There’s this bit in Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, where Akshay’s mom is sitting with her kitty party friends and they’re all nodding in agreement at her distress over not finding an appropriate daughter-in-law. They ask her what her options are.
First, she says, she wants only “business family” girls because those are good girls. Then she lists her options: one prospective daughter-in-law is from Udaipur, one is from Delhi, and a third is from Calcutta.
One of the other ladies expresses her approval: “Calcutta girls are good.”
They all agree. Calcutta girls are good.
In many ways, the story of the Calcutta business family girls is also the story of where I come from. We’re raised to be paraya dhan, good looking and obliging. We’re constantly watched, judged and chaperoned, and told that if we make mistakes, or are seen to exercise agency, it could damage our chances for the future. We are raised to make Diwali gift bags and plan baby showers and then toe the family line. The lucky among us are given a few years of freedom, years we spend studying abroad. But the moment we’re back, we’re expected to go back to our sanskari ways.
For a bit of perspective, I married someone my family disapproved of for entirely predictable reasons. The price I paid for it has been that I was given nothing by my parents. This is typically the strategy of Calcutta and other business families – ‘stridhan’, or wealth in gold and diamonds, is given only to good girls who abide by their families’ choices for them. Obedience is rewarded in diamonds. Lack thereof is punished in lack thereof.
Mine was a choice I was happy to make. In retrospect, it feels less like a choice and more of an inevitability – but it was difficult. To date, my dad maintains that his greatest mistake was giving me too much freedom. It made me “defiant” and “independent”, bad words for a girl where I come from. I’d argue it was his rebellious genes and the fact that I had access to more books and libraries than I could handle. Either way, I am widely considered a testament to his failure in parenting.
I’m not the only only one who struggled against this system. Some of us died by suicide before we could reach 23. Some of us made peace with husbands who “accepted us for our pasts”, which is to say the boy was okay with the girl not being a virgin. Some of us were happy to marry into families that didn’t allow a woman to work for someone else. Some of us have been bullied into anorexia. Some of us got married into violent homes and were told to stay there. Some of us were shamed into staying with partners we did not love anymore.
And it’s not just the women who suffered. Young boys were dumped the night before they saw engagement photographs of their freshly-minted exes on social media. Others were manipulated into saying things like, “My parents know my preferences better than I do.”
Here’s something else that happened among the Calcutta business families in the years I was growing up. A girl from a prominent business family married her Muslim Aptech teacher. Within weeks, the man she married was found dead on railway tracks. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind as to who did it.
The question on everyone’s mind was something else. What would you do, Calcutta’s business patriarchs asked each other, if your daughter married a lower class Muslim? Would you have him killed?
Yes, most of them said. What’s a few days in jail compared to the ignominy of having a daughter marry a lower class Muslim.
That’s the Calcutta Akshay’s mom was talking about.
You can imagine why the show was incredibly triggering for me. Even I hadn’t confronted the truth of where I come from in this lurid detail.
So here I was, wallowing in despair over how nothing’s changed. And then I read something truly incredible.
A study in Mint surveying young people with internet access found that women today are as ambitious about their careers as men. The similarities between what men and women want are staggering – 20% of men want to have their own business or be an independent consultant, and 20% of women want the same. In all, 8% of men want to work in finance and 8% of women want the same. Men and women in India today want the exact same things out of their careers.
Where the differences lay made my jaw drop. Women wanted to marry later than men – if at all. Fewer women than men are open to an arranged marriage. Women wanted to have fewer children than men. Women are more likely to have friends and relationships outside their caste than men.
The researchers went on to argue that there would soon be an existential crisis among men in India because men will struggle to find the worth they bring to the table. As Incel culture grows, this is going to be a problem of the future.
The castles of sand we see in Indian Matchmaking are already starting to entropy. The ground on which Akshay’s mom and other prospective mothers-in-law stand is already starting to shake. There is a revolution underway, led by women, and Indian matchmaking is going to look very different, very soon.
This article was originally published on Sneha Vakharia’s blog. Read the original here.
Featured image credit: Netflix