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Game-Playing

I’ve just returned from an old-fashioned family vacation at the ‘native place’, complete with grand-parents, cousins and mangoes. It was nice to not have to be a boss, a sparkling wit, a responsible citizen, a busy commuter or any of those multitudinous other roles I seem to keep juggling. On the other hand, it has been over five years since I visited the mother-state, even longer since I went on a family vacation of this sort. People have changed; and perhaps so have I.

My delightful aunt organised a games evening for the family. Sitting out in the open courtyard, listening to nothing more than the barely-there breeze and watching the sky darken without having to glance at a clock, watch, computer clock or mobile phone every few seconds…we talked. The game went thus: Pairs of people were asked questions about each other and graded according to how accurate their answers were.

Grand-uncle and grand-aunt correctly answered which school each of them passed out from and their favorite colours. Sure, you’d think a couple that has been together for so long would know that about each other. It just is an oddly heart-warming thing to see romance suddenly in the lives of people you’ve known all of yours, a couple that in the traditional Indian manner never openly express affection for each other. Grand-aunt to my surprise, even named grand-uncle’s boss (though she thought of his last boss, not his first). Grand-uncle charmed his way out of ‘her favorite sweet’ question with a,

She likes everything!

…and had to endure much ribbing as she smiled and said,

That’s why he never got me any!

They knew more about each other than the other couples in the group, all parent-child ones, did. Isn’t that odd, now? The person who is closest to you, who knows you nearly inside-out may  be someone who doesn’t share your DNA, never lived through your first tears and early landmarks. Your best friend may just be someone you’ve shared more history with.

Hmm, now I understand ‘someone to grow old with’ much better. I just wish I had someone who’d know all those answers about me.

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Why Committment Starts To Look Attractive

Ever since I’ve put up this slightly controversial (and I’ll admit biased and brash) post…actually even before that, I’ve been hit with the question of why I do want committment at all then if it’s such a terrible thing. My reasons may not be all deeply soulful or romantic or even honorable. As I see it, committment (read marriage) is a solution to a number of niggling, nuisance-ey problems.

Sure I enjoy the liberatedness of being liberated, the freedom to decide my own social life, the no-responsibilities carefree lifestyle that my committed friends seem to envy me for. I have written about the virtues of being single.

But there are plenty of things that I don’t like about being single. Being single means a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people (many of whom in my esteemed two-bit opinion shouldn’t poke their nose into my life at all). Here are some reasons I would like to be in a committed relationship.

  • Wives of guy friends do not view you with immediate suspicion assuming that you’re just scheming to steal their man away, never mind that fact that you’ve probably had a chance to do that if you wished much before they even set foot in the man’s life.
  • You are not required to be a last-minute escort (if you’re female) or chauffeur (if you’re male) for out-of-town single friends of friends/family.
  • You don’t get mysteriously dropped out of movie/dinner plans with friends who are all now part of twosomes each.
  • Other women (even your friends) don’t make direct or indirect references to your supposedly exciting, fast-moving sex/dating life.
  • Eyebrows don’t shoot up when you pick up a baby or coo to a child. Who says single women can’t be maternal?
  • You are not automatically put into one of two buckets – repulsive/sick/defective or flightly/fast/sluttish .
  • You aren’t the target of unwanted and embarassing attention from married men of the neighbors/schoolmates/husbands of colleagues/ex-boyfriends variety.
  • You are allowed to have problems too and no one shuts you up with “What do you know? You don’t have to run a household/adjust to a man/kids to look after.”
  • You don’t have to leave parties and social engagements early so as to avoid imposing on friends to drop you home.
  • Your family is willing to let you live your own life.
  • Your personal life and social calendar doesn’t become everyone’s personal property for value judgement – relatives, colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors, co-passangers.

Obviously these are not ALL the reasons to get into a relationship. If anything these are the ‘fringe benefits’ of a relationship that have started to become so important that I’m inclined to think a good number of women would want to commit just so they can enjoy all of these. I’m really tired of having to fight a battle each time I want to do something, simply because I’m single. The same thing seems to move so much faster for women who have an ‘attached’ tag on. Granted social engagements and lifestyle options aren’t the most important things in the world. But that’s precisely why it seems like such a waste to have to go to so much effort for something so minor – or go without.

A relationship has its uses and I’m unabashed in saying that I intend to enjoy all of them fully when I get into one.

Settle For To Settle Down

I’m reading a book called Rubbish Boyfriends. But hang on, that’s not all that’s responsible for this mood o’ mine. I’ve been talking (and talking and talking) to the following women:

A has been steadily (as opposed to happily) married to a ‘Who says we get it right the first time?’ pedigree-carrier.

B is married to the man described by Barmaid as the ‘Good On Paper Indian Guy’ a.k.a. GOPIG (also M.C.Pig). She’s also momma to a 3-year-old and a useless daughter-in-law in the eyes of the matriarch who stays with them.

