Even though I am not certain about the truth of this story, it is one that has been passed down from generation to generation. Different versions have different names, location and numbers but plot is still the same. This particular story has gone round for over fifty years and the essence of the story mirrors the need that is in every human being- the need for acceptance and recognition.
Sarita, a self–effacing woman who was past society’s time for marriage was the only girl-child of her father. Not only was she the only one who still lived in her father’s house at that age, she was also regarded as the ugliest of not only her father’s children, but the ‘ugliest’ in the village. All her sisters had married suitors who gave two or three cows to their father as bride price. The most beautiful girl in the village, Acha made her father so proud the year before. Her suitor had brought 5 cows to the awe of every family around. Acha’s bride price had become the standard!
Sir Kabir, Sarita’s father had never liked her since she was a child. She was the eldest and the only daughter of the woman he had loved. As far as he was concerned, she killed her mother. All the words he used in addressing her ever since she was a child were very demeaning. She never went to places her younger siblings went. Just like the Cinderella story, she had too much to do round the house and her father’s farm. She never had time to take care of herself. She walked around slouching with no confidence whatsoever. Most of the bachelors in the village saw Sarita as the least of all women whose bride price should never be a cow; maybe vegetables, and goats but not a cow.
Finally, Saheed, the richest and most eligible bachelor of the neighbouring village approached Sir Kabir’s home and asked for Sarita’s hand in marriage. In a bid to scare him away and also to mock Sarita, Sir Kabir asked Saheed to provide five cows for her. He had done this not because he doubted his ability to provide the cows, but because he doubted Saheed’s ability to give that number for Sarita and sarita no longer cared. She was indifferent. No matter who came, she would continue her life of slavery and rejection in her husband’s house. She only hoped that the vegetables brought would be very fresh and the goats, very fertile.
A week passed and everywhere was agog, Sir Kabir, on observing the noise, went to his gate and was mortified; Saheed and his very amiable and wealthy family; father, brothers, uncles and eight cows stood before him! Sarita got a man who thought highly of her.
One year passed and Sarita had changed conspicuously. She came into her village to greet her family and she looked like a queen. She was Saheed’s queen. The tides had changed in her favour. She was the new standard; the eight-cow bride!
Everyone is not perfect. Sometimes even when we doubt ourselves and we lose hope, there is always someone who sees right through; the one who sees us in the rough and who is ready to prove to us how incredibly amazing we are because we are.
We all need that one person; maybe not as a husband but as a mentor, friend, teacher, boss, neighbour… and just maybe you could see someone for who they could be and not who they are right now.
Story adapted from: From “Woman’s Day”, Nov. 1965; Also in “Readers Digest”, vol. 132 Feb. 1988, pp. 138-142. Revised and condensed further by Es Carlson, 2010.
By Oludara Ogunbowale
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