The past year has been an amazing journey with my love, and we have been blessed to be able to celebrate our love with many, many of our friends. Let me add, that none of what I write here is to detract from all of the love we have received. We are grateful for all of the wonderful moments and everyone’s blessings as we start a pretty intense chapter of our lives.
Yet, this past year also unveiled, in no small measure, the very intricate ways in which patriarchy has winded itself in the way cultures celebrate marriage, and no matter how hard we tried to keep these aspects out of our wedding, of our wedding showers, they had a way of sneaking in. It’s like the powerful men of yester-years had anticipated couples like us wanting to disrupt, and had created a critical response protocol.
A lot of the rituals are about ownership. Of a man now owning or taking responsibility for another person, and from the look and sound of it, an inanimate person who is apparently unable to think or fend for herself.
Going through many of the rituals, where the groom gets blessed first, or fed first, or the bride has to shower his feet with rose petals made me feel like my identity, my worth as a person had dissipated into something immaterial. It seemed as though all the work I had put in toward becoming this person I am, heck, all the work my mother put in into creating her legacy through me, into providing a critical contribution to society was all immaterial.
It’s not a single point of ownership either. In phases, the rituals endeavored to remind of my lack of an identity. The white and red bangles (which are great for aesthetics) marking me as taken. The mangalsutra tying me to him irrevocably. The vermilion as a mark of savage belonging. And this was without the kanyadan, the Hindu version of a father giving the bride away. That was the one thing that was a deal-breaker for me and I simply refused to go through with it.
This Kanyadan concept is something else in Hindu culture. It is not just a father giving his daughter away, not just him saying here, thanks for taking her off my hands. In our archaic rituals, it implies that a woman’s right to do her parents’ last rites, or to claim a lineage with them is snatched away in one short exchange of goods and services. How men and women of science, especially those that claim to not believe in occultism and miracles can continue to practice this, I am yet to fathom. Because essentially, it implies that somehow because we are women and because we got married, our genetic code suddenly changes to match our husbands’. So, of course, that was out.
It was easy to go with the flow, and think of it as nothing meaningful, although many of my relatives, friends and family would probably be offended by the idea that for me these rituals were silly, trivial and something I personally did for fun. The only part of the wedding that was solemn to me were the blessings, the walking together around the fire, a moment sacred because it was the only part of the ceremony where we were equals. No one was dictating to me then, what I should or should not do toward my husband, instead it was a moment of my truth with my creator. It was a moment for me to look at the bright fire, and make my peace with my decision to love this man for life, to be by him as long as he would be by me, to walk the length together.
But the story doesn’t end with me. It is not only about me or what I felt, or did not feel. The subtext is so strong. Everyone assumes that you must have waited for this moment for your entire life. Sad to disappoint, but no. Everyone behaves like this was your biggest achievement in life. Again, hell no. Everyone on both sides of the family ask him what he does and where he works, they ask me when I plan to move to his city. They don’t even for a moment pause to ask if I want to. People hand me idols of Gods and goddesses, but no one cares if I’m religious or I pray. For two straight weeks, no one asked me what I did for a living, or how many people I impact on a daily basis, if at all, or what I like to do. There were always questions about what I like to cook, though. And if I could take care of him, (as if he’s incompetent in doing so himself). People give me well-meaning advice about being adjustable and carrying myself tactfully. No one gave him the same advice. Not once. No one cared that for one whole year, as the wedding was being planned, it made no significant blip on his work or daily routine, but I was stuck managing far too many expectations and far too much to do, or that my life had gotten taken over by something that should have been a joint effort. He was awesome through all of it, but again, not that anyone cared. They still expected me and my parents to take care of everything.
But more importantly, it sent the wrong message to the younger girls that watched all of these things happen. The message they were getting through all of this was that if you truly want to be celebrated as a woman in life, you’ve got to get married. The message was that only if you got married, people were going to spend an insane amount of money on you. Only if you got married would people give you gold and diamonds and make you the center of attention. That looking pretty was a life goal. That prioritizing a man was all worth it because somehow you had validated yourself before society. That having a big wedding meant your parents would be able to exonerate themselves from the crime of having an unmarried daughter. There were other subtle slights toward single women too. Several of the rituals were ones only married women could partake in, while single women were asked not to touch the sacred items that symbolized marriage. Jeez.
We don’t do enough to celebrate single women. Single men get celebrated because they are successful careerists. But I am yet to come across a social institution that applauds and appreciates single women, women who are making it out in the world alone, who have worked their asses off to be successful, to define the terms of their lives on their own, who are probably fighting a mini-fight with many many people around them everyday because they chose to remain single. I was one of them not very long ago, and I was a proud one at that.
I chose to get married because for the first time, someone had shown an interest in how I wanted to lead my life. I met someone who was not just ok with, but was actively encouraging of me defining my own life for myself. I chose to get married because I had found someone willing to be my sounding board, my critic and my best friend all at once. I know that I got lucky. That such partners are few and far in between. That if you don’t have one of these keepers, you should not have one at all.
When we made our vows to each other, we didn’t need people to validate them. The vows were made between us. There was no one to give me away, no one to enforce ownership, no one to dictate the right way to do anything. It was just two adults who wanted to be with each other to make each others’ lives richer and fuller, and a few close friends to share the joy around. At the end of the day, that was all that mattered.
Recent words by my 4 year old niece express my feelings best after reading this- 'Love is shooting from my heart to yours'.
Thanks Moni! Love you too! Never change!!
Beautifully written as always Anwesha. The rituals that surround Indian marriages are mostly symbolic for the educated class I believe. It's not the rituals per se that bothered me, but the point that you made about women having to do too much, meet too many expectations. And trust me, it only gets worse, esp after having kids. Not that I mind being on my toes, but I just wish that as a society, we were more considerate towards our women and their aspirations.