There is this phenomenon that has bothered me for sometime, but being single pushed it out of my consciousness. Lately, it reared its ugly head once again, so I have been puzzling over the myriad thoughts in my head for a few weeks now.

I suppose it started off when I was really young, when I heard my mother recount something my father said: “She is the kind of girl you can take home to your mother.” Even at a tender age, it split the world of women into two: those who are marriage material, and those who are not. And it was also clear which of the two camps it was more desirable to be in.

Of course, none of this affected me at all till I came back to India. Back in Dubai, all my mother’s friends thought that I was the ultimate choice in terms of daughter-in-law. We belonged to the same milieu, and they interacted with me at close quarters. One of my mother’s friends even asked her whether they should promote a match between her younger son and me. [NO.] Thankfully he shot down the idea, because I was [apparently] the living spit of an ex. I was also 16 at the time.

But India proved to be a whole other ballgame. Of my exes, only 2 had families that approved of me as a potential bride for their precious son. Again, this is mainly because they spent some time with me before making a judgement call. The others though? Eroded all my sense of self. Here are some of the reasons I have heard [some gave multiple] for not being good enough for their sons:

– Too independent
– Too pretty [really?!]
– Doesn’t speak <insert Indian language here>
– Not the right caste
– Her parents are not from our culture
– Can she cook? [Was in college at the time, so the answer was no.]
– Will she participate in our festivals?

And so on.

The funny thing is that my parents never put up these objections, in spite of privately thinking every one of them wasn’t good enough. They were content to see me happy, and their only requirement was that I was loved by the boyfriend in question.

I, on the other hand, went about trying to live up to any and all expectations. Some of which were highly contradictory! I was supposed to be financially stable, but not completely independent because that would be emasculating. I was supposed to cook really well, but also be thin [not healthy, mind you] so that I looked attractive, but not too attractive either because don’t want to attract other male attention. And so on.

I even went as far as to lose my own identity in that of my partner. The most recent case in point being the “Navy wife”. I can’t even say I have recovered wholly from that, because I still am hard pressed to describe myself succinctly to strangers. There is also the problem of differing desires. I kept myself open to something again for the first time, and was soundly kicked in the teeth for it. Ouch.

It all came full circle for me yesterday though, when mom was recounting an episode from her youth. This was, obviously, before she got married, and I think was still in college. She was doing LLB part time, and had just discovered that she had cleared her examinations for her third year. Understandably, she was thrilled. Just then, a family came to see her and my aunt. [Arranged marriage thing.]

In the course of introductions and initial conversation, the fact that she had just cleared her exams came up. Of course I don’t know the sequence of events, but apparently the family grew steadily more obnoxious: read out aloud from the newspaper; walk in a straight line with this book on your head; let us measure your fingers; etc.

My mother is a lovely person, but had a towering temper that time. She was convent-educated, and the law degree was her third degree. [The fourth came later.] And at this point, she lost it and forgot all the injunctions my grandmother had bleated at her for behaving herself. The family was in for it.

They next asked her what she was doing. She said hospitality and catering, knowing full well that the trade was new in India and many people didn’t know what it was about. Right on cue they asked, oh? What do you learn in catering?

And she said: how to clean other peoples’ dirty plates [restaurant service]; how to clean toilets [housekeeping]; etc.

Horrified, they asked if this was the work she planned to do. And blind to my grandmother’s silent pleas, she replied yes. They were out the door in 5 minutes flat.

Some years later, she met my dad. They were both hospitality people. He didn’t ask her for anything, except her. They had nothing when they got married. They had 40 years of bickering, squabbling, fights, and a love that should go down in history books. I grew up seeing [and being part of] a marriage that was built on a rock solid foundation of trust, love, integrity, and mutual respect. I imagined that is how a marriage is built by two people.

It gave me hope that one day someone will come into my life and take me as I am, because I have a heart full of love to give. But it is sadly a dwindling hope, as I discover that love is not enough.


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