Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category
By: Dr.H.V.Kerai (Ph.D)
I was engaged at the very tender age of three, married for the first time in India at the age of ten during the child marriage era in the Kutch District. My first wife with whom I had married at her age of seven died of small pox at the age of ten and I turned out to be a male widow at the age of thirteen while I was in the school in Kenya. Immediately after the marriage my father who was there for long had called me to Kenya for a possibly better education. So I had no time to stay with my wife as a husband at all.
I joined the school in Kenya and had some contacts with the child wife through letters once in a while. We had never stayed together after the marriage, as the girls would be sent to the husband’s house only after menses, that is after the age of twelve years onwards.
But we had met at several times just as child friends and had a soft corner towards her as my future wife. Her death as such did not affect me much but I felt as if I had lost the girl before even having a family life with her. Now my parents who were after the earlier marriage would surely bother me to have the new engagement and new marriage again to the girl of their choice. I would hardly allowed any choice of the girl as that was not the rule in our community. One had to marry with the girl of the choice of the parents in most of the cases.
Even while staying in Kenya under the British rule, the under-age marriages in my community were in practice although the law did not allow. There were some other Indian communities in Kenya who also followed their old system very strictly even on the foreign land. With the local indigenous tribes, it was very common especially in the eastern and western provinces where even the girls of twelve being the mother of a child was common.
In the fourteenth year of my life, I was engaged to a girl aged ten. I was in standard seven and she in standard IV by that time.
I had hardly known the girl before the engagement. It was only the brief introduction of the girl from the far distance in the presence of the elders during the engagement ceremony that I had a vague picture of the tiny girl who was supposed to be my wife in short time.
I did not take any objection to the earlier engagement as I very well knew the attitudes of my parents who would not allow me peace if I did not obey them. I tried to delay my marriage and requested my parents to delay upto my finishing Form IV. Which would be another four years from the time of my engagement. I was not able to over rule my parents and I was forced to marry at the age of sixteen while in Form I1 and my to be wife at the age of twelve and still in standard seven.
I was studying in the mixed school, very famous for it’s co-education activities and mostly with the students with over-age. And being the very bright student and a leading sportsman, I was very popular in school and even in the city of Nairobi due to my contribution of several articles in local magazines and above all my commitment as the Radio announcer for the Gujerati News in KBC. I had a natural gift of writing and I turned out to be very effective spokesman not in the school but at several public places.
Physically I was quite strong and handsome and I had several girl friends and fans. However I had no deep relation with any of the girls, as I remained totally restricted with my religion and my community status. There were some girls who tried their level best to attract me and to be their lover but that was far from me. No girls could ever divert my thoughts and have a sexual appeal. Sex was not my weakness and I meant it. I had the ambition in life to study at the level of a graduate and I had decided to be very cautious especially in the relation with girls, which would not allow fulfilling my burning desire of studies.
The school I was studying was known for the “Boy meets Girl Affair” and most of the aged girl students turned out to be attractive and smart looking although they never proved to be clever in studies.
My request of the delay of my marriage had some doubts and suspicions with my parents and also my PARENT-IN-LAWS WHO BOTH WERE AFRAID OF MY RELATION AND CONTACT WITH SEVERAL PREETY AND MODERN GIRLS OF THE OTHER COMMUNITIES. They thought otherwise that I may not marry the girl of my parent’s choice JUST BECAUSE I will have a vast choice of the attractive girls of the higher societies, as I was not only smart in studies and sports and vocal renderances but I had already turned out to be a good writer at the very young age.
Mine was an exceptional case in my community and my parents were afraid of my future and they did not wish me to go beyond the limit of our community status and woe the outsider. They might have been to the right fear as there had been cases of the type where the educated boys from my community had denied marrying the illiterate girls of their parent’s choice and married to the educated and modernized girls at the later stage. There were two cases of the two learned boys who went to far extremes to reject the village girls as their wives and married the girls of their choice from the outer community.
My parents threatened to stop my studies, if I did not agree to marry at their decided time although they had given me one more year later on.. They also agreed that they would allow me to study further to my choice even after the marriage, as the wife would stay with her parents until the age of sixteen.
However I had no other intention as feared by them but I did not want to commit myself as the married person before I had completed my studies. Education in our community at that time was not in the advanced stage although it was a very welcome device.
Form IV was not the bread of every one. Very few boys reached to that standard as the boy upto the education of standard seven used to get good jobs in the government offices and the banks.
I had a wish to complete my Form IV and then if circumstances allowed I would do my Engineering course in the Kenya Polytechnic in Nairobi which gave the Evening time courses of three years for the Diploma in Civil Engineering. I could very well do it even after the marriage as the good job was not a problem for me and I could study and pay at home very easily. Already I had the offer of some good jobs and I COULD AS WELL EARN AS A WRITER AND THE ANNOUNCER, apart from giving tuition to few students. I was also promised the job as the teacher in the school of my study once I had completed my Form IV.
