The Misconstrued Tale of a Girl from a ‘Progressive’ Family

I can now proudly say that I have knocked off yet another, on my sanctimonious matrimonial list of men. In my triumphs over the past two years, I am tempted to add that this, perhaps the worst.  Albeit, my opinion might change when the next one comes along!

I am now seven feet under.

Now, let me be clear, the point of writing this is not to gain sympathy or for people to provide me with solutions to my ‘problem’ – it is merely food for thought. 

Let me start at the very beginning. May of 2017. I came back from work – tired, bored and fulfilled. As I beckoned from the front door, Appa came to let me in, with a huge smile on his face. ‘Ah Crap, this again’ – I thought. Upon his utterance of the words, “Kullichittu vaa, unkitta konjam peesanum”, I knew exactly what was coming. After my unusually long bath (a dig, at trying to see if I can postpone the conversation), I addressed the talk – like a gladiator – attempting futilely to avoid butchering their feelings. My jadagam had matched with yet another individual and his parents were coming to see me.

I was to stay back home from work on Monday, because it was ‘nalla naal’; and maama and maami would come check me out. By ‘check me out’ I mean assess if I was ‘sanskari’ enough for their lil’ boy. Under the dogma of matrimony, this was downright normal and definitely not new.

So I got to work. Called my girlfriends, ranted about how I didn’t want to do this. Texted my boy friends. Laughed about things that didn’t matter, just to try and ease the stress. Ate some chocolate, because chocolate helps everything. And I was all set.

Two days later, Monday was nearing, lurking around the corner, like the Grinch.

Before we move to the interesting part, I should tell you this – Appa was always particular that when these things happened, I try and be who I am. So I never really had to wear a saree, deck myself up with malli poo, wear expensive jewellery or in fact, go and serve coffee (a popular concept which is almost synonymous with ‘ponnu paathufying’ or bride pimping). Those of you who are avid fans of Goundamani- Senthil know what I am talking about!

So I got ready. Got myself cleaned up and wore a pretty normal looking salwar to prepare for what was to come. The stage was set and the show went on. I must say, of all the parents I have met over the years, they seemed the most normal. They weren’t judgemental, they didn’t make peculiar comments about our house, and they were extremely nice. Pretty contented with me. Mostly because I have this irresistible need to please people. ughh.

All this time I had been hoping something would go wrong – they would grow four heads, the Maama would have wandering eyes or the Maami would tell me how her son was sooo chamathu he was making dosai at home right then and there. But NO. Life couldn’t possibly make it that easy for me!

Three days passed. I thought – hey, maybe this nightmare might be over before it began. But I spoke too soon. As usual, I came back home on Thursday evening, just to see Appa give me that same smile again. The plan had now been formulated. The boy, his parents, the girl and the her parents would meet on the nalla naal in the boys house. Everyone would be happy and gay and make good conversation, post which the boy and the girl would head off alone to converse about all the possibilities awaiting them in the future. 

After 6 boys, I was now very aware of what was going to happen. Let me put it down for you :

  1. The awkwardness – meeting him, his grandmother, and the rest of his family all at once when nothing was really decided.
  2. The constant expectation of me to behave like a nice little girl with a butt load of kalachaaram, wearing clothes that effectively hide my tattoos.
  3. The Boy – the element of ‘what would I do if this boy was a complete knucklehead?’ I would have to spend an entire hour (or more) pretending like I was amused by his sad attempt to impress me or worse, pretend like this was actually going somewhere.

After careful thought, I came back and told appa to calm his calamities. It was decided that we would talk on the phone. Clear the air. Break the ice. Whatever it is the young people are calling it these days… I should point out that I thought it was perfectly normal to want to talk to the boy before I met him. But this was a matter that was broken down, discussed, and ripped apart. In conclusion, my small request was to be addressed and cleared with great difficulty, despite the stone cold judgement.

