I am a young peasant girl in an impoverished village. I enjoy the unique advantage of natural intelligence and a minimal education – unlike many in my local community, I am able to read. Unfortunately this leaves me with a degree of natural arrogance. My education, defiant nature and sense of self-worth make me feel that I deserve something better than the life others have mapped out for me. Educated or not, those whom I live among do not all share this point of view. The drought that has now lasted over a year certainly does nothing to dampen tensions.
As I turn fifteen, my parents tell me that I am to marry. But it is to the son of a local merchant family, Hanu – a brat widely regarded as stupid and ill-tempered! I react poorly, lashing out at my parents for attempting to shackle me to such an awful man. But my mother snaps back just as hard: they have worked hard and given much to make this union possible. Hanu’s family, being merchant caste, offer perhaps the only opportunity for me to ever leave this village and make something more of my life.
But is this the only option? My best friend, Juhi, seems to think so. She loves and admires me so much, perhaps because she has always seen me as different to all the other children here.
I resolve to meet with Hanu and his family. Can he really be as bad as my memory and friends suggest?
On the way to Hanu’s home I run into a terrifying creature, one I might ordinarily avoid or hide from, but today I am angry and bold. I approach it directly and we speak. It is the Naga merchant who comes here, every few months, with goods for Laxmi, the noble who rules our village with cold cruelty and armed guards. It turns out that the Naga is a little bemused as to why no villagers ever approach. Throwing caution to the wind, I speak directly and tell him – her? it? – that we are simple people and an eight-foot snake is inherently terrifying. He accepts this, but notes that in Bhimra – the once-great city that rules over our lands – starvation and desperation sees Naga refugees threatened by the humans they live among. It is the first I have heard of Bhimra in a very long time. The first since I heard that the Royal family died.
I end up making a trade with the Naga merchant, who is impressed by the wooden toys my father carves. Although the money he gives me is not that of our people, it is still money that might help support my parents – or give me another option if Hanu really is all that bad.
Hanu’s family react poorly to me. His older sister, already married, is direct. To her I am less than nothing. Her only family is that she married into. As I leave, rebuffed, I am already beginning to doubt my decision to try and bolster the relationship between my family and Hanu’s, between me and… my possible future husband. Have my parents really done the right thing?
I can tell that Hanu’s mother does not like or respect me, but she is not openly hostile – unlike his father, who seems as if he would strike me were I not to be betrothed to his son. Neither have any words for me, so at last I steel my nerves and approach Hanu.
It could not have gone any worse. He is angry, petulant and rude. He feigns to be shocked and insulted that I am his wife to be. He says that I am “not even pretty”. He throws a necklace at my feet before refusing to speak with me any further, stating that he was told to give it to me as a gift. I pick it up as I leave: it is old, hand-made, and well-worn. Somebody loved this necklace.
Read the rest of this entry »