C has been hitched for four years and has to show for it the following:
– 3-year-old adorable coochie-boo
– 4 home addresses
– Career chart resembling a diagram of the universe (spotty) rather than a straight graph.

A says she stops short of being murderous at the sight of her husband, especially on certain days of the month. So she’s gotten herself a dog. Dog answers to ‘Gabbar’ (despite fancy names conceived by A, on account of pesky husband getting there first) but Gabbar loves her every day of the month, PMS regardless. Arre O Sambha, ek hi aadmi tha par chodo…they’re all the same!

B, juggling phone on neck-shoulder, scrambling about for change and yelling at the taxiwalla, bemoans being called a bad mother for working till 2 am. Then she adds that papa dearest sleeps in late right through baby’s sports day preparations. Her tired tirade ends with,

So long as he isn’t alcoholic, abusive or cheating on you, assume he’s Mr.Perfect. That’s as good as it is ever going to get.

I want to wail about committment-phobias, male insensitivity and thoughtlessness. I want to talk about my non-conversations about my non-relationship with my non-boyfriend. But I can see she’s not quite in the state for it so I take my woes elsewhere.

C, straight-faced as always listens to me and offers this sage advice,

Remember I used to say I’d never leave Mumbai. Do you know all the places I’ve lived in in the past four years? Do you know where I’m going to be six months from now? I don’t, either.

That makes me pause and think. So I watch SATC, drink a bottle of wine, laugh with a friend, read Chick Lit, go shopping and write XX Factor instead. Settle for if you want to settle down seems to be the order of the day. While there’s love (for the uncynical ones), sex, children and stability, no one told them about shrinking expectations (and fading dreams), comfort meshed into indifference, dreams replaced by ‘the best way to end the argument once and for all’. They change, they modify, they sigh a bit, wash their faces and carry on. All of them seem to be echoing that men will be men, at the end of it and there’s just this much you can make them care about things outside themselves.

Resignation appears to be every committed woman’s uniform emotion. And inter-twined with the single girl’s need to find someone special is a sense of relief at not having done so yet.

A serious look at things

I set up this blog with posts that were supposed to be serious observations on gender equations and stereotypes. I seem to have gotten side-tracked into frivolous male-bashing and women’s magazine-style posts. I’m glad these have been entertaining to those of you who’ve read so far, but I’m afraid I’m digressing. I’m not a performing monkey and my thoughts are not meant to provoke party discussions.

Yesterday I watched ‘Namaste London’. There’s a scene in the movie where the heroine, bulldozed into an arranged marriage ritual, deliberately dresses and behaves ‘down’ so that the guy rejects her. I couldn’t only identify with that, I actually remembered that, having done something not so different myself once. The same girl, a little later, meets a guy who tries to analyse the sugar consumption of the family to determine their compatibility. Did that scene seem completely OTT trying to be funny to anyone? Not to me, I’ve lived through that experience as well. The guy in question, on our first (and only!) meeting wanted to know what my “agenda for this discussion” was. He was mortally offended when informed that I didn’t have one and took great effort to remind me that I was an MBA and hence should have learnt to put my education to use in my life.

It just isn’t funny anymore. So much so-called liberation later, a woman in 2007 still has to manipulate the situation so that the rejection happens from the guy’s side. The mouthpiece still lies very much at the man’s end even if the reins of power (from behind the scenes) can lie with a woman.

How many of you women have asked a man out? And men, how many of you have been asked out by a woman…and actually accepted…and gone on to have something concrete with her? I asked a guy out many years back. We had common friends, kept meeting at parties and it was obvious he was interested. So I suggested a time and place. We did go out, though he seemed rather quiet (and not at all like his erstwhile loquacious self). He didn’t ask me out again and a common friend later told me that I had ‘scared him off’. I’ve never asked a man out after that. When I spot a guy who interests me, I make him ask me out. It isn’t all that difficult, in fact its often so easy its boring even. But what irritates me is that the archaic ritual of a man making the first move still holds true.

Do I come across as a man-hater still? I can’t hate an entire section of the population. What I do hate is being chained down. It would seem like all my education and effort…they’ve all been attempts to groom me to be a ‘good catch’ in the marriage market. So instead of pursuing my longtime dream of studying art, I ended up with a very respectable MBA degree and a job that sounds good enough. But hasn’t anyone realised….you give a human being opportunity, then you’re giving them the desire to take it as well. Give a person a voice and you’ve given him (or her) the need to speak too. Its possible that I may have been willing to set aside whatever I was doing to build my life around a man, had I just continued along in my natural path. But now, having been forcibly pulled into doing something I didn’t even want, realising that I could do pretty well at it and having tasted the heady lure of economic independence and freedom, is it fair to expect me to be able to give it up?

My family and friends tell me that my expectations are too high and that’s the reason I’m not married as yet. Maybe so. But really, can a marriage survive for long without respect? And how am I supposed to respect a person who can only be happy as long as I make him the center of my universe and bury my ambitions, my dreams and my individuality? Can such a person be expected to be strong enough to carry the burden of my happiness? I think not. A person who is weak enough to feel threatened by my successes will never be able to be happy in my company, let alone make me happy. That’s not man-hating, it is simply an objective, if not weary, observation of men and women today.

