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Rukmani the narrator of Kamala Markandaya's novel Nectar in a Sieve, (1954) is the fourth daughter of a village headman in rural India. In the very first chapter Rukmani tells us how the Indian custom of 'dowry' or 'bride price' gradually impoverished the family:
"my three sisters were married long before I was.
Shanta first, a big wedding which lasted for many days, plenty of gifts and feasts, diamond earrings, a gold neck- lace, as befitted the daughter of the village headman. Padmini next, and she too made a good match and was married fittingly, taking jewels and dowry with her; but when it came to Thangam, only relations from our own village came to the wedding and not from the sur- rounding districts as they had done before, and the only jewel she had was a diamond nose screw." Ch.1.
Consequently, Rukmani's father was practically bankrupt by the time of her marriage and all he could do was to get her married to a 'tenant-farmer,' that is, a farmer who worked for wages on another person's farm and who did not own a farm of his own. Further more, because of the administrative changes in the government Rukmani's father was no longer considered to be an important official and as Rukmani herself admits, she was not "pretty." All of these factors combined to work against Rukmani marrying a rich man:
"by the time I came to womanhood even I had to acknowledge that his [her father's] prestige was much diminished. Perhaps that was why they could not find me a rich husband, and married me to a tenant farmer who was poor in everything but in love and care for me, his
wife, whom he took at the age of twelve. Our relatives, I know, murmured that the match was below me; my mother herself was not happy, but I was without beauty and without dowry and it was the best she could do. "A poor match," they said, and not always quietly. How little they knew, any of them!" Ch. 1.
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