Recently, I visited a friend, single and in her 40s at a plush apartment complex in New Town, supposed to be Kolkata’s new-age residential address mostly occupied by high-flying corporates with copious amounts of disposable income and a fast-moving lifestyle that is in some way an anomaly in a city that still prides itself on slow moving cultural closetedness.
As my rented car entered through her imposing iron gates, a burlesque lady security officer asked me which apartment I was intending to visit. I rattled off my friend’s address, and her name, to which her prompt reply was: “Oh, you mean the madam who lives all by herself? Eka?”
I was taken aback by her sharp words and her rather putting off body language, and the way a single woman was literally brandished by another woman. I wondered if married couples in the same, swanky, upmarket complex were also identified as those who live with families — perhaps marked mentally as safer, in other words.
Upstairs, at the get-together, two other ladies present remarked that the same security officer had told them the same sentence — when they too had asked for her address.
My friend laughed causally, saying there was a lot of curiosity about her living alone in her expansive apartment, and how a married neighbour was desperate to offer his services at any given hour of the day and night, so that he could gain an easy entry into her life, and apartment.
A lot of single women I know, who have parents living in the same city, including quite a few friends here in Kolkata, prefer living alone. After a certain age, space becomes critical, as is having the freedom to enjoy a certain way of life that perhaps an older generation cannot quite understand or support — parties that go on past midnight, married lovers/live-ins with a person of the same sex/opposite sex depending on what one’s orientation may be, and a life not bound by a strict timetable that hasn’t changed since when you were 10.
Then there are others, who are alone in a city, like my friend, and thus stay by themselves, in company-provided accommodations. I think of women I interviewed for my non-fiction book Status Single, who faced humiliation and insult in getting a house on rent, and were probed on their sex life or divorced/separated status, by nosy landlords and judgmental landladies.
Why is a single woman living alone such duress on society? Why is her life a constant source of curiosity for others? What will it take before a single woman is not painted either as a slut or a sexless saint? Before her personal choices are not weighed by someone else’s searing value judgment?
And when can she rent and stay alone, sans this constant intervention? When her aloneness isn’t seen as physical and emotional desperation?
Over coffee, this New Year weekend, I also hooked up with a cousin who is single at 37. Having recently suffered a professional setback, she turned to her maternal uncle to share her upcoming business plans, being curtly told that she should just forget everything and settle down.
Being the only child, like me, she also gets to hear the haunting words, “What after your mother?” — the same way I am always told that the prospects of my old age are frightening.
What’s odd is that women are sometimes the most insensitive. A couple of days ago, for instance, a well-meaning married girlfriend asked me over for a party at her home promising she’d introduce me to a bachelor friend of her spouse, based in the US, also on the lookout.
Her text almost sounded like a bait — like telling a child, study and then you get to watch TV; or getting a man at 39 a veritable reward; or even a retribution for being single all this while — a reformative social pattern.
At the core of these diverse threads is an overwhelming presumption that I am “looking for marriage” — and that it is just about everyone’s moral responsibility to either advice me on the need to find a good husband/benefits of companionship in old age, suggest men that are then, more often than not, never introduced properly by the well-intentioned friends/relatives in questions with zero follow up (I didn’t even exchange a word with the prospective at the party and when I asked my friend what happened to the grand promise, she messaged back saying, “I thought you would introduce yourself!”), or assume that I am in some way unhappy/unfulfilled.
And while I am a great believer in love stories and have faced debilitating aloneness and lack of support in hard times, I’d rather be alone, single and independent and free, in mind, body and soul than straddled with nagging kids and conservative in-laws and a husband who is just a provider, and nothing more.
Single women don’t need lectures, patronising, random hook ups that promise much but ultimately are often hollow, and threats about their future. We are also not on a persistent man-hunt, though we may be open to meeting men/women, and neither are our parents. Also, we aren’t in way incomplete sans the married tag.
So, the next time you see a single woman, spare us the look of pity or the compelling need to find us a partner. Don’t bother finding out who stays over at night and if we are sexually active.
Or getting us a man, for all of the above purposes. We are perfectly capable, of doing all of the above. On our own steam.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)
The writer is an ex lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist based in Delhi. She’s the author of Faraway Music, Sita’s Curse and You’ve Got The Wrong Girl! Also, a columnist on sexuality and gender and the recipient of NDTV L’oreal Women of Worth Award in the ‘Literature’ category.