Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Three unmarried sisters

The Three Unmarried sisters

When I met my wife in a very romantic way at a common friends wedding my parents were invited at their place for dinner for the first time. As my dad walked through the narrow hallway of my would-be-wives building he noticed something peculiar. There was a board with the names of the residents on the wall. One of the names suddenly struck his mind that of Ms. Kulkarni (name changed). He'd remembered that name from nearly 30 yrs ago his Engg school days. He later recollected that it was the name of the university honor student (class topper) at his university (UDCT, Mumbai) and was displayed on a board in the school. Her name was very peculiar because women were not typically enrolled in programs such as Engineering and not only was she enrolled in the best programs in the country, but also a class topper of the same. My father was elated to know that the Kulkarni was a neighbor and expressed interest in meeting her.
The story of the Kulkarni sisters is unique not just to India, but, to the world. These were three sisters living in an apartment in Mumbai. Their ages 93, 89 and 87. The oldest one was a practicing doctor at 93. The middle one was also a teacher of medicine, but, not practicing due to health issues. The youngest one was the engineer whose name was on the board in UDCT. None of the sisters were married and that was one of the things unusual about them. They lived together in a small apartment in suburban Mumbai and hardly ever left the place for any reason other than work. All the sisters were very fair and beautiful looking in their day and age. Then there was the looming question about why they weren't married? There was speculation that they were gay. But that couldn't have been true because the youngest one was rumored to have had a long-standing affair with a co-worker that never materialized into marriage. The other rumor was that the first one didn't get married and the other two followed suit. Then after a certain age they all decided to stick together through old age and be there for one another without getting married. The third speculated reason was one that could be believed. They all belonged to one of the most shunned upon castes in India. Naturally, getting married inter-caste in a society deeply divided by caste was virtually impossible. I suspect they might have had rejections based on caste and perhaps vowed to never get married. Sadly enough last year, the oldest of the three passed away at 97 yrs of age. The youngest one at an age of 91 was doing the hospital duty for her. They had an adopted daughter that was helping out, but, they would refuse any help from anyone else. Their story is rather remarkable to say the least. The survival of single women in a culturally conservative society like India is virtually impossible. I've always wondered what kind of challenges they must have met in their lives and the days that they have seen both before & after independence from the British. Perhaps, I must go interview the youngest one soon to get my answers.

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