Tara’s Life after Marriage

After five-year-old Tara’s marriage, she continued to live with her parents. However, for festivals like Shivaratri and Navroj (Kashmiri New Year), a palanquin was sent for her by her in-laws. On such visits, she received gifts of clothes and money and played with the children there. She did not even know which of the boys was her husband. In fact, she thought she was married to one of her husband’s older cousins. She was constantly quarrelling with her husband as he teased her all the time and often complained to her mother and mother-in-law about his rude behavior. She finally identified him only when she came to live with her in-laws at the age of fourteen. Then she regretted having misunderstood his attention. Tara’s maiden name was Devaki, which was changed at the time of marriage. This was because marriage was considered a new birth for the bride, with a new identity and a new name, her previous existence being totally obliterated. The new name usually matched the husband’s name, the wife being considered just a shadow of her husband. Our neighbour Durga Nath’s wife was called Durga Wati, uncle Mohan Lal’s wife was Mohan Rani, and cousin Pyare Lal’s wife was Pyari. So Devaki, Tara Chand’s wife, became Tara.[ad name=”HTML-1″]

Kashmir is predominantly Shaivite. The Kashmir School of Shaiva Sidhanta has a lot in common with South Indian Shaiva Sidhanta. The newly-weds’ first Shivaratri in Kashmir is as important as the first Diwali in South India. On that day when Tara visited her in-laws, her parents sent gifts for them, which included clothes for the couple and the whole family, jewels for the bride and money for the in-laws, bags of rice, a variety of specially baked breads like Bakirkhanis, dry fruits like cardamon and almonds, big balls of rock sugar and a small rock of salt. (In fact, salt, as in many other parts of the world, was regarded as the most basic and essential part of the gifts.) Even though a lot of gifts were exchanged all the time, dowry was not an issue. The gifts matched the status of the family. As women did not inherit property, they were given gifts of jewellery and cash as Stree Dhan, a woman’s personal wealth, to fall back upon on a rainy day. [ad name=”HTML-1″]

A big feast marked Shivratri, to which all near relatives were invited. No one slept that night and to help keep awake, everybody gambled with cowrie shells. Such gambling was allowed only once a year, on Shivaratri night. Elders gave the youngsters pocket money called ‘Hairath’, a practice probably influenced by the Muslim custom of giving ‘Idi’ on the day of Id. Navroj also was celebrated with new clothes and much feasting, especially outdoor picnics, with boat rides to the Nishat and Shalimar gardens. For Tara’s first Navroj, her in-laws held a grand picnic party on an island in the Dal lake called Char Chinar (so named for the four maple trees on the island). The guests arrived in nearly twenty boats and an enormous feast was cooked on the site. Kashmiris are great outdoor lovers. On a sunny day, the entire city will be picnicking in the numerous parks and gardens by the lakeside.[ad name=”HTML-1″]

Tara’s married life was fun and frolic till she came to live with her husband. He had joined government service as a forest officer and was liable to postings anywhere in the state. In those days, men went on postings alone and women stayed back to look after the home and children. But my grandfather, who served in forests ranging from Peer Panchal to Baramullah and from the Afghanistan border to Srinagar, wanted his wife by his side. They were a made-for-each-other couple. Together they visited places like Lahore, Rawalpindi, Karachi and Hardwar, while back home in Srinagar, her mother-in-law looked after the children. The two led a life of great adventure. She rode with him through dense forests and high mountain passes and lived at ease with tribal Gujjars and Bakarwals (cowherds and goat herds). Both enjoyed a lot of tribal hospitality, often feasting on black Murrel mushrooms (guchchis) and sun-dried milk cakes (machakraris). Impromptu barbecues were often arranged along with music and dancing around a campfire. Many of the jungle staff, like forest guards, were also from tribal communities and the whole group lived like a big family. My mother was conceived and born in these circumstances.[ad name=”HTML-3″]

Tara Chand made a great name as forest officer, being twice decorated with gold medals for meritorious service. Once, he tackled a major fire in a dense forest of expensive wood with great dexterity and prevented it from spreading to thousands of square miles of precious Himalayan forest. On another occasion, a huge theft of saffron, musk and other forest wealth from a forest depot put him in an awkward predicament. As the officer in charge, he was responsible and technically, he could have been charged and arrested. He requested a month’s time to investigate the matter, which his bosses granted. He set out on his mission incognito, dressed as a villager, and not only did he catch the culprits, but also located most of the loot.[ad name=”HTML-3″][ad name=”HTML-3″]

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