The Rajdeep Sardesai vs Sania Mirza verbal match, which she won, on all accounts, by her whiplash response, has just got over. He asked, “Amidst all the celebrityhood, when is Sania going to settle down? Is it going to be in Dubai? Is it going to be in any other country? What about motherhood, building a family? I don’t see all that in the book. It seems like you don’t want to retire just yet to settle down.”
Sania answered, “You sound disappointed I’m not choosing motherhood over being number one in the world. But I’ll answer your question anyway, that’s the question I face all the time as a woman, that all women have to face – the first is marriage and then it’s motherhood. Unfortunately that’s when we’re settled, and no matter how many Wimbledons we win or number ones in the world we become, we don’t become settled.”
There are enough defenders and attackers on both sides. The supporters say that he apologized; that his question was framed incorrectly; that it’s human to ask someone their future plans; that even Salman Khan gets questions about his marriage plans.
The detractors say “why did he ask this question in the first place? She is the number one player, and has won multiple titles, as if none of her accomplishments matter?”
But it isn’t just someone like Sania that gets asked this question about “being settled”. The fact is that no matter who you are, or what your achievements may be, “settling down” is the only measure of true success, as per Indian society.
The other day I was returning home in the office cab. The cab driver first told me about his family business and how he has worked across the city for many years. My interest in people being what it is, I nodded and encouraged his reminiscing. Carried away, and perhaps, thinking that we can now swap life stories, he then proceeded to ask me questions: “Who lives with you?” “What about your family?” I knew what was coming and deliberately didn’t respond about my marital status, till he asked me directly, “Aap ke husband nahi hain?” (You don’t have a husband?). When I said no, he comforted me with, “Aap abhi bhi shaadi kar sakte ho. Zyada der nahi huyi hai!” (You can still get married. It’s not too late.) and then proceeded to tell me certain astrological tips to ensure my future happiness.
It’s not just people who don’t know me too well or who I can ignore as “not knowing better”.
I remembered a couple of months ago I was having lunch with an office colleague. I had just inserted half of a dahi bada into my mouth when she asked, “Tum shaadi kyon nahi kar rahee?” (Why aren’t you getting married?) The sub-text being, of course, that I am at fault. That I need to get my act together and find someone and “settle down.” Before I could answer her, or swallow the rest of the dahi bada, she added, “Koi milega toh kar lena. Maine bhi bahut der se kee thee.” (If you find someone then do it. Even I got married very late.)
Another colleague, perhaps not too happy at my recent advancement at work, first queried (non) innocently, “What’s the sweets for? Did you get married?” When I answered, rather tartly, that I had got sweets to celebrate my promotion, she shrugged, seeming rather disappointed. Then, “Yeh sab toh theek hai (all this is fine), now you should start thinking about getting married.” When I tried to point out that getting married is not the ultimate goal of my life, the Brahmastra of “What will happen to you when you get old? And there is no one to take care of you?” was launched at me.
And then, if you are married, there are the next round of obstacles, umm questions, to face. A friend of mine has been happily married for five years. Right at the beginning, she and her husband had decided to not have any children and focus on their beloved cats. Friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues find their decision bizarre. “How can you not have children? You are both earning well, and should start thinking about starting your family.” There is the emotional guilt, “Having children makes you think about others instead of living like teenagers,” and the passive-aggressive verbal punch, “Having children makes you more tolerant and patient. I have really changed since I had my child.”
And what if you do get married, and you do have children, and then you decide to raise your child or children as a single parent? What about the support and admiration for women who are doing that? Apparently, that is, again, the ultimate, social hara-kiri. Many women friends have reported the intrusive questions and rejections that they face while trying to rent or buy homes, get their passport renewed, or even get their children admitted to schools. While at face value people would express their admiration for mothers, in reality, as a friend confessed, “It is a life-long, exhausting battle. Sometimes, I feel like giving up and opting for a second marriage just so my child has the benefit of a “male figure”.”
My American and British women friends tell me that although loneliness and the need for companionship makes them try dating sites and apps, no one there asks them such “personal” questions. In fact, in Britain, the number of unmarried people has become more than the number of married people, and in America, journalist Rebecca Traister’s new book All the Single Ladies, with its argument that single women are turning out to be significant players in politics due to their rising number, made it to the best-selling list. And President Obama, who was himself raised by a single mother, addressed this issue and realized that single women, especially single mothers, were tired of being ignored while policies are being finalised. Yet, the fact is that even in the so-called developed world, coupledom is still seen as the ultimate end goal. And if you are “lucky” enough to be a part of a relationship, then you are expected to make it work, to the extent of the then prime minister of UK, David Cameron saying, “Families are the best anti-poverty measure ever invented.
Of course, the political fortunes of both these countries are changing, and it remains to be seen what will be the stance of their respective new leaders. In India though, forget political leaders, even family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors need to stop judging women for being single before we “settle down”.
Article by Jonaki Ray