An email: “The relatives seemed to be offering ‘condolences’ for me to my mother, having the misfortune of having an ‘unmarried’ daughter…”

Sharing an email from Jayeeta Basu.

From a bundle of joy to a bundle of misery:

When I had not been killed as a fetus or made to feel unwelcome as a child, I had blissfully assumed that I had escaped the misfortune of being an Indian ‘daughter’. As a child I was always told that since I was the only child of my parents, I was both their son and daughter. I was never wanted of any small joys that my parents could afford. I sported a boy cut and played with all the boys of my ‘para’ (neighborhood).

I grew up without any bias attached to being a girl. I was happy being a daughter. I was always given the freedom to choose my career and friends. My parents never interfered. As a result I was happy being a ‘daughter’. I wanted to take up the responsibility of taking care of my parents when they grew old and required my support (which in India is deemed to be the task of a son). I took up a job away from my hometown and my parents supported my decision (even though many relatives chose to point out the flaws of such a decision). All in all I never felt any gender bias till the golden age of 25!

Things started changing once I hit the benchmark age of marriage in Indian middle class families. 25 and yet not married! I was suddenly being seen as a misfortune to my parents. Suddenly I was being urged to quit my job and shift back to my hometown. So that eligible grooms and their families could come and ‘see’ me. Also my mother pointed that in-laws do not like the thought of an ‘independent girl’ staying alone away from home in an ‘unknown’ city.

Matches started pouring down like the rain. Even relatives who had never bothered to remember my name started telling my mom who all got married at such young age and how I would never get married since I was so ‘independent’ and ‘headstrong’. Men aged even 10 years elder to me were seen as ‘good matches’ while men of my age were rejected since they were very ‘young’. I was expected to quit my job and shift to the city where the groom was working without so much as a doubt.

Recently my dad passed away after a yearlong battle with cancer. The relatives came to offer ‘condolences’ for my dad; however, they seemed to be offering ‘condolences’ for me to my mother, having the misfortune of having an ‘unmarried’ daughter and her husband dead. Now who will get her daughter married? If only my dad had had been smart enough to get me married moment I completed my studies. Such a misery to my mother.

My questions: what makes apparently liberal parents also break? What could I have done to give them the reliability for them to depend on me? Why do they think that a man, just by virtue of being a man, to be my protector from this big bad world?

-Jayeeta Basu

41 thoughts on “An email: “The relatives seemed to be offering ‘condolences’ for me to my mother, having the misfortune of having an ‘unmarried’ daughter…”

  1. i completely understand… with the death of my father, i suddenly saw myself to be very eligible for marriage, though not crossed the eligible age (25) and was married within a years time after that…

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  2. The great Indian society … we seem to revel in feeding off on insecurities don’t we. Here is a recently bereaved widow, and the mourner is actually condoling her on losing and husband and having an unmarried daughter – wow!

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  3. I fucking hate this mentality. That day, a grandaunt told me to “convince” my mum’s cousin (female) to get married soon. I didn’t want to create a scene so I told her as non-confrontationally as possible – “its her life, her desires after all..”. But then she said – “but we will die someday and she needs a guardian, no?”.
    YES.
    She actually said my aunt, an independent woman in a metropolitan city needs a GUARDIAN. Which she is supposed to get in her husband.
    I have a friend from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (a feminist). She said it is legally required for women to have a male guardian (be it father, brother, son, uncle). Women do not have equal status. We can say “oh, India is far more developed in terms of equality” but are we? I don’t think equal legal status makes that much of a difference in a country where socially, women are still second-class, bound by social norms (which constrain people in very real ways).

    GUARDIAN. JEEZ.

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    • Yes exactly ArchieSmita. In fact women’s subordinate status is often dismissed by people with non-sequitor arguments, “We have 498A, we consider daughters to be Lakshmi incarnate. We worship goddesses, don’t we?”
      Yeah right, worship godesses and ask them for a male child.”
      Why are we in such denial about women’s rights?

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  4. Deepest condolences about your father’s demise, may his soul rest in peace. According to history in the beginning God said “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”. Trust you are mankind, so you are the image of God as well as likeness of God. Forget about the filthy comments of world…rule yourself and rule the world.

    Being alone is better than to have somebody who makes you feel alone.

    God will take care and set right all these with His time and according His will.

    All the best Jayeeta
    Best…Raj

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  5. If I may answer your questions:
    [What makes apparently liberal parents also break? ]

    One word “Society” !
    The problem is usually not Parents Jayeeta. The problem is society “Log kya kahenge” is a dictum we Indians live by. In all probability your mother is not so upset that you are single. I am sure she takes solace in the fact that you are with her in this difficult time and is proud that you are such an independent self-sufficient person.
    It’s the so called “well meaning” relatives’ constantly bemoaning your single status that is making her upset.

