Cane is Bitter

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In English class, we are doing a unit on Language and Culture. Our current focus is on a short story based in Trinidad, called “Cane is Bitter”. The story revolves around a Hindu family with several children, the eldest being their son Romesh. The family is very poor and uneducated, and their source of income totally relies on how much cane they cut. So the children work all day and into the night, and wake up the next morning to do it all over again, their entire lives – and then continue the same lifestyle with their own children. Since education isn’t offered, they don’t really have another alternative. But Romesh’s mother decides to send him to a city nearby where they do offer education. At this point Romesh is a grown man in his early 20s, and goes away for a year to study there. He studies math, English, learns to speak, read, and write in proper grammar, political science, history, poetry, philosophy, and reads a lot of fiction and non-fiction books. He feels like the horizons of his mind have expanded greatly because of the knowledge that has been bestowed upon him, enlightening his existence. He starts to appreciate beauty, romance, manners, words, poetry, and realizes how oppressed the people of his small village really are – especially his own family. When he goes to visit them (which is only on an annual basis), he is a completely different person. Though his mother is extremely proud of him, and glad that she had encouraged him to pursue an education elsewhere, his father is not. His father wants him to get married to a girl from a middle-class family (as the dowry in their culture is given by the girl to the man) and continue with the family ‘business’ of cane-cutting. As Romesh’s father and mother are discussing his future marriage — without his knowledge — a possibility crosses his father’s mind: “What if he’s in love with someone who is from a different culture?” In his case, he meant a black woman; but his wife quickly dismisses the thought from her husband’s mind.

Anyway, so one of the discussion questions had asked us what we would do if we were in Romesh’s situation. In my head, Romesh basically had to choose 1 of the following:

A) Keep his education and marry the girl his family wants, keeping his family happy and embracing the knowledge he had received

B) Keep his education and marry the girl *he* wants, which would end up with him having to give up his family

C) Refuse to get married and risk losing the education he is receiving, since his parents can easily prevent him from going anymore.

Our teacher was more detailed about the question, she wanted to make it more local, more personal. She asked us girls, “If your family said you could study abroad, as long as you would get married, would you?”

And we are talking about university. As in, she was asking us, 17 and 18 year old girls, if we would get married after our high school graduations just for the sake of having a male escort in order for our parents to approve of us going to a good university and getting the education we deserve. She told us that this had, in fact, happened a few years ago. A high school female student of hers got accepted to a university in the U.S. to study medicine, but her family wouldn’t agree unless she was married. Though the girl posed no objection, and did get married, she couldn’t juggle marriage with medicine, since she got pregnant a year into her studies, and had to drop out to care for her husband and her child.

What my teacher said was, that we didn’t even have the same options as Romesh. She pointed out that as Kuwaiti girls, if our families did not approve of the man we loved, that was it for us. It’s not like we can leave our families like Romesh can and choose our soulmates instead. We do not have that option, of walking away and running after the one we love; we let go, which was a really sad but very accurate point that she made.

Two of my classmates shocked me with their answers by saying, “I would find any guy to marry, travel with him abroad, and get a divorce when I’m done.” which is, in my opinion, taking advantage of a guy that doesn’t want to take advantage of you: he’s marrying you, he wants to spend the rest of his life with you! I told them that it wasn’t fair, that was using him. Their response was that “men are always using us, what’s the difference?”

It just got me thinking. Personally I would rather not get married and travel abroad than marry a stranger just for the sake of using him and be stuck with him forever – because I know myself and I wouldn’t leave someone who has been there for me for four years. Marriage is meant to be a commitment, not a way of taking advantage of your partner’s benefits for your own personal needs. I don’t know how my classmates would have the heart to use a man for four years and then leave him. What if, despite it being an arranged marriage, he falls in love with you during those four years? Would you break his heart and leave him anyway? How would the woman be any different than your typical man in that case? The only difference is that the typical man is seeking ways to satisfy his male ego, while apparently the typical woman (since I know two others who have said the same thing, making a total of four) is seeking ways to satisfy her academic dreams – and the trend seems to be that the best way to do that is by finding a man to ‘tolerate’ for 4 years.

I think it’s more than fine, to get married and travel abroad, if it is of the couple’s own free will and it was their own decision. I think that’s great, when two people are in love and decide to be together and support each other through their university years. But when that is the parents’ condition, and the girl marries a stranger with the intention of leaving him, then it isn’t fair to him. And regardless of what everyone says, both ends have feelings, both ends get hurt when their hearts are broken. I don’t think that men are always using women. I’m lucky enough to know a few really good men who would never take advantage of women. Some men do use women. Some women use men. If we were to go by the stereotypes, men love having their ego fed, and women love having their wallets fed. If we were to go by stereotypes, we would never be able to trust each other – not even when we’re married. Personally I think you can’t fully trust the stranger you are marrying if it is an arranged marriage, especially if you are planning to travel abroad with him at 18. Trouble could easily escalate, as mentioned before, pregnancy being one of the concerns, as well as domestic abuse; if you don’t know this man as well as the back of your hand, how do you know how he will behave when he is angry? In a foreign country, away from your family, living only with him, what will you do if he crosses a line? For me, it’s too fishy. I guess it works for some people though.

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4 responses »

  1. i would personally prefer a arranged marriage… why lanna tbh not all love marriage succeeded in life most of the time they will fight but im not saying ina all love married didn’t succeeded some did but mostly didn’t :).

    P.S: i really enjoyed reading your post, somehow your way of writing made me wanna read more (t7amast:P) bas mashallah 3alach keep it up !

  2. It depends on personal preference I guess.. The way I see it is if the two people really do love each other it’ll work.. Ana 3an nafsi magdar at5ayal ini atzawaj wa7id ma3arfa 3adil 3adil, it feels weird.
    Thank you, I’m flattered and I hope I can keep making the same impression! 🙂

  3. also – I don’t think that fighting necessarily means that the marriage is coming to an end. Every couple fights, and I don’t think they fight because they hate each other – they fight because they love each other enough to care. No marriage can ever be perfectly happy, don’t you think?

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