Book excerpt: In my seemingly progressive family, caste is still such a big thing
In Nikita Singh’s new novel, Letters to My Ex, a fairytale romance comes to an abrupt end when Nidhi runs away from her engagement, much to the bewilderment of her family and college sweetheart/fiancé. In this excerpt she tries to understand why she did what she did.books Updated: Feb 14, 2018 11:10 IST
I think back to everything that happened leading up to our engagement, to see if I can find something that could make sense, provide some sort of explanation. Somewhere, something went wrong, for us to break up so suddenly. If I can pinpoint it, maybe we can fix it. I think it started when we got tired of lying to our families about our relationship. We weren’t just friends.
We were never just friends, and we wanted them to know that. The five years that we’d been together, there’s no way no one had a clue. I always felt that they knew, but played along with our lie, and secretly hoped for us to break up before anything needed to be done about the situation. I’m ashamed to admit that in my seemingly progressive family, caste is still such a big thing, and I know that you feel the same way about your family. It’s not spoken of, and it’s not like they would have objections about us being together exclusively on the grounds of caste, but who are we kidding? We know that they’d have much preferred that we found someone of our own caste. So, when we told them, as we’d expected, they weren’t happy. They weren’t exactly surprised, but they also weren’t happy. With each day that passed, they slowly got used to the idea of us together. While they weren’t thrilled, they were resigned to the fact that we were in love, and we were going to spend our lives together. But if they were to allow us do that, they insisted that we do it the ‘right’ way. It’s all about being normal, isn’t it? Or at least appearing normal. I think that was the first bump in our road. You and I, we were so in love, but we were also kids, fresh out of college, still wondering what we wanted to do with our lives, or where to begin in the immediate future. That’s enough pressure already, without the newly revealed relationship status. Now we were supposed to fix a date. Plan the engagement, the wedding, the rest of our lives.
I hope I don’t sound ungrateful when I say this, because I know our families love us deeply, but their involvement in our present and the future, however well-intentioned, was what first started to break us. We never saw each other just to talk, about … nothing and everything. Our secret was out; our relationship was public. Everyone had something to say about us. We were supposed to be a certain way, or at least act a certain way. Our movements were tracked, our time together was accounted for, every step we took was watched and counted. It was too much pressure, and I began to crack under it. You seemed to be handling it so much better than me. You accepted the challenge and stepped up to it. As soon as we graduated from college, you joined your dad’s company, started to go to work every day. It had never been your plan in life to join your dad’s company. But even though you were doing it because you had to, in order to help out your family during a crisis, you didn’t do it grudgingly. You embraced it with all you had, and went to work with fresh ideas every single day. On top of all that, when we were sat down and all the engagement-/wedding-/life-planning was shoved down our throats, you took it so calmly, finding humour in every situation, almost as if this wasn’t our future on the line. I don’t know how you did it. Maybe you were just letting them have their ‘fun’ and were unbothered by the pressure it put on us, but honestly, it felt to me sometimes as if you simply did not care.
You found fulfilment in your job, and happiness in your new friends at work. You would come home and laugh off all the life-planning. I wish I could’ve been more like you. Because I struggled every second of every day, inside my own head, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my college degree. It’s been almost a year since we graduated college, and I still don’t know what I want to do with my degree. Studying political science and planning to save the world is one thing. But after college, when it was actually time for me to do something, begin somewhere, I felt completely lost (and still do). I would work, browse through jobs all day, trying to find the ‘best fit’, since that’s what everyone was talking about. It was hard for me to find this fit, because I first had to know who I was and what I wanted, before finding something that would fit my requirements. Confused about what I wanted to focus on, I sent out applications for everything to everyone. I thought having some real options would make it easier for me to pick one, but my brilliant plan backfired terribly. As I started interviewing, the options on the table only made me more and more confused. Not that I had job offers flooding my inbox, but the ones I did have… It wasn’t enough. None of it was enough. Working for a non-profit organization, in a small capacity somewhere, wouldn’t make enough of a difference. It would be years, probably decades, before I’d be able to make an impact on anything or anyone. But I had to start somewhere. Maybe I wouldn’t be happy with it immediately, but I would learn to love it, right?
Excerpted with permission from Letters to My Ex by Nikita Singh, HarperCollins India.
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