I must be the only Indian mother in the world to advise her daughters never to get married. EVER. Everyone laughs when I say this. Indian mothers are notoriously obsessed with the nuptials of their sons and daughters. I must be joking when I advise against it. I must have had a fight with my husband, you all snicker.
But I say it in earnest. Marriage has nothing exceptional to offer a woman in the 21st century. Even today, the institution continues to follow age-old patriarchal values that place the financial, physical, emotional and social needs of the husband above the wife’s.
It’s still the woman who changes her name, leaves her home, adapts to a new family, becomes the default in-charge of the housekeeping, social relationship-building, elderly care and childcare, and gives up her job when the babies are born. Indian girls have new aspirations to step out of the home, work and fly, but Indian boys still expect someone to make them tea and ensure that their clothes are laundered.
Essentially, marriage reduces a woman’s power and increases her responsibilities.
If you’re lucky, you find a husband who is loving, caring and mindful of your needs, though he has no special obligation to. People urge you to be thankful for your blessings as if it’s a precious gift only a few can possess. If you’re unlucky, you’re insulted, criticised, disregarded and ignored, or beaten, raped and treated like a punching bag. People say it’s a domestic issue and tell you to ‘adjust’.
Most Indian marriages, however, are somewhere in the middle. How good or bad they are is irrelevant. Marriage is a prerequisite to living, like roti-kapda-makaan-shaadi.
Till a few decades ago, marriage – for women especially – meant security, social acceptability, a source of income, children, and a companion in old age, all of which were worth the effort. These days, however, women can very well have all of these while single. So what do they need the burden of a husband for?
As someone who’s been twice married, you may consider me an authority on this matter. Both my marriages were poles apart. One was arranged; the other is of my own choice. One was a prison sentence; the other was liberation. One was a hell of fear and hate; the other was a paradise of love and desire. One left me broken, bruised and powerless; the other has given me wings, healed and nurtured me. Both led to my spiritual development. Both helped me to introspect and find myself.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need marriage to do that. Not anymore.
Yes, my husband today is a good man and my best friend. But we both agree that being married has not added anything to our relationship except for social sanction, which was a big deal for my generation. But it doesn’t have to be for yours.
What I’ve learnt about marriage (a happy one or an unhappy one) is that it’s never about the other person, it’s about you. Every day is a new journey into yourself, your own insecurities, fears, social anxieties, and suppressed pains and triggers. Marriage certainly isn’t going to cure them. You still have to do the spiritual self-work yourself — in addition to someone else’s housekeeping and laundry.
Men can be amazing lovers, wonderful companions and they are very useful for sex. But you don’t need to marry them to enjoy them. Claim your freedom, respect and desires. Let the guy earn you every single day. Men are best behaved on their toes.
I secretly long for the day when a whole generation of Indian women will reject this outmoded institution in favour of meaningful, equal relationships. That’s when entitled Indian men will change. That’s when society will evolve and we will #SmashThePatriarchy. Till then, have one lover or several, have kids, have pets, run a house, run a company, follow your dreams, fall in love. Just don’t get married.
Update, 2.24 pm: My husband says he has nothing to do with this article. Please stop messaging him your condolences. (But he does hope all boys who planned to propose to our daughters read this.)
Update, 25 August 2020: I changed the lead photo because the original one only showed one of my daughters. Here is me with both of them. And the back story and retrospective of this article is here.