“But who do you love more?”
How could my new friend, Cheuki, even begin to answer. She was warned before she married, Norbu and the Lama, that she must never show any favoritism when marrying the two brothers. Any self-respecting Tibetan knows Jealousy is the destroyer of all good things.
She tells me about her first husband who fell to his death from a horse accident. Childless, she removed her jewels as per custom and went into mourning at the age of 25. Tibetans believe suffering is a broom that sweeps away all our negative karma. After three years, she was a breath away from going on a long pilgrimage in search of solace and enlightenment. Her father, fearing his daughter would become a spinster, convinced her to marry Norbu whose wife had died of TB and left him with three children. She picked up her life and rode her horse across the mountains in her Himalayan kingdom to Norbu’s village where she was re-married.
Soon Norbu’s daring and handsome younger brother, the Lama (a Tibetan priest), started showing up. With dreads to his knees and a boyish, mischievous smile to make any woman melt, he had and still has, according to a smiling Cheuki, the amazing talent to make her laugh. Another man could give her all the consideration and attention she had longed for. Within months, the Lama became Cheuki’s second husband. Of course, there were rules to follow: If one brother comes back and the others shoes were outside the door, the brother would have to go elsewhere. Eldest brothers are always referred to as the fathers of any of the children and the youngest is always the uncle.
Sa-Soum is what the Tibetans call it. It means to ‘Manger a Trois’. For economic reasons, in an extremely harsh environment where land is sparse, Tibetans often marry several sons together with one woman in order to keep family wealth and land together.
Even with two husbands, the reality for Cheuki was that she was barren and without child. After much thought, she went on a sacred pilgrimage near the Shey Kora to pray to the Himalayan Gods that she too would become a mother. Its known across Dolpo that if a woman’s faith is deep enough, then she will become pregnant upon leaving this holy site. But still no child came.
One fine winter day, Norbu rode up to his brother Renzing’s village. It was said that Rinzings wife was so fertile, she could fall pregnant by Rinzing merely looking at her in a certain way. Whatever was said that day among brothers, Cheuki will never know. Several months later, Renzing showed up at Cheuki, Norbu and the Lama’s doorstep with a beautiful little girl. Initially Rinzing asked if the little girl could stay awhile. Months later, Cheuki knew that it was her destiny to look after this child. But the child fell ill and the Gods came to take her from Cheuki and the two brothers.
Just as Cheuki tells me about the harrowing turn to her story, a 5 year-old Drolma, covered in vagabond snowflakes, a jerry can full of water on top of her head, walks into the room. The girl wipes her hands on her apron and reaches to fill her tea cup. When Drolma was 2, Rinzing and his wife had to take a spiritual journey across the snow-capped mountains of Dolpo. They asked if they could leave their new and youngest daughter with Cheuki, Norbu and the Lama. When the girl’s parents returned to fetch her, little Drolma kept asking to go and visit Cheuki. Months later, Rinzing brought Drolma back for good. Tibetans call Adoption ‘Poutsaf’… I wonder who adopts who.
Cheuki stirs the embers, leans forward to confide what constitutes a good husband. I tell her, ‘You mean good husbands?’
She giggles, ‘A good man feeds you well, is gentle, gives good quality turquoise and coral, well made clothes and never makes any trouble… like Norbu. And a good husband should also make you laugh, like the Lama.’
I suddenly see the beauty in her not being able to answer my question about she loves most. It doesn’t’ really matter. Cheuki already knows how to treasure happiness and that the secret is to Love. Full stop. The envelope for Love is as big as we want it to be. There is enough Love for as many children, friends, ‘husbands’ and loved ones we have. Only people have limits, while love has none. What we need most, and in particular at this time of year when so many people find themselves alone, is to spread abiding Love and compassion.