She was quite wild and extraordinary.  There was nobody to restrain her freedom……They were discussing with anxiety the fate of that girl, who was now to go to her mother-in-law’s house.  ”She is quite wild. She doesn’t know how to behave. What will happen to her!” they said.  The next day I saw a small boat on the river.  The poor girl was forced to go aboard.  The whole scene was full of sadness and pathos. One of her girl companions was shedding tears stealthily  while others were persuading and encouraging her not to be afraid   The boat disappeared.  It gave me the setting for a story named “The End”. Shahzadpur, (Rajshahi, Bangladesh), 4 July 1891

In early 20th century Indian fiction the practice of early/child marriage was often highlighted as a social ill, which in turn paved the way for change and legislation.  An exception to this is Tagore’s Samapti, based on a girl Tagore spotted on a visit to East Bengal (now Bangladesh).  Samapti is more a coming of age story, a transition from girlhood to  adulthood inextricably mixed up with the early marriage social norms of Tagore’s time (Samapti’s heroine is a teen, much like Juliet). 

Partly due to this kind of novel, wild and/or carefree girls domesticated or quietened by love is a recurring theme in Indian cinema, even as the age of the heroine changes.  Samapti is also a Ray film, it was remade as Uphaar.  See also Guddi, Balika Badhu, Roja even the more recent Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.  And of course nothing signals this change more than attire, even if the young girl is in a simple sari to begin with. Today’s before and after stills from 1) Samapti 2) Guddi 3) Balika Badhu. 

In modern India of course the minimum age of marriage for women has steadily risen (though early marriage is still prevalent in some parts and Balika Vadhu is a popular soap). 

Notes

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