Being in love with a younger man

It was as if an earthquake had hit Pammi Maasi’s house that mundane Saturday afternoon. Her beloved and only son, my 26 year old cousin, Rehan, had just declared that he is in love with a 41 year old woman, Mira, and wishes to marry her.

Pammi Maasi was hysterical, her expressions would put Kirron Kher’s character from Dostana, in the ‘Maa da laadla’ song, to shame.

“Have all the young girls fallen dead? How did my innocent boy fall into that cunning woman’s trap? All this western culture influence! Oh Krishna, please give wisdom to my son,” she said dramatically, her hands folded towards the idol of Radha-Krishna placed on the side-table.

“Lord Krishna, himself loved somebody much older than him, Maa. Stop playing the culture card.” He snapped before storming out of the house.

I, being the older, mature cousin who Rehan looked up to, was especially appointed for this crisis management, to “counsel” Rehan. I was in a fix. Not because of Rehan. He has always been a sensible person. But how should I convince somebody of Pammi Maasi’s social conditioning that there was nothing wrong with what Rehan wanted?

In India, marriage is usually a very calculated decision. Love is rarely linked to marriage, and if at all it must transcend all barriers.

The entire concept of arranged marriage has reduced partner search to something like shopping — the selection of a highly customized, durable, flawless product.

Parents like my Maasi, apply their life-long wisdom and experience in selecting an appropriate spouse for their children. The ideal son-in-law is inevitably a financially stable man who can provide for a family. And the ideal daughter-in-law is the one who should be able to bear that family.

Needless to say, youth plays an important parameter for determining the marriageability of a woman.

Hence, we have made our peace with a 57 year old man marrying a 20 year old woman. However, our sensitivities still find it a little difficult to accept the reverse.

“She will not even be able to bear children,” was one of Pammi Maasi’s prime concerns. Is having a biological child the sole purpose of a woman? Are we looking for machines that manufacture quick and defect-free outputs, or partners? Isn’t it better if Rehan adopts a child and raises him/her with somebody he loves rather than searching for a fertile mate for procreation?

Mira’s home was no less of a war zone either. “This marriage will never work. Marry somebody your age. You don’t know.. Men’s eyes’ will wander. He will eventually cheat on you with a younger woman,” predicted her mother.

Pammi Maasi went a step further. “She will be dead long before you!”

We spend so much of energy planning the future, that we don’t care how we are ruining our present. Our present, is as much a part of our life as our unseen future. Our lives are very much happening right now, while we are directing our vision towards the future. When the only thing that is certain, is the present.

“He may not be interested in me 10 years later”… becomes more powerful than, “he is crazy about me now.”

Is it possible that the marriage will not work out? Ofcourse! No relationship comes with a guarantee card. Not even a “normal” socially acceptable one. Nobody can foresee who would end up drifting apart, cheating, falling ill, dying. But isn’t everything in life unpredictable? No amount of kundali-matching and background/caste/financial/social/age parity ensures a successful marriage. Maybe it would require a lot of hard work and understanding. But don’t all relationships require that?

When an adult couple has made a choice, shouldn’t we respect their judgment?

If Mira did not find Rehan mature, she probably would not have liked him. Similarly, if Rehan found Mira attractive despite her age, do we — random didis, buas, and other well-meaning family members have any right to question him?

Yes, we all want the best for him. We want him to be happy. But, it is time we realized that what we consider best for our children, may not necessarily be the best for them. Maybe the best thing for us to do is to let them make their choices in life. Chances are they know themselves better than we do. Especially when it comes to their romantic and sexual choices.

Do we fall in love every day? Do we regularly bump into people who are like-minded, and we find ourselves compatible with? How often does it happen that we meet somebody whose company we cherish, and with whom we envision a beautiful future ahead? And when we do, should we restrict ourselves because of age?

Love is not a matter of counting the years…But making the years count. — Michelle Amand

Originally published at akkarbakkar.com on October 29, 2015

The message

Friends and family had gathered for the funeral of Sarita. A reasonably healthy 56 year old Sarita had passed away from a sudden cardiac arrest. She was survived by her son Adish, and her daughter Ahilya and 9 year old granddaughter, Meethi.

