For thousands of metro-bound women like me, wedded to their work, home-coming is an event in itself; especially if you are in the 25-30 age bracket, with a “single” status. My friend Rajani's home-coming is even more eventful. Hailing from a small village in south India where traditional injunctions require girls to be married off before 18, her status is indeed pitiable by her community's standards, though she doesn't care in the least. (She is only 22) Yet unwittingly, she tries to boast of her career achievements and plans to buy a new house, which might take another two years by her estimate, leaving her people gasping. On top of that, she declares that she would marry late, a scandal by her community's standards.
Pat came the angry reactions at her provocative decision, for what is this, according to them, if not a stupid idiosyncrasy? Her poor mother cribs and pesters her unsuccessfully to drive out from her mind the hideous monster she believes has distorted her daughter's clear thinking. But she remains obdurate, earning the title of black sheep of her community. These events turn her introspective and make her resign herself to the role of a compunctious girl, expected to be penitent about her new fangled ideas.
My own situation isn't any better notwithstanding my urban upbringing. Many a time, I become the object of sympathy in my hometown for my “yet unmarried” status. Nothing irks me more. My aunts zealously dish out stories of their early marriage and the advantages of early pregnancy, as if they married only to beget children. I eagerly wait for more of conjugal gyan, but no, nothing more than the importance of filling the family nest as soon as possible. These are not just our stories, but of thousands of women in the age bracket 25-30, who seek a decent level of financial independence before marriage, risking their being branded selfish careerists.
But women like Rajani are not cosmopolitan enough in the ways of the world to be mocked as careerists. The premise of her delayed marriage plan is not so much ambition as a feeling of financial reassurance, justified as it is, given the not-so-happy conjugal relations she witnesses in her village. In one of her confiding moods, she quipped, “I don't want to end up being like my cousin; she was publicly humiliated for her bad cooking, and for her mother-in-law only high-born, financially well-off girls had the privilege to err in it.” No wonder, such insults provoke girls to put a premium on financial stability rather than on marriage.
Interestingly, a television debate concluded that divorce rates and women empowerment are directly proportional. Empowered though, women's status has not been any better, thanks to honour killings, call-centre atrocities, female infanticides and you name it. Imagine a world without it!
I'm not a tendentious feminist declaring war on the sacrament of marriage. The fact that hundreds of young women in India choose to be either spinsters or prefer late marriage mirrors a social reality and the changing marriage patterns. In our culture, marriage is not a contract but symbolic union physically and mentally. But if two parties are forced into it under duress, the resulting incompatibility will only rip apart the relationship. Indeed, there are genuine health concerns about the consequences of late marriage which both partners need to acknowledge. But when this union is intended only for child-bearing, it loses the sheen, denying the couple, its due privileges of companionship and bonding.
Elizabeth Abbott in her seminal work, A History of Marriage, says that late marriages can last longer when the partners have education and independence than when they are young and uneducated.