Friday, September 30, 2005

In which I turn a tag into an opportunity to bitch about Ma's buddies

Yay! I love fun tags, and this is a very cool one, thanks to K. I have re-read only a few of my previous posts, and it was kind of fun to go back to last year and see what preoccupied my mind then (which is kind of the point of the blog anyway). And here's what I found:

"The pressure to perform is far more on the boys, they are going to bring home the dough after all."

Contrary to hope, I wasn't speculating on sexual oneupmanship, just reflecting on the sort of expectations that govern the lives of middle-class boys and girls in India. Specifically, I was talking about the kids being expected to marry at a certain age, and how crossing that eligibility threshold triggers a crisis of existence for some. Since I wrote that post, I witnessed the hastily cobbled together marriage of a very dear cousin crumble within a matter of months. It was a rushed affair, partly because of the anxiety that she and her family felt about her being unmarried into her late 20s.

And of course, I look forward to a verbal onslaught of questions regarding my single status every time I visit India. Surprisingly very little of this originates from my extended family, many of whom live in ostensibly conservative environments in villages and small towns. Or even my friends, mostly married, who sigh and envy my single status and make me promise them that I won't ruin my equanimity by filling it with worries of kindergarten admissions for my tots. My parents are the most wonderful of all, badgering me over my dissertation and employment prospects, but hardly a murmur about marriage. No, mostly the nosey Auntie routine is performed by my mother's buddies, women who were speculating about spouses for their daughters and sons before the kids even hit puberty.

I remember a particularly hilarious conversation when the majlis of Ma's buddies was congregated in our home and one of them said (and they were all Bong), "I really don't know what I'm going to do if my son turns up one day with a Punjabi wife. Oh my God! She wouldn't know how to eat ilish maachh, or understand Rabindrasangeet" (ilish maachh or hilsa is to Bongs what matzo ball soup is to Jews). Such cultural crisis, except her son was all of 12 years old at that time. Did the poor fellow know that his Ma had already started speculating about his future mis-adventures? I think he was more worried about not getting bullied in school for his dorky glasses (which I'm sure his Ma picked, in a fit of parental insanity). The same lady would bless me every year with hopes that I would get married in the next one.

Another one, who shows considerable concern over my spinsterhood has started hyperventillating over her own son's inability to get himself married. The poor boy, who's a friend of mine, is 29, an only child, not bad to look at, and earning bucketfuls of money. The parents are very keen to go bride hunting on his behalf, and nonsense, of course he shouldn't date someone, why should he when his Ma can pick a wife for him. The boy wants none of this, especially the scary "good Bong girls" that his parents keep producing (yes, pasty white-skinned, oily braided hair, ooo-I've-found-my-meal-ticket kinds) and is also rather bitter that his parents shot down his efforts to hitch up with a girl a few years ago because she wasn't Bong. Of course this doesn't stop her from dropping very broad hints to my parents about the importance of being married, and how stubborn women who don't get married in time are ignored by their extended families and lead lonely miserable lives.

All this used to annoy me no end when I was in my early 20s, but now I find it enormously entertaining and sincerely do look forward to the concerned looks and talk of doomsday scenarios. And honestly a lot of them are genuinely confused about the very rapidly changing dynamics of relationships between men and women in urban India. The daughter of one of my Ma's buddies saw her engagement broken off (it was an arranged affair) when the boy complained that she wasn't "modern" enough for him. The little prude had refused to share a drink and dance with him on his birthday, which apparently embarassed him immensely in front of his friends. Of course the parents don't understand how an arranged marriage could possibly hinge on the likes and dislikes of the boy and girl involved, especially their lifestyle preferences. Frankly I think the boy was a prick, and what irked him was not her discomfort with his drinking and dancing, but her refusal to obey his wishes in front of his friends. But there's a lot that is in flux, which my Ma's friends either do not understand or are very unnerved by. And that's why it is almost amusing to see them inhabit this charmed universe where good girls get married, and crusty old spinsters end up very very sorry.

10 Comments:

Blogger Urmea said...

