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The Novelty Girl

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the pattern of my relationships, the kind of men I attract and so on. All my associations with men, the minor flirtations and the serious relationships alike follow a pattern. They’re drawn to my quirkiness, my ‘oh my God, did she just say that?’ boldness. It’s fascination with the hitherto unmet, packaged in a visually-pleasing non-threatening form of a woman.

But it doesn’t last. The same things that drew them, intrigued them, seem to bother them shortly after. In my early twenties, this would be the time they’d start trying to control me, direct my behavior to be more conventional, my thinking more acceptable. And in the ensuing outcry, break-ups would happen. Later, as I grew, so did they and their reactions became subtler and crueler. I believe that’s where the lying, the cheating and the sudden about-faces began.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the Novelty Girl. Men are drawn to me because I’m different from what they’re used to, a curiosity object. And since curiosity is a kind of interest, they confuse that with attraction. As the novelty wears off, so does the curiosity, ergo the attraction.

Novelty Shop

Novelty Shop (Photo credit: UW Digital Collections)

Now where does that leave me? Never mind the ‘just be yourself’ attitudes. I have to be myself, who else can I be? But I’ve realized, adulthood is about playing a role in other people’s stories on the condition that they play a role in yours. This is the basis of all the successful relationships I’ve seen (including the non-romantic ones). I am me but the question is who should I be to you?

Novelty Girl was a great role to play in my early adulthood. It was fun, got me a lot of attention and that’s all was needed. But now, I’m finding myself tired and dissatisfied with the results it gets me. I’d rather have two people who like me okay for the rest of our lives, than the awe and admiration of a roomful of people, that lasts about an hour.

Now what kind of person gets that? And more importantly, how does one stop being Novelty Girl? I don’t seem to remember how to be equable.

XXFactored Feb&Mar2011: Sex Charts, Mad Men & Causes Gone Wrong

I didn’t post an XXFactored update in February because the month was so busy that I barely had the time to scout for links. Other people however, did share links and I really wanted to showcase them. While on this, allow me a brief crib about the new Facebook page format. It shows the page admin’s links on the main page but other members links in a tiny box. Not cool, I say. It totally kills the spirit of community that link-sharing used to do.

Now on to the links.

  • Someone’s idea of what happens to people of either gender when they fail their exams. It sparked off a heated debate. (via Lakshmi Jagad)
  • HOWL-a-rious! ‘- 14 Realities of Romantic Relationships in chart form‘ (via Cracked)
  • In memory of a remarkable woman and a talented musician laid to waste – ‘I’m Every Woman
  • I’m sure a whole lot of us will be silently thanking the makers for this handy tool! – ‘5 Signs You’ve Been Stalking Your Ex Online Too Much‘ (via How About We)
  • Harsh, hard-hitting….dare I say…true? The undeniably justified cause of gay rights, seems to have become no more than a free ride of attention and entertainment for those so privileged.  ‘The Queer Movement is dead; Long Live the Queer Movement!‘ (via DNA Newspaper, link courtesy Dhamini Ratnam)
  • A hilarious set of charts – check out the ones mapping people who use Twitter daily versus others. – ‘10 Charts about Sex‘ (via OkCupid)
  • Why Indian Men are still boys‘ (via Tehelka, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • No, Catcalling is not a compliment and here’s why’ (via Hello Giggles, link courtesy Ashwini Mishra)
  • If this 60s show has sparked off your fancy, here’s a look at some of the female stereotypes of the time by how Don Draper sees them. ‘4 Types Of Women Don Draper has Dated.‘ (via YourTango)

  • What Your Favorite Mad Men Lady Says About You‘ (via TheGloss)
  • This is totally off the edge – ‘Marketing Xenosexuality: Women & the Sex Robot taboo?‘ (via Future of Sex, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • “Lighten up” can be the most passive-aggressive chauvinistic phrase ever! ‘The Million Little Barbs of Lighten Up!‘ (via BuzzFeed)
  • Where Have All The Young Men Gone?‘ (via HR Blogs, links courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • This is true of any movement – rabidity only works against you in the long run. ‘How Pro-Lifers made me a Pro-Choice Activist.‘ (via TheGloss)
  • 5 Warnings to go with 5 Types of Men who make great husbands‘ (via From Outside The Mall, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)

You can catch the links as they come in and even post your own to The XX Factor Facebook Page.

