My Circus, My Monkeys. Am I The Ringmaster? Far From It!

I am encouraging Leena, too, to buy a flat and set up a home of her own. Parents inhibit. She does not want to get married again but why should she be deprived; sex outside marriage is still frowned upon by society.

I am encouraging Leena, too, to buy a flat and set up a home of her own. Parents inhibit. She does not want to get married again but why should she be deprived; sex outside marriage is still frowned upon by society.

I am a middle-class woman. The middle class is again divided into upper, middle and lower. To be precise I am a middle middle class woman with middle class morals. Middle-class morals have nothing to do with your economic status, I hope you know that. I am from the brigade that decades ago started bringing home the pay packet (silently handing it over to the husband!), who on proper occasions kept her head properly covered, who was allowed to unfurl the palloo only at workplace. Her salary improved the standard of living was understood by the man folk, so she was allowed to earn. Once the taking over of the salary pattern was established most of them became sleeping partners (pun intended) in running the business of raising the family.

I have three daughters and one son. My eldest daughter Bina is brilliant. Always shines academically. Her degrees became an obstruction in finding a groom for her. Forty, fifty – I forget how many times we approached different parties. Sometimes the Patrika did not match, sometimes she was too qualified compared to the groom and they being omniscient, knew that she would not cook or clean, sometimes they wanted a housewife and such an educated girl did not fit their bill.

Meanwhile, she pursued her Ph.D. continuing her research with infertility. The doctor couple to whose hospital she was going for data collection became very fond of her. Bina shared her anguish – the feeling of being rejected, insulted – with her boss and even she suggested matches for her. Then she got cancer and Bina emotionally supported her like a younger sister, but nature had its way finally.

After one year, the widower doctor approached me for Bina’s hand. He was fifty-five and Bina was nearly forty by now. He was very clear that he had not approached Bina because if the match did not transpire, he didn’t want Bina to be embarrassed. He wanted her to carry on her research at his clinic. He assured me that he recognized Bina’s talent and will nurture it. I, too, was sick of all the available clerks in the matrimony market who did not match her intellectually and who were, you know, left on the shelf for one reason or the other – say family responsibilities or financial problems. And I realized the irony of Bina’s choosing to work with infertility years ago – was it a premonition? She should add the Indian marriage market as one of the causes.

Despite opposition from the family, I allowed Bina to make a choice and she chose to marry him. (A known devil and all!). Cynics will say that he saw the opportunity and grabbed a younger woman. But they will also call Bina a gold digger. The decision proved to be good. In the last five years, Bina has acquired diplomas from abroad and become a well-known name in her field presenting research papers in different international conferences. Now I don’t feel the twinge when I see her with her husband, who is clearly older than her. Is she happy? Yes, with reservations.

While Bina could not get married, we had started looking for a match for younger Neena. We were surprised because after seeing ten boys only we got a suitable match for her. Today she has a daughter and a son and a house full of responsibilities. I see a repetition of my own marriage patterns in her marriage. Self-centered husband, no emotional warmth, a social contract with focus on duty and a house run like a business venture. The stock goes up, the stock goes down. She cannot fire him; he cannot fire her because there are children. He places the money on the table, and she provides labor. Her career is on the hold waiting for the kids to grow.  Is she happy? Yes, with reservations.

Leena our fourth child, is beautiful in the sense our society understands the concept of beauty. So, getting a match for her was comparatively easier. Still judging the family, social status, the responsibilities that would be involved – the small print of the contract, I mean – takes time and effort. By now we too had become seasoned in finalizing the contract, expertly judging the pros and cons. This time, surprisingly we were the ones saying ‘no.’

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The eighth boy we saw became so fascinated with her that he pursued/ wooed her as if he was under the influence of strong emotion. It was all very romantic. His parents remained in the background; he was leading the charge – he wanted his bride! Like Neena, Leena too was not very thrilled.  You see, fiction, reel life fills one’s mind with enough notions to be dissatisfied with what they are getting in the arranged channels.

With Leena’s marriage over, I expected our acche din to launch. Leena’s marriage turned out to be a nightmare. She could not understand her husband who blew hot and cold. Then gradually she realized drugs don’t smell like alcohol. He had been twice to rehab also. It became clear the socially permitted flowers, chocolates, gifts, passionate messages had resulted in finding the wrong person at the right time. It also became clear why the parents had kept a low profile earlier.

But now the MIL wanted her pound of flesh. She started pressurizing Leena for a grandchild. They had hoped marriage would stabilize their son. It had not. Now the next target was a child. The responsibility of the child would surely force him to mend his ways.

Leena opposed this demand. We too agreed with her. I did not advise her to adjust, compromise, you know all the blah blah. So, she walked out of her marriage. Her husband did not create any more mess and gave her the divorce and she did not ask for any alimony. Now she is working as a manager at a chain of boutiques and is quite successful in her job. But her biological clock is ticking. She does not want to get married again. I can understand her hesitation. Going in arranged channels is difficult for her now. I asked her to choose someone on her own and she replied like my two elder daughters had, “Why? Has your idea of a good girl changed now? When I could have done all this, you told me not to do it. Now you want me to change, remember I too have become set in my ways. Flirting is not easy when you don’t know the rules of the game. And all men are beasts.”

My son, who lives in a metro, and has been helping us financially by generously sharing his earnings, too is still unmarried. Am I disenchanted with arranged marriage channels? Yes, I am. I have given him free rein to choose his partner. And I will accept that good girl wholeheartedly. I know dear reader that you will smirk. Please, don’t. These are not double standards – one set for daughters and another one for the son. It is learning from experience, in fact.

I am encouraging Leena, too, to buy a flat and set up a home of her own. Parents inhibit. She does not want to get married again but why should she be deprived; sex outside marriage is still frowned upon by society. She is free to follow her wishes. We make choices, and not always the easy ones turn out to be good. But we do have choices, make difficult choices if the circumstances demand. Stop bothering about the curtain twitches surrounding us.

Like circus life is full of energy, changing scenes, confusion, danger, and novelty. Hence the title My circus My monkeys. Am I the ringmaster? No, I am allowing my daughter and son to be the ringmasters in their arenas. And if one can be happy with reservations only then let them choose their happiness and their reservations – morals and ethics have always been subject to change, no? And economics has always been a strong factor in bringing about this change.

Image source: a still from Tutak Tutak Tutiya

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