LOL, funnily I have not come across the same bong-only vibes among the previous gen auntyjee types in Cal. Maybe being probashi adds a layer of identity crisis based insecurity and perhaps insularity?

2:52 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Urmi, I think you are spot on :)! There's tremendous cultural anxiety among the probashi, and the fear of their kids bringing home an a-bangali is very strong. Strangely, my parents have been less paranoid about this. In fact my Ma was once so enamoured by the marriage of a friend's daughter to a Tam-Bram man, that she badgered me for months to find a sambhar-loving husband (for the record, my Ma detests sambhar so go figure!).

3:25 PM  
Blogger K said...

Arre babare, I sometimes think girls have it easy. Soon after my paternal grandfather died (when I was 20) my grandmother bawled to me that the poor man died before he could see his eldest grandchild (me) married. The same thing happened two months ago when my maternal gd passed away - only from a different granny. Now, both these ladies are determined to find me a wife - one evn told me that I will have to produce a kid before they die. Worse still, with all my cousins getting married, my position in the line was 'skipped', mainly because I'm petrified of going to Cal for any length of time because - a) I'll gain five kgs in a week b) I'll be shown girl after girl after girl. Now having grown up around girls who are fairly liberal in their general outlook towards things - I can't deal with Ms Prissy. Let me give you an example - last year while I was generally chilling at Lake Gardens (sitting upstairs - drinking a beer and smoking some nice Cal weed) I suddenly heard my name being hollered. So me in my jockey shorts goes downstairs to be told to look respectable - I mean I have to keep the granny happy (inheritance reasons and all) so I did that - and down I go and find myself face to face with what you could call a good 'Bhadralok' family along with 22-year old daughter in tow. I knew that this was a set-up, not a good one too. I mean the girl was fairly pretty and all, but god! She was even sent upstairs so that we could talk, but thankfully she saw the bottle of Smirnoff and was quite mortified - she thought that she might end up with an alcoholic wife-beater or something (and five in the evening is early for a drink, but I was on holiday!). Anyway, after said incident I screamed at everyone at home - but again my granny started bawling.
I still don't know what to do. Its a strange kind of emotional pressure - bawling grandmothers. But I'm happy single, and I keep telling myself thats what matters.
Anyway, sorry for the lengthy tale!

11:47 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

K, the comment was so fun to read, don't worry about it at all! And I think it's a matter of perspective, because both men and women get pestered equally. Thankfully both sets of grandparents of mine have just too many grandkids to marry off to obsess over any one of them.

That "bhadralok" encounter was hilarious. I can just about imagine the horror you must have caused the poor well-bred girl.

1:00 AM  
Blogger PS said...

Lol, that was funny. We often discuss among friends how our single status seems to annoy our relatives and friends more than our parents. Live and let live, man!

6:40 AM  
Anonymous fingeek said...

Here. after a long time.
I'm surprised to know that you have friends who actively counsel you not to get married. A lot of my friends are married, and I can't stand the moralization that they dish out to me. About finding someone, settling down, and how if you remain single, you send a bad signal to any *good* girls that might be out there.

I can understand it when people from the previous generation do it (and fortunately for me, my parents do not). But when former girlfriends you got wasted and smoked weed with try to pull off 'Oh, you need to settle down now' ones on you, THAT kills you.

8:00 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

@PS: Yes, isn't that weird? I mean it's not just silent pity, but active disapproval!

@fingeek: Welcome back. Where have you been?

There are some friends who feel trapped in unhappy marriages and strongly advice against marriage. Others, who do have happy marriages, feel overwhelmed by the burden of work, keeping two sets of families happy and raise kids. And both sets are only too happy to have a single friend to tell their woes to, someone who won't have her own marriage related woes to narrate.

Do elaborate on sending bad signals to "good" girls :)

3:14 PM  
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Anonymous マークバイマークジェイコブス said...

are determined to find me a wife - one evn told me that I will have to produce a kid before they die. Worse still, with all my cousins getting married, my position in the line was 'skipped', mainly because I'm petrified of going to Cal for any length of time because - a) I'll gain fiv

12:19 AM  

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