Why Be A Mom?

“How many issues?”

A seemingly married woman is likely to be asked by every second aunty. For the uninitiated that translates to,

“How many children do you have?”

So,

“How many issues?”

Note the connotations there. Not only are you assumed to be married and have had a child, the question also implies that you HAVE to have had more than one child. I know, I know, it comments on the lady looking old enough to have had kids too. But, we had already given up on being polite when we started calling our children, ‘issues’.

Here’s a tip for the aunts from the first sentence. You want more women to have kids? Then leave them alone, don’t judge them for not having any. The last pressure, today’s independent woman needs is your disapproving scan. If anything, she’ll delay her decision just to despise you. Okay, okay, she’s much too mature for that. But, your well-meaning inquiries have lost meaning for all practical purposes and soon we shall conquer our conditioning and successfully learn to not let you annoy us.

And let’s not get into the matter of why this curiosity is never targeted towards the husband.

I took a good, long four years before getting pregnant with my first child (yes, out of choice, nosey aunty!) So, you can imagine my plight at social events, especially those related to family. Imagine the cultural shock that the above-mentioned aunts would have gone into, if I told them,

“I’m not sure I want to have one.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to have one. It’s not that I had aspirations for an awesome career (now, there’s a brilliant joke!) nor was I doing something dramatic with my life, that precluded children. I just wasn’t sure.

I wasn’t sure why people have kids. The most common answer I’ve heard is that they would be of support during old-age. What a nauseating thought! Let alone a reason to bring another human being into the world. In this day and age, when all self-help books tell me to minimize my expectations even from my closest ones, I’m laying down expectations from a fetus? About what he/she will do 30-40 years from now. Mind-boggling. Bizarre!

There are others who want someone to call their own. That sounds like someone making a buy  vs. rent argument for a house. Then there are those who think children will improve their damaged relationship, like super-glue fixes broken furniture. And of course, there’s the ‘That’s the next thing to do.’ statement to make. ‘Post-graduation. Check. Handsome job. Check. Awesome husband. Check. Getting bored now. Let’s make babies.’

Maybe these are wonderful reasons to grow someone inside you. But, they sound exactly as ridiculous as I just made them sound. The only argument, that I sort-of, kind-of haven’t had a reaction to is, ‘What if I repent later, when the biological clock has gone past its expiry date?’ Now, that’s a valid fear and there’s no answer to that. Even with the stock market you know you are going to feel sad if you lose and be ecstatic if you make profit. But, how will I feel if I don’t have a baby to cuddle 10 years from now? How is one supposed to know? You know for sure you are not going to miss the poop cleaning and the terrible twos. But what about the gratification of having raised a good person? Will I not be able to share my friends’ happiness when they announce their child’s accomplishments because I haven’t a similar anecdote to relate?

So, why should we want to have kids? I don’t think there is a 100% –clear answer to that one. I don’t think there is a set of sub-questions that will lead you to your eureka moment. Like most important things in you life, you feel it in your gut and you take the leap.  You feel like nurturing and burping a baby. No kidding. The romanticism attached to seeing your baby’s first steps, hearing their first syllables is absolutely valid. It is as real as the frustration of making sure they don’t get themselves into trouble by tripping and falling or the insurmountable irritation of hearing the words, ‘mamma’ attached to this, that and everything, way too often.

Deep down you think you are ready. I don’t think you ever know for sure that you are ready, you feel you are. That’s just how the ball rolls. In the mean time, let’s just challenge ourselves to come up with witty ones to,

“Have you started trying?”

* If you liked this post, also read Meetu’s earlier post titled ‘Mom-me‘.

The Cages That Women Live In

You know what I find most burdensome, about being a woman? It’s the black-and-white nature of options available to me. It’s true that women’s liberation has brought reprieve to all my gender. We are not anymore constricted to the stifling role of a ‘little woman’. But this doesn’t mean that we’ve been liberated. We’ve just been given a choice of cages to live in, not all of them golden.

