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Her Best Life

As a twenty-five-year-old mother of two daughters, I began to visualize a different future for them. As did most women/ parents of my generation. We decided to focus on their education and career so that they could be self-sufficient. We wanted to send them to the best universities, take them for exotic holidays and give them the freedom to party. No one was going to tell them ‘You can do this when you go to your own home,’ or ‘Wait till you have to live with your in-laws.’ As adolescent girls, many women of my generation were subjected to rituals (that boys were exempted from) like the application of malai to become fairer (it smelled awful) and the rubbing of a pumice stone on our bodies (which invariably lost the battle) to curb hair growth. I suppose the rough stone damaged our psyche more than our tender skin. We had to be as beautiful as possible, a difficult task in the awkward teen years. After all, the saying that ‘beauty is a woman’s jewel’ was passed down to us. So, no, we were not going to subject our daughters to such ideas.

Yes, our lives were, in many ways, better than our mothers and grandmothers, but even so, they were only marginally better. We could wear western clothes (believe it or not, it was not a given) and some of us were allowed to choose a life partner which meant that one was expected to marry someone they were dating for more than six months. What’s stranger is that the boys were willing to offer the same swift commitment if they were dating a girl from a ‘good’ home. After all everyone believed the stories they were told; of the sacrificial nature of mythological heroines, devoted wives and noble mothers. Even misogyny was cloaked under protectiveness; married young men could be out till late at night because it wasn’t safe for women to be out alone, and of course a woman had to run the home because her husband was working hard for her and ‘her’ children. The disparity only became evident when a changing economy forced women to make their financial requirements vocal and when it boiled down to the name of the primary holder on the bank account.

Hence, we tried to fill the gaps in our youth with the extravagances of our daughters. We joked about their use of words like ‘insane,’ for amazing and ‘sick’ for great. It was a new world, a mad one, a bold one. They could wear strappy clothes and shorts, blob around the house and laugh without covering their mouths. Girls no longer giggled; they guffawed. We assumed that marriage and children would fall into place with the passage of time. There’s someone (because there has to be, right?) for everyone. And anyway, there was a time for everything. That time would come. It was a priority to secure their financial independence. Everything else, would come later. Somehow, we didn’t expect to be caught in a cliché- the more things change, the more they remain the same. We found ourselves in the midst of a social media blitzkrieg promoting weddings, romantic films that ended with a wedding and an undying cultural ethos that once again led to a wedding. More than ever before, young women began to dream about the dream wedding. Moreover, the visual medium created a never-seen-before obsession with beauty and appearance. At the end of this long fight for emancipation, I saw many a young woman waiting to become the beautiful bride.

Thus, today, we find ourselves at the crossroads of a long journey. On the one hand there are commitment phobic young people and on the other hand young women are worried about reproduction and their biological clocks. They are afraid to lose their liberties but also fear loneliness. If mothers today have to fret and fume over the unavailability of suitable grooms then it makes them no different from their ancestral counterparts. In fact, worse, because the former had no illusions about romance. There is a glaring difference between a wedding and a marriage. A wedding is the celebration of a joyous occasion whereas a marriage is the sharing of a long, arduous road. We are sending an ambiguous message to our young women by building up their hopes of finding an ideal partner. Anyone can be strong and secure in ideal circumstances. In reality one is deemed to be strong and secure only if one can survive difficult circumstances.

The most important message one can give the young women of today, however, is that financial independence offers them the freedom to choose. Stability and happiness can’t necessarily be acquired through marriage. The silence can be quite deafening once the dance music at a wedding fades out. The role of men hasn’t changed much whereas women have added to their responsibilities; now they work, both inside and outside the home. A plan to marry has to be well thought out. It can’t be a social requirement, a box to tick off. It’s time we took the pressure of the big, fat wedding off and celebrated instead, all the young women who make a choice, especially if they’re gingerly saying ‘No,’ to questions like ‘Are you married? or ‘Do you have children?’. Married, unmarried, childless or mother, every young woman is working harder than ever to live her best life. We’ve come very far from the giggly girls we once were. That thought alone is worth a loud guffaw.

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