An Unmarried Woman
Volume 1, Issue 3
Wearing her jeans and top, so-called ‘modern’ clothes in the eyes of the villagers, she strolled, hoping to freshen herself.
Sitting under the Banyan Tree, she thought about life. Her life was pretty ordinary and felt a little incomplete because of that one thing that was missing — marriage. She regretted not finding herself a suitable groom.
She was now in her village visiting her sick mother, who was to undergo an operation soon in a government hospital. With her father also ill, but in a relatively better condition than her mother, she had come to assist in whatever way possible. It was her third day there, and after cooking lunch for her father, to settle her mind, she decided to take a walk in the nearby locality.
Wearing her jeans and top, so-called ‘modern’ clothes in the eyes of the villagers, she strolled, hoping to freshen herself. Instead of fresh air, more often than not, she invited unwanted glances. From a teenager to an oldie, everybody looked at her as though she was a suicide bomber. Then it hit her — wearing modern clothes was still a taboo in her village. Dodging people’s glances, she walked further to discover a chaiwala, who was making fresh tea. Living in Mumbai for more than two years, she rarely drank tea. A quarter of her salary floated from her bank account into Café Coffee Day’s bank account almost every month, and it showed in her ever increasing body weight. But she wasn’t chubby, but okay — just okay, they all said.
Vidya ordered a tea for herself and sat on a dingy bench. She observed that the other customers at the tea stall seemed uncomfortable about looking at her directly, but at the same time eager to check her out too, study her, and lastly, fantasise about her. Ignoring them, she concentrated on the tea maker, who was more or less a teenager. Who knows what the future had in store for him? He reminded her of India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who had been a tea maker in his childhood. Like an obedient kid doing his homework, the boy looked engrossed in his work. When the tea was ready, she got up from her seat to take the cup as he held it out for her. But just before her hand could reach him, he kept down the cup on a filthy, swaying table. Shocked and surprised by his action, she couldn’t refrain from thinking how backward this society was. She was amused by his reaction. She couldn’t stop herself from cracking a joke in her mind: “He didn’t touch my hand because he feared that my touch would transmit a deadly disease to him.” Smiling, she finished her tea and left. On her way home, the incident kept playing in her mind. She forced herself to forget the episode. After all, she wasn’t interested in touching the tea seller, and he was far from interested in touching her.
But surely, things had changed for Vidya. She sensed it. Even though she had stopped moving out of the house, she knew she was in a vulnerable position.
But surely, things had changed for Vidya. She sensed it. Even though she had stopped moving out of the house, she knew she was in a vulnerable position. The next few days were disturbing for her. She couldn’t concentrate on anything, nor could she share her feelings with anyone. A day before her departure, she wrote a thought-provoking post about women’s empowerment on her blog. Being an editor of a Fashion Magazine, Vidya’s post reached thousands of people. She knew that her popularity and crowd support could demolish those vile men. But her thoughts were not directed at the revenge. The experience of living with her father for twenty days, after a long time, had started changing her outlook towards marriage.
Vidya’s continued to receive marriage proposals. While not all the men who had visited her thought in the same way, a majority of them only wished to sleep with her, or enter into a convenient relationship. On the day of her departure, her aunt repeated her statements about marriage. Vidya, as usual, did not respond to her. After leaving her father’s house, she looked for a tonga to reach the railway station. Unfortunately, she couldn't spot a single one. Along with a herd of women who were carrying huge vessels on their heads, she strolled toward the main road in search of some means of transport to reach the station. On her way, she stopped at the same familiar tea stall. She ordered a cup of tea for herself, and sat on the bench. Behind her, she could overhear two men in deep conversation, and she realized she was the subject of their conversation. She strained to listen and was shocked to hear one of them say, “Again? She has come here for the second time to drink tea.”
To this the other man responded, “To drink tea? No, brother. She comes here to show off her body to us. Her body is slim because she is unmarried. You know when a woman gets fat, right?”
The other man stated, in broken English, “But I am tired of watching her.”
“What do you mean ‘tired’? She is magnificent,” said his companion.
“But she is old. According to a reliable source, her age is nearly thirty-two, and she works as an Editor in a fashion magazine,” said the friend.
“Fashion magazine? Those with nude pictures of girls, right?” the other questioned.
“I don’t know. Mishra Sahib once showed me Vidya’s interview in a newspaper that carried a photograph of her with an old man. I asked Mishra Sahib who the old man was, and he said that he was her boss,” said the man with a know all attitude.
“So what? Her boss might be her mentor”, said the friend.
“Ghanta mentor! I am sure he is her boyfriend. She sleeps with him,” was the reply.
“Why will such a young woman sleep with her old boss?”
“For promotion, money, and power,” furnished the man in broken English.
After completely emptying her teacup, Vidya got up. Without even looking in their direction, she left. She realised it was pointless to even think of driving any sense into people with such a cheap mentality. She managed to catch the train for Mumbai on time. Throughout her journey, she sat quietly going over all the incidents of the past few days. Though her determination to work had not been affected by the events that happened in her village, her faith in her choice to be single was wavering. She wasn’t sure if it was right to remain unmarried any longer. Marriage meant a life of financial and emotional security, love, sex, care, and maybe kids with somebody to share all burdens with. Unmarried life meant problems, doubts, questioning of character, dirty glances, insecurity, fear, and more questions for her.
By the time Vidya reached Mumbai, the marriage debate in her mind had concluded.
Her decision to remain unmarried prevailed. Because marriage was not a necessity, but a choice. She started spending more hours in her office than home. Working extra hours, she achieved her goals before time and also wrote articles on her blog. There were times when people doubted her character. To some extent, it disturbed her and made her cranky for a few days. But she always managed to get over it and return to normalcy. She went to the movies, shopping malls, and even to dinners all by herself. Upon seeing an underwire bra, or a short dress, or a fragrant perfume, or a pair of attractive heels, she purchased them and wore them without a second thought. After all, she always yearned to live a guilt-free life without judgments. When people saw there was no stopping to her, they avoided any attempt to insult her. In one of her posts, she wrote:
“A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a young writer. He was keen to know my story. His motive confused me. ‘How was my story any different from that of other women in this country?’ I asked him. The next day, I received another message from him. Being unmarried and successful was a rare combination in this country, and the very reason that made him curious to know my story. Very often, I meet people who are unaware of my marital status. They express shock on learning an unmarried woman has achieved success. Being unmarried might make me different from other successful women, but is my story really different from others? Ask the women around you. You’ll get the answer. ”
That night, on the train back from her parents’ place, Vidya had questioned her decision to remain unmarried for life. Whatever she experienced in her village had her deeply hurt and shaken. All the remarks that were hurled at her, the suggestions given by her aunt, and the incident at the bus depot had made her feel insecure. She had started to feel that the absence of a male partner made her vulnerable. A different kind of fear that could’ve lasted for a long time had taken birth in her heart at the time. Then, a strong thought crossed her mind, creating a deafening barrier between the present and the future insults, brickbats, and taunts.
It existed. It exists. It’ll continue to exist. To escape it, to fight with it, or to live with it is solely my choice!
Swetnisha holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology from Bhagalpur University. Presently, she is working as a research scholar, pursuing a PhD, from Gauhati University.