Ramesh was very happy with his life. He lived on a large compound owned by a Publishing House. The compound housed workers, as well as providing space for publishing buildings and plant. While housing was cramped for the average family with five children Ramesh had access to spacious manicured grounds providing for a range of sporting activities. The publishers realized keeping employees happy made for a happy work force. Keeping them busy in a multi-racial community kept them tired enough after work to avoid time for misunderstandings.

Every evening Ramesh would sit with friends on the football field and sing heartily as one or two of them who could afford guitars tried vainly to find right notes to accompany those lusty voices.

During the day he attended a community school deep in the crowded heart of the city where those whose parents couldn’t afford a private school education were destined to complete their studies to pre-high school level. His ambition was to complete school and enter government service. With his limited education he could only hope to be a messenger, shuffling papers from one desk to another for the lucky few whose parents had sent them to private schools. That had been the destiny of his caste in times past, and he’d no ambition to rise further than karma allowed.

Now the society he lived in practiced strict taboos in inter-relationships between men and women. When it came time for a suitable wife to be chosen for him this would all be arranged through his parents in consultation with influential members of his caste. Marrying outside that caste was unthinkable, especially if the partner to be considered came from a caste above his own. Young unmarried girls would need to be escorted by members of their family to avoid unpleasant situations, or the possibility of breaking taboo.

While Ramesh was quite content to follow his allotted path in a choice of life work, he’d stepped outside the bounds when it came to boy girl relationships. Ramesh’s father had been warned by elders of his community who’d learned through the grapevine Ramesh was openly in company with a high caste girl attending a downtown public school.

Even though those of a high caste fall upon hard times and have to use public schools, strict taboos remain in place and must be respected. Ramesh’s father feared for the life of his son and himself. They could be killed for breaking such taboos, regardless of what the law dictated. To reinforce the gravity of the situation Ramesh received a sound thrashing while elders looked on approvingly. He was instructed never to be seen in the company of that girl again.

But the curse of love burned deeply in Ramesh’s heart. Love is never logical, and he felt his love for the girl powerful and its Shakti would transcend all difficulties and override taboos. After all the country had recognized evils associated with caste and the divisiveness it caused and had enacted legislation to right these wrongs. But tradition is more powerful than law and the taboos continued to exert their influence with the connivance of officials at all levels.

The heart of the girl melted when she saw the wounds on Ramesh’s body and heard he’d endure death for the love of his life. They continued to meet secretly, each meeting becoming more desperate. Nothing is secret in a community living in close proximity to each other and Ramesh’s father began to panic when he realized beatings were not solving the problem and the family was in mortal danger. Ramesh was ordered to remain at home until his common sense returned.

But when his parents had departed for work Ramesh hurried to his school and poured out his heart to the girl. Would she prove her love by running away with him? With barely a thought of the consequences she said yes. With the aid of his families weekly provisions money taken from under their bed mattress they boarded a train headed for the capital city where they could disappear in that seething multitude of people from all corners of the country. He’d do coolie work, and steal when necessary to support the love of his life. They secured a hovel on the outskirts of the metropolis, but money ran out and reality hit them with a crash. They approached a distant relative living in the city for shelter and food. That was the beginning of the end for their brief common law marriage.

The girl’s father has a man of influence in his community even though poor and his relatives occupied places of influence. He’d all the resources of enforcement at his disposal, as an insult to a caste member is a collective insult to the community. Extreme pressure was placed on Ramesh’s family, and news of their discomfort traveled the villages and cities where relatives lived. Fearing for his own life as an innocent collaborator breaking taboo the distant relative turned the couple over to police.

The girl was placed under house arrest, and Ramesh joined his father in jail. They were charged with kidnapping under signature of complaint by the girl who’d been severely beaten and forced into making the complaint under pressure from family and community.

Ramesh’s family was unwelcome on the compound after their release from jail. The father and mother lost their jobs, and had to return to their ancestral village where they relied on relatives for survival until harvest when they traditionally worked fields of landowners for subsistence wages. Ramesh’s compound former friends still laugh as they think of his foolishness in seeking to lay aside taboos that had ruled society for thousands of years.

The girl never married; her community considered her damaged goods and she had the status of a servant in her own home for the rest of her life.

“© Copyright Ian Grice 2012 All rights reserved”

13 thoughts on “Tradition

  1. I agree with you Ian and thanks for charing this story. you so right when saying this….Why can’t we all accept each other for who we are rather than what we are? Under our particular racial features we are all the same and have the same ancestor!


    1. Yes I agree with you to a point. If we didn’t obey road rules for example there would be chaos and possibly loss of life. However when rules take away legitimate freedoms then those rules are wrong and need to be corrected.


    1. Every country has some folkways, traditions or perhaps legislation that can potentially cause injustice. In our global village some of these anomolies are increasingly coming under scrutiny.


  2. Not to make light of a serious issue, beautifully exposed in your post, there was a time not too long ago in America where a Swede marrying a Norweigian was considered to be an inter-racial marriage and was frowned on by members of both communities.


    1. Yes I suppose that’s true. Why can’t we all accept each other for who we are rather than what we are? Under our particular racial features we are all the same and have the same ancestor!


  3. Using the phrase “damaged goods” is very powerful and is undeniably true. It resonates well with the essence of the story.

    A quite similar reflection of this is the case of women in some parts of Indonesia who have lost their virginity due to pre-marital sex. They’re considered “damaged goods” and such women bring shame to their parents and the society. The position of women being subjugated due to illogical customs is indeed depressing, yet there’s nothing much we can do about it until new generations emerge to replace the old one and bring with them more egalitarian views of humankind.

    Very nice story, Ian. I would love to read more of yours like this one! 🙂

    Subhan Zein


    1. I’m just starting on a series on the sub-continent so you will be able to read some more. A previous blog Riding the Bus in India may be of interest to you and there were two others blogged previously, Unwelcome Visitor and Another Unwelcome Visitor.


  4. An all too familiar story of madness, blind pride, arrogance and ignorance – even played out today in many parts of the sub-continent.

    Caste had its time and place – and probably worked after a fashion about 5,000 years ago when the rudiments of human society took form. Long outlived it usefulness.


    1. We have the same issue to deal with in other societies too Eric. Maybe it’s not called the caste system but there are people within societies who feel they are more sophisticated or of a higher social class than others.


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