Saturday, December 5, 2009

Single By Choice

Every life is an interesting story of smiles and tears, of success and failure... and of lessons learned ( and at times unlearned too!)
I think it is very rightly said that there are no extraordinary people; there are only extraordinary situations which ordinary people rise up to meet with fortitude and patience. And I am surprised by the number of ordinary women, with hardly anything but their conviction and confidence, taking on the hardships of life with a calm on their face and a determination in their heart.
From years bygone and from contemporary time there are stories of such brave women, some of which have left an irrefutable mark on my thought process.

The need for a family and a companion cannot be denied, and interestingly in every phase of life this need although manifesting itself differently, is nonetheless important in its own way.
So one might wonder how these women have compromised on their singlehood.
There is one thing common in all these stories. These women have been immensely feminine and fiercely dignified.

In my childhood I had seen a woman visit my grand-father and spend hours with him in his office. When done with the business, she would sit with the women of the house chatting over a cup of tea and snacks. I still vaguely remember her sophistication and the way she carried herself. Unknowingly she had cast her spell on the innocent little girl that I was then.
Later I was to know that she was a widow and used to come over for advice on legal matters. She was her husband's second wife. Becoming a widow with six daughters and two sons (who were minor), and some step-children (who were all adults) and not surprisingly very hostile to her, was a nightmare that she had not bargained for. But she held on patiently as her late husband's off-springs from his late first wife dragged her to court and harassed her otherwise also in every possible manner.
Her patience has paid back richly as her children and grandchildren are now not only well settled, but also making valuable contribution in the field of education and business in India and abroad.

On another occasion I was completely stunned when a friend told me about her great grand-mother's take on marriage. More than seventy years back, in an orthodox Muslim family, this would have meant a revolution, taking by storm the entire clan.
With all of my broad-mindedness I could not imagine a hardly educated, burqa-clad woman, who had never seen the world outside the expanse of her family's zamindaari, be so bold, forthright and so enviably dignified.
It was not uncommon for the zamindaars to remarry, and then go on remarrying for as many times as they liked...and also have affairs outside these multiple-marriages!!!
So much for their disgusting manliness.
Then why was this woman upset at her husband's (mis)deeds so much so that when she found out he had another woman in his life, she took off all her adornments and jewellery, wore simple clothes (as expected of a widow in those days) and threw him out of her life forever.
She had made a powerful statement.
She had silently pronounced him dead.
She remained single for the rest of her life, her head held high and the peace of her mind visible on her serene face, as I saw in a beautiful painting of her.

Then there is this doctor's widow. At 26, she found herself widowed with five children, her only male child was a few months old at that time. Her entire family was in India while she had to go across the border to Pakistan when her husband migrated with his family. After her husband's death, whatever assets and property he had left was usurped by his relatives there, and she was left with almost nothing. But keeping up her self-respect and dignity, she took on the challenges life mercilessly pitched at her.
Now she looks back on the years gone by as if that was a horrible dream, from which she has woken up fearlessly.
All her children are doing very well and have excelled exemplarily in academics and profession alike.
The contentment of a life well-lived is unfailingly visible in the depth of her beautiful eyes.

I know another woman who found that she could not carry on with the husband and decided to divorce him. Again in a conservative Indian Muslim family about forty years back, how difficult and humiliating this would have been is not hard to imagine. But she stood her ground. It was very tough for her to bring together all the broken threads of her life and tie them into a secure knot. Her daughter was only two-three years old at that time. This brave woman fought all odds and kept clear of the mud-slinging as she went on to complete her research in Chemistry and is among the better-known women scientists in India, actively contributing to education and social work. Her daughter is now a doctor, well settled and very proud of her mother.

And there was this young ravishing twenty year old, jubilant at having completed her first year in medicine, when her family announced that there was already a marriage proposal for her that she must not let go. The would-be groom belonged to a reputed, well-connected and obviously extremely wealthy family. He was handsome and himself a doctor.
At nineteen/twenty how much of the world has anyone seen? She did not think twice before giving in to the wishes of her elders.
A few weeks into the marriage she realised that her husband's promise to let her continue with her studies was a big lie, and that she had to either "obey" him or...
she chose the other option. Instead of carrying on with the stale air of slavery she preferred the elixir of freedom.
No wonder she is more than happy with her decision.

