"I do not want more
Photographs and Interviews by
MISHAI YADAV SPENDS MOST OF HER life within the walled courtyard of her family's home in Ahraura village, in the northeastern state of Uttar Pradesh. (Yadav, a caste name, refers to the caste's historic role as cowherds.) As do many Hindu women in this Muslim-influenced region, Mishri, 27, practices the Islamic custom of purdah - living in seclusion, away from prying eyes. When male visitors enter her home, she shields her face with her sari.
In her enclosed
world, Mishri tends to the needs of her extended family her
husband, Bachau; their five children; and Bachau's father and
cousin, who live with them. The work keeps her busy from sunup to
sundown, except for a brief rest during the hottest part of the
day when friends might visit to talk and decorate their hands and
feet (right). Her oldest daughter, Sunita
("Guddi"), 9, is her biggest help with the household
chores. In the courtyard is a waterpump where Mishri bathes
herself and the children, draws drinking and cooking water, and
scrubs the family clothing. Bachau, 32, spends his time working
his small field and making wooden toys for sale - a job he
dislikes but needs to feed the family The three oldest children
go to school near their home. Classes are held outside because
the school building is too small. Mishri, who never attended
school, cannot read; living in a world without clocks or
calendars, she doesn't know her own birthday or those of her
Conversation with Mishri Yadav
Note: Unlike most other women in this book, Mishri Yadav was interviewed in the presence of her husband, who attempted to answer questions for her.
Mishri Yadav: My father was a farmer, and my mother helped in the field and was a housewife. I had four sisters and four brothers. I was the eldest child.
Sarah Leen: Was your mother's life different from
At what age were you betrothed?
Did you marry for love?
Is there love in your relationship now?
You were betrothed at ten. When did you actually
meet your husband?
What was your wedding like?
Was there a dowry?
Did you ever consider not getting married?
What do you expect from each other?
Would you say you are of equal standing with
your husband in your home?
Who makes the big decisions?
Would it be okay for your daughter, Guddi, to
How old do you expect your daughter, Guddi, to be
when she marries?
Is it an option for her not to have children?
What if she were unable to?
Her face partially concealed by her sari, Mishri (above) makes one of her relatively infrequent trips outside the home to take Guddu for his shots at the well-baby clinic. Like many Indian women, Mishri is Hindu but has adopted the Islamic custom of purdah, in which women keep themselves apart from male gazes and male company. As she waits in line for the innoculations, the baby restlessly squirms in her lap.
Will your children live with you when they are grown?
If my sons live other places, then we will be alone. If not, we will be together. My daughters will have gone to live with their in-laws by that time.
Sarah: Mishri, how do you spend your day?
Mishri: I do all the housework. I massage the baby, clean the dishes and the house, and put everything in order, and I cook.
|What takes up most of your tine?
What takes the least time?
Do you have a favorite activity?
How do you and your husband spend time together?
What about the family as a whole? How much time do
you all spend together?
Do you have much tine to yourself?
Is there anything you like to do that you wish you
could do more often?
Is there anything that you would like to do that
you don't do now?
Are you satisfied with your life?
Sarah: Do you own your house?
What are your monthly household expenses for food,
doting, and household goods now?
Do you know what you pay for fuel?
It is 30 rupees [US $1] a month for electricity. We buy firewood, but I don't know how much it costs. The dung [for fuel] I have to buy, too.
Do you have any money to spend on yourself personally?
About 25 rupees [US $0.85] a month.
What do you spend it on?
Bindis [small round red marks traditionally used to indicate that a woman is married] and sindur. But most of the money goes into buying coconut oil, which is 20 or 30 rupees [US $0.65-$1] for 230 grams [8 oz.]. [The family uses the oil on their skin.-Ed]
Is there anything you would like to own that would make
your life better?
It would be good if there was a television.
In a traditional practice, Mishri massages the skin of 6-month-old Guddu (above) with coconut oil every day. The massage, she believes, is good for his health.
|Would you like more children?
I don't want more children, but if God wishes, what can I do?
Did you see a doctor when you were
Where were the other children when your youngest,
Guddu, was born?
Do you have women friends?
Only women friends-Taka and Urmilla. We talk about our children, about the market. We talk about where to find fodder and firewood and bow to do things in the house. We meet every day. We sit in my courtyard or at the door. I go to their house or they come to my house. We sit together and sew clean rice, and make hand fans.
Are your friends important to you?
They are important. They make me feel good.
Bachau, what would you like your children to become when
they grow older?
Bachau Yadav (husband): I have three sons I want one son to become a doctor, one to go into the army and the third son should stay at home and take care of the house. I want one daughter to become a nurse, and the other one should be a good housewife. I want all my children to be educated, to study; and also, the girls have to learn how to maintain the house, They should learn how to cook and clean utensils and all that.
Whose responsibility is it to take care of your children?
Bachau: My wife's, but in the morning and evening when my wife is cooking food, I take care of the children.
Do you share any household duties with her?
Bachau: Once in a while I cook if she needs that help. If she's not well, I massage her head.
What is the role of women? What kind of things should they
Bachau: Women should work in the field. They should take care of the house, they should take care of the kids, and they should take care of their husbands.
What is the role of men?
Bachau: I'm the guardian of the house.
What was the last major decision you made?
Bachau: The decisions I have made in my life were to get married, to make a house with my own hands, and to buy land. What my wife [wanted to do] has not yet been done. What she wants is to learn how to have a well-run household.
Who makes the decisions about how money is spent?
Bachau: I do.
Do people in your village give equal standing to you and
Bachau: In the village, men have higher standing.
How about at home? Is your wife of equal standing with you
Bachau: At home I give her equal standing, because who is there to see?
Every morning begins with mist? dung-fire haze? whatever it is hanging soft and chill in the air. It's quiet; the din and bustle, the press of people and vehicles arid animals has not yet begun. A wonderful time of day, a needed break from being so nose-to-nose with life in India.
Mishri lives in a world bounded by the walls of the courtyard behind her house. Almost every activity takes place in this secluded outdoor space. When she ventures outside, she uses the gate set into the courtyard wall I never saw her use the front door. To keep her public exposure to a minimum, Bachau sweeps the packed ground in front of the house. For her part, she won't speak Bachau's name, at least to me. When I asked her how to pronounce it. she got a neighbor in a bright yellow sari to say it for her.
I was struck by Guddi's ability to carry so much responsibility with so little protest. At 9 almost the age when her mother married her father Guddi takes care of her baby brother, cooks and washes the dishes completely her mother's right hand. There is not a spoiled bone in her body. I'd make any kind of fool of myself to win one of her smiles.
Both Mishri and Bachau have moments of vanity. When I take Bachau's portrait, he borrows Western-style clothes from neighbors, dons my sunglasses, and proudly shows himself to the camera in some self-inspired version of mod and macho, successful and sleek. Mishri loves her two delicate, airy saris, one of which she washes every day, changing and bathing in full view of the strangers who have invaded the courtyard. After I tell the family I would like to get them something as thanks for their hospitality, Mishri gets me alone and indicates what would please her. To my surprise, it's jewelry, make-up, a new sari, dye for her feet. Not something to make her life better, but beauty products and new clothes. After all, I reflect, she is only 27.
- SARAH LEEN, FEBRUARY