By Aanchal Dhull:
“Beta speak to him, sirf baat karne mein kya jaa raha hai?” (Speak to him, what have you got to lose?)
“But I am not ready!”
“What do you mean by that? When I was your age, mere do bache ho gaye the!” (I was the mother of two at your age)
If this finds some resonance in your life, then I guess you have reached the ‘right’ age of marriage. When one is in their twenties, they can hardly escape the dialogue of the ‘right age’ that comes rapping at their senses reminding them (women actually) that they don’t have a permanent visa for their natal home; even after spending a quarter of their life in its precincts.
Although, I don’t know what goes into the making of this right age phenomenon. If consent is not enough, then we are left with the fertility logic and its miraculous correlation with age. However, from what my relatives say it seems fertility has little to do with bearing kids because it’s always “bache ho gaye the” (kids happened), like it happened for Virgin Mary, as compared to “kar-lie-the” (produced babies) which might have something to do with age. But in 2016, when technology has enabled women to freeze their eggs in little petri dishes, such concerns seem relevantly futile.
My story began upon the arrival of a ‘perfect match’, with no gotra clashes. I was angry at first, but then gave in, as I was told there was no pressure. All I had to do was just speak to this fellow (speak, not meet because the perfect match had a job overseas). It did not work out but what I did learn was a lesson on wifehood or wifely duties. Mr. Perfect Match enlisted his requirements as follows – “she should not have to be nagged and reminded about her duties repeatedly. It’s not like I don’t work, even I have done utensils at home when the maid is on leave, but these are unproductive tasks you see.”
The next perfect proposal did not come from overseas, but from a happening city called Mumbai. There were discussions about Kala Ghoda festival, beaches, culture etc., and then came the question of duties, except that this time I raised the question, “Can you cook?”, I asked, and the response was not a simple yes or no, but something strange, which I haven’t been able to decipher till now: “I don’t eat” he said.
Maybe he meant he was not a foodie, but what happens to me in such a scenario? Not that I am a voracious eater but love home cooked food. So was Mr. Perfect Match No. 2 hinting that since he did not eat, I would be on my own in that regard? Would it also mean then, that I did what I enjoyed ‘myself’ and he does what he likes ‘without my interference’? What a perfect scenario I thought in my head! I would wash my clothes, read my books, drive my car, and perhaps have my own room too, and a kitchen all to myself.
It did not work out with Mr. Perfect Match No. 2 either, but he did stretch my imagination about what a marriage could mean. Unlike Mr. Perfect Match No. 1, he did not make a distinction between productive and unproductive tasks, but simply suggested that some tasks were just mine if they did not concern him. But what about companionship? Or is marriage not really about companionship?
A few months later came, Mr. Perfect Match No. 3, but he chose to send his representatives, instead of showing up himself. I wonder why our generation is called insensitive and not ‘sanskari,’ if there are men like this who leave it to their parents to find them a girl. “Oh so you do Women’s Studies, tell us more,” asked the groom party, “Nothing much, Aunty, just narebaazi (sloganeering) for women’s rights,” I said. What came after that was havoc! The shocked groom party asked if I did “all this” at home. They were assured that I was not into all this. Of course, the family didn’t revert but if only I could ask them to shed more light on this Ghare-Baire dichotomy on naarebaazi? Why did I have to leave it outside? Either their home was a perfect abode where one didn’t need any Azaadi slogans, or it was a troubled space and a bahu like me would have been a potential threat to their ‘equilibrium’.
The problem was that I was not asked to give the details of all the slogans I believed in. The list is long and it is only getting longer these days, but surely it would have helped identify their discomfort. Would it be 377; or AFSPA; or land rights for women; or the Occupy UGC campaign: what would have bothered them, I still wonder. Anyhow, it did not end well, and a series of lectures followed this episode on ‘how this is the right time to get married.’ At times, I would get to place my opinion too, but what I said would usually be lost on deaf ears and never turned into a dialogue. I believe “Shaadi is not just dal roti, it is much more than that.” My mother was quite surprised at my delusions when I shared this. “What else will you discover in a marriage?” she asked.
I could not explain what was “much more than that”, but was she right? Just a few days back, while surfing TV, I saw a woman advertising a dinner set and my granny grinned at me saying that I could carry it in my dahej. I retorted asking her to pack me disposable plastic plates and cups instead so that I didn’t have to wash anything. “But these days, no one has to work, everyone has maids.”
I have always imagined my married life to be different, though; I don’t see domestic help running my home nor do I see myself working alone on the chores. I don’t see a husband resting on a couch while his wife sticks to her ‘duties.’ I see it as a chance to live my ideology, and if indeed marriage is about making dal roti, then what I seek is partnership, not an adventure-seeking man advertising himself on a matrimonial site.
I am no prototype of a docile, homely girl, and it is not as though I am waiting for marriage or some ‘fair arrangement’ to fall into place, but the question is, for how long will we evade confronting the husband? For how long are we going to rationalise our feudal lifestyles? Of course, one can reject the institution of marriage altogether, which I hope, gets actualised but the problem of ‘who does what work’? may continue to arise long after.