Women across the world go through a phase (usually in their teens) when Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is their all time favourite book. They can practically see their mirror image in the plain, middle-class and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet and have no doubts about a handsome, rich and brooding Mr Darcy coming into their lives. This is probably why most of them are very clueless when they end up like Charlotte Lucas. What do you do if are also plain, middle-class and intelligent like Elizabeth but sadly have reached the unmarriageable age of 27 without Darcy having ever stepped into your life? You take a deep breath, hitch yourself to a dolt like Mr Collins and spend the rest of your life avoiding him inspite of living under the same roof.
Little girls around the world in my generation knew there were only two options in the world – get married or become a hostel warden.
Or so it seemed when I landed up at my all-girls high school hostel. The wardens were psychotic witches who clearly took great pleasure in tormenting young kids. They were indifferent to the dirty state of the toilets, rapped your knuckles if you whispered in the study and were constantly telling the younger ones that they must be really unloved if their parents left them in a hostel. The older inmates wisely informed me that this worrisome behaviour was a result of being ‘frustrated’ on account of being unmarried.
Unmarried. You either existed as a married person or in its negative state. Conversations your parents could encounter centred around the progeny’s impending nuptials, even if a groom was yet to be identified. Sometimes, there was never a groom and all conversations with the parents died and new ones opened up around them. As in the case of my aunt’s blighted 40-year-old unmarried friend. My aunt spent hours lamenting her friend’s fate till my uncle got fed up and suggested maybe he should offer her succor. This shut her up.
When I reached college, I finally came across a normal single woman. My professor was not of a particularly friendly disposition. But she was certainly far from the sociopath lot who roamed the hostel corridors. And I had no clue what she did in her personal life. Which is probably why, finding myself single at 27, I had no clue either what I was supposed to do with mine. After all, my peers cum role models were all people who got an education, got a job, hung out with friends for a couple of years, dated for a year and got married at 25. So at 27, they all seemed to be busy tending households and trying to have babies. It seemed obvious that I should spend my time quickly getting back on the normal road to eternal bliss by meeting every random guy proffered as a groom.
Boy, was it a miserable existence. Not only did most of them remind me entirely of Mr Collins, but also the sense of eventually ending up as a hostel warden was growing stronger with every passing day. I even wondered if I should be chewing glass bottles to really slip into the act. This went on for a while till I finally found out that I had more fun in my aerobics class than scouring internet dating sites in search of Mr Darcys. I also seemed to have more fun in travel. I had fun going for Salsa classes. I had fun writing stuff. In short, realization dawned that life beyond 27 did not have to revolve around an eternal wait for a perfect guy. The power of being single meant I had the time to do just about anything I wanted to try my hand at.
Whew. Movies, books, aunts, uncles, parents (thankfully not in my case), neighbours everyone had conspired to make you think that you can only be unmarried, not single and hence your entire life must center around rectifying that defect. Every single action has to be about finally entering that joyous moment when your spouse in a crumpled pair of pajamas and manly stubble brings you your morning cuppa. Suddenly I discovered that there was also much joy in waking up to a cup of coffee made by the porter on my Himalayan trek and served outside my tent perched on the confluence of two rivers. Face it, how many women manage to marry men who like going on treks, or who let them carry on anyway without giving them a guilt complex about spending sparse vacation time and good money on personal gratification.
This is not to say I have renounced the path of holy matrimony and all happiness that can come with it (Don’t worry, Mum). It is just my life has become simpler ever since I discovered what I had than listen to the world about how unhappy I should be with what I did not have.