Ahilya, suddenly found herself in the midst of unimaginable grief. Everything had been paused. There was so much that she wanted to tell her mother, so many anecdotes seemed unshared, so many apologies not yet made, and so many trivial arguments and harsh words that she wished were unspoken. At times she blamed her mother, so ruthlessly. At times she just used her, the way all children take their parents for granted. She did not know if her mother felt proud of her or not. She did not get to thank her enough. She wanted to meet her mother one last time and this is what she wanted to say:

I idolized you for as long as I can remember you, clutching to your sari everywhere you went, Maa. I was an obedient child, and abided by all acceptable standards of our family or society as we call it — whether it was being an A student in school, or taking care of my younger brother, or getting into the right college, or marrying at the right time. At every milestone, I conformed to being the ideal daughter.

You had felt that the best thing for me to do would be to get married soon after I completed my Bachelors degree in Economics. You thought preparing and completing an MBA would cause undue delay in my entry into the very volatile Indian marriage market.

You had thought that Samir was an eligible prospective groom for me — with a Masters degree from US and an attractive salary. You thought his family was a good match for ours — appropriately wealthy with an enviable lifestyle.

You had said that my mother-in-law’s greed and my sister-in-law’s interfering temperament would fade in time. You felt that my love and commitment would win over Samir’s ego someday. You believed that the unrealistic expectations, the unwarranted taunts, and the unfair restrictions imposed on me by husband and in-laws were only customary in our society.

You had envisioned that life as a single mother for me living in India would be more arduous than my miserable marriage with Samir. You anticipated that I would never be able to raise Meethi all by myself, and that she would not be able to imbibe anything close to a family if she had to live without her father.

But you were wrong Maa….

I am sorry that you felt that I had defied tradition that one time, Maa. But getting out of a marriage that trampled my self-respect and individuality every single day is the best thing that I could have ever done. Instead of suffocating myself to comply with societal norms, I chose to live. It was a tough path, but a correct one.

I want to tell you Maa that no mother can write her child’s destiny. She may have a vision, with all her wisdom and experience. But life happens, despite all our plans. My life may be unconventional, but it is good. I thrived and I am happy. And that was the magic of your upbringing. You made me strong enough to sail through life’s storms and to maneuver my way through all the turbulence, even while navigating in the lesser traveled directions, and I love you and thank you for that, Maa.

Meethi came running and grabbed Ahilya’s hand, interrupting her trance. “Mom, I wanted to tell you something Nani had told me last to last week, just the day before you had returned from your meeting in Delhi.”

“What Meethi?”

“She said that when you were in the eighth grade, you had started taking swimming lessons at Nidhi Aunty’s apartment club, much to Nani’s dismay. You did not want her to come along and embarrass her, as all the other kids came without their parents. She used to hide and watch you all the time. And you never came to know, till date!!”

Ahilya smiled. “Yes baby, Nani would always continue to be our guardian angel. We just may not be able to see her…”

Being single

Smile please,” said the photographer as he captured the lovely beaming wedding couple, Jiya and Rehaan on the beautifully decorated stage. Along with her were the rest of the alumni of the 2005 batch of Notre Dame Academy, a girls’ convent school in Dehradun. It was almost a school reunion, attended by various teachers, parents and family members of the once classmates.

A second picture was being taken, this time all the ladies with their respective husbands. I distanced myself, and started walking down the unsteady pedestal trying not to stumble in my sari and heels.

As I looked up, one of my other school friend’s mother, Shukla Aunty was patiently waiting to get on stage. She looked at me with an Aww kind of sympathy. Grabbing me by one hand, the other one firmly holding the envelope, she whispered in my ear:

“You are the only one left from the group who is still single!” She stated the obvious, just in case I did not realize.

“You must settle down soon!”

I smiled politely, not in the mood to have THAT discussion. Everywhere there seemed to be couples. Ahh, finally a child – another friend’s daughter. I started interacting with the kid until her mother, and father came to pick her up.

“Give a goodbye kissie to Aunty,” said the mother.

“Aunty is pretty,” remarked the child shyly, as she planted a wet kiss on my cheek.

“Ofcourse she would look pretty, she spends all her time and money on herself, unlike your Mamma who has to clean up after you!” Replied her mother instantly. “She is not married!”

“You are not married yet?” Overheard my class teacher of Class V, Mrs. Sengupta.

She joined the conversation, fascinated.

“Why? Too picky! You were always like that!” she added with raised eyebrows.