Local trains in Mumbai give you opportunities to meet some of the most courageous women around.
This woman who sells fruits in the ladies compartment, looking just about thirty... fair, with a pleasant face, but so thin, one could possibly count all her bones, told me that her husband, when around had never done anything to support her, but she loved him and bore all his nastiness, she provided apart from everything else, even for his drink, but still he left her for another woman.
While she fends for herself and her children all by herself now, in a paradox of sorts, she also looks after her ex-husband's handicapped sister who still lives with her!
Now when I look at her I see a woman with immense courage staring back at me, her eyes filled with undeterred confidence.

It is often a taken-for-granted that man-woman relationship is the strongest foundation of a marriage. I say this because people bring it up even out-of-context at times when talking about single women. It often has a mean shade to it also as in they often doubt the character of women who are barve enough to choose singlehood over tormenting relationships.
But I often wonder if sexual gratification is the only aspect women look for in a marriage.

Reminds me of yet another woman who was very young when she opted for a divorce. For quite some time she did not even get the custody of her only child. She had studied commercial art at one of Mumbai's prestigious institution, but gave up her job and became a recluse after this unfortunate twist in her life.
It was really a tough task for her supportive and patient family to bring her back to normalcy. They allowed her the freedom to choose a lifestyle that she felt comfortable with.
She took time, but has successfully come out of her self-imposed exile. Her son now lives with her and she has taken up teaching in a reputed Mumbai college.

There is yet another woman who lost her husband when she was quite young. Four small children and this unlettered woman alone in the slums of Mumbai's Dharavi had nowhere to go. But this courageous woman took on life like a lioness takes on her enemy if her cubs are in danger. She fought for her rights each day. Went through hell...has now come out of a scorching "angi pareeksha" unscathed!
Her children look up to her as the only Goddess that they know!

And this one is about someone who I had always imagined to be living in a state of perfect bliss.
She is extermely beautiful. Her ex-husband is a powerful officer. She has a daughter and a son... and till some time back had every material luxury one could ever ask for.
The news of her divorce, soon after her daughter's wedding, came as a jolt to all her friends and family, who were in shock for many days.
It turned out that her marriage was not going anywhere for quite some time, but she chose to carry on with her man for the sake of her children. Once her daughter got married, she decided to quit.
People wanted to know "Why Now?"
She wanted to know "Why Not Now?"
She now lives alone and does what she likes best: Writing.

There are so many examples of women choosing their peace of mind over a humiliating relationship. Remarriage was perhaps a taboo for women some decades ago. But the society is evolving and we have come a long way since then. So the question is why should a woman choose to remain single when she can remarry.
After all as I said in the beginning one needs a companion in life, and as someone benevolently tried to elaborate for the sake of the uninitiated, that such a companion "has to be someone other than family, children or the usual friends".
Does one conclude then, that women "sacrifice" some of their worldly pleasure for the sake of their children?
May be true. As a mother no sacrifice is big enough for a woman.

Then why this friend of mine, who lost her husband some years back, and has no children, choose to remain single?

People who are not part of the problem may look at the single woman with sympathy for charitable (or even selfish) reasons. But ask a woman who goes through it all and one may be surprised to know how comfortable and at peace these women are.

From the olden days till today there have been courageous women who have held their honour and lived a respectful life without "missing the man", and it has been worthwhile too, bringing much contentment for the woman herself as she takes a walk down the memory lane taking stock of all that she has been through. It is pleasuresome to find that the journey has enriched her spiritually and socially; strengthened her morally and intellectually.

A woman has the strength and the intelligence. She can choose her companion.
And what is so wrong if sometimes she chooses single-hood as that ideal companion?


AbdulAziz said...

u could have accept the colomnist job. at least u be a guest colomnist. u can i bet

thabadcat said...

A tribute like write up for single women. There are so many unsung heroes, countless survivors, women who do what they must do to preserve their self worth in the midst of ever circling vultures of society that do not exclude their own kind.

sujata said...

So well expressed Zohraji...kudos!!! :-) Thank you!!