Study Guide

Homeless Bird Marriage

By Gloria Whelan

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Even though it meant leaving my home for the home of my bridegroom's family, I was becoming very nearly happy about my wedding. There was someone who wanted me. Best of all, instead of scraps from my maa's worn saris, I was to have a sari of my own to wear. (1.31)

Like so many teens, Koly daydreams about getting married; she even pictures what her wedding sari will look like and gets excited thinking about it. But marriage isn't all about flowers and wedding cake, and Koly quickly learns that the reality isn't the stuff her dreams are made of.

"You have brought the dowry, sir?" Until that moment I had believed it was me the Mehta family wanted; now it seemed that what they cared for most was the dowry. (1.38)

Right away, Mr. Mehta wants to talk shop, which upsets Koly. She thought they might actually be excited to get a daughter-in-law, but no, they're really just after the money. There's a lot to make us think about marriage as an economic transaction between parents instead of a celebration of love between two people.

Even in such a voice, the verses touched me: "I am the words, thou the melody; I the seed, thou the bearer; the heaven I, the earth thou." (1.68)

During the wedding ceremony, Koly thinks about the words that Hari says to her. Of course, he can't know whether any of these things are true because they've never even spoken two words to each other. There's a big difference between how these words tell us marriage should be and how it actually plays out.

I was not introduced as Hari's wife. I believe they took me for his sister. I wondered if Hari's parents were ashamed to admit before this dignified man that they had married so young and so sick a son to get money. (3.15)

Ouch. Koly is snubbed of her title on the family trip to the Ganges, and she suspects it's because it's embarrassing to let people in on the Mehtas' little secret. Her lack of title also hints at what's to come: Soon she is stripped of the title of wife and given a new one—widow.

What if it was as difficult to find two matching people? (5.8)

When Koly and Chandra search through a bucket of mismatched earrings in the bazaar, they have a tough time finding two that go together. This makes Koly wonder whether marriage is similar. Chandra says she will learn to love her new husband, but Koly's not so sure it's that easy.

How different this wedding was from mine. Instead of a frightened gawky girl and a young and doomed bridegroom, there were a handsome young man and a happy and beautiful bride. (5.36)

Chandra's wedding is happy and celebratory whereas Koly's wedding was morose and muted. As Koly reflects on what this means, we can see that Chandra's celebration is how weddings perhaps should be.

By now my older brother might be married, and his wife would be living in the home of my parents. There would be no room for me. Somehow I would have to make my life here. (8.13)

Marriage brings families together, but it separates them as well. In Koly's culture, where the gal always goes and lives with the guy's family, there's no room for her in her own family anymore. But are there ways in which this is true in other cultures as well?

I found nothing to say to that. It was only natural that Raji should want a wife, but his words silenced me. I could only think how lucky a woman would be to be married to Raji; he was so kind and clever. (9.41)

When Raji tells her he wants a wife, Koly misunderstands him—she takes it to mean that he'll get married to someone other than her, when he's really telling her how much her cares about her. We'd also like to point out that Koly just assumes that Hari will want a wife to do all the chores around the house.

"I don't want to marry a handful of rupees. Can I come to my house at the end of a day in the fields and talk with rupees? Can I bring up my children with rupees for a mother to watch over them? […] I want to talk to my wife. I can talk to you." (11.15)

Oh, Raji—what a nice guy. He goes against tradition, opting to marry a socially-tainted widow because he loves her and letting society's ways fly by the wayside. He loves Koly, and he thinks that's the most important thing in marriage.

Once again I began a quilt for my dowry. My first quilt was stitched as I worried about my marriage to Hari, the second in sorrow at Hari's death. Chandra's quilt was stitched to celebrate her happiness. This time as I embroidered, I thought only of my own joy. (11.44)

This time around, Koly is excited for her wedding. But she's not just looking forward to the feast and celebration on the day; she's ready to spend the rest of her life with Raji. Her new attitude about marriage shows us how much she's grown up since her last wedding.

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