Mrs. Sengupta was my favorite teacher who had greatly influenced me as a child, who taught me English and is responsible for my inclination towards writing and journalism. Back in school, she inspired us with stories of women of substance all along –Rani LakshmiBai, Sarojini Naidu, Kiran Bedi, Kalpana Chawala, Bachhandri Pal. Independent, ambitious, self-sufficient women. Yet, I was surprised that upon meeting me after 10 years, she only cared whether I was married.

It seemed my ‘single’ status got more coverage than the wedding itself! I left from there, feeling exhausted. Let me call Mom and tell her how pretty Jiya looked…

“Even a gynecologist is married now! She completed her PG, her studies, got a good job and a good husband! You are not the only one building a career!” said my mother, unable to even pretend that she was happy for somebody else and not anxious about me for once.

I went to office the next day. Work. Finally no more wedding drama..

We were having lunch and one of my married colleagues started narrating how she made pasta and her husband just loved it. Out of nowhere, she started staring at me, horrified! Randomly, she enquired,

“Who do you talk to once you reach home? Don’t you feel lonely?” she asked in bewilderment.

The following weekend I traveled to Delhi. Home finally! It was nice to meet relatives after so long. They haven’t changed though. They don’t ask about my work, or the places I have traveled off late. Just the usual..

Chacha, chachi worry sick about you. If I were you, I would have got married atleast for the sake of my parents.”

“What if you never fall in love? Atleast have an arranged marriage before you turn 30, soon you won’t even have that option anymore.”

“You need somebody to grow old with. Your friends will all be married and have their own lives. You will end up alone and miserable!”

I would have been a millionaire by now if I got a dime each time I heard all this! No I am not anti-marriage, but I would like to say this to all my well-wishers ONCE AND FOR ALL:

I am 28. I am single. I do not have a boyfriend or a fiancé.

Maybe I do not want to get married at all. At this stage of my life, I do not wish to take responsibilities. I do not like the thought of being committed or being a daughter-in-law and serving and taking care of 10 people. Maybe I love my sleep way too much to have a baby. Maybe I am just lazy. Or unromantic. Selfish. Philosophical. Dreamy. Unrealistic?

I know that I am missing out on a lot of ‘couple things’. Maybe I would find the right person after 10 years. Maybe never. I may not have any companion in my old age, and I could die alone too.

I am aware of the potential disaster the society perceives that my singleton status would inflict on my life. Still, I choose not to change it. I am happy.

I know that if I do not have a child in the next few years, there could be complications and I could never have one biologically. Big deal! The rest of India is anyway married, and the population has been rising exponentially. If I do not procreate, the society, the caste, the nation will not become extinct.

Please spare me the horrified reactions — the sympathy, concern, outrage, disbelief, judgment or the recurring unsolicited advice. It is my life. Please let me be.

I am exploring my life and discovering myself. It’s a fulfilling journey that I have embarked upon, and I do not need anybody else to complete it. Yes, I do feel lonely some times. My life is not perfect. But whose is? I do agree with you that sharing my life with somebody would be a beautiful thing. But I have not come across such a person yet. And my life and happiness is too precious to just “settle” for something. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings by not getting married immediately but again, it’s my life, PLEASE let me be!

Author’s Note: “If you are not happy being single, you will never be happy in a relationship. Get your own life first, then share it.”

Originally published at akkarbakkar.com on November 6, 2015.

Why I Will Not Teach My Daughter To Be The ‘Good Daughter In Law’ [Short Story]

Kriya was brought up an independent, modern woman. But the minute her marriage was fixed, things changed. After all, wasn’t she supposed to be the ‘good daughter in law’? A short story.

It all started the moment Kriya’s future husband’s parents come to see her for the first time. Kriya was always considered pretty but suddenly she had to hear her future in-laws and their random neighbors comment:

She is dark! She is too short, look at her heels! Her lips are too big!

Any comment at all. Anything to suggest that she was not good enough for their son and that he could have done better, and it was her biggest fortune in life to have attained him. Whether they themselves looked ugly or if their son would put the Frankenstein’s monster to shame with his looks was immaterial.

Kriya had the most loving and fiercely protective parents. Normally if anybody pointed a finger at her, her parents would have showed them their worth (or the lack of it). But that was in some other life perhaps. She was no longer their beloved princess. She was about to become a wife and daughter-in-law, her biggest validation in life, and was being taught the contrary of what she had been taught in the other life:

Don’t react to their demands, however unreasonable and unfair. Be sensible.. Maturity lies in learning to tolerate/ ignore.