Images via Microsoft Office Images

I attended the launch of A Bad Boy’s Guide To The Good Indian Girl by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra recently. I finished the book in one night and it served to crystallize what I’ve felt for many years. There is the most common box of ‘Good Girl’ that every Indian girl is typecast in, at birth, with family & society doing their darndest to keep her there for the rest of her life.

But here’s what. Even if she does break out of that restricting definition, she simply falls headlong into another one. I’ve broken a few of the ‘Good Girl’ rules myself, opting to not mask my natural assertiveness and my ambition. Thus I’ve gotten slotted in another mold of  ‘Career Woman’ (or occasionally ‘Pushy Bitch’). Now I find I’m constantly battling notions that I:

  • should be an overachiever, in a meaningful job that pays well
  • always be 100% sure, confident and in control
  • be intelligent, sparkling, entertaining and ‘with it’
  • do not like or care about family
  • do not like kids or feel maternal
  • do not feel sentimental or feel ashamed when I do

Would one attribute such notions to a man who was gregarious and ambitious? It is possible to see a man who throws himself into life as it comes along and loves hard, works hard, isn’t it? Why is it so hard to do that with me, then? Then, has women empowerment actually given us wings or has it just substituted one cage for another?

There is a certain attitude I sense in people when they learn about my relationship, a certain, ‘You are so lucky!’ followed by the assumption that I must be thrilled since my life’s ambition has been fulfilled. It is not I don’t feel lucky or happy; both of us do. But I resent the implicit assumption that my life is about bagging the right guy and feeling triumphant for having landed one. That’s insulting both to me and to my relationship.

How about the automatic understanding that comes the way of men when they feel ‘not ready for a marriage right now’? These are laughed off with a wink and even a subtle impression that it’s the normal man thing to feel. But I say it’s not. Apprehension before a major step is a human thing, not a male thing. It’s our bodies’ internal signals alerting us to the possibility of a situation that we need to be prepared for. Why then, does everyone assume that always know my mind and that my life proceeds smoothly without glitch? Why is my confusion always attributed to my ‘just being difficult’?

I don’t feel like I’m treated equal to men when I’m given no room for mistakes, no leeway for confusion, no space for undefinable emotions, ideas and actions. I struggle with many roles, even the ones that fit me well such as the CareerWoman or the EarthMother. I struggle when they conflict. I struggle when they all come together. But most of all, I struggle with the fact that they exist, these neat little boxes into which I’m supposed to package my personality, my dreams, my emotions, my identity and indeed, my life. When did life ever let itself be organized so neatly?

Getting Divorced in India

* Image via Wikipedia

is this a self help group, or a legal practice...

Image via Wikipedia

So a couple of weeks back we had our first hearing at the court.

If you want to get divorced in India – make sure its mutual. If its not – then my lawyer says,

“The only party who benefits is the lawyers.”

Sooner or later – and egos ensure it is later – you will realise it is not worth the trouble and wish it was mutual.

It was around 7 months ago that we realised that our decade long marriage couldn’t be salvaged. It had been on the rocks for four years and while there was no cheating or extra-marital affair – there were the little things that were actually the big things. The value differences. The expectations. Whoever says that love conquers all hasn’t really tried marriage to a person with a very different value system.

Back to the subject of the post. A friend referred me to a lawyer and we both met him. He was pretty cool. Said that he’d have to say  that we had been living apart for a year at least – and then we’d have two hearings in front of the judge – 6 months apart. And that was something he couldn’t influence. The Supreme Court has that as an order. Yes, the law can be an ass.

So we went to the judge one Saturday morning. Surrounded by other couples – not all of them going through a “mutual separation” – heard accusations of domestic cruelty and of one spouse turning up and no word from the other.

When our turn came – the judge only spoke to our lawyer (for the purpose of the hearing we needed to have separate lawyers – and our lawyer had got an additional lawyer before the hearing – and got him to prepare what is called a “vakalatnama”) and then much anti-climatically he looked at the papers then enquired about the address proof and then passed it to the clerk to give us the next date after six months.

That’s it.

