Ever since I can remember, the topic of marriage has been and remains to be the most discussed and heated one. “No matter what, you have to get married to a Nepali guy. Very important to preserve our tradition and culture especially in a foreign country.” Although in my teenage years these words would go in one and out the other ear, they lingered in my head as I hit my 20’s. And now at the age of 27 it seems to be the most prominent predicament.
I moved to the states at the age of 12 from my motherland Nepal and landed in the most diverse city in America—Queens. As diverse as it was, the amount of Nepali and especially Nepali cute teenage boys were slim to none picking. Forget about marriage or dating we couldn’t find any boys to simply hang out with. So me and the other Nepali girls I knew made best of options that was available to us. It felt rebellious and selfish at first, dating outside the boundaries set by your parents’, but as we got older we realized it was equally selfish of them to confine our dating pool.
Ironically, I didn’t recall any marriage advice from my hajurama grandmother up until a recent phone conversation few days ago. My mother’s mother got married at a very young age and has 7 kids. When I asked how old she was when she had her first kid, she replied with a laugh, “I feel very ashamed even saying it. Don’t even ask me such questions.”
Upon my insisting she hesitantly blurted out, “I was 16.”
It wasn’t a conventional conversation between a Nepali grandmother and granddaughter but it was a pivotal one. It stemmed from my annoyance as to why my mother was stressing the importance of getting married soon and having kids so she could take breath of relief knowing I have “settled down.”
Not sure what changed her mind but hajurama started spilling the beans and sharing her true feelings about marriage and kids. “Back in our days ti paapi those sinners would get girls married right after they had their first period. Hitting puberty was a sign of womanhood. Aba chadai bihe garena bhane pariwar lai sharap lagcha. If not married soon, the gods will curse your family with bad omen.”
She didn’t go in details as to who “ti paapi” “those sinners” were but I knew she was referring to the enforcers of a patriarchal society. They might have had different faces—priest, community leader, neighbor, mother, father—but they were all sinners nonetheless. “I used to call them sinners! When giving blessings they would loudly preach, hope god gifts you with 5 sons and 3 daughters. May your offspring take over and cover the mountains and the lands.”
Contrary to what I’ve been hearing, my grandmother had no angst about her grandchildren getting married. Since her marriage and pregnancy was bestowed at such an early age, understandably she didn’t want to wish that burden on anyone. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that my marriage was not a cause of stress in her life.
She then concluded her story with the following words that will forever linger in my head. “I suffered a lot. That’s why I wish I only had 2 of my eldest so I could’ve been a better mother and that is why I’m telling you don’t worry about getting married and having kids right now. Do well, focus on yourself, your work, make a name for yourself, and be satisfied with what you’ve got.”
Although she is content with her life now, I could hear the longing for a change of fate in hajurama’s voice. Curious as to what that would look like, I created a mental image of her celebrating sweet 16 in a pink princess dress—fussing over the heaviness of the skirt’s frills.