Marriage? No, thank you: meet the women who are single by choice

An upcoming book chronicles the experiences of 13 unmarried women, including Laila Tyabji, Kalpana Sharma and Bama, and their decision to stay single

Updated - July 17, 2019 05:37 pm IST

Published - July 17, 2019 04:51 pm IST

From left: Laila Tyabji, Bama and Kalpana Sharma

From left: Laila Tyabji, Bama and Kalpana Sharma

In a heartwarming essay from the upcoming book, Single by Choice , sports journalist Sharda Ugra recounts a scene from more than 10 years ago. A male friend, upon walking into her Delhi apartment (where she lived alone), asked astonished, “Who did all this?”

“What provoked this question perhaps, was its sheer normalcy,” Ugra writes. And possibly the assumption that unmarried women lead dark, forlorn, depressing lives. But the writer goes on to remind us that singlehood is, in fact, a normal experience.

It is no wonder then that Ugra’s essay sparked a conversation on social media — one which continues to resonate with many single women who continue to ward off questions about their solitude and single state.

Published by Women Unlimited and edited by journalist Kalpana Sharma, Single by Choice is a compilation of 13 essays penned by unmarried women who are quite comfortable — and more importantly, content — in their singlehood. Other contributors include craft activist Laila Tyabji, scientist Vineeta Bal and Tamil Dalit writer Bama.

Peppered with humour and sober revelations in equal measure, the book addresses the liberation of being single, as well as the challenges of societal pressure, and loneliness. “The idea was to bring together voices across age groups, and not just older women who had decided to stay unmarried,” says Sharma, who also authored the introductory essay.

Good the way it is

For craft activist Laila Tyabji, singlehood was more a natural process than a conscious decision, despite the 15 proposals that came her way. Between her busy work schedule, social commitments and the added bonus of no familial pressure, life continued without the need for marriage, she says. “One day, I suddenly woke up and realised that my life was so crowded and busy, where would I be fitting a husband and family into it? Life was good the way it was,” the 72-year-old says.

However, she acknowledges that she had it easy, thanks to her unconventional family who did not pressure her into marriage. With two aunts who were unmarried themselves, it did not come as a surprise to her family when their motorcycle-riding daughter decided to go down the same road.

In her essay, Delhi-based Tyabji speaks candidly about the bouts of insecurity and loneliness she experienced in her 30s, particularly when her friends got busy with parenting. But she’s over that now. “Of course, from time to time you will feel a vacuum somewhere,” she admits. “But you fill it with the resources you have, in the best way you can.”

But even as more of us ditch the image of the ‘old, moody spinster’, Tyabji believes that we have a long way to go. “I think it’s a bit facile to say that just because societies in Delhi and Mumbai are today more open to the idea, everything across the country is hunky-dory. Women in rural India still face a lot of challenges and the situation is completely different,” she says.

But that hasn’t stopped some of these women from looking “almost wistfully” at her when she visits villages in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Karnataka, on work. “They look at me and say, ‘you’re so lucky not to have to deal with an evil mother-in-law’,” she laughs.

Living single in rural India

Tamil writer Bama’s decision to stay unmarried was conscious. In her early 20s, she decided that serving her community and becoming an activist were priorities that would only get diluted with marriage.“I value my freedom too much, and I cannot live selfishly, dedicating my life to one man and my children,” explains the author, whose first novel, Karukku (1992), established her as a Dalit feminist. “By staying unmarried, I have the independence to dedicate my time, resources and finances to a cause that is dear to me.”

The decision came with its challenges. As a young, unmarried woman, she struggled to find a job in her village of Pudhupattii (where she still lives) and then was refused accommodation. “I even lied about being married, and said that my husband worked elsewhere,” she admits. She also had to contend with loneliness, especially during bouts of illness that included a stint of pneumonia and later, a hysterectomy surgery.

Tackling pronounced unkindness in rural communities was another challenge. “In a village, people are more direct. They will ask you to your face, ‘Why are you not married? What is wrong with you?’ And they treat you like a strange person. But in a city, almost everybody is a stranger to the other in a crowd.”

The 60-year-old has learnt to laugh off the biting comments and snarky remarks. “After a point, I began ignoring their taunts. It wasn’t easy, but they too realised that nothing is going to shake me.”

Single by Choice, published by Women Unlimited, will be available for ₹275 starting July 30

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