Why risk the fragile future relationships for trivial matters? What if the very privileged groom’s family called off the engagement at the drop of a hat?

Kriya’s mother was a very progressive woman.  She had raised her daughter equal to her son. She had given her good education, reasonable amount of freedom, love, affection and independence. But the moment she was to be married, she wanted to cut her wings. She only hoped and prayed to God that Kriya was lucky enough to get a good husband and good in-laws. Her happiness was now a matter of her destiny.

The engagement survived as Kriya followed her mother’s advice and it was time for the wedding. Nothing was of Kriya’s choice but her mother-in-law’s, including her dress, the venue and the catering. But her mother told her it was okay. The wedding was just one event and there was no need to come across as a dominating woman by expressing her choices.

Kriya’ family spent half their life-time’ savings on the wedding, all in the name of culture. Kriya’ soon to be husband had once told her that he could never marry a woman who earned more than him. But surprisingly, his ego and masculinity were not shattered when his father-in-law paid every single penny on his wedding. Not only did he and his parents reach the wedding as complete VIPs (read beggars), but invited unnecessary guests to show off, all at the expense of Kriya’s parents. They even complained about the arrangements and added much drama to the already cinematic wedding. But Kriya was not allowed to object to anything.

These things happen in weddings. Her parents said.

Once the marriage had solemnized with so much injustice already inflicted upon Kriya and her family, the irrational become more powerful. It was a vicious cycle that she had got herself into. She was expected to earn, pay for living expenses, cook, clean, all with a beautiful smile and not complain. Overnight, Kriya who was once an intelligent, free-willed, thinking individual with likes and choices in life was expected to transform into an epitome of selflessness and sacrifice.

The partnership was unequal from the outset. She could not visit her family without prior permission from her in-laws – a monitored, short, approved visit. Our culture may preach family values and respect for elders but such elders are only the privileged ones who have given birth to sons. When Kriya expressed her desire to stay separately with her husband, she was shamed and labeled as selfish and uncultured. Even though her parents longed to see her once a year, the very thought was outrageous for her husband’s parents.

Her father wondered where did he go wrong? He gave in to the demands of future-in-laws in the hope that his daughter should not be taunted for anything. What a surprise then, that this greedy and materialistic family made his daughter’s life miserable anyway, irrespective of how much he spent on the wedding?

Kriya’s mother was devastated too. She regretted that she taught her daughter to tolerate little misbehaviors and misdeeds,small taunts and humiliations, minor restrictions, and let her suffocate, breath by breath. Kriya’s family could have acted upon the signs they saw early on, but they did not. They all thought that such things were common in our society. Their sense of normal had been skewed for generations. Nobody realized that she was making a choice all along by choosing to tolerate, to endure and to suffer and encouraging her perpetrators.

Kriya resents her husband and his family. But more than that, she has grievances from her own parents. Why was she taught that it is a good thing to let herself be treated this way? As a daughter, she was raised to be independent, but nobody taught her that it was okay to be an independent daughter-in-law as well. She was conditioned to believe that it was her sole responsibility to save her marriage even if it meant compromising on her self-respect. She was asked to keep quiet for the sake of maintaining relationships. She had to keep everybody happy at the cost of her own happiness. She was told that her biggest strength lies in being submissive. But now she knows that it is not her strength. It became her weakness. Her resilience did not pay off.

She could have stood up for herself the day her fiancé’s aunt commented that she her nose was too big. But she did not. She was already engaged.

It was too late..

She could have refused when her father agreed to gift a car to her husband. But the wedding was a week away.

It was too late..

She could have retaliated when her husband refused to let her visit her ailing grandmother. But she did not, for she was already married.

It was too late..

She even complied when her mother-in-law directed that she could not have her baby in her mother’s comfortable home. They were going to be a family.

It was too late..

Now she has a daughter and she feels stuck in the marriage, much more than she has ever felt before.

It is too late..

Or is it?

Kriya has decided that she will not take it anymore. She will not raise her daughter in this home and set a wrong example of what a wife or daughter-in-law should be. She is going to teach her daughter to be a good, respectful human being – not a good wife or a good daughter in law. Not until people learn to be good husbands or good mothers/ sisters/ fathers-in-law. Respect is a two way street and nobody attains it by virtue of their age or relationship or the convenient culture. They better learn to earn it.

Kriya feels that the day we teach this to our daughters, the progress in the social fabric will complete a full circle.

Also published at www.womensweb.in