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Status Single by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, without being preachy, showcases the need for single women to own their decisions, and live life on their own terms without fear of judgment.
‘I’m single’ – Two words that explain the relationship status, or rather, spell a death sentence for a woman who doesn’t have a man by her side.
A single woman ceases to be human, and instead becomes a commodity to be paraded at marriage markets, a hilarious anecdote to be narrated at family events, a bad joke to be laughed at by ‘well-wishers’. It is this commodity that Kundu attempts to humanise again, through her latest book – Status Single.
When I first got to know of this book, I had expected it to be a story of a single woman on a groom search, with disastrously hilarious results.
Instead, it is the story of 74+ million women in India. The book is a result of the author’s interactions and interviews with more than 3000 women, and it attempts to address stereotypes and stigma around single women as it narrates the experiences and anecdotes of single women who’ve crossed the ‘marriageable age’ dictated by society, including the author herself.
So when I picked up this book, I expected it to be a reaffirmation of my beliefs. I expected to be able to relate to what Kundu says. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found the book to be much more than just that. This wasn’t just the author talking about herself. This was many many women sharing their struggles of living in a regressive, stereotypical society even as they revelled in their singlehood.
The book starts off with a personal anecdote, followed by commentary from the author, something that happens often and gives the book more perspective, and forces one to think whether it really is such a crime to be single. The author’s response to the intrusive and judging immigration officer is scathing and something which I wish I could tell a lot of people face-to-face.
It reminded me of the many times I’ve been ridiculed for living with my parents, the many times, when I, a struggling unemployed writer, have been reprimanded as a lazy overgrown child or been judged as a rich spoilt brat because my parents are still supporting me financially.
The very next string of questions that she lists are what I’ve experienced often.
Are you married?
Parents don’t pressurise you?
Why don’t you find someone for yourself?
Too picky, huh?
Close on the heels of these intrusive questions, comes the well-meaning advice.
No one is perfect. Everyone has to compromise.
You’re so pretty! If only you’d lose weight, you’d get snapped up by a great guy in no time.
You should go to the gym.
You’re too opinionated.
Colour your hair, lose weight, get a facial done, banish those dark circles, get a job, learn cooking, in order to attract suitors.
In fact, I’ve even been advised to not let my biological clock run out. And learn cooking. Did I mention I’ve been told to lose weight if I really want to get married? And start looking for a job because writing isn’t good enough.
Luckily, with the kind of responses I give the discussion almost always ends on a note of mutual agreement that having a right partner is important, and it’s good that I am not jumping into marriage. But it’s not always that easy. For its not always well-meaning relatives, or colleagues, or friends, but also restaurant staff, salon staff, parents’ friends and colleagues who look at you first with raised eyebrows and then take on the role of life coach.
This book trashes all the stereotypes, takes the stigma by the horns and gives a resounding reply to all those who think a woman is nothing without her man. The prologue is powerful, incisive, thought-provoking, and backed with social research makes some very scathing comments on how society refuses to accept and understand that women could be single too! It sets the tone for the rest of the book.
A few lines that stood out for me –
It was as if I was talking to myself. I wasn’t just relating to what she said but in fact felt as if it was me who was saying all those things through her.
And, yet, it’s still not just that. The book isn’t restricted to only listing out a single woman’s woes. Full marks to the author as she doesn’t shy away from venturing into more sensitive subjects like social structures, physical and mental health, stigma around divorce and women entrepreneurship, even stating hard facts where needed. The research obviously is well-done and presented in a balanced manner with opinions and facts.
It’s not just the reactions and comments from others that underline these stories of single women or the social commentary on the position of unmarried women as against married women. It’s not a rant against the misogynistic mindsets and condescending attitudes that one encounters on dating apps and matrimonial websites.
It’s a far deeper look at understanding how we, single women, are perceived and treated by society. As the stories unfolded, I felt sadness, disappointment, rage, coupled with a sense of empathetic solidarity with these women, for everything they said and shared was about me too.
The book soon moves on from talking about the woes of single people to the need for health insurance, regular medical check-ups, the increase in cosmetic aesthetic treatments, the judgemental and insensitive gynaecologists (and their questionable apathy towards more important health topics like cervical cancer or family history) to mentioning useful resources and support systems for the single (whether unmarried or divorced) woman.
In most discussions that eventually get reduced to the subject to battle of the sexes, women cite the ‘ability to bear children’ as God’s way of saying they are superior by default. God gave us the gift of motherhood, they victoriously claim. Ask us single women whether that same boon isn’t a curse for us?
As a line in the book says, ‘What is it about our power to procreate that gives a complete stranger the license to dent our self-worth’?
The book raises many insightful questions, attempts to prod and poke at the answers, and in the process reveals some startling insights and techniques to navigate through life -personal and professional spaces as a single woman.
If Kundu raises some pointed questions boldly, she also makes some valid observations and doles out some valuable advice for us singles out there. Every chapter ends with a short note – not advice but a summary of the learnings that we need to equip ourselves with as we traverse through the 30s and beyond.
What I particularly liked most that the author maintains an unbiased, non-judgemental tone herself. While the respondents are, of course, free to make their own choices, there is no moral, social, or legal commentary the author makes of these, instilling in the reader a silent acceptance of the women and their decisions.
Further, what’s even more valuable is that Status Single aims to provide not just stories and evoke a sense of solidarity and empathy, but also spread awareness. Laws to help escape a bad marriage will prove to be a valuable resource.
The book, without being preachy, and by citing the many examples to drive home a point, teaches the need for single women to own their decisions, and live life on their own terms without fear of judgment. But it’s not just a book for women to read and take inspiration from. It’s also something that parents, siblings, relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and everyone else too, should read.
For, make no mistake, we are not going to bow down to society’s diktats. We are 74 million strong. And we will live – make choices and own our decisions – on our terms, with our heads held high.
Thank you, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu for saying that and for saying it loud and clear.
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Top image via YouTube and book cover via Amazon