The house was all decked up for the wedding, bright lights shone in the verandah, loud music and laughter could be heard, children dressed in varied shades ran around in the well lit garden, the aroma of delicious food and mithai (sweets) filled the air. Today was Roma’s big day- her wedding. As I entered her house looking forward to being a part of the celebrations, I looked around for her younger sister Riya. She was nowhere to be found. Roma and Riya are sisters, 2 years apart. While Roma is the more fun loving type, who bunked college, enjoyed shopping and spending time with her friends, she was never really interested in making a career. Knowing well that she belonged to a well do to business family and would marry into an equally well to do family, she preferred enjoying her life. Riya on the other hand was studious and had set her goals on becoming a doctor. She went to the US for her higher studies and the last FB update I had seen was that she successfully completed her MD with a gold medal and she was flying back to India for her sister’s wedding.
I wondered where she was, wasn’t this a big day for her too. Not just because it was her sister’s wedding but because she had achieved something really great for herself academically. I expected the family would be thrilled as they had 2 reasons to celebrate the achievement of their girls. I was expecting a poster and a congratulatory message for Riya put up on the walls or played on the PPT which they had displayed, but all it had was “Roma weds Abhishek” and the some pics of Roma as a child and as she grew up, pictures with her family and friends were shown. Not a single mention of Riya and her degree. I found it weird.
I finally found her , forlorn she sat in a beautiful lehnga but her face had lost its charm. I congratulated her with all the enthusiasm and hugged her. I saw her face glow but it only lasted for a brief moment and she was back to her gloomy self. On further prodding she revealed that her family did not really consider this as a big achievement, in fact they were all the more worried now about finding a groom for such a highly educated lady. Her parents were furious when she told them that she did not want to get married for the next 3-4 years as she wanted to start her practice.
I pat her shoulder and told her to trust her instincts and make her decision about what she wanted in her life, stay strong and don’t bow down to pressure.
This incident got me thinking on why we obsess over marriage so much and why do we consider that getting married is the biggest achievement of a woman? Without that, the highest degree with the best marks, a lucrative job at a top notch company, a sports medal that she clinches-everything loses its luster. Unless the woman in question ties the knot as the so called “right age” only then is she someone who has achieved something and this achievement calls for a big celebration. Why can’t we celebrate the successes of our girls just like we do for our boys? If it was a boy in place of Riya who would have bagged a gold medal or secured a coveted job wouldn’t that be an occasion to celebrate? Then why is this not the case with our girls?
I recall a particularly brilliant young lady aged 28 who is pursuing her PhD, her Mom and my mom are good friends and Aunty is always worried that her daughter would soon pass the marriageable age and then finding a good groom would be difficult. Her daughter staunchly refuses to even think of marriage at this stage. Her point is “Mumma I have worked a lot to reach this far, and I am still studying to complete my PhD. As long as I live with you and Daddy or alone, I don’t need to care a damn about anything like cooking, cleaning etc. I can focus on my studies. Even if I lived alone I could have done that but if I get married at this point, there would be certain responsibilities and expectations of me as a wife, as a daughter in law. My in laws may not live with me but I cannot really have a carefree attitude like I have now. I would be expected to take care of the house, at least manage the maid and other stuff and at this point all I want to think of is my degree. After toiling all these years, reaching this stage if I get married and i can’t devote enough time to this, all my efforts and sacrifices of the past so many years would be futile. No I will not do this to myself. I will marry when I am ready” Aunty knew she couldn’t coerce her daughter so she decided to let the matter rest and wait for her daughter to turn around.
There’s another good friend of mine, a school friend who is 30 and not married. As we live in different cities, our talks are usually limited to phone calls on birthdays. While this is topic I consciously chose to avoid as I do not want to cause her any discomfort and there’s so much to discuss other than “so any news about your marriage”. We usually end up talking about our jobs, our old school days and she tells me of a school mate’s wedding that she attended and how everyone met and they spoke about the good old school days. We end up on a pleasant note. When I called her on her birthday a few days back, she told me that she is getting married and I was really happy for her. Happy that she took her time. But when I usually converse with other friends and her name pops up, the first question people ask is “is she married? Why not? Any issues? She’s 30; doesn’t she want to get married? I usually shrug and give a tepid response but it makes me wonder yet again about the our mindset in general- why don’t people ask about her job or praise her for being that dutiful daughter who supports her parents and takes care of her younger sister’s education. There is so much more to a woman that her status or single/married.
Our girls who are no less than boys and have a zest and passion to conquer the world, chase their dreams and make them come true- all they need is encouragement and support from all of us- yes your dreams are valid my dear, you can be anything you wish to be. That prize you just won at the inter college debate, the gold medal that you received in Economics, a job at the top Investment Bank- is a great achievement and we are proud of you, let’s celebrate this great moment. Your marriage would be a day to rejoice no doubt, as you step into a new chapter of life and we welcome a new member to our family, but your achievements are not limited to getting married. There’s so much more to life and when we start recognizing these small and big achievements of our girls, being genuinely happy for them and celebrating them with as much vigor as we would celebrate their wedding, we would have truly opened our doors to being more inclusive and gender neutral.