'At 60, I still encounter condescension and pity'
Freny Manecksha on fighting the myopic vision of society that denounces single Parsi women for being 'choosya and 'selfish'
My progression into singlehood happened, perhaps, because I had started enjoying my independence a little too much. Some relationships had not culminated in marriage. I had consented to 'seeing' a few prospective matches more to assuage my mother's guilt than from any inclination of mine. I confess I always returned from the meetings with a sense of quiet relief that it had not worked out.
Perhaps it also helped that Parsis have late marriages. Pressures to get married are far less than in other communities, and being single is not an anomaly. Today, I am appalled at the way community attitudes have hardened and calcified, and I am disturbed by some aspects of the Jiyo Parsi campaign. Some of the initial approaches of the Jiyo Parsi scheme, like offering treatment for infertility and financial help for struggling families to have more than one child, cannot be faulted in any way. But to me, what is disconcerting is the way an outreach programme has been tacked on to address attitudinal change. A publicity campaign with advertisements was conceived to create 'awareness among the younger generation of marriageable age' and to put the onus on young Parsi men, and particularly on women, to marry young and procreate.
Advertisements that are markedly sexist have denounced single Parsi women for being 'choosy' and 'selfish'. Such ads reveal a myopic vision in seeing women solely as baby-making machines. Fortunately the ads have, by and large, been robustly dismissed with hearty laughter or outrightly condemned by many Parsi women. For that matter, an assumption in one advertisement that those who choose to remain single will be lonely and find themselves checking into old-age homes, has been denounced by some men as well!
On my part, I began to experience some of the subtle and insidious attitudes and values regarding my own worth and respect in society as I hit my late 30s and 40s. My sell-by date had passed, even accounting for the late marriages of Parsis. (I use this terminology deliberately to highlight the terrible commodification that is typified in phrases like left 'on the shelf '.)
I recall a pre-nuptial function at which a modern young Parsi woman peremptorily announced that I could not participate in the mardo saro, or planting of a mango sapling, a ritual performed to signify fertility, because I was single. I ran off to join the men for a round of drinks and then to eat a hearty lunch! But, yes, it was an ouch moment.
I still encounter attitudes of condescension and pity even though I am now in my 60s. A relative rang to enquire after me in the aftermath of a violent bandh in the state. She added, 'You see, I tell everyone I must think of you because you are all alone!'
I had to assure her that I am not really alone, I have good friends who look out for me. Moreover, I think I'm still pretty capable of looking after myself and, as a journalist, have travelled and lived alone in many parts of India. I get off lightly with just the 'bichaari' tag. It could be worse!
Excerpted from Single By Choice: Happily Unmarried Women! Edited by Kalpana Sharma (Women Unlimited)
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