It was the beginning of a new academic year. The entire school was back after a refreshing (or not so refreshing) break. It was my first year at work after marriage. Many of them at school knew about this as I had invited them for the function before we broke for the holidays. As I entered the school office I found it strange that after the expected “Congrats!”, “How is married life?”, “How was the honeymoon?” and “How are your in-laws?” people started giving me deadly looks. I cringed as they scanned me from head to toe.
Head: Sindoor and Bindi missing.
Neck: Mangalsutr/Thaali missing.
Hands: Bangles missing. Ring missing.
Toes: Toe rings missing.
Too many things missing, much to their discomfort. I have always hated jewellery especially gold. So without them I felt absolutely normal and comfy. As I smiled at every one and asked them about their holidays, I got weird responses like
“At least the mangalsutr, can’t you wear it for your husband’s sake?”
(Is my husband’s fate sealed in a few grams of gold hanging from my neck?)
“Girls these days!”
(Yes girls these days at least try to think with their own head rather than the moral policemen’s)
“Your husband or at least mother-in-law didn’t say anything?”
(They have better work to do than police me)
“How will people know whether you are married or not?”
(I don’t display labels of any other relation on my body. Apart from being a wife, I am a daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, friend and many others. If I displayed a symbol each for the endless relations, I would collapse under their collective weight)
“People will always respect women who wear the symbols of marriage”
(People should respect others based on qualities for which he or she can take credit. One’s religion, sexuality, appearances etc. don’t qualify for that)
I dodged most of them with smiles though I had answers and better questions with me. It would just fall into deaf ears. I should have anticipated this. I was under the notion that times had changed and people were more accepting of fresh ideas and that patriarchy did not exist in educated people’s world at least. Too naïve. I was in no mood to share my ideologies with them. I headed to my class. Only to dodge similar questions repeated by gen next with an added “Your husband has allowed you to work even after marriage, so…”
(I am an adult, the constitution says I can vote someone into power in the Indian democracy, I can get a driving licence, can get married and do so many other things. But wait, someone has to allow me to work, take care of my parents or wear clothes of my choice?)
Of course, I don’t intend to blame the children who said that. Their words reflect the society we live in. Children imbibe ideas and notions from adults around them. It is a different story if women did these things of their own free will, but most often there is an invisible but undeniably present mental filter in our heads (especially after marriage) that doesn't allow our values and ideals to permeate into our consciousness, instead lets them fade into the past as distant memories that would soon be forgotten. In the struggle to get into the good books of others, we become a new person, living someone else’s dreams, thinking like someone else, one’s identity inseparably tagged to someone else’s.
I am myself first. I love the person I am. Happy the way I am. I have many dreams for myself. Without having to feel guilty. Only then I am ready to don the role of daughter, sister, friend and wife without losing myself.
P.S: Many people have argued with me saying that these are part of our culture, so we should accept them without questioning. I believe culture changes, it evolves. Otherwise we wouldn't have been able to get rid of many social evils and malpractices like sati. Some others tried to give me scientific reasons behind sindoor, toe ring, bangles and thaali associating it with reproduction and sexual life. Just a gentle reminder that people from other cultures too have been there, done that!