Soon after I got married we moved out from my in-laws place and into our own apartment. It was wonderful. The sense of freedom I got in running my own house, being accountable only to ourselves, doing things as and when we pleased was phenomenal!
Those first 5 years of our marriage were an extension of bachelorhood. Probably more so than my actual bachelorhood because there was the added advantage of staying with the boyfriend which made things unbelievably convenient. We worked long hours, partied longer hours. Our home was our space, done up with the furniture we liked and knick-knacks we’d collected over time. Things were orderly for sure with the house being cleaned and laundry being tended to with alarming regularity, but spontaneity was the theme and plans were made and changed on our whims.
We were literally carefree and in great jobs, which meant we could fund our dreams. Bought the best car and house we could afford. Planned holidays whenever we saw long weekends. And idling away days when we wanted to.
It was amazing. And my response to anyone who asked me what it was like to be married was “I don’t feel like I’m married. It hasn’t changed a thing! If you’re married to your best friend, you can be yourself and don’t have to become this completely different person.”
And I still stand by it.
We all change as we grow up, nothing to debate there. But it’s great when a healthy marriage allows you to change to be the person you were meant to be, and not someone you were made to be.
In India, marriage has very strangely different notions. It symbolises the end of life as you knew it (especially for the girls). Change in clothing, language eating habits, religious preferences and even tailors are all an accepted part of this alliance. In fact, while changing your surname is an obvious ‘given’, but a lot of girls are also made to change their first name to signify their ‘new birth’.
There are times when colleagues got married and when they got back to work, they were unrecognisable. The watch on her hands giving way to a hundred red bangles, business suit thrown aside for a blingy salwar kameez, and the unmistakable glare of brand new ‘real’ jewellery announcing her arrival.
I call it the patriarchy driven characterisation of marriage. Like all great performances, a girl needs to look the part of being unquestionably married and an asset belonging to another person. Not the guy, but definitely the girl. It’s the role of a lifetime that she needs to keep dressing up for and acting out. And somewhere down the road, the lines between her real self and this role begin to get blurred.
And this is a play, I don’t want to watch or be part of.
As someone who never changed her name, food habits or clothing or financial independence just because she got married, I feel a little awkward when confronted by women who never gave a shot to protecting their identities.
Over the years I see married women around me, smart, funny women, for whom their origins have become a ‘fond’ memory and their innate personality unrecognisable. So much so that they see themselves as daughter-in-laws, mothers and wives before seeing themselves as women.
I think its highly bizarre that one needs to forget one’s way of growing up to become a part of another family. Why can’t there be more acceptance of the ways of this new family member, instead of an expectation to re-create their identity?
Isn’t this one the first signs of the deeply rooted intolerance in our country?
As a young progressive woman, I’d just request you not to stifle your personality for trying to fit in. Make it your responsibility to help people see you as you are. And don’t become a slave to norms and rituals, instead question, engage and convince to integrate in a healthy, organic way.