"Why buy a cow when milk is so cheap?"
I first heard this male chauvinistic line when I was perhaps 10 years old. The reference to a woman is unmistakable. So is the analogy to sex outside of marriage. Premarital, mostly.
Growing up in a small conservative society like Bangalore, the temperate paradise of South India, we had many ayahs to look after us. It's amazing how much you learn from your nanny. Especially about boys.
Day after day during our pubescent years, and mostly over jam and bread after a long school day, my girlfriends and I would be tutored about the importance of the hymen. And not just that it should remain intact until your wedding night, it should also be gift-wrapped and handed to your husband. Our ayah would regale us with stories about how new brides had to ensure they bled, not just faked the pain. It made marriage seem like a death sentence.
"There has been a premium on virginity since kingdom come and the reason is simple: men can't handle being compared to each other."
But before you think India is a regressive nation, please remember what Princess Diana was put through before her royal wedding; I'm personally glad Kate Middleton wasn't. There has been a premium on virginity since kingdom come and the reason is simple: men can't handle being compared to each other.
Today, India seems to have more single, attractive, financially independent women than men. The men outnumber us, no doubt. They don't kill male foetuses in the womb here. So it's an India of many marriageable men and less marriageable ladies. There's only one catch: women are slowly but surely coming to the conclusion that they really don't need a husband to survive. Marriage is no longer a necessity; it is an option. The traditional matchmakers are quite out of business. And dinner conversations almost always include a comment about how so and so is worried about his capable but unmarried 28-year-old.
Over the last decade, scores of young, reasonably educated young ladies have moved to where the jobs are. The big cities offer the Great Indian Dream of a job with a title, money in your own bank account and a house with your name on it. And a lot of industries prefer hiring women: they are more hardworking and less likely to change jobs in a hurry. Bravo.
But this hasn't always been the case. A woman couldn't even inherit from her father and alimony for a divorced Hindu woman could be as meagre as Rs 2500 a month. You can't even buy a good bra at Marks and Spencer for that amount. It is only very recently that the divorce laws in India were altered to ensure the woman in a no-fault divorce gets her share, nicely cut down the middle.
So when the popular Indian matrimonial site Shaadi.com started a new campaign called #MyConditionsApply it caught my attention. Targeted clearly at the new Indian women, the poorly executed commercial nevertheless comes as a breath of fresh air. It shows us images of emancipated young women who will do as they please and not even change their maiden names after marriage. It breaks the stereotype of an Indian woman: submissive in a sari, head covered and eyes lowered, bound in virtual chains by the family she married into. And shackled by an unforgiving society into staying in a miserable marriage while the husband went out and had himself a ball. No sir, the rules have changed.
This is the new Indian woman. Marry one if you dare.