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Why India is no country for the ‘happily unmarried’

Filmmaker Tanuja Chandra takes on the great Indian marriage obsession

brunch Updated: Nov 25, 2017 21:36 IST
Tanuja Chandra
Tanuja Chandra
Hindustan Times
arranged marriage,indian wedding,marriage
Possibly, men find singlehood tougher because they rarely hang out with other men over leisurely lunches(Illustration: Rahul Krishnan)

There is but one path to parent-nirvana in India – the marriage of one’s children. Getting a son or (especially) a daughter hitched is our formidable, cultural dream, and for two acrobat friends belonging to the Nat community in Uttar Pradesh, the dream became an indestructible one.

Abiding by an old tradition, they had sworn their children would marry when they became adults, but tragedy struck early with the premature loss of both those children. Not shaken, the friends decided to fulfil the promise 18 years after their demise. A full and proper ceremony was organised in Saharanpur village; dolls replaced the dulha dulhan, a baraat came from Haridwar, and a feast was laid out for a huge contingent of friends and relatives.

Match fixing

For the erstwhile buddies, now samdhis, this was a marriage solemnised not for this life, the present one, but for the next one. Marriages, they were sure, were made in heaven.

The world ought not to feel sorry for the single ladies out there, women make friends easily...they don’t look like their blood turned blue from grief

In this matter, I haven’t had much divine intervention nor have I been of help to my parents. I was never a fan of arranged marriage but they longed to find me a suitable boy, so I agreed to let them make inquiries. However, I insisted, I would be nowhere in the vicinity. They went with hope to several tea-meetings but came away disappointed (one of the guys was on a strict fruit diet, he called himself a ‘phalahari.’) My mother now hands me cuttings from newspapers that speak of people finding a jeevan-saathi at a later time in life. Clearly, her dream lives on.

A young colleague’s mother went a step further; she created a profile for him on a dating website without telling him. So when he got a shrill call from a girl on the lookout for a spouse like him, he was livid. He was, he later admitted, also annoyed that his mugshot had stayed posted on the site for a whole month and not a single, young lady before the shrill caller had shown interest.

But at least his wasn’t a 10-year long search. Which is the time it has taken another friend to not find a husband! She’s certain hers is the largest individual contribution to the coffers of a popular shaadi website; so many men have been met, so many dated. Some heartbreaks endured even. Weather-beaten, she feels she might end her quest for a pati (husband) soon and yet she helplessly keeps faith in the variable winds of matchmaking. When was hope ever on its last leg, least of all hope for romantic love?

Never one bit for an upper middle-class couple – whose plight is by far the worst – for they are parents to not one or two, but three unmarried daughters above the age of 30. Expectedly, they move around with woebegone faces, as if in their personal, Greek Tragedy.

Let’s get real

A talented writer mourns that he swipes right 10 to 20 times a day but goes for weeks without a match. Does that keep him from composing beautiful, evocative lines, I ask him. Not at all, he says, in fact, they keep getting better!

Do unmarried people live their days out staring into a black abyss? Is singlehood the worst depths of misery a human being can plumb?

Which brings me to the question begging to be asked – wherefore all this anguish? Do unmarried people live their days out staring into a black abyss? Is singlehood the worst depths of misery a human being can plumb? I would prefer to think not – though it might differ for men and women. Possibly, men have it tougher because they rarely hang out with other men over leisurely lunches, but women have a rich girlfriend life. They meet up for coffee, they confide in each other, depend on one another for support and empathy. The world ought not to feel sorry for the single ladies out there, women make friends easily – as far as I can see, they don’t look like their hearts were torn from their ribs and their blood turned blue with grief.

Like my 90-year-old bua who retired to her village with her 84-year-old sister when they were both widowed and long done with chores and children. Now, they lounge around most days, lying in a ‘khaat,’ gossiping, quarrelling, and disciplining their domestic help. They eat food cooked from vegetables, rice and wheat grown on their farm right outside their front door. They order rabari and jalebi from the nearby ‘mishthaan’ daily, they don’t seek permission for anything from anyone anymore, not even their doctor.

I would say my buas are having the time of their lives, wouldn’t you?

Author bio: A famous filmmaker, the writer is known for movies like Dushman, Sur and Sangharsh. Tanuja turned author with Bijnis Woman: Stories of Uttar Pradesh I Heard from My Parents, Mausis and Buas. She’s directed the recently-released Irrfan Khan-starrer Qarib Qarib Singlle.

From HT Brunch, November 26, 2017

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First Published: Nov 25, 2017 21:36 IST