Growing up in a liberal Muslim family in Kolkata, with interfaith marriages aplenty, came with more boons than banes. For one, education was never a question of any contention. Second, marriage was never pressure. Unlike many of my contemporaries (Read: daughters of family friends and relatives), I wasn’t pursuing my English Honours degree from Loreto College to find a suitable match from St. Xaviers’ commerce batches.
My family never pressured me to either come first in class or specialise in any subject of their liking. I could definitely not come home with red marks on the report card, but other than that, it was a well balanced life, with active club scenes on the weekends, and high tea meets at home on weekdays. A part of my family lived in London, so there was some of that self-imposed pressure to be ‘woke’, and match up to the cool NRI cousins during my teenage. So more than peer pressure, I saw education as the only means to outsmart the condescending cousins, which I totally did.
I opted for commerce, half-heartedly, in 10+2, to avoid falling in the category of “a marriage-worthy arts student” in popular school jargon, because science students were the chosen ones, followed by commerce, and then arts. While I struggled with numbers in accounts and economics, my articles were published week after week in students’ sections of newspapers and the annual school magazines, not to mention winning various creative writing and debating contests. This helped me muster the courage to convince my college principal to allow me to sit for English Honours entrance exams. Armed with a folder, with clippings of all my published works, I convinced her of my calling — writing, journalism, or ‘content’, as we call it digitally today.
I cleared the exam and my conscience, and finally landed my stepping stone degree to apply for an MA in journalism and mass communication. I still remember the HOD inquiring, rather candidly, in my final personal interview round, if I would actually utilise the seat and degree to pursue a career in journalism, or simply get married after adding the masters degree to my matrimonial biodata. I took this enquiry with a pinch of salt, replied honestly, and completed the course as class topper. The gold medal came only eight years later, but that’s a story for another time.
In the meantime, well-wishing relatives and family friends started passing on marriage proposals, which I rejected at the time because I wasn’t ready, and my family respected my choice, mostly. When my friends were signing wedding registries, I was signing contracts with media houses, and very happily so. It didn’t mean I did not want to get married and have a family, I was not ready just yet.
The boon soon turned to bane, as my woke image began to overpower my strong desire of building a stable partnership and a home. Perhaps those around me, including my immediate family, saw me as ‘too independent’ or ‘happily single’ a woman to even approach with a proposal or introduce to a suitor, or two.
I honestly, till date, don’t know how to communicate to anyone in my family that being woke or a feminist doesn’t, in any way, mean I don’t aspire to get married or be introduced to prospective grooms. Yes, I’m career-driven and financially independent. No, I don’t intend to remain single all my life. I fail to explain this to the aunties who often whisper “Yeh career wali hai. Isko toh karni hi nahin hai shaadi (She is a career woman. She doesn’t want to get married only), at weddings and parties.
But well, damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Communicating the same is also often labelled as a “desperate” move. “Don’t say that. It sounds so desperate. Besides, you are a journalist and an independent woman. What will your juniors think of you? Gosh, I always thought you were a feminist,” said a distant cousin, once, in a near-panicky tone, at a family gathering two years ago.
I don’t see any desperation in expressing my need for a family, as it reflects my choice rather than some misconstrued notion of feminism, or being woke — which is really not reflective of one’s need for a life partner or making babies, for that matter. After all, feminism is all about choice, isn’t it? Mine might be different from yours, but the fact that I’m making a choice, makes me a feminist. So let’s just agree to disagree.
I am mighty proud of what my priorities in life are at the moment, and I believe in taking charge of making my desires and dreams a reality, rather than secretly wishing for something, and projecting otherwise. I call that living in denial, and that’s definitely not my address.