By Manish Nandy
October 26, 2017
A remarkable story merits a thoughtful reflection. My reflections may be pedestrian, but the story is heart-warming. And the story is, unbelievably, true. The Statesman recently reported that last May Jai Chandra and Julie Kumari married in the Kamasi Village of Sheikhpura District in Bihar and lived together as a couple.
Two months later she received a call from a stranger and loved his voice. It is a fair inference that they continued to talk. Clearly the stranger, Jitendra Kumar, liked her voice too. He eventually turned up on the scene, pretending to be Julie’s cousin. Of course, he was no cousin, and, when this came out, Julie said she was in love with Jitendra and wanted to be with him forever. At a village council, held to resolve the issue, Julie and Jitendra wanted to marry each other. Jai Chandra, the husband, consented readily.
The new couple departed to live in the neighbouring Nalanda District and the new husband returned to his work in a steel plant. The first point to note is that this did not happen in the elite suburb of Reston in Virginia, USA, where I live. Nor in Las Vegas, Biarritz, Rio de Janeiro or one of the hot spots where you expect bizarre amorous events to unfold. This happened in the backwoods of Bihar, hardly one of Acche-Din India’s shining spots.
Yet everything went smoothly. A marriage that had no future ended. A loving couple went to form a new nest. A husband who lost a wife acted promptly and graciously. The members of the village council showed more sense than our fallen hero, Commander Nanavati. The villagers took it in their stride. Peace reigned. Wisdom prevailed. Thanks, dear Statesman reporter, for an astonishing story. Everybody looks well in the story, but the first kudo must go to the first husband, Jai Chandra. Like any young man, he gets a bride no doubt with the hope of a happy and stable wedded life, only to lose his wife in five months.
He is not at fault; only luck has dealt him a bad hand. He could have turned irate, even furious, and refused to give up his conjugal right. He could have said, like many a foolish husband, “I married her. She has to stay with me as my wife.” He realized he would then have, what many people have, a marriage only in name and a wife only in appearance.
The alternative was to give Julie a chance for happiness. In the process, he also gave himself another chance for happiness, perhaps with another person. Jitendra evidently is an adventurous person. He had only the slender basis of a voice and some conversation to fall in love with a woman unseen and unknown. Call him romantic or call him foolhardy, he has the temerity to act on his passion and arrive in an unfamiliar village with the flimsy cover that he is the cousin of a resident woman. If he didn’t know earlier, he certainly knew on arrival that the object of his passion was a married woman, but that deterred him no more than loyalty to a hostile clan deterred Romeo or Juliet.
When the cover fell off, he pursued his goal and had no hesitation in telling the village elders that he wanted to marry Julie. In a land where virginity commands such a high and unrealistic premium, Jitendra demonstrates his allegiance to a more sensible norm: he just wants the woman he loves. Julie, for some, may not be a worthy example.
A woman, just married, encourages another man? Surely, she is a woman of dubious virtue and pliant scruples. That would be not just a harsh but also a hypocritical judgment. Who has not ever been entranced by a charming stranger? Who among us has not engaged in a mild flirtation in a social circumstance? Who has not craved for a little romance or a tiny drama in our colourless, quotidian existence? Julie heard a stranger’s voice and it was redolent of all the suggestive dreams of her childhood, all the sensual liaisons that the silver screen has brought to the smallest hamlet, all the rainbow possibilities that Sheikhpura District shut out from her life.
Julie declared candidly that she had fallen in love with the voice – and all that it meant in her limited life. I for one understand her and not being sinless, must follow Jesus’ dictum and refrain from casting the first stone. Perhaps the most amazing has been the role of the village elders in the local council. Bihar is seldom regarded among the advanced areas of India, and in a remote village one wonders how exposed the village elders are to new trends in the cities or in the world.
Yet stunning was the way they resolved the provocative quandary the village had faced. They did not go by set rules or traditional guidelines, but applied the wisest principle of what best served the principals in the story. They freed Jai Chandra from a loveless marriage, they gave Jitendra the golden apple for which he had risked everything, and, most impressively, gave Julie as a bride to her beloved and set her on the quest for a happy married life.
They carefully sought the approval of the previous husband and found a resolution that brought a measure of satisfaction to all. Cynical as I am, I could entertain the possibility that the correspondent’s story did not cover all the details and perhaps the narrative was not as halcyon as it now looks. Still it is a little parable that enthrals me.
In a beloved land where intolerance now reigns and is officially endorsed, where dissenting views are browbeaten, journalists are gunned down and solutions are forced down the throats of people, in a little village of Bihar people acted with generosity and kindness, a wise and happy solution emerged, and love won.