My aunt was seventeen when my grandmother thought of arranging a match for her. She was my grandmother’s fourth daughter, a midnight’s child, born at the dawn of India’s birth in 1947. My grandmother had been eight month’s pregnant when she boarded the train in Lahore for independent India. My aunt, her name was Guddi, a doll, was beautiful. She had a milk white complexion with luscious long black hair. Growing up I heard stories of how the maid would tug at my aunt’s hair to plait it. They would hang below her knees in a dark cloud. She was the youngest of five children.
When Guddi turned eighteen it was decided she must be married off. My grandfather, a doctor in the railways, would retire soon and it was wise to undertake this venture while they still had access to all their facilities. A match was finalized with a handsome boy, the only son of a local family. Guddi did not like him. She told the neighbor, she told her mother, and she told her sister-in-law, my mother. It was put down to pre-marital jitters. Guddi was led through the altar and around the fire. I have looked at those marriage pictures all my life. Growing up in my grandparents home I would pore over them even as the phone would ring incessantly and my grandmother would sigh down the telephone wires discussing the latest violent episode in Guddi’s life.
My aunt would visit us every other weekend, her little daughter in tow, a quiet girl with big eyes. “Leave him and come home. We can take you back. But you must leave your daughter behind,” said the eldest sister. “Why should we take care of his daughter? Let him deal with her.” Guddi could never leave her daughter behind, the little girl with quiet big eyes.
Guddi is 68 years old now. We sit together my aunt and I and wonder why her father did not bring his twenty-five-year old daughter home. Why was she given a life sentence for a decision that wasn’t hers?
Last night, at Maitri’s fundraising gala where they celebrated twenty-five years of helping battered women, I saw who could have helped Guddi. Guddi herself. If she had less faith in her parental family, her father, mother, brother, sisters, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, if she had been alone in a foreign country without any support, responsible for her own life’s decisions, maybe she would have left behind the man who was her husband. Maitri has extended a hand to many Guddis, darlings of their parents, doll’s of their siblings, who have blind faith that their families will make the right decisions for them.
Maitri is a free, conﬁdential, nonproﬁt organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area, that primarily helps families from South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka among others) facing domestic violence, emotional abuse, cultural alienation, human trafﬁcking or family conﬂict.
At the Maitri Gala celebrating 25 years of community service I heard the voice of all those young people who got parole from their life sentences. Maitri exceeded all fundraising goals at the glittery evening last night, raising over six hundred thousand dollars. A life with no regrets and nightmares awaits its clients.
Ritu Marwah is Social Media Editor at India Currents.