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Friday, February 09, 2007

The Single Life

I have been meaning to blog about this for quite some time now. Someone else came out with a book.

I read about Radhika Jha’s “Chasing The Good Life: On Being Single” this morning. I came away from that article with mixed emotions. Am I to feel happy that I am not alone (or rather was not alone) or am I to feel sad that the plight of single Indian women in India has not changed one bit?

I lived alone for most part of my adult life. It was the life I wanted to lead. Not that I worried about being answerable to anyone. I’ve found that I can do that when I have to. But I’m very picky when it comes to whom I’m answerable to. My parent: yes. Someone who is considering me as a tenant for his apartment: no.

The initial years away from home were spent at a hostel. The kind with rules. I doubt I ever broke them, but I know I bent them on more than one occasion. Not without reason of course. I was pursuing two post graduate programs and picking up two foreign languages side by side. There was no way I could return to the hostel before 9 p.m. My name was entered into the late comers’ register almost everyday and Prof would bail me out. I never got into trouble, just never meant to and never did.

My house hunt as a single working woman was a different experience altogether. Nobody wanted me. Not in their apartments at least. Why? Because an opinion of me had been formed. A negative one at that. I finally found a place. Very close to my work place but not the most liveable of abodes. It may not have been what I wanted, but it definitely served my purpose. There was the usual set of rules. No boys can stay over, no loud music, no this no that. Who cared? I wasn’t the type to break such rules, so it didn’t matter. I wanted to be able to cook my own food. And this place allowed me that luxury. I hit it off very well with my landlord and landlady and they treated me like their own daughter. Sent food up at times, nursed me when I was unwell, allowed my parents to call me on their phone… trivialities you might say. But step into the shoes of a 23 year old, living 2000 miles away from home and your perception is bound to change.

Later on, I was forced to find a different place to stay. I moved 6 times in a span of 16 months. I was chased out because a good family was willing to pay more for my apartment. And at times, I ran. There was this one apartment that I took up. It was neat and compact. It even had a few appliances, but half the things just didn’t work. There was a telephone as well. And I was told that I’d have to pay whatever the bill showed. The owner lived abroad and had a caretaker for the place. My parents were visiting and I took them on a weekend trip. I just decided to get extra protection and bought a nice Godrej Navtal for the main door. When we returned from the trip, I found the metal door open and the main door was unlocked… except for my Navtal! Someone had tried to enter the apartment. The caretaker was promptly at my door the next morning asking why I had added an extra lock. I told him that that was none of his business. I also made use of the opportunity to show him what was not working. The next night, well after 11 p.m., Mr. Caretaker was at my door, completely drunk. And he claimed he wanted to know if the appliances had been fixed. He kept trying to force his way in and I shut the door in his face and locked it. The next morning, I vacated the place.

After a few months, I moved back to the city where my parents lived and just moved back in with them. My problems from that point were on were far from over and just took a different turn. (Don’t get me wrong, I had absolutely no adjustment problems as all my friends thought I would.) Everyone I came across would ask me why I was single at 24, why I was not saying yes to the many guys whose proposals for alliance my father received, why I was wasting my life.

Indians are experts at asking personal questions. Where do you work? What does your father do? How much money do you make? How old are you? I have learnt that this is just part of who we are. At a friends wedding, there was this lady sitting next to me at lunch. She asked me, “Nee Vidyakku friend a? Kalyanam aayidutha? Aathula thedarala illaya?” (Are you Vidya’s friend? Are you married? Are your folks hunting for a groom or not?). When I replied, she almost choked on her food. “Ille mami. Aathula peche edukka maattengara. Neenga venumna thedi kudukkarela?” (No Aunty, my folks aren’t even broaching the subject. Why don’t you find me one? )

I also wanted to buy an apartment. A classmate suggested that I invest in property. I always wanted to have a place that I could call my own. So, I booked an apartment and went to a home loan fair. Everything was hunky-dory. My turn came and a gentleman called out my name. I went to his desk with all my documents. He looked up at me and said, “Where’s your husband?” I said, “I don’t have one.” He looked up at me and said, “Sorry, no loan for you.” I told him I’d take him to court for making such statements. I did finally get my loan sanctioned but not before I got lectured on how single women run away with a housing loan and the house. (How? How on earth?)

On the whole, I do know that my 9 years away from home, as an independent single woman have been eventful. I've made some wonderful friends... most of them being single women. I’ve intimidated a lot of single men… some married ones too. (I've even come across an army that thinks single means available.) I know I made a lot of women uncomfortable. Most people felt threatened by my existence. Why they felt that way, I will never know. It is probably because single is different. According to them, single is dangerous… single and successful is more dangerous, but the most dangerous of them all is the single, independent and successful.

14 comments:

Tambourine Girl said...

I soo concur with all you've written, though we're such different folks :)

janani said...

Very interesting read! I agree people are extremely inquisitive

Raaga said...

Thanks TG. We may be different folks... but there's a common thread that runs through our existence. You're one of the friends I made in that time.

Raaga said...

Janani... it is like a birth right in this country.

magicrna said...

I am still single and planning on staying that way. Iam also planning on returning to India soon..so I guess I should consider myself warned, huh?:)
Very nice post, very well written!

G'man said...

hmm.. interesting.. an aspect I hadn't given much thought..

Raaga said...

@Magic: It's a choice :) how you respond/ react... or even whether you do or not.

@G'man: You don't qualify yet as a single person... its when you reach my age or beyond that the tag gets attached :)

lipstick said...

So when do you qualify as single. Good post!I thought you had stopped blogging that is why I did not visit.

Cheers

Raaga said...

@Lipstick: Thanks! Good to see you again. In our society, the age differs for men and women... or boys and girls as matrimonial ads would call out. You're not there yet either :)

Mukund said...

"kalyanam aacha? aathula thedarala?" indha rendu kelviya kaettu kaettu porum porum'nu ayiduthu...

Raaga said...

in any case, adhoda nikkadhu... eppo rendu lerundhu moonu aahardha plan? :):):)

Agnija said...

Nice post. Yes, the questions never stop. At first it is about getting married. Then it is about having a kid. They beauty of it is, they just assume that you don't have kids because you cannot have kids. I was on a vacation in Kerala recently and a tour guide for a group of people was standing in front of us at a vista point waiting for his group to catch up with him. His first two questions were: "how long have you been married?" and "how many kids". The minute we told him for how long and "no kids", he says "I know of a good ayurvedic doctor. He is very good". Oh and BTW, did I mention that he said this looking at me and not my husband. Not even a moment's hesitation!

Raaga said...

@Agnija: Thanks. That is exactly what I said to Mukund in my comment above yours. In Tamil. People assume they can ask you anything and get away with just about anything.

Sig said...

Oh Raaga, very well written.... I can totally understand what you went through... They are all just waiting, aren't they? Just to find that one thing that makes you different from them and then probe on and on till they establish that there's something wrong with you... Sometimes it is being single, sometimes not having a baby, and even after all that these folks will find something else... Hugs to you sweetie, for living through all that and still keeping the spirit up..