He called me on Saturday night. (Yes, this is how interesting my Saturday nights are at 25. I say this as I roll my eyes so high it disappears into the top of my head) He seemed pretty chatty. He had three basic concerns – his living condition (ambiguity of the country of residence), my choice of employment and the want of pets. Surprisingly, we seemed to be on the same page on all of these; and so we moved on to other things.

Just to give you a background – the guy is a HR professional in a big multinational company. So he gave me a lot of jargon about people skills and people management. We had similar views on a lot of fairly important things – such as our want of travel, our combined love for RajiniKanth, the irresistible need to watch movies and Meryl Streep.

We then came upon the topic of alcohol. Those of you that aren’t familiar with tamil matrimony – this is the foundation of the institute of sanskaari ladkiyan. So, being who I am in my idealistic bubble, I told him I do drink. Mind you – my level of drinking is very much below normal standards. I am no Salman Khan. But neither am I one of the Sisters of the Morning Star Church.

This is where all hell broke loose. Or so I thought at that point – little did I know that things would get much worse with time. He admitted to not drinking. It wasn’t like he had tried and quit. He just seemed to have feelings, stronger than Amma’s filter coffee, towards the idea of drinking. In all his life, he had failed to understand why people felt the need to have alcohol to ‘have fun’. What was it? Was it the bad taste, the terrible hangovers or the I-no-longer-have-a-filter conversations? He went on about how he was completely opposed to the concept, as I sat and thought about whether he might actually let me speak. When, in fact, he did pause to catch a breath, he asked me – “So why do you do it? What do you like about it?”

So I told him what I liked. Not the drama, not the hangover, not the inappropriate moments – but merely the company and the momentary feeling of letting my brain to snap out of its habitual overthinking. Then he let out his second statement of the night – “I don’t understand. Maybe this is the age difference. Since you are younger, you probably like such things.” 

We went on to discuss multiple scenarios in relation to this, all in his attempt to reiterate that he was ‘the 21st century man’. He claimed to have no problems with my drinking and he said he would undoubtedly ‘let me continue’, the model word here being ‘let’.

I know now you are going to think – “wow, did she really reject him for this?” Or “this is such a small thing. Compromise is important.” Well, just to refresh all of your memories, I never claimed I wouldn’t compromise. The question has always been this – whether the compromise was going to cost me my character and my need to be able to think independently.

Having established that he would indeed ‘let’ me drink, he asked me if Appa was aware of my ‘habits’. I admitted that he was. His amazement at the ‘progressive’ nature of my family accepting my drinking left me gobsmacked. We were, apparently, very ‘progressive and forward thinking’. Yes, he is talking about the same household where I am expected to be back home by 9.30 pm and cannot bring back home boys of any sort. Yet again, I decided to let it go. Who am I to judge, right? Everybody grows up differently. No two families are the same. So I did.

We both were at our best behaviour by the end of the conversation; and we had decided – lets both think about whether we want to go ahead with this. My mind voice was on repeat mode, rapping multiple versions of ‘Gurl… this aint happenin, nuh-un’.  Why? My gut has always been a good ally.

So, the next morning I woke up to the news of – “Oh, the boy is fine with you but he has asked you to think about things and decide.” I was now thoroughly impressed with this boy. He had swept me off my feet for the third time in less than 12 hours! For those of you Sheldonians, I will probably need to hold up a huge-ass sign with the words ‘sarcasm’ etched on it.

Here is how I read the situation – after we discussed what I had wanted and what he had expected, last night, we were to genuinely give it a thought. But he had already decided he wouldn’t change his mind. So the ball was in my court. Such a darling boy right? For even considering ‘letting’ me decide?

Here is something else you need to know – as per our discussion, if I were to drink after marriage, I would have to do it in the room, and hide the bottle, since his parents weren’t okay with the idea. And drink alone – since he doesn’t. And no, I couldn’t go out with my friends and drink either. He was very straight-forward and very honest, so he was going to ‘let’ me drink at home – in his room. Blessed soul I was!

Since I was from a ‘progressive’ family, I thought I will think about it, anyway. After some extensive overthinking and honest-to-god conversations with my trusted advisors, I knew this wasn’t happening. But this time I didn’t ask my dad to end it. I wanted to grow the balls to do it myself. And also because curiosity got the better of me – I needed to know what Mr. People Skills was really thinking. 

Thus, began the conversation of a lifetime! He openly admitted to all of the above stated facts. In a much more elaborate manner – quoting examples from his illustrious career in the field of Human Resources. EOD – I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to go out for a drink with my friends. Why? Because what would society think if the daughter-in-law came back home late at night? What would our parents say about the fact that a married girl has a life of her own? What would the neighbours think if they knew I had other Homo Sapien friends of a different gender? Log Kya Kahenge! Sanskaar ka kya hoga!

My opinion on the entire thing would’ve been made clear to him if, in fact, he had let me talk. But this entire conversation was about him. And his impeccable attributes.

My only question to him was this – “How do I know you wouldn’t judge me or you wouldn’t have a problem if one day I do get shitfaced?”  The thread of his abilities and his skills as a human-resource-professional in a big-multinational came up once again. (Yawwwnnnnnn) This time his point being – “I would never judge you! I wouldn’t care if you got drunk.”

I decided it was time I got out of this conversation because I hadn’t heard the sound of my voice in the last 30 minutes. I put it across in my own little characteristic subtle way that I wasn’t comfortable with his arrangement. Hades, now, came knocking from the underworld.

For a man who claimed he didn’t judge, he sure did a lot of it. I figured, I would quote him. Since he comes off as more of a Dick.  So here goes… 

One: 

“See, I know you are young, and you don’t know what you want, and all. But you need to think about your priorities. Maybe, at this age you feel like your life revolves around drinking with your hippy-friends and partying it out all night long. But life doesn’t work that way. Marriage is serious.”

Two:

“Even if you say ‘no’ to me now, you need to understand one thing, okay – you are in the sacred institution of arranged marriage in South India. So you are never going to find someone who will be okay with you going out with your friends. No man will be okay with it. If you insist on building your life around alcohol, then you need to find a ‘white’ guy only. He will only let you get as drunk as you want. You can also sleep with any man you want and he will be okay with it.”

Three:

“See, I am very clear, okay. I am not going to force anybody to marry me. Because I believe in letting a girl do what she wants. But then I am telling you this for your own good. You’re going to find it very difficult. If you don’t grow up you will not find anybody who will accept you like this.”

This was when I had some breather to talk. Okay, I will admit I just stole it. I interjected with my point about how I did have MARRIED girl friends who came out drinking WITHOUT their husbands. And how his opinion was surprising to me. This is when he dropped the fourth and final deal-breaker.

Four:

“Are you serious? They go out without their husbands? Wow. Then surely they must have some issues with their marriage. Have you asked them? I am sure they don’t have a happy married life. Because its impossible. A man would never let his woman do that. See, I have met a lot of men in my office who complain about issues at home and each time we investigate them, it always happens that their wives go out and do all kinds of things in the night. So, you should find out how happy they are in their marriage. Or even if they are actually in love.”

Need I say more? Would you marry this guy? Is marrying really such a huge deal that I need to compromise on my freedom to make my own decisions? Maybe I wasn’t raised properly. Maybe People will judge me for having rejected him. But here is the thing – the rejection wasn’t about his opinion on alcohol. It was, merely, the fact that it brought out the ugly truth – the patriarchal noose that women are forced to hang under.

That invisible noose stands as a symbol of the extent of hypocrisy that still sustains our households. We all have learnt from the global village about using iPhones, driving automatics and shopping from H&M. But how far have we really gone psychologically? How long are we going to shy away from discussing important things like sex and contraception? Why are we so afraid to admit or give in to that bodily urge? When do we stop staring a tad too long at that girl smoking a cigarette? When do we accept that its okay for a man to cry? Or for a woman to raise a child on her own?

Let your mind wander.

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