Let’s just all take a second to acknowledge and appreciate how truly lucky we all are.
Without getting into a politically loaded discussion, one has to admit that Diaspora Indians in the UK are a privileged people: we live in a First World country; the overwhelming majority in our community does not have to struggle to survive, to feed themselves or to feed their families.
By and large, almost all of our so-called problems are really just ‘First-World problems’.
So in light of all of that, one cannot deny that we are quite fortunate in our respective situations.
However, now that that is established, now that we have shown our gratitude, it’s time to move away from the bigger picture and look at the really small one, the picture that consists not of the entire world and all the issues that plague the human race, but the one that is focused only on our very own life and all its dear little problems.
Having been a woman for more than quarter century, there are a few things that I have picked up along the way that are established as fact:
1. Being a woman is no easy thing.
2. Being a woman of South Asian heritage is even less of an easy thing.
3. Being a woman of South Asian heritage who is single – well, let’s just say, life is no walk in the park.
As a female from a South Asian background – whether you’re Tamil, Punjabi, or Bengali – there are two major rules that one has to abide-by if one is to be considered a good daughter and a ‘good girl’ in general.
Firstly, don’t talk to boys.
The only acceptable exception for this rule is if the male involved is either one’s father, brother, or husband.
But even then, the conversation and tone should always remain civilised.
Secondly, every girl’s number one priority in life, followed by academic excellence, should be the wish to get married and start a family.
Going back to rule number one, a few explanatory words.
The segregation of the two sexes is not an uncommon practice in South Asian culture. Whether it’s a family function, a social gathering or even a Pooja at a temple, the women are usually not seen socialising heavily with the men and this is the way everyone, it seems, prefers it.
Though not actually ’forbidden’, it is not the most welcome sight – and this applies especially to adolescent girls and boys.
From a very young age, girls in our community are told to avoid spending too much time around boys, but to rather stick to socialising with fellow females.
Whatever good reason one thinks one has, however much the situation might ask for it, there is never a good enough reason and/or excuse to talk to a boy – at least not according to one’s mother.
“But Mommy, we had to take the same tube home so we walked together, na.” -“Why? Are there no girls in your whole school who can walk with you? Huh?”
“But Mommy, I was just asking him whether I could borrow his notes from class.” – “Why? Are there no girls in your class that you can borrow the notes from? And why weren’t you in class taking notes in the first place? Where were you if not in school, huh? Who were you hanging out with?”
One thing all of us will have learned by now – be it male or female, teenager or grown-up – is to never, ever, argue with one’s mother.
In fact, never argue with anyone’s mother. There is no scenario in which one can ever come out as the winner.
So why not save the trouble and just simply agree with the mother, because the one Golden Rule when living in a South Asian household is that Mom is ALWAYS right! Even the dads know it.
So. No talking to boys.
Until the day of your graduation. Because the moment you walk down that stage with your degree in your hand, from that very moment on, the countdown to your marriage day has begun.
At least that’s what your parents are thinking sat there watching you graduate. In fact, to them, everything from the very moment you step down off that stage until you step onto the next stage, your mandap, is just a detour.
From that day on, things will never be the same for you, for almost everything is about to change.
While you might have enjoyed attending family functions and going to social events, they will become your worst nightmare. Wherever you go now, whatever you do, whoever you talk to, all conversations will henceforth revolve around one thing and one thing only – your marriage, or rather the lack thereof.
“So, is there a boy?”
No, there isn’t. Because up until very, very recently, I was not even allowed to look at boys.
But of course, you don’t say this out loud. Though not wrong, you’re better off keeping this piece of truth to yourself. Trust me.
“If there is, don’t be shy. Just tell us. We’ll take care of this and get you married. We’re quite modern, you know? So really. Don’t be scared to tell us.”
Actually, don’t. Don’t tell them. Don’t speak at all, because unless he (and the significant other better be a ‘he’) is from your religion, your cast, and has good prospects, it turns out they actually are not that modern and accepting. So, just walk away. Quickly.
And here is another piece of advice.
Train yourself to be patient, because this is going to go on for a while. Often even after you are married.
Just because you got married, don’t think for even a second that all the pressure is behind you, for the entire cycle is about to begin yet again.
“And, is there any good news? When can we expect a baby, huh? Soon? Look at Priyanka. Two years younger than you, got married three years before you, and is now with her second child. You’re 30 already. No children, all you think about is your career. Is that what’s gonna feed you when you’re old? Oye, you‘re listening, na? Oh, and another thing…”
On a parting note, here is something that I thought was worth sharing:
“The natural ambition of woman is through marriage to climb up, leaning upon a man; but those days are gone. You shall be great without the help of any man, just as you are.” – Swami Vivekananda