By Priyanka Dubey
I’ve been thinking about writing a piece titled, ‘One Thousand Reasons Not To Marry Me’ for the past few years now, ever since the ‘shaadi kab karogi?’ torture entered my life. At the same time, I kept avoiding this piece because I thought I didn’t have the courage to write it, and because, for any single working girl living in India, writing about the pressure to get married is a cliché. But when I finally decided to write, my motivation came from my slow but strong realization that the pressure is not just about getting married at the ‘right’ time, but is also a systematic, socially sanctioned way to discourage women from pursuing their professional careers, the lives that they want for themselves, by continuously hammering the fear and shame of being ‘left out’ or ‘left alone’.
Here is something that happened some years ago when I was living at home in Bhopal and working as a reporter for Tehelka Hindi. After work one evening I went to the gym. When I came home I found that a chacha of some random boy had arrived to ‘see me’ and fix my ‘rishta’ with his nephew. I was outraged to see this distant relative sitting in my house even after my repeated pleas to my parents to keep me out of the shaadi conversations. My mother told me to get dressed, but I walked into the sitting room in my gym gear and sat in front of the uncle, one leg flagrantly crossed over the other. He babbled about his ‘navy wala ladka,’ and then said, “Beta, I’ve been told that you’re very adventurous. Would you like to travel around the world in a ship with my son?”
I was 24 years old. Here are the things I had done that year: Cover stories on illegal drug trials, caste based violence against marginalised communities, trafficking of women and children, honour killings, rape and murder of teenage girls in Bundelkhand’s villages. I had also trekked for hours inside dense the Satpura forests filled with wild animals to report a story on malnutrition. I was fixing interviews for a cover story on Chambal dacoits.
I told him I had a thrilling, adventurous life myself, and wasn’t interested in his son’s ship. My parents laughed trying to diffuse the tension, and then the uncle joined in.
Not knowing when to stop he now asked, “Beta, chashme ke bina kya bilkul bhi nahi dikhta? Zara chasma utaar ke dikhao?” (Beta, can you not see anything without your glasses? Will you take them off and show us?)
I know stories of my old friends who were made to remove their footwear and walk so that the ‘ladkewale’ could see their actual footwear-less height. But this was the first time I was asked to do something like this. I told the uncle to get lost and said, “I never take off my glasses for anyone’s fancies. I’m certainly not going to take them off for you.”
* * *
“Zamana badal gaya hai,” my relatives tell me, in their attempts to convince me to get married, times have changed. “These days, men are not like before. They help in the kitchen and are very accommodating; you won’t have to cook every day,” they say.
I hated the implicit concessional tone in the word, ‘accommodating’. I’ve met few men who are actually happy to come home to a wife who is either at office, or working at her desk. “Main ghar par wife se sukoon aur aaram chahta hoon,” someone I’d met when I was working on a story had told me, “I want ease and peace from my wife when I reach home.”
For most men I know, women are like capsules of comfort. “They want to come home to warm food and a warmer bed,” a friend once told me. That friend then added, “Nobody’s going to like you if you’re too much into your work or are too ambitious. You’re bound to lose out on love if you’re a feminist.” It’s a lot like how all my male friends want to marry a “normal girl,” which is as man-made a category as the “not normal girl,” and this probably why I have no confidence that marriage won’t affect my work. I’ve seen more women around me taking care of their families, their in-laws, playing ‘acchi bahu’ at dinnertime, running their household and earning money than I have seen men attempting to help them with housework. So what happens now that I refuse to give my work a backseat for the sake of marriage?
* * *
My mother never went to school but later learned to sign in Hindi and read a bit of Hindi. My father’s schooling ended after class 10. He sat for private 12th exams and paid for his own fee by doing tuitions and selling milk. After that he somehow managed to finish a diploma course while working part-time. They wanted me to have an education, if not the kind I wanted and insisted on having. They have slowly come to terms — a little — with the life I am now leading.
Last month, when I was in London on a journalism fellowship, I received a text from a college friend who said she was getting married. After zooming in and out of photos of her with her fiancé, I sent her an excited voice message, but the truth is this excitement wasn’t my first reaction. My stomach felt funny, because I realised I was now the only unmarried single woman in my friend’s circle. I felt the pressure of being 28 and unmarried; perhaps I was making the wrong choices. I was insecure about my opinions on marriage, and now it made me wonder about being alone.
At some point I finally realised I didn’t have to get married because everybody else was. But to seek love and companionship and even marriage for myself? That wasn’t going to be easy either. In India, young couples are often killed for marrying outside the religion or caste they are born in; many women I know have been forced to choose between their parents or love, precisely for these reasons. It’s like they want you to get married, but not fall in love.
To travel from the space my family alloted me when I was born to where I am now has been a hard journey but the most important one of my life. My relatives are always telling me about my approaching ‘expiry date,’ and how lonely I’m going to be once I turn thirty. Even old shopkeepers in Bhopal, where I come from, refuse to show me saris I can wear to work, “Ab toh shaadi ke liye hi sari khareedo bitiya, deri ho rahi hai,” they say instead, it’s getting late. My parents still hope to find me a groom – some of the families they’ve met say I’m, “too accomplished, and too strong,” that I’ll, “overshadow the boy.” Nobody would say a boy is too accomplished for a girl, they’ll say she’s lucky to have found him. How do I explain that I feel lucky to have found myself and have no plan of giving it up? Reason #1 to not marry me. I can think of 999 more.