White weddings charmed me as a little girl. They still do sometimes. Owing to volumes of fairy tales in my collection, and of course all the Hollywood and 'Bollywood' flicks that I have been watching repeatedly over the years, I naturally fell in love with stories ending with a 'and they lived happily ever after'. I took it for granted and expected every story that I read or watched on the tube to end in the very same way.
With eyes aging a little more than five-years-old, I watched in wonder the glamour and the glitter on television. As I sipped on my homemade orange juice, I watched intently as the happy young couple finally got what they wanted, a chance to be together for the rest of their lives. There were horses, a carriage, a jewelled umbrella, the blushing bride covered in red and gold, a handsome groom sitting next to her wearing a traditional turban and a sword by his side, ready to slay any dragon that would cross his lady's path. I would sigh and wonder about my knight in a shining armour, riding a white stallion, sweeping me off my feet and taking me far, far away from the wicked witches in the castles, ogres under the bridges and also from all those bullies at the playground at school. I was clearly tired of the woes in my life by then and was looking for a way to freedom.
Over the years, the vision of this knight on a white horse lingered on for quite some time, before fading away with the rest of my fairytale characters. I stopped building castles, fighting pirates at sea and asking my father questions about how magicians do their magic. I realised, while growing up, that if by default, being a girl had automatically made me a part of certain institutions, philosophies and social nets created by the people themselves. I was suddenly being judged and dictated. Words like decorum and dignity, as Julie Garwood would say, were being drummed into me. This time I had a different list of questions to ask.
Still a buff for glitter and mushy movies from 'Bollywood', I was obviously taken by the title 'Vivah', starring Shahid Kapoor with his heart stealing smiles and the sweet Amrita Rao. Though topping the charts in India, I was fairly disappointed with the ideas that prevail in our society, shown through this movie, though it was indeed an eye-opener for many a hard core patriarch. At the end of the movie, the heroine is seen suffering from severe burns from a fire that starts at her home, amidst all the joyous wedding preparations by family members and neighbours living in the colony. As she is taken to the hospital, her family is shown shattered, merely for the fact that the girl now, will not be able to get married the next day as scheduled. In fact, with her burns, she might never be able to get married at all. In a nutshell, she now has no significant purpose for surviving in society.
Even today, in a society like ours, a man, with a stable job, a proper bank account, a flat or two to his name and finally a wife to look after him, bear him heirs and look pretty and cheerful at family get-togethers, is defined as a complete human being. A woman, on the other hand, is never close to completing her sense of femininity if she does not marry, no matter how much she has worked to become a financial and a social equal to her male counterpart. Indeed, marriage plays a very significant role in defining as to who one really is, especially for a woman.
I remember a few months ago, while I was standing in line to pay the cashier at the super market, I spotted a girl of about 12 with her mother standing in the line next to mine. The mother, a dignified and a soft-spoken woman was explaining to her friend, waiting in the same line, as to how many dentists she had to consult for the sake of her daughter. I noticed that the little girl had a tooth missing right in front, which she had lost with a bad fall while playing at school. I figured that her mother was talking about one of those artificial teeth, which would cost her a fortune. I was suddenly feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Here was a mother who was genuinely worried about her little girl and was doing all she could to fix her tooth. Motherly love thought I, giving a thought or two to my own mother who was waiting at home for the grocery. “She won't get any good marriage proposals if we don't do anything about her tooth now, bhabi,” I hear her say next. “Oh yes!” replied the bhabi. “Now you will have to pay a fortune for both her tooth and a grand wedding when she is older.” That very day, the little girl learnt yet another lesson about growing up as woman in our society.
Right from the birth of a baby girl to the day she is finally married off, the parents are constantly doing everything they can to build their daughters according to what a probable suitor in the future would want in a wife. They are taught how to cook, not to develop their survival instincts, but to please their future husbands. They are taught to sew and knit, not for the beauty of the art, but to mend the button or the torn socks in a future household. There was a time when women were not sent to school since no one would want a wife who knew more than her husband. Women were then sent to school, since their husbands wanted wives who could at least read and write, but many would never finish university since it was not necessary, especially after getting married. Men then wanted 'working-women' as wives, giving rise to many a woman taking up a subject under Humanities at university for a respectable teaching position at a local school or college. Even today, parents think twice about funding an education in subjects like Physiotherapy dentistry for their daughters, for the fear of a suitor who would refuse to bear the tuition fees in the future.
The dream of a 'good marriage proposal' becomes the standard line for every other girl, or rather her parents. I wonder at the parents who used to bury their newborn baby girls years ago. There are times when I feel that maybe the parents were actually doing the babies a big favour rather than committing a crime. A life, with the purpose of being a showpiece and a glittery object in a new household, is not worth living.
Volume 6 Issue 9 | March 9, 2007 |
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