I’ve always wondered why married people lose no opportunity to litter their conversations with marriage problems, woefully pitying one another. But at the same time, they will do everything to avoid (and make others avoid) single people who want to share their problems of singleness. They seem to suggest: get married and all your problems will vanish. Do they mean to say married people have no problems? Aha! They do, they do. But problems of the married are somehow more fashionable and more respectable than the problems of single people. Still a bachelor at forty-six, I now realise that my choice to remain single was as smart a move a man chased by a yelping puppy can make by jumping to safety into a pit full of scorpions and cockroaches. (Don’t ask me how they, the stingers and the ticklers, live together. In such a pit, they do!)

A bachelor, no matter how old, is always reminded of his singleness. ‘Here comes the eligible bachelor!’, is the most common refrain to greet them. When the bachelor wishes to leave a family-soiree early, it must be he’s feeling the absence of a partner. If he cannot come, it is because he does not want to be seen in the company of the blissfully bonded. And what should he do when he meets a neighbour who reminds him that “companionship” is important? Well, the bachelor has to inform his neighbour that, according to his wife, the last time they had a real conversation, Sachin Tendulkar hadn’t even thought of retirement.

Not one opportunity is wasted by these married rogues to remind single people of their singleness. Would you want to know, dear reader, how often I’ve had to remind my married friends that they are actually married? Indeed, the difference between Indian men and western men cannot be more striking: awareness of marital responsibilities often makes western men reluctant to marry and have families, but our own Uttara Kumaras are in such a rush to marry and reproduce.

Single women too are, no doubt, similarly harassed, and perhaps suffer greater disapprobation. But there is one important difference: appearance is almost always tagged in the harassment of single women; for men, it is their sexual potency and/or sense of responsibility (or the possible lack of these) that is almost always tagged on to the insinuations.

Marriage, for most Indians, is a desired act because otherwise social approbation follows. It also offers an excuse for productive sexual gratification. The concept of marriage is so ingrained in the Indian psyche that anybody who remains single beyond an (as yet unspecified) age becomes a suspect of perverse behaviour. That person will be thought to be shirking a responsibility of the highest order, a responsibility of cosmic proportions apparently. For the average Indian, irrespective of religion, caste, culture, social status or whatever, singleness is shocking unless one has “renounced” everything and struts about in monochrome attire. After all, in our culture, don’t even gods marry, reproduce, quarrel and even have affairs? How dare single people think they’re normal? How dare they! And about the divine male debauchees, the less said the better.

The real problem is not singleness but lack of mutual respect, particularly respect for the individual. Our culture is not one that offers sufficient space for the individual, leave alone the non-conformists — even if they are as harmless as butterflies. And that’s why people are so eager to stain single people. And the stain of singleness is no ordinary stain, for man or woman.

mjx143@gmail.com

Keywords: marriage issues

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