    [What could I have done to give them the reliability for them to depend on me? ]

    As far as I can read from your mail, you are an educated independent woman who earns her own money and lives her own life. This is enough to convince your family that you are capable of living alone and also supporting your mom if you need to. The problem is not with you – Please please never think that – It’s with this whole mindset that a daughter needs to be married off and one must not depend on one’s daughter financially or otherwise.

    [Why do they think that a man, just by virtue of being a man, to be my protector from this big bad world?]

    Again, nothing but Bloody archaic mindsets!

    If I may offer some advice here – Tell your mother firmly that you here to look after her, be with her and support her in all possible ways. After all it was your parents who told you that you are both their son and daughter. Try convincing her that you are fine and happy and will get married when the time comes and she should stop fretting over it and getting upset after hearing what relatives say.

    For god’s sake Marriage is about companionship and love and not a means to ensure that a woman is “protected” all her life. When is our society going to get that!

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    • Loved your comment! As for Jayeeta, you asked-‘what makes apparently liberal parents also break?’

      My parents are not exactly very liberal, but have always been supportive of my career.All it took for them to ‘break’ was a succession of three weddings, in the span of three months, of cousins who were a year or two younger than me. The pressure, ever since then, has been immense.

      That’s literally all it takes. And the only way to get a foothold is through long repeated discussions pointing out all the things Ruchira said. Daily, if not weekly! Eventually, if they are rational, they will begin to doubt their stance.

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  6. Jayeeta,
    The only lesson you can take away from this is that if you ever have a daughter in the future, you know how you will react to such relatives and Society in general. You know you will not break down and keep supporting her.
    And that is what a change is all about.

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    • Parents, today. They were too girls and boys and they to saw all this in their own days.

      I am not sure if they are able to handle now and if we will be able to handle tomorrow.

      One cant say about the reaction as far as s/he is not in the line of fire.

      Better option, take on this society right now, take parents in confidence if possible.

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  7. HI

    I am able to understand. Marriage of the daughters/sons is considered a huge responsibility of the parents in Indian society and yes, if its a daughter then its in a bigger bolder font. Its considered that marriage is like a security to the girl and a matter of the parents honor etc etc….It will take a lot of time before all the mentality changes!

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  8. These people somehow think a daughter/any female to be honest is completely incapable of fending for herself, creating her own place emotional/’financial security and being peaceful in it alone. If a man is alone he is ‘living the life of a bachelor’ or ‘sowing his wild oats’ and it’s perfectly out of choice, but if a woman does so there has to be some sinister reason behind it, no? Morons. With this whole belief that women cannot fend for themselves, they think getting them ‘married off’ is like giving them some sort of ‘capital’?? SO shameful, archaic, and idiotic. And to offer ‘condolences’ for someone’s marital status?? Who permits anybody else to have so much of an opinion on somebody else’s state of being married or not? Retrograde mindsets+ excessively long noses = great combination..not!

    That aside, to the OP and her mum – my condolences for your loss.

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    • This obsession with a daughter’s marriage also makes the equation between the “Girl’s side” and the “Boy’s side” skewed. This then leads to an unequal marriage in which the wife is expected to bear overall responsibility for the marriage’s success.

      Why? The warped logic that women “need” marriage more, so it’s in their interests to make a success of it and try harder to “adjust”.

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      • Definitely. Husband beats you? ‘Hota hai, adjust’. Husband argues incessantly? Hota hai, adjust. And of course, for most of these people, the woman is not really a participant in the marriage, she’s just someone who cooks, cleans, and has sex and children.

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  9. my condolences to you your amma and after reading this,i cannot not think that your father raised an amazing woman.

    we are a conditioned society and that takes a lot of effort to change.instead of thinking how stupid those people are please try and think what more can you do with your life(as i see you already are living independent life)

    Most of our elders think that a girl has to get married at a certain age and their parents and elders did the same.So,you see this thought has been in us for centuries.

    So liberal or not, parents tend to follow those unwritten rules and expect us to do the same.Have you ever thought “they might be saying it with a good intention and not to put me off”

    why do we have man and woman fight?why should we fight for a women’s right.we are both equal and we both have the same liver,kidneys,hair and blood.

    I am sure that once you move away and start a life with your mother,she will see how amazing her daughter’s life is.Take her with you,show her the things that you can do for her and when it is time marry someone do,if you do not want to then,I am sure your mother will support you.

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  10. May your fathers soul rest in peace and may you and your mother have the courage to move forward without his presence in life

    Now on your post.
    You are 25 and fed up , imagine dear I am 52 , I have been economically independent since I was 25 , and I AM UNMARRIED SINGLE WOMAN , LIVING WITH MY MOTHER.

    My father expired in 1995 and my mother who is 73 now has been economically independent since she was 19 !!!
    After papa’s demise every one who came, they came to sympathize with here on 2 accounts.
    One, she doesnt have a son so who would do her last rites now. And
    second, she has a head strong unmarried daughter, who does not tolerate any comments.

