Does India hate single people?
Because there's no other logical explanation for the manic race toward matrimony our country seems to be forever caught up in.
No matter what you're doing with your life in the time you're not getting married, until you "settle down" with a "suitable" person of the opposite sex, you haven't truly arrived. Oh, everyone knows the only fate worse than being single in this country is being gay—or anything other than straight on the sexuality spectrum.
At least not in the eyes of the permanently dissatisfied Indian family elder. If they catch you in an unguarded moment, the force with which they will radiate disapproval for this poor life choice of yours can make you shrivel in silent subjugation.
They will look at you and sigh heavily, as if your hopeless singleness is tormenting them to the very depths of their souls.
If you somehow manage to ignore their theatrics, they will invoke the 'grandchild clause'. You know, the hypothetical little person whose cherubic face they can't wait to behold. No matter how many 'likes' your new Facebook DP amassed, you ain't getting this 'like' anymore. Not unless you're gawking at a baby you were involved in making.
It's as if the survival of the species depends on your willingness to marry, copulate and breed — in that order only, of course. As if the 40 billion dollar-strong (that's a whopping Rs 2.5 lakh crore) Indian wedding industry is doomed without you throwing your paltry few lakhs into the abyss in a show of good faith.
And that's just family. Friends are a whole other level in the unique amalgamation of action, adventure, multi-player, role-play, strategy game that is a single person's life.
There will be a tidal wave of pity from couple friends for single people in no hurry to alter the state.
There is this fascinating phenomenon that should be called the curse of the last remaining single friends — the tidal wave of pity from couple friends, as experienced by single people in no hurry to alter the state. The curse usually kicks in at the age when most close friends are either having babies, getting married, or trading in deadbeat partners for practical, more dependable models. Broadly speaking, annoying friends of single people can be classified into 5 primary categories:
1. Those that will make it their life's mission to set you up with other similarly unfortunate "third wheels". This free meal is served with an equally appetising salad called judgement-masquerading-as-concern on the side.
2. Those that have been married for 30 seconds but have accumulated the wisdom of the ages in the time and will litter these pearls of wisdom in every direction they apprehend a minding-their-own-business single person. These are the people who will take it upon themselves to tell you — a reasonably socialised, high-functioning adult — that every relationship needs compromise and adjustment, and one must have realistic expectations of a partner on and on and on... Until you physically want to destroy either your eardrum or their vocal chords.
These are the people who will take it upon themselves to tell you — a reasonably socialised, high-functioning adult — that every relationship needs compromise and adjustment.
3. Those that will warn you, with increasing levels of alarm, that you have "no idea" how "amazing" it is to have "someone of your own." At which point, you will wonder whether they're talking about a partner, a pet, or a driver. Perhaps all three.
4. Those that will unashamedly exploit your singledom when the need arises: most often, to enlist you as a last-minute babysitter, because "tu toh free bird hai na yaar".
5. And, the most odious of the lot: a combination of all these four kinds.
As aggressively unappealing as these self-appointed life coaches are, their behaviour is not a patch on the grossly suspicious way some people in relationships perceive single strangers. A single man trying to befriend someone's wife? He must pucca have wicked intentions that involve the exchange of saliva and other bodily fluids that have no business being exchanged. A single woman laughing and talking to someone's husband? Hello, home-wrecker alert! She will definitely try to get her unscrupulous talons into the clueless man-lamb!
Wide-eyed underlings, unencumbered by the distractions of romance and demands of partners are a hiring manager's wet dream.
And then there is the workplace, where the rules are forever shifting.
The single person is a highly desired asset as an eager-to-please minion with no power at the start of their careers. Wide-eyed underlings, unencumbered by the distractions of romance and demands of partners, are a hiring manager's wet dream. At the start of your career, you're constantly advised to "be professional", to "leave your feelings and relationships at home", and to "keep your private and professional life strictly separate". Nobody has a problem with you not having the time/inclination for a relationship as long as you're an insignificant, replaceable cog in the wheel.
Single bosses don't understand the need for work-life balance; because they don't have anything of consequence to go back home to.
All of that changes with the ascent to power. Suddenly, single bosses are the devil incarnate. If they are pulling you up for slacking, it's because they "don't have a life" and hence don't understand your delicate need to not work and get paid for it. If they are asking you to get your act together, it's because they need to "get some" and "chill out". And if they're asking you to throw in a few extra hours during crunch time, they're obviously just petty and jealous, and want to deny you what they don't have — marital bliss.
And god forbid if you are a woman, single and leading a team. While a single male boss is looked upon benevolently by peers and juniors, "Oh he's just a perfectionist/ driven/ committed to excellence"; she isn't afforded the respectability of ambition. If she is unmarried and in charge, she must be a fire-breathing dragon boss-lady; and which nice man wants to get with that? A favourite office passtime is praying for the hypothetical man she could be with in future. Or praying that a terrible fate such as her doesn't befall any man at all. Or wait, she could be a lesbo... *Cue for laughter because, apparently, that's funny*
The most important choice anyone ever makes is to live an authentic life, one that gives you happiness, fulfilment and a sense of purpose.
Last week, Shikha Sharma gave, what was called, a very "inspiring" convocation speech at IIM Ahmedabad. She wants, what are presumably some of the brightest young minds in the country to know that their life partner is the single most important decision they'll make in their lives — the source of most of their joys. It sounds wonderfully practical and tweet-able, until you unpack the prejudice and the one-size-fits-all definition of happiness it attempts to reinforce.
No, Ms Sharma, the most important choice anyone ever makes is the decision to live an authentic life, one that gives you happiness, fulfilment and a sense of purpose. And there are as many ways to live that life as there were graduates in that room, as there are people in our world. So the next time you're called upon to give young, impressionable kids life advice, you might want to remember Coetzee's simple wisdom: "I am not the we of anyone".