Dina Ferdous( Translated by Tahiya Islam):
A colleague of mine was facing problem while searching for a life partner because of being highly qualified as a woman. Finally, with a bit of my interference, she got married to my neighbor. Let’s say, the name of my former colleague is “K”. She is the youngest and mostly loved member of her family. She calls her elder brothers by their names out of love. Everyone in her family affectionately calls her Moni- a Bengali word which means “Dear”.
Just couple of days after the marriage, Moni or “K” came to my house crying. She told me that her husband was being doubtful about her age because she calls her elder brothers by their names. Her husband raised this question in front of other members of her in-laws. Her cry was a proof that how humiliated and insulted she must have felt then! There may be questions that age is a normal issue. Nobody hides their true age, then why is there such a fuss about it? A husband can ask his wife’s age. It is pretty normal. The true age of a person is very important in health and legal issues as well.
Then, why is there a hide and seek about revealing the true age of a woman? Let me give another example. I have an aunt living in next door who addresses her younger brother as “bhaia” (brother)and her brother addresses her by her name- as if he is the elder one between them. Some of us know about it and some of us don’t.
Now, let’s come to the point of hiding a woman’s true age. According to our society, if a woman is aged, then it is time to marry her off. The age becomes a great risk factor if the woman is older than a man. This society easily accepts when a grandfather marries a girl of his granddaughter’s age but becomes highly skeptical when an older woman wants to marry a younger man.
There is a saying; men grow old in mind, not in age. But we all know very well that physical work cannot be done by mind. As a 50 up woman cannot become a mother, likewise, a 50 up man cannot fulfill the sexual desires of a woman.
There are women who like to be passively submissive with their husbands. If they succeed to prove themselves of young age, it becomes better for them. Many husbands boast around saying that they have given their wives freedom because they are young.
Sometimes, I call my elder brother and sister in-laws by their names because of my relationship quotient with them. And sometimes, because of the relationship status, I cannot call my younger aunts by their names. After my marriage, many call me by “bhabhi” because of the relationship status between us. Hiding the true age is not necessary but it doesn’t mean that you can ask anyone and everyone about their ages publicly using various different ways.
There are some who tell their ages just to know about other people’s age. You may feel peace by telling your age to everyone but not everyone may feel the same as you do. It is not at all civilized to ask people about their ages without any reason. When I first went to America, I did a course on language and culture. There a student asked the teacher about his age as he looked young. The teacher replied quite straight forward that his age was not under the syllabus and that is why he was not bound to answer the question.
We usually lie in this kind of questions if we don’t want to answer as we are not bound to provide an answer. But people like to interfere with other people’s personal matters- who is marrying whom, the bride is older than the groom, the bride is more qualified than the groom, how many children will the couple take, when will they have their first child etc.
These discussions are not only done out of jealousy; some people build up their conversations and gossips based on these questions and interference. Maybe, some of us don’t engage in these conversations but we don’t even stop them when they gossip, rather we sit silent and enjoy ourselves. The “x” person whom I was discussing about faces this similar situation. Her husband raises question about her age but he has older and unmarried sisters and aunts in his family and in their cases, he hides their ages when marriage proposals come.
There is an undeniable pleasure in learning about your own truth. When someone praises us for looking beautiful after makeup, we feel appreciated and flattered. This feeling reaches higher when we are praised for our natural beauty. We know very well about the imperfections that we hide by doing makeup. So, we feel couple times more flattered when we are praised for our natural beauty. There is not extra pleasure in hiding a woman’s true age but massive social problems arise if a woman reveals her true age.
Hoimonti’s father in-law called her aged because of her real age in Rabindranath Tagore’s story- Hoimonti. During that period, girls were used to be married off at the age of ten, whereas Hoimonti got married when she was seventeen years old. That is why her mother in-law tried to hide her true age because people will gossip about it. At present, even if people do not say anything on the face but most still believe that a girl is old and eligible to marriage in her twenties.
Many believe that more education will make women older. It will be difficult then to mentally and physically dominate and torture her. That is why On Arts students are preferable by the elderly people for marriage.
There is no particular reason of lying about a girl’s age, beauty and quality. But to those where these matter are confined within this regressive society. Once I saw in a close person’s marriage bio data that the girl is five feet two inches. I told her that the girl is four feet eleven inches. She said if the other side is positive about the girl then it will not be a problem. There will be two types of calculations for two different heights.
I experienced the similar thing while bringing a jeans pant for a close person of mine. Upon asking her about her waist size, her husband answered. Later on, I figured that the size of the jeans pant was incorrect for her. I asked her about this and she told me that she gained some weight and her husband knew her previous weight. As he didn’t know the current weight and she didn’t correct him when he told me, I couldn’t bring her the proper size.
On the other hand, many husbands in the society buy under garments for their wives. It all depends on the mentality. I had a friend who used to always wear shirts, pants and skirts. One of my other friends told her to change her dressing pattern as we all have grown up now. She replied that she has two other sisters at home. If she starts wearing Salwar Kamiz now, people will start forcing her to get married along with her sisters. I understood her situation that time. It was not her choice but she had to.
In this society, if a girl becomes old then the family members, elderly people and neighbors start acting in such ways as if they have to bear her responsibilities. They think, as she got old, she needs to get married, hide her true age, deny all her desires and fantasies, avoid being vibrant and start bearing forced responsibilities.
Because of all these, a woman decides to hide her true age even if she doesn’t want it to be hidden.
The next generation is relatively free from this problem because they do not care about the regressive mentalities and ideologies of the society. They know the truth. A mentally strong woman does not fall down for her age, skin complexion or her physical appearance. But not all are same. Those who cannot feel the strength within themselves, follow the previous path by hiding their age.
Dina Ferdous currently resides in New York. She started expressing herself through poetry in 1999. Other than that, she was associated with Sylhet Shilpakala Academy. She has been a prolific contributor of Women Chapter since 2016.
The article was originally published in the Bengali site on 4th of August, 2017. To read the original article, Click Here.
Tahiya Islam is currently living in Selangor, Malaysia. Apart from her love for writing, she has a knack for public speaking as well . Her career goal is to become a teacher and be a motivational speaker.