The first time I ever openly said that I may choose to stay single, I was faced with the simple question, “Why?” You may blame me for being unnaturally obtuse, but I saw no reason why I should have a reason. My answer was, “Why should I have any reason to merely continue the same way as I am now? It is for you to explain why you want to change states and marry.” After all, it is the chap who is changing his job who needs to explain why he is doing so and not the guy who is continuing in the same job.
The issue, though, is that most people reacted as though I was a larva refusing to become a butterfly. Though, I am sure that no-one ever polled the butterflies about whether they would have preferred to remain larvae or not – the poor things just never had a choice. In more human terms, it was like I was refusing to pass out of school even after hitting my twenties.
School-College-Work-marriage-parenthood-inlawhood-retirement-grandparenthood is probably their idea of the human life-cycle, much like egg-larva-pupa-butterfly was for the insect. Of course, nowadays, one has to also fit in ‘divorce’, ‘remarriage’, ‘live-in relationship’ etc. into that life cycle somewhere – in brackets as options, though it is quite possible that the coming generations may make all of them mandatory (“WHAT? You are in your forties and still in your first marriage? Something wrong with you?”) – but moving from work straight to retirement and, then, death is still not ‘natural’.
That simple question “Why?” morphed later on into a more detailed “When are you going to settle down?” Considering that my normal posture was horizontal – to the extent that I slouched in my seat in office – I thought I was so well settled down that any more settling down would land me six feet deep, looking at the daisies from the roots up. A situation that I was in no hurry to achieve, considering that I still enjoy life, no matter how improbable it seemed to others that it was possible for any single person to enjoy himself.
Up to a time, it was thought I was only being shy about pushing for marriage. When I started getting taken seriously, it was time for them to see what the problem was with me and set that right. The first hypothesis of the problem was that it was a sort of phobia about women. This was for the men to handle and they took the “I dare you” approach of the schoolyard.
“I think you are afraid of women”, was the opening gambit. The expected reply, of course, would be an indignant, “I am not!” which gives the opening for the dare. “If you are not, then get married.” From then on, of course, your defence gets weaker and weaker, which is the whole point to the ‘I-dare-you’ approach.
I, of course, was probably born kinky. My reply was, “Not afraid. Terrified.” (As which sane man would not be of the Venusian species, any denizen of which can get the better of you in any argument, even if the misdeeds of six previous births had to be dragged into the conversation?) That ‘terrified’ as you can well understand was a conversation-stopper. The chap was only setting up a dare, not a psychoanalysis session, so he had to mumble something about my needing help and vanished.
The problem, however, was that I showed no marked signs of that terror in my interactions with the women of my family. So, the psychological option for my ‘problem’ was not accepted. The other possibility HAD to be physical. (In almost any other area, people concerned about you prefer to see the problem as psychological rather than physical. For some unknown reason, in this issue the psychological problem seems the lesser of the two evils)
Again it was for the men to deal with. “Do you have a problem?” asked a red-faced cousin. In those days, people used to talk of sex as though it was an unclean subject and, in any day, asking a man if he had a problem getting it up seems to be construed as the worst insult, with even accusing him of genocide coming in a distant second. Yet, the poor chap braved the possibility of my swearing vendetta against him.
“What problem? My health is OK and my job is going on fine”, I replied with all the innocence of a person answering a routine enquiry about himself. I am sure my cousin went out with the impression that there would be no point in my marrying, considering my abysmal ignorance of adult matters. He probably thought of me as someone who thought that wives were for cooking and cleaning (Don’t bash me up. This was the eighties, remember?), and, who believed that when a couple felt ready to change diapers, they went out on the balcony, holding a safety net to catch the baby that the stork would drop into their house.
Well – I remain single and I am not ostracized by the society. The intriguing thing about the whole process was that the simple answer – that I did not want to marry merely because I did not WANT to – was never accepted by any but a very few. I am certain that most of them still think I have some ‘problem’. That made me think about how deeply the attitudes of the Society you live in are ingrained in people – to the extent that anyone who does not live in tune with those attitudes seems to be necessarily unable to do so and not merely unwilling to do so.
Which means that what you think you want in life is not necessarily what you want – it is what you have been conditioned to want and it is a conditioning which you never question. The nature of the conditioning varies over time, and varies from Society to Society, but very few people actually question themselves about whether their attitudes and desires come from within or from outside. Like, today, a person, who chooses an option that pays him lesser monetary rewards, is necessarily a ‘loser’, who is unable to win a better job and not someone who chooses his job because that is what he wants to do.
The young, everywhere, think that they are the ones who break the shackles of the society and seek freedom to be who they want to be. I wonder. How many of them are seeking boyfriends or girlfriends because they want to and have found the person they want as their ‘significant other’ and how many find one only in order to avoid being jibed at as being incapable of attracting one?
That period when people still thought to make a woman miserable by getting me married to her did teach me a valuable lesson. That we forge and reinforce the shackles that bind us to societal norms – by not accepting anything different – and then rail at being prisoners of Society!
About Suresh Chandrasekaran
Fiction has been an addiction but the need to make a living took Suresh through Chemical Engineering and an MBA at IIM-Bangalore and, from thence, to a long 16 year stint in the area of finance with specific expertise in fertilizer subsidies and a further two years as consulting expert in the same area. That, in his words, about sums up the boring part of his life, except for the people he was privileged to meet.
Otherwise, he can be described as a mess of contradictions – a bookworm but avid trekker; alone but never lonely; enjoys solitude but loves company; lazy but a perfectionist, the litany is endless. Trekking, which side-tracked him from the writing for which he quit his job, is a major passion and he does, at least, one trek in the Himalayas every year in addition to numerous local treks. He reignited his passion for writing with a fairly popular blog www.jambudweepam.blogspot.in and, currently, also has a short story published in a collection “Uff Ye Emotions” and a novella in a Kindle ebook “Sirens spell danger”