Considering all those factors in mind, I agreed to marry as per wish of my parents and the in-laws. However I had never thought of rejecting my engagement or to go for a more attractive girl from the other community. I had decided to stay with the same girl of my parent’s choice as I had no grudges or any disliking towards her. She was from the good and cultured family, she was good looking and she had the general standard of education to my required status and she was brought up in the Nairobi City atmosphere and could well settle with me as a wife.
I was sure and confident about it and I came to know my father-in-law as a hard working and social person who had devoted his life for his family at large. I had a good respect towards him and I would never wrong him in any sense. I had already talked my mind to him once when I happened to meet him in privacy. I only requested him to have patience and allow me to finish my career, which in the long end would be beneficial to his daughter. I convinced him to have trust in me and I promised him that I would never let down his trust bestowed upon me.
The marriage took place to the right tune of the community rites. I had invited several of my friends-boys and girls to my marriage and most of them from the other communities who were very much interested to see me marrying at the young age with the girl four years younger than me. They were also interested to view our system of marriage ceremony, which was obviously a different from theirs. The girls especially my fans and those who were crazy and mad after me were really surprised to see me marrying with a small girl and not very smart or educated. Some of them also regretted me to marry a simple girl of my community when there were several bright and attractive girls ready to marry me at any cost and at any time.
There was a girl from Gujerat who had offered me the residential house and a good cash, if I married her. There was a girl from the goldsmith community, two years elder to me who was my fan and who used to come in school in the car, had really tried her best to woe me by giving me lift to several far distances of my requirement, buying me the expensive gifts like pocket radio, wrist watch and even golden chain. Her parents had offered me the car of the latest model and the famous multi-storied building in the center of Nairobi and enough money to start any business of my choice, if I could marry their daughter.
I had never thought of such things in my life. I had never dreamt of marrying the outsider just because I was capable of doing so or for the thirst of the great fortune. I had never thought of marrying the other girl apart from the one with whom I had already committed through engagement to marry and stay as wife for the lifetime.
My relation with several girls in open and moving around them created some misunderstandings in the members of my community and several rumors of my marrying the girl from the other community were in abundance.
There was nothing I could do to clear the air of rumors and I had no machinaries to do that. I had patience and I knew what I was supposed to do. My marriage was over and my parents had no more complains against me as they had a trust in me and they were very much sure of my word of not letting them down by marrying the other girl whatever may come. At least I was happy to learn that they did not take the rumors very seriously.
Kenya was soon to get freedom from the British rule and many Asians were afraid of their future under the African rule and especially under the leadership of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the Kenyan Freedom Fighter and the father of the Nation who was recently released from the long termed imprisonment. He was the leader of the famous Mau Mau struggle who had poured blood for the freedom of the nation.
Asians were of the opinion that once he came in power he would harass the Indian community and even expel them from the country as he had said in some of his public meetings.
I knew the Father of the Nation very well as I was in his personal touch as the under secretary of the Kenyan Freedom Party dominated by Indians who had really struggled for the release of Jomo Kenyatta and for the Independence under the able leadership of the dynamic Indian leader Mr. K.P.Shah. I had visited Mzee Kenyatta in the prison two times and I could very well understand his policy of a free Kenya. Indians had played a vital role for the freedom struggle of the country and the Africans needed the services of the Indian community to run the nation. HE BEING THE FUTURE STATSMAN KNEW IT VERY WELL.
According to my political survey, Indians had better future under the African rule. I tried to pass the message to all those Indians who were scared of the future through my articles in Gujerati dailies and my talk in the Indian functions headed by Mr. Shah who had full trust in Jomo Kenyatta and the African leaders as a whole.
However I was unable to convince my father who winded up his business and left Kenya, a year earlier than the declared Independence Day. They very much wanted me to accompany them to India for good but I had decided to stay in Kenya at least until the time of Independence. I assured them my secured stay in Kenya in their absence and my father-in -law who was also to stay, backed me.
I was already earning enough for my studies and the other expenses and so my parents were not supposed to worry about my expenses. I could as well send them little money in India if required. My parents surely had no financial problems. My father left with me the small car, which he advised me to use for studies and the part time job. I was very thankful to him for that, as I very well understood what it meant to have a car of your own at such an early age and especially when you were still a student in those days in Kenya.
I came in contact with my wife who was already sixteen by that time. We met while going to school or at some other public places. I offered her lift at several times while on her way to her school. I dropped her at her home even at times to the amazement of her mother who was actually not happy to see us together at such a time when my wife had not yet come to my home as a wife officially. She was even upset to hear us going in the cinema together and even taking refreshment together in the public place.
