Sexual self control

My Sister has an Admirer

When my sister, Usha, reached the age of thirteen my mother started to fret about finding her a husband. In India in those days, girls married very young. Life was often short; you had to get on with the business of living before you died.

My sister did not want to think about getting married. She was enjoying being a girl. She enjoyed playing in the rain, swimming in the river and climbing trees.

Mother would scold her saying, ‘How do you expect anyone to want to marry you when you always look so untidy? Look at your hair, look at the mud on your clothes. You are a young woman now. It’s time you stopped all these childish pursuits!’ But my sister did not listen. She was enjoying herself too much.

One day we had a visit from the merchant in the market and his son. They wanted to speak to my father about when our crops would be ready to take to market.

“You must ask my wife about that sort of thing,” said my father. She and my daughter and the servants take care of the crops.”

Usha who was hiding behind the door in the next room felt herself fill with pride. I saw her straighten up and look important when father mentioned that she was in charge of the crops. She peeped round the corner and her eyes met the eyes of the merchant’s son. I have never seen my sister acting as strangely as she did on that morning. She happened to be clean and tidy as it was early in the day and she had not had time to get muddy. She stepped boldly from the shadows and said:

“Father, Mother and I would be very pleased to show Mr. Mehta our fields. We can tell him exactly what we have grown and when we hope it will be ready,” and she looked across at the young man, a very handsome youth of about sixteen and smiled demurely.

“Very well, Usha, I’m sure Mother will be very glad of your help,” replied Father, and he disappeared leaving us to show the merchant and his son our crops. I say us, because I certainly did not want to miss out on watching my sister in this new role she had suddenly taken on. It was a transformation. My sister, instead of laughing, running and skipping was walking quietly behind my mother who was discussing business with Mr. Singh. His son had certainly noticed her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

My sister asked the young man if he worked in the market with his father.

“Indeed I do, Miss, but I do not work on Saturdays. Can I come and call on you?”

“I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my father,” said Usha, blushing. She chatted away to the young man about all sorts of things. I soon lost interest and wandered off.

That evening my sister asked my father at the dinner table if the young man could come to call on her on Saturday. My father stopped eating and looked very serious.

“Ah, my daughter, I see a change is coming to us. I see we need to talk about your future. I have nothing against the young man personally. Indeed he is a fine young man. However, he is not of the same background as you. He is not a Brahmin, he is one of the merchant classes, not a high enough caste for this family. If you were to see him and you were to do everything he wanted you to do, you would soon be very close indeed. So close that there would be no space for even a piece of hay to be squeezed between you, then you would have to marry the boy and bring up your child according to his caste.

Tell me this, Usha? Do you enjoy the way of life that we have? Do you like to have a big house and land and servants to help you? How would you feel if you lived in a tiny shack and spent most of your time out in the sun working very hard in between rearing your babies with no help at all?”

Usha looked very serious. “I don’t think I would like that very much, Father,” she said.

“Then why not wait and give yourself properly in marriage to a suitable young man who will provide you with a lifestyle that you are accustomed to. There is plenty of time in spite of what your mother says. She was eighteen when I married her. She refused many suitors before her perfect man came along…”

My Father looked meaningfully at mother before he turned and left the room.

Usha looked down cast. “What do you think, Mother?” she asked.

“Well, I don’t think there’s any hurry really, dear. I do agree with Father that it is best to keep your love and your body to yourself until someone suitable in every way comes along. You can be sure that he will. How many unmarried women do you know?”

My sister could not think of any at all.

“Well, my dear, best keep yourself to yourself, stay chaste rather than be chased, that’s what my mother used to say to me! And when a really good suitable hunter comes along, you will be able to enjoy the chase!” My Mother patted Usha. A silence followed. My sister stood up looking wistful.

“Well, I’m off out to climb a tree. You coming Ramu?” she sighed.

“I’m glad you’re not going to get married yet,” said I. “It’s good to have someone to climb trees with. Father says I’m too old to be climbing trees, but I love it!”

N.B. This story raises several issues which require some explanation. The caste system is a part of the Indian tradition, where society is divided into different classes or castes. Within each caste people have their own system of values and behaviour. At the top are the Brahmins, a class of priests, to which Ramesh and his family belonged. The class below would be the Kshatriyas who in the past were barons and warriors. The Vaisyas are the next class, being merchants, or commoners. Lastly the Sudras are the craftsmen and labourers. Below them are those who do very menial work, such as road sweepers. The Hindi name for them is Harijan which means people loved by God, the implication being that nobody else loves them. (Hari means Lord, Jana means people). In English they are referred to as ‘the Untouchables’.

In the West we have royalty and aristocracy at the top of the social tree followed by the upper classes (landed gentry) then the middle classes, followed by the working class. People resist the mixing of the classes in general and certainly in the past it would be frowned upon if for example a servant married her master (or his mistress, as the case may be). In India one is expected to follow one’s dharma or path in life according to spiritual law. It is a taboo* or forbidden to act against dharma. You are expected to marry into your own caste. The word for caste in Sanskrit is vara and it means ‘colour’, but has nothing to do with the colour of one’s skin. It means a leaning towards, a tendency, an inclination of the mind. Hindus believe that we come into this world into an appropriate caste for our required life experience at that time, bearing in mind they believe we each have many lives on this earth. This is the reason it is taboo to marry outside one’s caste. However, a woman may marry into one caste above hers, but not into a lower caste. This is because it is thought that a woman will not respect her husband if he is of a lower caste. Some modern spiritual leaders now say there is only one caste, the caste of the human race.

Society is gradually becoming more mixed up these days, as education allows those with ability from the lower classes to have good jobs and earn good incomes. In modern times we say that everyone is equal, all human beings are due the same respect.

Usha’s father was worried that she might fall in love with a young man who could not provide her with the sort of life that she was used to. This is a practical consideration and a matter of real concern for parents, then as now. In those days, (and indeed even now in some areas of countries such as India and Pakistan) girls got married as soon as their periods started. This was to make sure that if a girl became pregnant, she and the child would belong to a family that would be able to support them both emotionally and financially. Although the girls were very immature, the extended family system would look after the young parents and help them to bring up their children. The girl’s mother-in-law would always be available.

We will look at the issue of sexual relationships in the guidance in Section 2 of this book.


Guidance on Sexual Self Control