I discovered that unlike Hindi movies lawyers don’t call Judges “Mi Lord” – in NCR they call them “Janaab:)

So that was it. I was semi-divorced (or semi-married) as I signed the court papers – and will be until the next hearing.

The Economics Of Modern Relationships

There’s a wealth of information available on how to engineer a romance. There’s more than enough paraphernalia on spicing up, sorting out, energizing, smoothing, creating and sustaining sex lives. But how about that one major thing that apparently a lot of couples struggle over? Money, money, money is the big elephant in every relationship room.

We know human behavior and societal attitudes take time to change. As it were, we’re caught in that transitory place, between ‘woman’s-place-in-kitchen’ structures and equal opportunity thinking. The impact of this on us as individuals, as familial units and as couples, is for another debate. But money is here and now. The strain of unresolved issues, of conflicting value systems and of confused roles is being borne by us every minute.

Let’s start with the most obvious. In a modern-day, equally independent dating scenario, who should pay? There seems to be an awkward, uneasy impasse with some women offering to share, unsure of whether this will be interpreted as ungraciousness or its opposite. Even men who’re otherwise liberal-minded stop at saying they like it when a woman offers but eventually they feel they need to pay. It is expected. And no minus points when the woman doesn’t even offer.

Zoom out a bit to look at the other logistics of a date. At the end of the date, the return journey home prioritizes the woman. Sure, the streets are slightly safer for a man going about alone than a woman. But how about the start, that usually happens earlier in the evening or day? How many dates see a woman picking a man up from his place or a select destination? Isn’t it almost always the man coming to pick her up? If you think that’s got nothing to do with money, consider the fact that the man may be traveling right across the city (and twice, counting the return). That’s his money and time (which equates to money, right?)

Gift-giving, that’s another thing. I love giving gifts to people I like. Not birthday gifts or wedding anniversary ones but the I-thought-of-you-when-I-saw-this variety. Most men I’ve given gifts to, have received them with pleasure. But this is often followed by an uneasy, feet-shuffling sense that they need to reciprocate. This in itself, is the nature of gift giving between human beings. But in a man-woman situation, it seems like the man feels compelled to reciprocate with gifts of at least equal value, if not more. When money comes into the picture is when the spirit of gifting goes well and truly out of the window.

And finally, once you’re in a relationship, what then? There are now two wallets at the table but it is almost always the man who signs the credit card slip. That is an odd sort of hat-tip to an archaic notion of the man always paying. I think I’m more acutely aware of this because of how I grew up. My mother balances the books and manages the family accounts. Thus, on outings, almost always, she’s the one who hands out the payment. She’s also the one who lists out the table order. In all these years though, I’ve never once seen hand the bill to anybody by my father. This same system follows me uncannily when I go out with the boy. Despite the fact that I’m the only audible voice at the table, perusing the menu, advising on dishes and placing the order, the bill is never given to me!

There seem to be an alarming number of what I call Farcical Modern Couples. I know of one where the wife is older and runs an unconventional but successful business. Her husband has a regular, if not nondescript job with a multinational company. Post marriage, the business continues to run with one difference. She works hard at it, he runs the accounts with a tight fist. She needs his permission to buy even the smallest trinket for herself. They live in one of the poshest parts of the city and speak the ‘cool’ lingo. It just gets disturbing to see that the branded purse that the lady carries, is monitored by her husband.

Then there was another couple on a cross-Europe tour that included an 8-hour flight layover. One of the foreign banks offered the services of a luxury lobby for their customers. Despite this couple being in possession of an account, they sat it out in the main waiting room. All because the name on the credit card was the wife’s and not the husband’s. In many respects, they are a high-flying couple that has an expansive enough lifestyle to warrant preferred bank relationships, international flights and luxury lobbies. But in thought (only glimpsed in this action), they’re no different from their counterparts of about a 100 years ago.

These misnomers aside, most modern couples must figure out some system of expense division. One couple I know, splits all their outgoing down in half and pays back dues at the end of the month. Another couple has allocated different expenses to each person and pays them off accordingly. Nobody actually talks about these things. I have a feeling that even couples who practice some sort of fair-expense-division, feel like they’re imposing an artificial, over-logical construct on something that should be above such petty matters. Personally, I don’t understand the embarrassment over talking money in a relationship. Isn’t it a universal truth that you can’t live on love & thin air alone? How about we contemporize that to ‘You can’t live on romcom dates & self-help conversations alone.’ If you’re sharing a meal, you gotta split the bill too.

