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  Asia-Pacific
To Be Young, to Be Married, and to Be in India
Special Contribution
By Shobha Shukla
An Indian woman

I was 27 and unmarried and in India and was my own bread winner. If you are 27 and unmarried and in India and happen to be a woman, you are already supposed to be standing on the threshold of spinsterhood and aspersions begin to be cast on your feminine credibility

(Men in India, as elsewhere, are astonishingly virile and are never too late to display their wares in the matrimonial market). And although the word "bachelor" carries youthful romantic connotations, "spinster" subconsciously rings of spent energies, frustrated minds and wilted beauties.

Of course, I had all the makings of a playful mistress and an intelligent partner (two virtues surreptitiously sought by men and coming only second to wealth and beauty). I was slightly but proportionately built and though my eyes had never experimented with launching a thousand ships, they did speak a thousand words. My academic qualifications were above average and my interests ranged from turning out mouth watering Shahi Murg to interpreting Alexander Solzenitsyn. My styilized convent accent of that covertly revered but outwardly ostracised language was enough to send the toughest fanatic of the mother tongue reeling with admiration. I was a working woman of the twenty first century with a mind of my own.

So though my parents were very confident of their adorable daughter hooking a very good catch, they too were becoming slightly apprehensive as time rolled by, producing no Mr. Right. As for me, I was happy as a lark with a fat round sum of Rs.10,000 tingling in my pocket every month. It was an age full of dreams and aspirations when though all is not lost, something is yet to appear on the horizon. Not that there were no blue moods. And a cousin or a friend, newly married and decked in all her finery and narrating her soft sweet moments in whispers did cause a few unhappy moments. It made my life a lonesome wash without a man's shirt in it and my teaching profession an insuperable monotony to dole out with parrot like efficiency the same lessons to disinterested pupils day in and day out.

And so, when one desolate evening he was introduced to me, he felt like manna straight from heaven. He was tall and handsome and took kindly to my 6 feet 2 inches (He said he believed in Schumaker's 'small is beautiful.' He came from a prosperous family of feudal lords and had imbibed the theories of Karl Marx and Engels in America for ten long but lonely years 9 inside information). Now, foreign returned grooms are as highly priced as convent educated brides and when the meet heavens weep—-whether with joy or sorrow is a debatable point.

His brilliant scholastic achievements, made still more charming by a five figure salary, left me spell bound. He had rejected umpteen women (it is blasphemous to think that the reverse could have happened) before taking a fancy for me. Ten years of sojourn amongst civilised people had prompted him to discard all age old Indian traditions and customs as being stupid, foolish and irrational. It was a consolation , bordering on euphoria, for me to know that I had miraculously escaped the destiny of an average Indian woman — that of being tied down to the shoe strings of a chauvinistic Indian male in the hope of being benevolently kicked into the heavens.

We scrutinised each other to the last shred of our weaknesses so that there would be no repentance at leisure later on. This marriage was not to be based on fraud and deception. Here was a perfect pair, compatible in all respects — the sort that could win a 'made for each other contest' there was an occasional doubt about his bookwormish air but the old adage that eccentric persons make devoted husbands cast aside any rising doubts

The question of my job still loomed monstrously in the background. Even the richest of them prefer a working wife as it adds to their status symbol, they said. The subject was broached very casually to him and the reaction was superbly stimulating. Yes he totally believed in the equality of sexes but could I please leave my job and live with him forever. The vision of a home sweet home rose mistily in my eyes.

So one early morning, as the last star was yet twinkling, I found to my utter bewildered joy that after the seemingly invincible sanity of 27 years, I too had committed matrimony. It was a strange sensation to find myself in a new house in an unknown city with him as the sole companion around. Of course my friends had greened with envy at the prospect of my being the sole manager of his affairs, with no middle men or women of the in-law department around. He continued to be the super gentleman that he was and I was, surprisingly, still walking in the seventh heaven.

The bridal flush still glowed on my cheeks as we feverishly planned for holiday trip+ a sort of delayed honeymoon on our first marriage anniversary. The mountain woods were to be lovely, dark and deep and he would my choices keep. Darjeeling was my fastidious choice but we settled for Kashmir which he thought was definitely more spectacular.

Thus I sailed on a rainbow while others watched with envy. Only gradually did I realize that this particular rainbow was not made of the seven colours which I admired. Each colour was of his own personal choice marked at every metre with the seal of his approval. Yes, the first upsurge of excitement had numbed my brains. How could I be so ungrateful so as to think that though we traveled far and wide (he was so fond of visiting new places) it was precisely those terrains which attracted HIS attention and not mine. The whole drama was painfully repeated in every vacation. He would fondly ask me my choice, suavely veto it and then re plan the whole the thing without troubling me at all.

Within a year of marriage he had developed a strong attached to that six yard piece of cloth, called the saree, because it suited his wife admirably and enhanced her charm in his deep blue eyes. In the not so distant past, he had rejected quite a few damsels because they clung to their sarees like a leech which was anyway, according to him a most uncomfortable dress. But that was past. Marriage had made him more mature in his outlook and should make me more responsible and traditional in my behaviour. The metamorphosis was subtle yet decipherable. The lover was changing into a husband and that too at a fairly fast pace. And for God's sake why did I have to make so much of spiced chicken at one go that it had to be stored in the fridge for four days. Why was I feeding him stale fridge food and not a freshly cooked meal everyday after returning from my college duties. His mother had never done that.

So as the rhyme goes, ‘out of the night that covers me, black as the pitch from pole to pole, I must thank whatever stars there be for my — well, existence. For even though he is demanding and dominating, he is still very different from the run-of-the-mill husbands. He has never abused me and all his commands are given in in a peremptory but cultured tone. Wife beating has yet to find favour with him. And above all, he believes in equitable distribution of household duties — inviting my suggestions and opinions in every matter and taking the final decisions himself.

By all earthly accounts I should be a content and gratified wife to have acquired such a gem. But if I am not ( and I am not) happy and if my body is not bruised but my spirit is and if I rebel against this polished slavery then I am labelled as being ignobly ungrateful, treacherously insensitive and grossly stubborn by my own compatriots. There can be no redemption for me now and no salvation later on. And whoever said "live alone — what for? Get a man — done for!"

Was it Maxim Gorky or my own inner self?



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Ms. Shobha Shukla has been teaching Physics at India's noted Loreto Convent, and has been writing for The Hindustan Times and Women's Era in the past. She serves as Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She can be contacted at shobha1shukla@yahoo.co.in)

 

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