She was very much disappointed to learn the news of my wife coming to my room and do cleaning and washing work for me at events to the surprise of my neighbors and others who saw her doing so. I could not understand the attitudes of the people who talked of my being with other girls in public places and the same people talking about my being with the girl who was married with me.
What was wrong in being with the wife, going about with her in films or for a ride, I could not understand? Why should my mother-in-law have the objection when she could very well understand that it was very safe and good for her daughter if I was having a friendly affair with her?. She should have been pleased to see me doing that as she was once worried of the future of her daughter seeing me going about with the girls from the outer communities.
And to my surprise and shock, my wife was sent to India with her grand mother without ever informing me, leave aside of consulting me. I was not happy with the decision taken by my parent-in-laws of sending my wife to India, far from me just because they were not happy with our meetings and moving around together in public places.
My poor wife who came to see me for the last time had all reasons to weep and regret over the un-fair decision of her parents. The case could have justified if they were all going to India and taking my wife with them for good. But I could see them staying in Kenya and sending my wife only to India with the old woman who was supposed to look after her in India.
However, I had nothing to ponder over the matter as I had already completed my G.C.E.”A” LEVEL of the London University and had joined Kenya Polytechnic for the Civil Engineering Diploma Course. In the meantime the British Government imprisoned me for protesting against the Colonial Rule in public and picketing the New Stanley Hotel with the group of African students where I forced the white waiters to serve us with the cup of coffee. My arrest with other students in the famous public place attracted the crowd and it appeared in the headline of the vernacular newspapers. The hotel was prohibited for the Asians and the Africans. How could the white do that in the country of Africans? We all were imprisoned in Kamiti Prison and tortured harshly to the time we were released by Shree K.P.Shah.
In the second event, I was invited to be the Chief Guest for the protesting fire camp of the Scout boys of Africans and Asians from the various centers to be held at the War Memorial Hospital Compound in Nakuru, the center of Rift Valley Province, where only the whites were treated and the Africans and the Asians were not even allowed to enter the compound of the hospital. We arranged for the fire camp in the open area of the hospital and before we could start our function, we all were surrounded by the white police and bitten harshly. Six of us were arrested and the remaining left free after the rough beating. Actually we had permission from the matron of the hospital Mrs.Trendell who had a soft corner towards non-whites and who had also advised us to play it cool, as there were people who may not allow the function to go on. She tried to intervene but in vein.
We were locked in the Molo Police camp and tortured on the ice-bed for a day and then released after beating hard. We could hardly walk. A kind Asian Mr. Darbar of Nakuru helped us back Nairobi and we were admitted in the Hospital as we all had developed severe Flu due to ice treatment in the cold weather.
Kenya was already the independent country and the then ruling party Kadu that later on merged in Kanu where Mr. Gichuru was the first party President crowned Mzee Jomo Kenyatta as the father of the Nation and the first President of the Nation. I was honored among with several other Asians under the group leaders Apa Pant the INDIAN High Commissioner who had played an important role in the freedom struggle, Mr. Charan Singh and Mr.K.P.Shah and several others at the Rongai Farm, the residential place of the first President of Kenya.
I had to change all my plans of the future now as my wife who was supposed to be with me by her age of eighteen was already in India with my parents and waiting eagerly for me to visit her at the earliest time possible. I winded up all of my activities in Kenya for time being, left my room and the other goods in the custody of a good friend of mine. I traveled to India in the Ship which took me to Mandvi, the port of Kutch and the place where I belonged.
I was very happy to meet my parents, my elder brother who had a very soft corner towards me and his beloved wife, other relatives and my dear wife. I stayed for about six months in Kutch with my parents and my wife and I was able to clear all the rumors about me.
My trip to India also helped me to settle one of my cousin brothers who had left aside his married wife and was in search of some educated and beautiful wife somewhere from the college area. He was still in Bombay and I got hold him and came with him in the village settled him with his poor wife and that was it. He was very much satisfied by the love and feelings his uneducated wife gave him and he promised me to stay with her forever. I had advised him to educate his wife and train her to be modern by changing the hair style and the dresses and she turned out to be a very smart and attractive lady by the advent of time and my brother left aside his further studies and settled with his wife in Kutch to a good family life. I was really happy to see that.
I had already cleared the air and satisfied my wife and my parents to the right tune and I went back to Kenya with the promise to call my wife within short time in Kenya to which my parents had agreed. I had several commitments in Kenya still pending and I should fulfil them to a good standard.
After all I was the youngest Asian Freedom Fighter and had symphasised with the innocent Africans for long. I had a large group of my African friends at school and outside. I had a future…a very bright future in Kenya waiting for me.