This article is part of the #BeingaModernIndianWoman archive, which is being launched on 15th August on Indian Independence Day. This storytelling initiative celebrates womanhood and freedom of (responsible) expression, and it’s a stepping stone to further economic opportunities for women in India. Please visit http://beingamodernindianwoman.in/ and facebook.com/beingamodernindianwoman for more information.
The article originally appeared here: https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140814185359-130141629-nearing-30-unmarried-and-clueless
The parcel had arrived and the whole office smelt of coffee soon as I ripped it open. Turns out, there was a small hole and a bit of the powder had spilt. Tucked behind the packets was a letter from Amma. Her clear handwriting brought back memories of home — train horns, smell of the thick broth of vathal kozhambu and television shows with serial actors wailing on about their plights. Amma knew I was a sucker for handwritten letters and wasted no opportunity in writing me one. I loved that about her! She had filled me in with tales from home, apartment gossip, advice to ‘never skip a meal’ and then, very smartly, had added towards the end – “This year is apparently very good for you! In fact, it is perfect to choose your life partner, or so your horoscope says!”
It all started when I hit 20. Until then, weddings had meant merely two things; one — great food through the day and unlimited cups of strong filter kaapi at the corner stall in the mandapamand two — ranting off current educational qualification and a quick, “Of course, I remember you! You are so-and-so’s mother/father/cousin-twice-removed/fill relevant relationship” to relatives, before reverting to option one again.
Suddenly, everything changed!
I still remember vividly that it was my uncle’s wedding in 2006 when this happened. I was accosted by my maternal grandfather’s cousin (you see how complex relationships are!) whose granddaughter had married early. She approached me with a proposition — “Three men available. One to be chosen by you to get married to!” For a split second, nothing made sense; after that, life as I had known it, ceased to exist! Dramatically and a tad rudely, I declared, “That may work for your granddaughter but not for me!” before running away from her clutches into the arms of my mother, and bursting into tears.
Every city I went to, my family gathered support. It was as if they were building an army of relatives who could take their side in the ‘Battle of Wedding Bells’. I, on the other hand, was a one-person army with my defiance for armament. The friends and cousins I had gathered on my side, slowly fell in love or got caught in the arranged marriage web happily and flew away to the opponent’s camp.
The battle happened over and again, my parents leading from the front — valiant and relentless using everything from tears and pleas to anger and arguments to convince me. And that is when I began to wonder how from being the ‘brains of the family’, I had suddenly simply turned into ‘marriage material’.
I hear the hisses from shady corners. Mamis huddled behind sari pallus whisper and mock at me as I pass by. Even little kids back home have been staunchly instructed to call me ‘aunty’. The word on the street is that I am ‘Nearly 30, unmarried and clueless’.
They are trying to break me down.
They are attempting to slow poison me into submission.
I, simply walk by with a grin.
When did marriage become such a big deal that my identity began to be defined by it? I respect the institution of marriage but just don’t see why every woman’s single-point focus, prayer and dream should be to get married.
‘Nearing 30, unmarried and clueless.’
What is so wrong about that? I love it — all three parts of that statement!
‘Nearing 30' means that I am finally going to get better jobs, higher pay checks and more freedom. With that money I could travel, live better and finally fulfill the greedy Lady Oliver Twist-y wish list I have been building over the years.
‘Unmarried’ suggests a lot of hope and possibility. I could find love anywhere! (I haven’t even met Benedict Cumberbatch yet, for crying out loud!) Maybe, I am totally missing it and the guy of my dreams is standing right in front of me. Maybe, I will meet him in one of my trips around the world!
And in my ‘cluelessness’, I hope to find plenty of material for art. Nietzsche was right when he said, “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star”. I know I have a sparkly star within that is waiting to burst out into poetry, doodles, films and stories. To get there, I need to immerse myself in the million experiences that my meandering paths offer. Every time my heart broke, I made stories, poetry and artwork either depicting these men as monsters or lamenting their loss. These exaggerated portrayals have, what I believe, produced some of the best pieces I have managed to unleash.
I could have dramatically run to temples and cried out to the powers, wondering why love never came my way or why I haven’t yet begun to make films already! I could have signed up on dating sites that be, flirted with strangers on Tinder or created my matrimony profile across everything from palakkadiyersonlymatrimony.com to ijustwanttogetmarriedandsettleddown.com (names changed to protect privacy of establishments). I could have struggled as an Assistant Director for the “5000 rupees per month is all you get” clause. But I CHOSE not to.
This choice is an unfamiliar word in the Indian dictionary. From ‘what you can wear that day to the dentist’ to ‘which of the boys in your section you can talk to’ is a decision that parents (and sometimes, even grandparents) make. You, on the other hand, have to run out like Cinderella the moment the curfew clock tolls.