The Princess/ Professional Dichotomy

*Image via MicrosoftOffice

The woman who can’t decide if she wants to be the Nice Girl or the Business Skirt

There is a certain kind of woman that I’ve been becoming more and more conscious of, in the past decade. I found her right after I started working. This woman may hold down any job, from adwoman to pilot to salesgirl to journalist. She’s got the degrees, the skill set and even the resume. She’s confident, can speak the right jargon (in business situations) and lingo (in social situations). She may also have the other requisite paraphernalia for being a Superwoman, such as a cool hobby, an offbeat alternate career, a with-it social circle, a quirky love life and the mandatory ‘progressive’ outlook on gender equality.

On my first job, my company hired a bunch of people for a short-term assignment after an interview process. During the actual project, the woman in charge of managing a front desk was found combing her hair (at that very desk). When questioned about the whereabouts of certain materials that she was responsible for, she looked bewildered and said, “I don’t know”. My cutting (and in retrospect, harsh) reply was, “You have two hands, two legs & a head. Hopefully you have a brain too. You were hired to use all of them.”

Sexual equality symbol

Image via Wikipedia

There is the weaseling out of uncomfortable situations such as being pulled up for bad (or incomplete) work, by crying. You would think it’s easy to tell what kind of woman would break down if you pointed out a mistake on her report. But this is not the pretty, dainty princess sort. This is the toughie, ‘I can hold my own’ sort who ambushes you with an emotional response. It’s all the more difficult to handle such a situation because you never saw it coming. We deal with people along the equations that are set in place based on power dynamics & social roles. This particular situation means the woman abruptly changes all those, leaving you weaker to respond.

And finally there’s the kicker of turning to male support. Personally, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder about having to ask a guy for help. I admit this may be an ego issue, since I’ve had to take offense so often against sexist remarks. But there’s nothing permissible about a professional who needs ‘rescuing’ on account of her gender.

Recently, I went on a short trip out of the city. The tour was organized by a young lady, who seemed full of bright ideas and budding talent. She’s a musician, who quit a corporate job to start a travel tours company with some friends. She was confident, articulate and enthusiastic. She was also charming, at ease with new people and seemed like she’d be able balance all the varying demands of these jobs well. The trip went completely off because of mismanagement of time and as it turned out, people. Each episode was dismissed with a smiling nonchalance. When things came to a head, she shrugged and said, “What can I do now? Just chill out yaar.” Shortly after, one of the male guests turned up to speak on her behalf. Thereafter, it was up to him to sort out the various glitches that had occurred because she had not done her job properly. Even if he did not have any problem with having to do this, he could not be held accountable for any issues that came up from the mismanagement or the superficial solutions that were offered. The lady in question quite literally shrugged it all off, putting it down to other people being difficult.

A number of situations like this have me saying, “I would never hire her!” which comes across as harsh & judgemental. But I am a certain kind of professional, the kind that thinks commitment to work & earning respect are gender-irrespective. If I demand equality in recruitment processes & in salaries, I don’t feel like I can ask for gender concessions while working. Besides being unfair, how can I expect any sort of respect if I do that?

Women like this weaken my stand, both within the professional setup (if they work with me) and for my gender. It’s hard enough to assess whether a woman is going to turn out this way. What’s even harder is the assumption that because I’m a woman, I should condone anything from another woman. There are the allegations of my sex being the proverbial crabs in a pot, not wanting other women to shine. Then there are accusations of being a bitch, as a boss or as a customer. And finally, there’s the assumption that I don’t truly believe in women’s liberation since supposedly, I don’t ‘support’ women in the workplace.

What I’m wondering is, when did equality end at rights and stop being about responsibility as well? I’m asking does the requirement of professionalism not apply to women, just because they’re women? And why at all should I have any respect for these women who’re just using feminism as a convenient excuse to write off sloppiness, laziness, irresponsibility and bad attitudes?

