The Saint of Kathmandu: And Other Tales of the Sacred in Distant Lands

By Sarah Levine | Go to book overview

Preface

As an anthropologist, I ask a lot of questions; and I get asked a lot of questions too. In November 2006, I spent a whole day in the house of Jayalakshmi, a South Indian village woman belonging to a low Hindu caste. I chatted with her, her husband, her mother-in-law, and her five best friends, watched her children play, quarrel, and make peace, asked everyone questions, wrote many pages of notes, nodded off in the afternoon heat, woke up again, and asked more questions. When evening came, I closed my notebook and said to Jayalakshmi, “I’ve been grilling you. Now it’s your turn to grill me,” which she was delighted to do.

“How did you get married?” was her first question, and when I explained that no, my parents didn’t arrange my marriage, I chose my husband myself, she frowned. “So you had a love marriage. That can happen here too, unfortunately. If a Muslim boy and a girl from our community fall in love, they cannot marry properly so then they elope, and when the girl comes to her husband’s house empty-handed her in-laws call her an infidel and treat her badly.”

I said that even though my parents hadn’t arranged my marriage, I’d had a very nice wedding. I added that though I hadn’t brought them a dowry, my in-laws had treated me well. But Jaya lakshmi’s expression showed that she didn’t believe me.

“Do you and your husband own the house you live in, or do you rent, just as we do?” was her second question. When I re plied that we owned our house, quick as a whip she said, “If you’re rich, why don’t you wear more gold?” Picking up my left hand, she examined my wedding ring, which had cost ten dollars in a cut-rate jewelry store almost forty years ago. “It’s too

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