When I cleared the civil services exam four years ago, my parents and I were happy for different reasons. I was elated because years of hard work were finally being rewarded. My parents were delighted as they believed my achievement would be the key to my finding ‘a suitable boy’.
My mother is no less than a typical loud Punjabi aunty and when she started looking for a possible match for me, the whole world had to know. And my father is no less than Sherlock Holmes with his magnifying glass, because a a match could be found in places least expected.
It was not always like this. My family had been confident that their capable and independent daughter would find a boy in the civil services training academy. So unflinching was their faith in me that with no match in sight, my mother started building my wedding trousseau consisting of an assorted collection of saris from different Indian states. All my aunts and uncles were on the brink of anticipating “the news”.
Their hopes were dashed when I cam back home with a trophy, but with no prospective son-in-law in tow.
My cousins failed to believe that I did not take a fancy to even one male colleague, despite the sex ratio at the training academy, the romantic environment of Mussoorie and the pent-up frustration accumulated over the years of exile which I undertook to prepare for the civil services.
Sensing an emergency was at hand, an impulsive albeit well-meaning cousin called my parents and voiced her concern. This was enough to shake them from their deep slumber and it marked the beginning of the frenetic and endless ‘Operation Suitable Boy’.
As a reasonably happy-go-lucky person, I had always thought that I would eventually find “the one” – that we would fall in love, get married and have children. My parents believed the same. Yet, the journey has not followed this imaginary straight line we conjure in our minds. For a while, I felt like a kid at an amusement park who curiously experiments with the bumpy rides before finding the one she doesn’t mind going on again. It is, of course, an altogether different matter that even bad rides make for good stories. However, there are always some that make for great lessons.
One of the first possible matches I spoke to over the phone was a very well-qualified paediatrician. I had felt such a strong gravitational pull towards him the moment I saw his online profile that it was a pity that our conversation never went beyond the contours of niceties. To be precise, our conversations never moved beyond the four questions he asked each day – how are you, how was your day, what are you doing and what do you plan to do now.
Another person I met continued to brag about the number of Mercedes and Jaguars his family owns and have owned in the past. Funnier still was this boy with whom I spoke to only over text who would, at the end of the conversation, sign off as “Mr. XYZ, MBBS, MD, FICM, DM”. He stopped replying when one day I reciprocated with “Miss Kanika, BDSM”.
I asked another fellow I met what he was looking for in a partner. His reply came swiftly, “Jaisi bhi ho, feminist na ho.”
His reasons for beholding such worthy and pathbreaking views were eye-opening – feminists are not “marriage material” and are utterly incapable of keeping families together, he said. He also enlightened me about how marriages nowadays don’t work because of strong-headed and self-opinionated women.
Then there was another one with whom I lacked the kind of chemistry I was looking for. I was forthright in letting him know without any delay. Over the next few day, my phone became the worthy recipient of a spurt of personal abuse. The abuse ceased only when my parents spoke to his parents. And mind you, this boy had charm, was well qualified, made the perfect first impression, and belonged to a so-called respectable family.
Also in my kitty are incidents where the boy or the family and in some cases both did not shy away from demanding dowry – brazenly and without any shame. In one case, a batchmate from civil services asked me out with marriage on his mind. On our first date, he did not shy away from asking what my father’s budget for a wedding was. To test the waters, when I enquired about his views on accepting a bribe while in the government service, he said that doing so was okay as it kept the ball rolling for others who may be needy. No prizes for guessing that that match did not work out.
When I began “the search”, there was a hope for a new and independent life. But time and unworthy experiences have imparted a seismic shift to the focus of the entire act. From finding the one I would like to share my life with to how I am perceived by a set of strangers who most likely will not even matter, I have often felt like a product on display at a grocery store; being sized up by one and all. And I am tired of being judged even though I am no less guilty of judging all those who crossed my path in this journey.
Trials and tribulations throttled my self-confidence. I had begun to question the very ideals I had grown up with. Maybe I was too headstrong, opinionated and outspoken? Or maybe, my hands are too thin, teeth too big or complexion too dark for anyone’s liking?
Finally, good sense prevailed when I realised it was not just me but many other women I knew – all of them strong and independent – are struggling on the same front. Many of my officer colleagues recite similar stories with even funnier anecdotes. All of them are exhausted from meeting new people with the hope that one of them may become their life partner.
I dwelled on the possible reasons for such a phenomenon, but could not pin down on any one alone. Most of these women, including me, are not looking for a knight with shining armour. Or a prince who would rescue Cinderella from her miserable life. Because we are self-assured and capable. And our lives without being married aren’t miserable at all. Yet we harbour the hope of growing together and growing old with someone who can love us, care for us and respect us.
Is it too much to ask for?
Kanika Dua is an officer of the Indian Revenue Services and is currently posted as Assistant Commissioner (GST) in Delhi. The views expressed, if any, are personal and not of the department/organisation.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty