Like Tom Hanks in `Castaway’, we are all living on our own islands. Hanks’ character, a social animal like all of us, craved human company, and when he found an old football, he painted eyes, a nose, a mouth on it, and pretended it was a human being. He spoke to it, he laughed, cried, got angry with it. Of course, the ball was pleasant company; it never argued, it never nagged, it never hurt his feelings. If it had been a human instead of a ball, the story would have been different. If a woman had walked out of the sea onto the island, after a while Hanks would have probably thrown her back into the sea.
Relationships are tough. Shaadi ka laddoo—it troubles you whether you eat it or give it a miss. Nikita’s (not her real name) second marriage was like a bullet train; it left the station before it arrived. `I’ll skip the details,’ says Nikita, `all I’ll say is that it was a big mistake.’ She was single again and she was doing quite fine, but her mum, who she loved dearly, wanted her to settle down. A single woman all alone, she would complain. What will they think? What are they saying about us? What are they saying about you? They will say all sorts of things, they will point fingers at you……No one on earth knows who `they’ are, but in a society like ours we continue to dance to the tunes the nameless, faceless `they’ play. In the West, `they’ don’t know or care if you exist and that is one extreme, in our close-knit Indian society `they’ want to know everything including your panty size and that is another extreme. I wish we could find a happy medium but until that happens we have to learn to negotiate this territory with care and skill.
I think we should take responsibility for our actions and if Nikita allowed them (`they’) to pressurise her into getting married, some of the responsibility is hers. But let me tell you something about her second `bullet train’ marriage. Like most men and women, her husband wanted his partner to be like the ideal woman he had imagined in his mind, and when the real doesn’t match up to the ideal we try to change the other person, to control the other person, to force him or her into our imagined ideal’s mold. `This man was like James Bond, he was always spying on me,’ Nikita recalls. The only time James Bond left her alone was when they were asleep, but Bond was so insecure and distrustful he wanted to know what she was doing, what she was thinking, what she was planning, where she was going, who she was going with, why, when, where, etc etc etc. The constant interrogation was exhausting. `The only time I felt really happy with him was when he told me that the marriage was over,’ she laughs. Nikita packed her bags and left at bullet train speed.
I think Indian society has changed over the years. People don’t stick their noses into other peoples’ lives like they used to, and this is a big relief, particularly for women, whose lives are under constant scrutiny. I think people are more accepting, less judgemental, and that is a good thing. Single women choosing to live by themselves, to pursue their careers and their dreams are no longer looked down upon. Things are not perfect but I like to believe we are headed in that direction. We should be free enough to decide how we want to live our lives.
I do hope though we are not on our way to the other extreme, I hope we are not on our way to becoming an `indifferent’ society like the West. Freedom is important but so are rules; freedom without rules is like playing tennis without a net. It’s the rules that make the game challenging but rules shouldn’t choke our freedom. We have to learn to stand our ground, to be fiercely protective about our freedom. We have to make sure no one abuses our freedom. No one including ourselves, because great freedom comes with great responsibility.