45 Years Later, a Springfield Marriage Arranged in India Thrives With the Common Bonds of Education

Mar 10, 2014

Welcome to Around the World, Here at Home. I’m Jennifer Davidson. Today, we highlight the country with the second largest population in the world: over one billion people.  It has 14 official languages, but hundreds of others thrive, too.   It borders the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, and rises to the majestic Himalaya Mountains in the north.  Hinduism is the way of life for most, but Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, too, have a huge presence here:  India.

I spoke with Protima and Rabindra Roy, both longtime professors at Drury University in Springfield.

“My marriage was arranged by my parents and family friends. I got to know about his family, about his educational background, his goals, from his parents and friends,” Protima said.

Her first reaction when she met him was a good one, she says.

“[I thought,] yeah, he looks nice. I hope he will let me do my professional work, finish my Ph.D. work, and let me work outside the home,” she said.

The two families negotiated those terms before the marriage was decided.  Rabindra promised, in the presence of Protima’s father and relatives, that he would support her education and career.

“As soon as I saw Protima, she was very good looking, and very attractive. And it was, as they call it in American terms, love at first sight,” Rabindra said.

Rabindra’s father, a farmer, instilled in him that it would be a good idea to have a village school in India. And that’s what set the Roys on a path of saving every penny they could for the next several decades.

“We have been living in the same house for the past 40 years,” Rabindra said.

They saved because they didn’t want to accept any money from the Indian government—they feared if they took government money, they would lose some of the control on quality in their school.

They didn’t go out to dinner, take vacations, or buy a new car.  Instead, they saved…and over the years, accumulated about two million dollars.

Rabindra’s father had a sixth grade education, and his mother never knew how to read and write before marriage at age eleven.

“And I never had any shoes up to grade nine,” Rabindra said. “This was a village. There was no electricity. There was no road.  I used to go to the pond, and bring back a bucket of water and grow vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage.”

Because of the extreme poverty he experienced at a young age, Rabindra says he got the idea to do something for others living that experience.

“I was born in Calcutta, and my parents were educated. My father was highly educated—he was a philosopher and teacher.  Both of my parents were avid readers, so we had a library in our own home,” Protima said.

Her parents were not at all dismayed that she decided to marry someone who came from an impoverished background, she said.

In rural areas, or where there is not much education, the caste system is still practiced culturally:  this is where social levels are distinctly separate, including marriages.  Legally, this is becoming outlawed across most of India.

SHeela Model School, they have started a rural, one-room school for tribal children – first generation learners. The Roys provide the text books and school lunches, and they pay the school teachers’ salaries.

Rabindra has been teaching at Drury since 1966. At their modest, two-bedroom home in Springfield, they’ve hosted dinner parties for three Nobel Laureates, all of whom, they say, didn’t mind their humble abode one bit. 

You can hear their complete interview by clicking on the MP3 link above.

See our past coverage of the Hem Sheela Model School by clicking here.