Happy space: An interview with the editor of new book, Single by Choice
India has 71 million single women, according to the last Census. While this includes widows, divorcees and people separated from their husbands, as well as those who never married, the number itself jumped by 39% between 2001 and 2011.
So who are these Indian women making the relatively unorthodox choice to never marry? Why? What is life like for single women who’re not in want of a husband?
Single by Choice: Happily Unmarried Women! (published by Women Unlimited, an imprint of Kali for Women) explores such questions through deeply personal essays by 12 women, aged 27 to over 70. The women include a doctor, a Dalit writer, a designer/crafts activist, journalists and authors. They speak of their own experience as well as those of other single women from their lives.
An interview with the book’s editor, journalist Kalpana Sharma, who is 72 and also single by choice.
You’ve been a single adult for over half a century. What is the key to making it a happy journey?
An atmosphere that acknowledges singleness as legitimate rather than ‘left-on-the-shelf’ plays an important role. As do parents who trust their daughters to know what’s best for themselves. Financial independence ensures that you’re not seen as a burden and puts you in a better place to negotiate.
Loneliness is a common worry, especially for the Indian parent. Did your parents ever bring it up? Did you find a way to address it?
Until my father’s demise seven years ago, whenever the doctor asked him what he felt stressed about, he’d say, ‘What will happen to her after I die?’ That’s how parents are, but it’s illogical. Marriage doesn’t guarantee your spouse will be with you for life. Also, unlike in the West, where everyone’s particular about their space, there are far fewer boundaries here. Single women invariably become chief-carers and stand-in parents for the children of siblings, cousins and friends... and that’s good for everyone. My niece stayed with me for seven years, through college, post-grad and her first job, and I loved it!
Several authors in the book point out that a family needn’t mean blood relations only...
Yes, many of us have alternative networks of friends... in my case, of all age groups. We connect because of shared values and look out for each other. Often, you forge lasting bonds even at work. Like others have also said, being single doesn’t mean being alone.
Asmita Basu of Amnesty International, in her essay, brings up ‘spinsters’ and stereotypes. What are the most common?
Earlier, if you were single, people assumed that ‘No one liked you (enough to marry you)’ or ‘You didn’t find anyone’. There’s also this idea that if you’re unmarried beyond a certain age there’s probably something wrong with you, or you’re probably promiscuous. Unfortunately web series like Four More Shots Please! serve to perpetuate such stereotypes. And this makes it tougher than it needs to be for the single woman to, for instance, rent a flat.
What’s your ideal, going forward? What does the ideal India for a single women like, in your imagination?
There needs to be an ideal India for ALL women, not just single women. A country where women are respected as human beings with equal rights, where they can decide whether to marry and whom to marry. Such an India is a distant dream I know, but all of us who’ve written in this book want a society where every woman is accorded her human rights.