    Few years on every one started blaming her that since I am so strong and can handle all the things without a man, she is USING ME and not wanting me to get married.

    Few more years passed and then one very very kind bhabhi of hers who was a married my mama when he was 56 and she 36 told my mom that she can still get me married.

    I told my mom, ask for SOME GOOD SUGGESTIONS,let us see what she has in mind !!! { since me and my mom are more of friends now its easier to share }
    and lo and be hold , she posted our phone number to a person who runs a matchmaking agency.
    He called up same evening and said he has a right match , i asked what is a right match
    pat came the reply the person is 2 years elder to me , has properties in chandni chowk , has a shop in chandni chowk , and earns decently , I asked what is decently , pat came the reply 10000 { ten thousand per month } ok what is the edcuational qualification,I was told he his 8th pass

    I am a exporter , an MBA . when I called up my mami , she said at your age it’s important to get married.

    I called up my younger sisters husband and shared the same with him and he said ask them if the person is able to drive a CYCLE.
    I was in splits , I said why should I ask that
    HE SAID THAT WE NEED A PERSON TO GO TO OFFICE ERRANDS ON CYCLE.

    My dear Jayeeta
    live your life as you want and enjoy and let people think what they want

    Thankfully for me and my mother we became single adults before people became aware of gay and lesbian etc etc !!!! I am waiting for some young woman to come up and share if ever her being unmarried was tagged / taunted that her widow mother is using her for physical satisfaction.

    I have more concern about your mother, be a support for her and don’t worry marriage or no marriage life moves and those who comment have no work.

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  11. I can completely relate to this for I too being 25 and unmarried. Every time a cousin or even a distant relative’s wedding is fixed, my dad’s sister’s call him up to announce the news and then say how everybody my age is getting married and here I am still unmarried!
    I am sure my dad wouldn’t mind so much that I am still unmarried had it not been the people who see the need for me to settle down soon.

    People even have the audacity to tell you how you should get married soon and be a good daughter!!!

    Jayeeta, I think we shouldn’t really bother about what people think that we should be doing instead just be yourself and do what you like to do. That’s what I do these days.

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  12. My deep condolences to your mother and you. May you gather strength to cope with the loss.

    Coming to the ‘well meaning’ relatives, they will always be around to tell parents of daughters “aur kitne din bithayenge ladki ko ghar mein, shaadi kara do”. It is their responsibility, you see, to ensure that girls who work away from home town come back home and adorn the role of dutiful wives, child bearning machines, serve in-laws with smile and make-up on (as they show in the teleserials) and yes all girls should be married off before 25 so that the girls and her parents can attain salvation. Sick people!!!!

    You know our great ‘parampara’ and ‘tradition’ gives licence to everyone who call themselves ‘sanskaari’ to taunt parents of unmarried daughters, girls who are independent and men who support women in their life calling them ‘auraton ka ghulaam’. Just ignore people who think that the world will come to an end if a girl remains unmarried. You are doing well and am sure will continue to do well in whatever field you have chosen.

    Twinke Khanna sings in a movie “shaadi ke baad main mar jaaon to gham nahi, kawaara nahi marna….” Dont you think such songs and marriage-is-the-only-goal-of-every-girl’s-life kind of teleserials and movies strengthen the already-existing stupid beliefs about unmarried girls?

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  13. Everyone wants to live and let live. However, as a group we forget the latter part of the saying. Society will never let you live on your own terms. If you want to, you will have to ignore the people who look down upon you. It’s not easy but you learn with time.
    The most important thing is that we need to change ourselves first. Don’t give free advice and never comment on anyone. Hopefully, with time, we will collectively live and let live.

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    • seriously this is one simple funda if you want to live your life peacefully in india ..otherwise these sanskaari and religious people just wont let you even breathe without their consent

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  14. Jayeeta, what your so-called-wellwishers say/think is not important. What is more important is that neither your Mom nor you let them affect you / make you feel bad about it. Pity them, that they somehow have it hardcoded in their little brains that ‘an unmarried woman cannot live alone’ just like a ‘pigeon cannot swim in water’. Seriously. That’s that. It’s got to do with their perception. Sometime soon, there are going to be enough women who prove it otherwise, for them to believe that it is possible.

    Why do I suggest that you ignore them? Because as a single woman of 34, that’s what I do. I’ve sat down my parents and helped them understand my point of view. Since the age of 25, when I moved out to make a life of my own, I have proven my point that I can walk the talk. Now, they trust me and have faith in my ability to survive and live a happy fulfilling life in my own terms. And that’s all that matters.

    The people never stop saying the same old lines.. they keep on with it, even when their lives are falling apart, thanks to their over indulgence in other people’s lives. In the mean while, I’m busy going places and living it up.