On the other side, I also have to admit that most women struggle with early-imposed notions of being ‘Nice’. At the most basic level, I think it’s important for every woman who goes out to work, to question what being a professional really means. I want to believe that it has nothing to do with popularity stakes and everything to do with getting the job done right.

Goddess

Image by xwelhamite via Flickr

From the idea-archives. Seven years and the world still has still me up on a pedestal. This isn’t what womanpower is about. No, I’m not Durga, I’m not Kali (even when I’m angry), I’m not Lakshmi, I’m not Saraswati (I’m just smart), I’m not Shakti. I’m just me.

“I drag reluctant feet through a day that seems too long
I trudge through the slime of bad moods and depression to the little islands of intelligence and coherent thought
I fidget uncomfortably in the chair and remember too late that I’m wearing white
I dodge nausea, hot flashes and giddiness with the armour of a painted face and a perfect coiffure
And I suppress the impulse to show the jeering crowd in the truck just what I think of their admiration.

I am bewildered by the sudden surge of joy
I surrender to a wave of hysterical laughter
Then I cover it up with a sarcastic remark
And frown to pull back the sheet of dignity over my exposed lunacy
After all, womanhood is in celebration this week.

I listen with a compassion I know I don’t normally feel….or allow myself to.
I ignore the nagging voice of “I’m tired” and clamp down on the “I hate the world”
I throw out the dinner and then sneak back at 2 a.m. for a bar of chocolate and a banana
And as I lie down, I feel a thousand flame-tipped arrows pricking my skin
Outside my window, the drums are beating out an ode to the glory of womanhood

I close my eyes and sigh
Hello to my monthly visitor
Damn the pedestals…
If this is what being a goddess is, the world can keep its glory.”

The Modern Man

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Here’s welcoming XX Factor‘s second guest-contributor. He’s as smart as the next man but he’s still perplexed by the complicated world of women. He brings his brand of wry musings, politically (in)correct observations and gender role confusion to this blog as the ‘Armchair Philosopher‘. Over to the chair.

- IdeaSmith

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Hello everybody. The unicorn’s here. The phoenix, the Bermuda triangle, the Loch Ness monster. The modern equivalent of a mythical creature no one has seen but everyone seems to talk about- “the Modern Man“.

So who is this creature? What does he look like? Is he human? Or has he been sent to Planet Earth by alien feminists? Is it his mission to spread his subversive propaganda about how a man ought to be, in order to ruin it for male chauvinist pigs all over the world?

Can a Modern Man be comfortable with a dominant woman, a woman who has her own life and friends and does not fit any of the gender roles he has been raised to accept as gospel truths? Can he really? Or does he just train himself to make all the appropriate responses? Or worse still, is the only way he can be modern, by assuming indifference?

The Modern Man is a myth because of the sheer relativity of his existence. A Modern Man has no real features of his own. A Modern Man is simply a man who can complement a Modern Woman . His modernity is defined by his responses to the modernity of the Modern Woman.

And therein lies the greatest problem of all. The Modern Man does not know who he is because the very reference point of his existence, the bedrock of his existentialism is the Modern Woman herself. But the Modern Woman does not know who she is either!

Stuck between Superwoman complexes and conflicted between her instincts and her principles, the Modern Woman is a mess. The Modern Man grows up with the naive principle that we are all equal. But when he lives with the Modern Woman, he realizes there is nothing equal about how she is treated. Landlords and electricians address him but ignore her. Waiters at restaurants offer you the bill even when she pays. And let’s not even get started on the great Indian family.

So what do you do when you see that the equality of gender you took for granted was a lie? What do you feel? Guilt and shame for being a man in a world that beats down someone for having a vagina? But when you believe something your whole life, it is never easy to accept it as a lie. So you try and convince the Modern Woman of the ‘equality’ she is blind to. Convince her it’s all in her head. And we all know how well that goes.

This post might seem like a rant of questions but that is the life of a Modern Man. So many questions. And anyone who says they have all the answers is lying. Till then, we shall all chase that elusive unicorn. And till I figure it out, I’ll still open the door for her. I will still carry her bags and buy her chocolates. Because I like how she smiles.  That is the only thing I can really be certain about. Everything else is just questions.

