Monday, June 16, 2008
When she was two, Leela was engaged. When she was nine, she was married. Now twelve years old, Leela looks forward to her anu – the ceremony that means she will go to live with her husband’s family. But then the unthinkable happens – Leela’s husband is bitten by a snake and he dies. Set in India in 1918, Keeping Corner is the story of how Leela survives her first year as a widow.
For Leela, widowhood means that she will have to spend an entire year in her house. She can no longer wear the jewelry she loves, she must wear a widow’s sari, and she must have her head shaved. All of these things are demanded by custom, and because she lives in a small town, Leela has no other choice but to follow tradition. Fortunately for her, times are changing. Gandhi’s viewpoints are beginning to circulate and people are listening. Leela gets the opportunity to continue her education by receiving tutoring at home. Education has never been valuable to her, but now she clings to it and realizes that the only way she’ll escape her destiny is to go to a city and become a teacher or a doctor. But asking this may be asking too much of her family, a family mired in tradition and custom.
Even though I’m a history major, I must confess much ignorance to the history of India. I did find this to be a fascinating account of what to me, as an American raised in the late twentieth century, seems to be a horrifying custom. To be condemned to a life of widowhood at age twelve is completely foreign to my comprehension of how women should be treated. I’m so very grateful that in many areas of the world customs have changed and women are treated far more equally than in the past.
I truly enjoyed Keeping Corner. It follows some of the same themes as Gloria Whelan’s Homeless Bird, and I think both could be used effectively in a girls’ discussion group.