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  15. Well I think it happens to men too, when my dad passed away the way people talk , as what will mum do , how will she live , Since I was in uk , I would not take care and all the crap.

    I think people have VEHLA time in india and the down times in a family are perfect times for everyone to say something

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    • Are you the only son? I think if you are the only son of your parents (or step-parents), the pressure to get married is heavy once it is decided you earn enough to ‘settle down’. It is a consistent trend, everywhere east of Istanbul, with people trying to pass comments if you are earning well and beyond a certain age (~25) by which time you ‘should have been married’ (“is he impotent?”, “gay…?”)

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  16. I believe the fact the author of the mail doesn’t wish to put an assumed name (that’s what I think-since there is no mention of name-changed-for-the-sake-of..).. speaks the material Jayeeta is made of. It is nice, appreciated and encouraged. Sadly, in real life – the society life is different- and most of the fuss is at all times about what will others say even though their damn own his is full of similar stuff. But as someone said – people have nothing else to do ..

    ..and the mindset is of rich/educated/everyone!..

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  17. I grew up as one of two daughters. My parents ensured we were educated , independent and weathered all the what will you do with two daughters questions ..In a somewhat conservative family we were the first to be sent to hostels for education etc. I am proud of them.
    But this is what I feel : along with the love for the daughter there is a sense of pride in allowing certain liberties. ‘log kya kahenge’ is still there but for a different kind of log. The society which wants to give its daughters just enough freedom to do what they think is good. We like showing off our liberal culture and the way we are treating out daughters. But in our hearts there are still some ‘limits’. Different for different parents but they still exist.
    In my family, my same liberal parents reached theirs when my sister wanted to choose her own partner. It is tearing our family apart and hurting everyone and I do not know how to explain this to my parents. Every conversation ends in a “We gave you so much freedom and now can not face our relatives ” etc.

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    • “WE GAVE YOU SO MUCH FREEDOM ”
      we are born free and just because we are born to a set of parents does not mean that we need to be “set free” by them .
      no one can give us freedom , its already there
      every one needs to understand that this norm of “giving so much freedom” to girls simply means that GIRLS ARE NOT BORN FREE , GIRLS ARE PROPERTY AND GIRLS NEED TO BE CHAINED AND KEPT AT HOME OR MOVE ACCORDING TO WHIMS AND FANCY OF PARENTS , HUSBANDS , IN LAWS AS THEY HAVE THE “RIGHT TO PROTECT ” THE GIRLS
      so all girls please get up and please tell any one who says we gave you so
      much freedom that girls are born as free as any one else

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  20. Hi Jayeeta,

    I can totally relate to your story. I am 26, Indian, educated and in the midst of pursuing an MBA and to make matters worse, I am at home, preparing for my competitive entrance exams. Though both of my parents are around, some of my nosy relatives just won’t quit asking them when and where my wedding ceremony will be held, others come up with some weird suggestions about whom I should marry. Most of them say they know a “good” boy of my own caste who is from a respectable family etc etc etc. the list goes on. These “rishteydaars” claim to be well-wishers who want the best for me and to see me “happy” in proverbial Indian terms. They prey on my parents’ insecurities about “what I will do after they are gone.” My happiness be damned to these people.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I am not even remotely ready for marriage. I have never harboured a desire to date or marry anyone and I am not in a position to commit my life to anyone in particular yet. My career is the only thing that matters to me right now. I believe that marriage is something that one undertakes only with a person whom they love AND respect. Till now, I have not met anyone who even nearly fits this description. When my parents question me on this subject, I just answer them with a polite no (I used to get livid earlier). My parents tell some of the nosy relatives that I am busy with my career and somehow manage to subvert the uncomfortable questions. With the more persistent ones, they express their dissent, albeit gently. For now, I am just going with the flow because I don’t know what else to do. As long as these questions are limited to social gatherings, I just let them be and carry on with my life. I am quite content as long as my parents don’t make any plans to force me into an unwanted marriage. I think you should do the same.

    We, as single and educated women cannot fathom or understand the mindsets of past generations, but people are nosy and mean and believe that it is their birth right to ask the parents of singles such uncomfortable questions. My advice would be for you to continue living and enjoying your life and achieve your dreams until you meet a special person to spend the rest of your life with (whether it is through the arranged or love marriage route. You will know in your heart when you are ready for this. Though it is true that you can’t shut people up, it is equally true that they can’t shut you up (or down) either. ENJOY life and take care of mom. She needs you right now. All the best.

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  25. What is the meaning of “both son and daughter”???
    So is having a son a deafult/given? That every couple should have a son? And if by chance you have only daughter/daughters, then she will have to take up the responsibility that the missing son would have?
    Why can’t she just be their child – no matter what her gender – and take care of them?? What have your private parts got to do with your love and care for your parents?

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