The Unholy State Of Matrimony

* Image via Wikipedia

Getting married, let’s talk about that, shall we? Not the relationship itself or the state of being of its practitioners. That’s right, practitioners. Just because everyone does it, doesn’t detract from the fact that marriage is indeed, an artificial human construct, a social order and a belief system. Because it is all these things simultaneously, we find ourselves at the complex crossroads of ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and ‘What can I live with?’. I am talking about the WEDDING.

The fact is that human beings have evolved, and with them, the societal constructs. Why, then, are we stuck with the same template for matrimony that our ancestors seven generations prior, used? Let’s consider some of the better known rituals.

Dowry has now gained the status of a social taboo. Its premise of bartering human beings has been rejected as unethical and demeaning. Why are we then still holding onto ‘kanyadaan’ (which literally translates to ‘donating the girl’)? Doesn’t that jar on the ears just as much as a certain other word that has to do with a man who peddles women?

Then there’s jewelery, without which no self-respecting Indian wedding would be complete, the larger, blingier and more expensive, the better. Traditionally, gold was investment, supposedly the wealth given to a woman to assure her financial security. Now, first of all, gold is not an investment anymore. Jewellery that is bought, essentially becomes a sunk cost since the emotional upheaval associated with having to sell it is an impenetrable exit barrier. Associating too much status value & sentimental attachment with gold has thus devalued it as an investment commodity.

Secondly, it is not the only source of financial security available anymore. Wouldn’t property or bonds or even money in a bank account be wiser than a physical piece of gold that can easily be stolen, damaged or mislaid?

Thirdly, (and need I even say this?) the origins of this archaic practice of covering a woman with gold stem from the same root as concessions made to the ‘weaker sex’. Admittedly, there are any number of women willing to be waited on hand-to-foot so they don’t need to do any work. Propagating regressive attitudes isn’t solely a male thing. Add to this, the massive marketing machinery, that ironically enough, contorts jewelery into a symbol of women’s empowerment rather than its exact opposite. Being a woman (and a vain one, at that) myself, I’m adequately appointed with enough baubles & trinkets to look shamefaced about it. I live with myself with the (albeit weak) stand to limit these to non-precious ‘artificial’ jewelery. I also baulk at the idea of expensive jewelery as a gift. (I mean, would you expect me to be grateful if I were gifted a ball-and-chain?).

Finally, let’s talk about the elaborate rituals that vary by caste, community and geography. Who even knows what they mean anymore? Even among those who believe and insist on their practice – typically senior family members – how many actually understand what is being recited, the significance of a ceremonial fire, the value of that thread or the meaning of the rice-throwing, the turmeric/vermillion application? My bet is that this question will be met by one of the following:

  • Stony silence
  • Declarations of solidarity with faith, religion or country (mystifying, this last one)
  • Accusations of being ‘too logical’ (mysteriously a character flaw at such a moment)
  • Tears, angry words, threats or insults
  • All of the above

And yet, none of them answers the question. Why are so many of us willing to embark on what might be the most poignant adventure of our lives, with practices that we do not know, understand, identify with or believe in? What bodes it for the future of a relationship that begins by buckling under pressure to appease a third party altogether? What does it say about a couple who make the commitment of a lifetime by pandering to other people, regardless of their own beliefs?

A ritual without meaning is just a farce. And out of context, it borders on hilarious. I’ve never seen a bridegroom on a white horse that didn’t look horribly uncomfortable and somewhat sheepish. Every single married friend I have testifies to the wedding album creation as an ardous, unpleasant process of photographers barking orders and plastic smiles pasted on for hour. Nothing strikes me as more artificial than the queue of people lining up for a couple of minutes on a stage to hand over a gift, shake hands with the couple (standing in front of the ubiquitous gilt chairs with red upholstery), pose for a photograph and then make a beeline for the food. Most ironical of all, food, that one surefire indicator of the ‘success’ of a wedding usually ends up being something that the bridal couple itself ends up having no time for.

What’s with the ‘success’ tag of a wedding anyhow? Since when did beginning a personal relationship get associated with providing mass-level entertainment, social pandering and budget overflows? I don’t see anything holy about this state of matrimony.

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