Chapter 2 - Infinite Marriage in a Narrow-minded Land
The restaurant where we had eaten was one of many on the famous Chandni Chowk, the main street of 'Old' Delhi. The whole street seemed to be one gigantic magnificent bazaar, a monument to congestion painted in bright colors, all interwoven with a flowing chaos of movements and a profusion of everything that ranks among the 'best' of its kind in India, as Indira assured me. I asked Indira if an after-dinner 'stroll' would be appropriate, since the air was still hot and would likely remain so for some hours.
She agreed that it would be good.
She pointed out while we walked that in the Seventeenth Century, in the days of Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal, the Old City of Delhi had been the pride of the Mogul Empire. It is said to have been the finest capital city in the world, endowed with exquisite mansions. The city had featured a tree-lined canal in those days, flowing down its center. Indira pointed out that the Old City of Delhi had been renowned throughout all of Asia for its beauty. "But that was a long time ago," she added
As far as I could see there was little of that left. As I saw it, the ancient world of beauty and serenity had given way to crowds of artisans, traders, rickshaws, all intermixed into a fascinating cocktail of stench, traffic, uproar, and the fumes of spice merchants and countless food vendors.
"Look, there's the Fatehpuri Mosque," said Indira to me excitedly as she sensed my fascination with historic Indian relics. She pointed to the western end of the street. "The great mosque - it's a bit hard to see from here - was built by one of Shah Jahan's wives in 1650. Would you like to see it up close. Would you like to enter it?"
"I would love to," I said with a smile. "With someone as beautiful as you for a guide, it would be a special delight."
She smiled and waved a finger at me.
"What is this supposed to mean?" I asked.
"It means what it means," she said and grinned.
"Do you find it miraculous that a person, which once lived like a Dalit, can be regarded as being incredibly beautiful?" I asked.
"Oh, are you trying to coerce me?" she replied and began to grin.
"I have to answer to this that a human being is always a human being, no matter what the circumstances impose," I replied. "I have to answer that this is what makes you beautiful. Beauty is anchored in our humanity that never changes and is universal. You're the living proof of it. I see in you a natural beauty that has always been in you, that the Thevars haven't been able to erase, and they never will."
She blushed and reached out her hand. "Come," she said gently.
We continued on, hand in hand as lovers do, perhaps even in India. We stopped in many kinds of shops along the way, some of which Indira described as the non-tourist-traps. She smiled when I told her that I loved the smell of the spices in the air.
"Are you married?" I asked her at one point, right out of the blue.
"What do you think?" she replied. "Why would I want to be married? Marriage is a step with serious consequences in India. As soon as a woman is married under our religious codes, she becomes a Dalit of a different kind, even in her own house. She becomes property, and of course, like anywhere else in the world, she becomes an untouchable person. I don't want to live like that, not anymore, not in any way. I never did like this role. Living like a Dalit once is one time too many. The only untouchability that I accept is that which is determined by my sovereignty as a human being. In other words, my life is under my control. If this means that I have to live alone for the rest of my life, so be it."
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