In defence of my objectivity, I must say that I also have some sharp, if not unpleasant observations to make about women today. Women are dangerous to say the very least. Most of us may still be bound by social restrictions but none of us carry the chains of emotional bondage anymore. A few women like me might be impatient enough, wanting total equality now and here but most women are wise enough to see the situation for what it is and manipulate it accordingly to their advantage. You can call me a cynic but I’m not the one spewing venom about gold-diggers, bitchy bosses and the loss of respect for the marriage instution. The definition of a successful woman today continues to be the same as it has been for generations. She isn’t the richest or the one with the most impressive job. She is the one who keeps her world together. Boyfriend, husband, parents, in-laws, friends, colleagues (junior, peer and superior)….she seems to be adapting to everyone and yet, they’re all twisted about her little finger. This is the power of womenhood unleashed in its most potent form, not tempered with the sweetness of love, not restrained by the holds of values, not bounded by the committments of emotional attachment. Every single ‘successful woman’ I’ve known is inherently cold-blooded and power-hungry. The ones who have held onto even a shrapnel of emotion, bear it as a weakness. After all, the world still calls a woman with a personality of her own…some very unsavoury names.

Still, I want to believe that the world is changing (albeit too slowly for my impatient self!). This post was reassuring. Maybe men and women will respect each other enough some day not to play games with each other. I only hope I’m around to see it.

The Knot…Or The Noose?

Another shouting match with my family. You know those scenes in movies where they’re trying to show a person who’s slowly losing it? They have this deep distorted voice booming all around in dingy gray surroundings. That’s how I feel now. And those voices are intoning…Marriage…Marriage…Marriage…

Wanna hear the spiel?

There is an age for everything…and you are at the right age now…
Its very important to have a life partner….to be happy…
Independence is good but you have to learn to adjust….your generation doesn’t want to do that
If you don’t get married now, you’ll lose out on the ‘good’ men
As you grow older, it will be harder to find a husband

I said, “And why is it a matter of life or death that I find one?”
They look at me like I’ve lost my mind.

When I took a vacation a fortnight ago my colleague asked me if I was taking leave to get married.
Last year when I quit my job, everyone thought I was getting married.
Friends, parents of friends, friends of parents, distant aunts and uncles, my 13-year-old cousin, my yoga teacher, my boss, colleagues….everyone wants to know about my ‘big day’.

Met S in Bangalore and she wanted to know what my ‘plans’ were. I told her, “I’ve drunk enough of coffee with strangers to put me off caffeine for life (and it has!). I’ve chatted, messaged, spoken to and met enough of eligible bachelors. I’ve dated men of all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of lunacy. Don’t talk to me about men!!!!!!!!!!!”

Recently, Dreamcatcher wrote about her cousin who got engaged to a guy she barely knew. I sympathize with the girl. A little bit. I’ve had enough of close friends giving in to this fight. And yes it is a fight. Ask any woman in this age bracket who isn’t fortunate enough to have a man in her life. Why fortunate? Because no matter who you are, it is drilled into you at every corner that you are incomplete without a man.

One of my friends had a rush marriage and pregnancy. Something hit me right there when she said, “Got fed up of everyone getting on my nerves. He’s as good as any guy I guess.” A close cousin with big ambitions that were all neatly folded away beneath those glossy kanjeevarams when she threw away a promising career in medicine to settle down in ‘matrimonial bliss’ with a guy she barely knows in a town whose name I can’t even spell…..a friend who graduated the same year I did and barely remembers anything of the corporate world on account of a forced marriage to a man who can’t make up his mind whether to live in India or the US and keeps her career on hold in the meantime….the number of such tales is staggering.

I really don’t see the point. I don’t have anything per se, against marriage. It is a social system, it has its uses, it works. But I don’t have to go out and drive myself bonkers trying to find someone to make it work with. What’s wrong with the alternate system of being single and content that way? Years spent trying to please everyone around with education and career and talents….being a twenty-something in this time is a nice balance of financial independence, modern thought and several options. But its a tough fight just to hold onto it all.

My best friend and I have this running joke that some day when we’re past this pressure, we’ll co-author a book about the weird experiences we’ve had in this marriage market. I am full of flippant remarks and the kind of observations that are should (I think!) put off any potential bahu-hunters. But no…..it isn’t about what I say after all, is it? It is about the fact that I’m female, 20s, of such-and-such family, employed here with XYZ degree. That’s what makes me eligible. That’s what makes me the nicely packaged, ready-to-cook meat in this bazaar.

I’m almost hoping one of those dowry-demanders turns up before me so I can do a nice whammy on them and put them behind bars. Tougher to shut up all the unsolicited advice, overzealous matchmaking and prejudices

Damn it all, I’m not going down without a fight.

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