Early Years in India
by Wobine Ishwaran

"In India it is tradition that the wife serves first the children, then her husband and guests, only the men."

For Chennappa Gouda, happiness is not defined by wealth but by experiences, family, and community. In 1920, Hiremallpur is a tiny agricultural village in Karnataka, India, where Chenappa and Basawa raised a family of nine sons and a daughter, the norm for the early twentieth century. At its core, Ishwaran’s story, based on the true story of her husband’s upbringing, is rooted in traditions, culture, and gender roles.

The norm for the 1920s village woman included going to the mother’s home during the later stages of pregnancies and seeking out swamijis or gurus to conduct astrological evaluations—Jyotish vidya—following childbirth to determine what the stars said about his or her future. A woman in Karnataka would often be identified by a red and orange sari and her fierce desire to raise her family, apparent in the image of Basawa carrying her infant Iswaran on her hip while cooking. Basawa is the epitome of the 1920s village woman: resilient, yet uneducated, often resorting to her husband to handle all formal affairs.

Interestingly, this family’s life was predicated on the togetherness of their family system. The customary festivals never cease, whether it is the festival of lights (Diwali) or Ganesh visarjan, a ceremony celebrating the god of good fortune, giving families a never-ending list of reasons for coming together. The dichotomy of grass fields used as restrooms with university ambitions for their firstborn is particularly glaring. Moreover, the author does a commendable job of demonstrating the dependence on water in the scene—similar to the popular Bollywood film, Lagaan—where villagers pray for rain. Meanwhile, Ishwaran inadvertently goes for a swim in the town’s water tank. Imbued with culture and tradition, Ishwaran’s text highlights the evolution of a family and the challenges faced in a system entirely dependent on agriculture.

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