I first met Ramachandran (not his real name) while we were organising a personality development camp for girls in an underprivileged area. It was to be held for around five hours every day for three days. We were trying to find local sponsors for the refreshments that we would need to give the girls. Ramachandran offered to bring tea for the participating girls on one day. We gratefully accepted his offer.
I later learned that Ramachandran had come to Mumbai from his home in Tamilnadu many years ago. He had no special skills, so he did odd jobs at first and then decided to start selling tea. He usually worked during the night hours. He would place a steel container filled with freshly made tea on his bicycle. He would then go to a spot outside Matunga railway station, park his cycle and sell cups of hot tea to passersby. Sometimes he stopped outside a mill when the late night shift ended, and sold tea to workers on their way home.
He had a family in his native village in Tamilnadu and he went home once or twice a year for a couple of weeks. He sent most of his earnings home and lived very frugally himself.
In Mumbai he stayed in a one room tenement in the slums, along with five other men like himself, who had come to Mumbai to earn a living.
He could not really afford to give 30 cups of tea for the girls’ camp without payment. But when we offered to pay him, he refused to take the money, saying that these girls were like his own daughters.
I met Ramchandran again after a couple of months. He gave me a wedding invitation card and told me that he had fixed his daughter’s marriage with a boy who stayed nearby here in Mumbai. He sounded very happy as he explained that now he would have some family living nearby.
The next time I went to meet some women in that area, Ramchandran was there too. I asked him when he would introduce me to his daughter and her new husband. He did not reply and soon after went away. One of the women told me that Ramchandran’s daughter had left her husband, and gone back to their village.
It seemed that after the wedding she had come to live at her husband’s house in Mumbai. They were a family of six or seven people living in a small two room tenement. A few days later she had a quarrel with her husband over a trivial matter. Her in-laws took her husband’s side against her- or at least so she thought.
Upset, she came to her father and decided to stay with him for some time. Now since there were six people living in the room where her father lived, that was not possible. But she was not willing to go back to live with her in-laws, either.
So ultimately Ramchandran arranged for her to go back to their village in Tamilnadu. He could not afford to go back and forth to Tamilnadu trying to resolve the issue, nor could the husband.
So that was the end of the marriage.
Now the question is- who should be held responsible for the failure of the daughter’s marriage?
Ramchandran? But he had just wanted someone from his family living nearby.
The newlyweds? But it’s not uncommon for newlyweds to quarrel. If her Maika had been nearby she would have gone to stay with her parents for a few days, and the quarrel would probably have blown over.
Maybe the City is to blame- where people have to stay in cramped rooms in the slums without even the basic facilities.
Or maybe the villain is simply circumstances, which force people to come to the city to earn a living, because they cannot earn enough in their villages to support their families.