It was that call from Neetu that brought this piece of writing to my mind, she called to ask for a decent saree for a special occasion. She came, browsed through my wardrobe and chose a magenta pink saree with ivory border along with matching jewellery. I saw hers blush while she tried the saree on, on asking her several times about the “special occasion,” she dismissed the event as a family gathering, thanked me and went away. Two days later, she came to return the saree and handed me a box of sweets, “this is for you, I got selected by the guy’s family, they came to see me and that’s why I took your saree.”
“Really? Why didn’t you tell me?” I was surprised. I congratulated her and asked the details of the meeting. “How could I tell you? What if I got rejected? Anyway, listen to what happened…they asked me few questions, about my degree, cooking and household chores. Didi cooked the delicious biryani and they were told that it was prepared by me, I am glad they appreciated the cooking…”
Neetu went on and so ran my thoughts.
Marriage in South Asia is not a private ceremony; it is rather a public and social event, a community development programme, a family alliance. Since ancient times, marriages brought together society and kingdom, kings and their families; it strengthened the political stability, and led to territorial expansion. The modern India has stepped a way ahead, but the path remains the same. Howsoever developed, the prevalent social custom cannot be changed, even if the feminist ideologies strike a chord in the mediocre sensibility. The process of arranged marriages, the tradition that takes the girl away to a new place continues to remain, the female gender is put to exhibition, while the male gender gets auctioned. In South Asia, marriage exists as a transaction. Well, to change the customs that exist is not my point, but to expose the pain that these customs offer is the objective here.
The pain of rejection does not go with a simple no, over few cups of tea and few interrogations. The pain lasts forever, its strike the psyche of a girl, who feels lost and questions her worth and existence when she fails as a commodity to please the customer. My friend could not explain to me what the special occasion was for the fear of rejection and had to artificially portray her talent with her sister’s aid. I wondered how “painful” can the pain of rejection be. A girl undergoing this process of exhibition is forever prepared for this episode, she is made ready to face the strange faces and reply the absurd questions that her potential “in laws” pose upon her, she needs to justify and falsify her talents, smile at the awkward situations and be polite regardless of how the people sitting before her behave. The awkward interim between her interview and their approval is an upheaval of different emotions and becomes unsure about everything that succeeds the moment thereafter. My friend was lucky that she got selected as the finalist from the nomination list, but I wonder about the other girls, who were seen and interviewed, interrogated and analysed and then left me with an answer, “soch kar batate hain”. I will not investigate the underside of this selection process, beside the looks, talent and education, the money and the “ material deals” matters which helps the other side to decide better. Coming back to the panel that leaves without approving the exhibited commodity, the reason for rejection is often not disclosed but apprehended on the girl’s side as, “kami hamari ladki mein hai”. The commodity then rests for a little while, gets polished again, works in terms of superlatives and gets ready for yet another exhibition. This exhibition continues till the society confers an expiry date on her looks and physique, her age, academic qualification or even the number of rejections. All this while, the girl is subjected to a series of concealed psychological torture, her decisions rest largely on her age to get married, even if she earns a living, her status contributes to her and her family’s reputation.
Marriage in itself is an essentially stereotyped convention for a typical South Asian girl, but being rejected is a question worth looking for. She is never questioned after being rejected, no one worries about her feelings, even if they do; they console her, they dishearten her and weaken her spirits. She is judged by the society, inspected by the people who know her, exemplified and discussed among circles and she listens to everything that is being told and is aware of all that happens around but is not strong enough to say a “no”.
Photo Credit: Flickr (Agence Tophos)