My dearest Anjana Shah, it is difficult to believe that we have been husband and wife for five years on this very day. Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday the entire village gathered together to feast in celebration of your acceptance into the Atram family. Do you recall the delicious feast you prepared? Ah, Anjana, dearest wife, there are so many things I would like to express to you, I feel my heart will burst! Dear, sweet wife, we've had our share of troubles, but we're stronger for them. Not once have I regretted our agreement, not for even a second. Darling, just looking into your beautiful brown eyes each morning is worth more than four goats. You were well worth the nine.
Though my father assured me that his choice was sound, I worried initially that he was thinking only of your dowry. I suspected him of choosing you in order to bring the nine goats into our extended family, heedless of the fact that you were not the right woman for me. I feared that your hands were too soft and delicate to work the fields and dig groundnuts. I told my father that, at 16, you were rather old. I worried that your hips were too slim to bear my children, and you confirmed my fears when our first baby was stillborn. That did not please me. And, in our first year of marriage, your habit of slipping out at night to see your sick mother forced me to observe the family tradition and beat you with a bullhide strap. But I promise that I never took pleasure in flogging you. Even as I flogged you, I had affection in my heart.
But in the second year of our star-crossed marriage, you made my affectionate heart soar when you gave me a strong, healthy son. Only 10 full moons later, another son arrived… and then another and another, and today we have hope of a fifth. You may think it strange and impractical for me to say this, but I secretly hope that my next child is a girl. Even though she will be a burden on myself and my sons, you will enjoy teaching her the traditional songs, and she can help you with the cooking of our meals and cleaning of our house. We will guard her purity and, when she reaches the age of 12, she will be able to make another man as happy as you have made me, my beloved angel.
Of course, if the girl should have some defect that would render her undesirable to a potential groom—a clubfoot, for example—then you will drown her beneath the waterfall at Binagonda.
I have always admired your strength, my darling. Even today, though you are heavy with child, you spent the day fortifying the walls of our home with mud and straw. I remember the day you hurt your leg in the fields. In spite of the pain, you spent the entire day working. When you came home with a tear-stained face and only a half-basket of groundnuts, I was so impressed with your perseverance that I sat you down and gave you a cup of ginger tea before I got out the bullhide strap.
But I love you for many reasons besides your strength, my angel. I love you for your purity, broken for the first time on the night of our marriage. Since the night of your deflowering, you have conducted yourself with dignity. You do not raise your voice like some of the women in the village. You did not cry and carry on when our crops were trampled by sheep, though you knew that it would take you several arduous weeks to replant them. You never need to be told to walk three paces behind me. You never need to be told to keep your head down while I speak. You never need to be asked to wash my feet when I come home from a long day of drinking and singing. You are everything to me.
I will never forget the first time I realized how much you mean to me. Do you recall the afternoon when three of the precious dowry goats got loose? Without a thought of the dangers of the approaching night, you searched the entire Deccan Plateau, carrying our son Lam with you all the while, walking as far as the Hanuman Temple at Chaprala. When dawn arrived, I was very worried—and hungry, because you had not been there to prepare dinner the night before (which did not please me). But the fear of losing you to wild animals or bandits made me realize just how much you mean to me. When you finally showed up at the door, I made you promise never to leave the confines of the village again, not even to walk to the market in Vadpur.
The following night, my stomach nicely full, I stayed up very late alone in the night drinking from a bottle of Mahua flower water my father had given me shortly before he passed into his next life. Looking at the stars, set like gems in the inky night, I thanked my father. "Thank you, sir," I said. "Truly, you made the right marriage for me." Anjana Shah, I would not give you up for 20 goats. I would not lose you for even 30 goats. I would not give you up for a bicycle, a cart, or even a transistor radio. Dear heart, I tell you I speak the truth when I say that a thousand raging rivers could not drag you from me! That is how much I love you. I will love you well after the goats have grown too old to produce milk, and have been slaughtered for their meat.