‘Implicit obedience’ is a word I grew up hearing in my vicinity. Before my parents genuinely turned ‘cool’, they endorsed this concept for a good bit. When Indian families use the word it means, ‘no choice’. We never let people be. Heck, we don’t even understand the concept of personal space in our public transport!
Coming back to choice, it is gender-based. There are different sets of rules for men and women. While men have their rights denied by being forced, many a time, into opting for professional courses or working to provide for the family, women have a different set of issues. “Ponnukku paakka aarambichaachcha?” — or in English — “Have you started looking out for marriage alliances for your daughter?” — is a standard question that parents get bombarded with in communal events. I say- ignore those nosy questioners. Or ask them questions in return like -”has your cooking managed to improve at least now?”
Not trying to be rude, but practically speaking, how many of these distant relatives are truly concerned about you getting married? And how many of these depend on your earnings for their daily meal? Then how exactly is it that they meet you once a year at most and suddenly become the deciders of your fate and future!
Worst of all, some of my relatives pity me. They wonder if it is the completely random series of courses I studied along the way that is making me a ‘fresher’ at every point or is my Post-Graduate degree and too much creativity that intimidate men! Others are convinced that I couldn’t find a man because I “talk back too much! All the quiet ones found a boy, no?” Little do they know that they are not just making me into a rag doll of ‘faults’ but also denigrating men to be an insecure lot who have narrow visions!
That I chose to take up architecture, followed it up with films and then take up jobs that sustain me while I still passionately keep writing scripts is a choice I made. It probably reflects on the kind of education system that we have that does not equip us enough to understand our strengths and make the right decisions in time than my “incapacity to stick to things”.
Being an Indian woman in the current times has has been a tough exercise at having to validate my actions. Although, on the one hand it has also given me the freedom to choose cities, lead lives I want to without fear of going wrong, it has been a tough ride. Nevertheless, it is still heartening to be a part of the society that allowed me to mess up with my selections and somehow still pursue my dream at the end of it all.
However, my marriage woes still continue! Relatives still come up with reasons to try and convince me to get married ranging from the absolutely bizarre to the downright ridiculous. While one grand aunt wanted me to marry so she could “draw the decorative kolam in front of the mandapam”, my own mother wanted me to get married “to look good and young in the photographs”.
The oft-mentioned biological cycle; how can I forget that! Biological cycle (oh my hitherto unknown relative!) only makes sense if I make those babies with someone I love and truly want to go through shit and scintillation with. Else the series of broken homes, messed up kids and so on is not really something I want to unleash on to an increasingly violent and dysfunctional world. And for those women who don’t want kids of their own, this argument of ‘get married quickly before your shelf life (YES! I have actually heard that) expires’ makes no sense, whatsoever.
They have tried every trick in the book on me. I still await love before marriage. Simply put, that’s just the kind of girl I am.
Why are we so caught up in ‘arranging marriages’ while we impose curfews? How does it overnight be okay to sleep with a stranger while we still are so hush-hush about sex in this country? In this web of hypocrisy, what is funny is that we do not let love develop organically between people. Even when two people are married – love or arranged – the next question of “when do we hear the good news of a baby” comes soon enough! There is just no end to this exasperating societal interference.
And if you are a struggling filmmaker or writer, this intrusion takes an altogether new high with people informing you how yours is “not a professional course that will fetch you the rupees”. We are constantly churning out a generation of robots more engaged with their machines and money making than human beings who are kind, passionate and loving.
Caught in this senseless scenario of constant nagging to ‘get married’ and ‘get a paying job’, even the most social of us tend to avoid family meetings, skip trips back home and basically choose to stay as isolated as can be. In a world that is finally accepting all kinds of sexuality and recognizing bizarre to the mundane occupation, women like us are still pleading for stillness, peace and living on our own terms. While many of us modern women are lucky enough to squeeze out a few seconds at least of this kind of life, the rest are still at their agonizing struggles.
We each carve a path of our own, replete with struggles, infamous decisions, disappointments, giddy successes, love, depression and every other ingredient that makes a good meal out of life. The recipe, however, varies and so does the preparation time and the process. At the end of the day, all that matters is if we have had our fill!
Instead, we become a bunch of bullies who will never understand a choice if the chooser remains quiet. So you need to fight, raise a voice and throw a fit. I got branded a ‘rebel’ in this process.
Great! I have two tags now and it just feels like that game I used to play as a child where you keep appending words to what the previous player has come up with. I used to like that game — up till now! I am ‘clueless’ as to how many more tags are going to be added. But I have decided to happily carve them all in my nameplate and hang it in front of my house. Maybe by then, much to my entire family’s delight, I would have found myself love. I might have even got married. Or probably, I will be living happily with a cute grumpy pug.