren’t empowered enough to find a job on their own. It’s such a vicious cycle..

      I agree, class does not always matter in these cases.

      • If that is the case, if he has already given up on not making his daughters self sufficient in spite of seeing you and you trying to make him understand, I think it is just a lost case.If you want, can you get in touch with his daughters and help them with continuing education or may be find a job without his involvement ?

  17. Carvaka said

    Are his daughters well educated? Do they work? If its a no to either or both then I do not feel sorry for him, I only feel sorry for them. I feel no compassion for someone who gave birth to three children already having decided that they are a ‘burden’, not worth the investment of education and will be ‘married off/ gotten rid of’ to live or die with abusive husbands. He had a choice here.. to educate them, encourage them to work and earn money (to not be a ‘burden’).. let them find and marry someone who wouldn’t want dowry. Yes the system sucks but we need to hold people responsible for their choices because these people and choices form this sucky system. It will never change if we excuse all personal responsibly.

    To think that he has this mindset even after one daughter is being physically abused is quite telling. Dowry doesn’t ensure that the daughter will be treated well and these dowry-happy parents know this.. it most likely means she will be seen as a cash cow and beaten or abused when more cash is needed. What exactly is compulsion here? His ‘community’? What does that mean? He can tell them to mind their business. What exactly will they do to him? Less than the elder daughter’s husband beating her up!

    If his daughters are well educated and capable of working then actually they had a choice as well, in which case I hold them responsible too.

    If you didn’t give him money, he’d find another place to borrow it.. it wouldn’t stop him thinking of his daughter as a burden to get rid of. Why be responsible for him crying and stressing when it would not change anything really? I imagine he expects his son’s future wife to bring enough dowry to pay the company loan off (and so it carries on).

    • Pepper said

      His daughters havent been educated and no, they haven’t been ‘allowed’ to work.

      I agree with you a cent percent. The system sucks but we need to hold people responsible for their choices because these people and choices form this sucky system. If we dont hold people accountable, this will never change.

  18. My first response was..”if I was in your shoes, I would not have given the money for that purpose”… But on second thoughts, im not sure. mainly because I do not know that person as you do, and hence, saying no to him would have been so difficult for you. But this post kind of breaks my heart…sometimes I feel we are making progress in the right direction of gender equality, and then we have such cases where dowry is still considered so important. Sigh..I think we just need to make peace with the fact that we cannot overnight change the way people see their daughters…
    PS: Try not to second guess your decision peppy! The decision to help or not..there cannot be a “right” in such situations, I guess. Or maybe there are but who knows what that right is?

    • Pepper said

      I didn’t want to give him money initially because I thought that would prevent him from going ahead with the dowry. When I realised he had made up his mind and would get the money from elsehwere anyway, I relented. It’s very sad.

  19. Ninia said

    Hi Pepper, I was just wondering if it’s not possible to offer a job to at least one of the girls in your company/factory? I understand that they may not be educated but surely there must be some work that one of them would be equipped to do? This would lessen the burden on the father and the pressure on the girl to be married.

    • Pepper said

      We’ve helped several needy people by offering jobs to them but it is really not easy 😦 Most of them are not skilled and can’t even speak English. There are only a few roles that need unskilled labour. We have enough people on board despite not needing them. We’ve created roles for them that are unnecessary. Unfortunately, we can’t go on doing this. But most importantly, he says he will ‘not permit’ his daughters to work.. so it really ends there 😐

  20. I agree that this should not be encouraged. But, given the situation the person is in and the societal expectation, they will be the same. My brother diligently helped this bright student who was her neighbor, lost her father just when she entered her undergrad. She was supported financially to pursue her engineering degree and we all wanted to see her holding a job and make her own choices. Unfortunately, due to the extended family pressure, and societal back stabbing, she ended up marrying a 10th grade failed and not-so-ok -at-all person in her 3rd year. sometimes, even if you have good thoughts and will – it is very hard to protect some one’s mindset being there.

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