Last month was hectic. I had a bunch of reading to catch up on and a few Uni papers to write. But amidst it all I managed to fall in love with a Bollywood movie (that I happened to watch on Netflix) over bubble bath, white wine, and blue cheese.
“Qarib Qarib Singlle” is a movie about a thirty-five year old Jaya Shashidharan (Parvathy Thiruvoth Kottubata), self-sufficient and independent widow of an army officer, and a devil-may-care brand-developer plus less-known poet Yogendra “Yogi” Kumar Devendra Nath Prajapati (Irfan Khan). The character of Jaya, — portrayed through rose-coloured glasses of populism and patriarchy, with added scorn of stereotypic pitifulness of a widowed-hardworking woman pathetically stuck in monotony of grievances, an easy prey for cruel and manipulative married female-friends, — made a special place in my heart. The story takes many turns, and I recommend watching it, so I won’t divulge it too much. Nonetheless it made me think of a conversation I had with my friend, not so long ago. “Like… umm… how was it? How does it feel?” she had asked, and my reply was — “like, heavy. But… Free!”
Being single in our society is defined as an interpersonal status devoid of any previous (religious or government) officiated relationship. In other words, a single person is someone who is unmarried, not in a relationship, nor in a civil union. Historically being single was stigmatising for women (as women were commonly seen as childbearing, pleasure giving, prized possession of a man with no other attribute but just that), and the common goal for a girl was to find a man and not “die” an old maid or a spinster. Not much thought was given back then to widows as they were to (either) perish in the pyre of their dead husband (Hindu Sati, as a widowed woman was considered to be a burden to the society, almost as if a devil incarnate), (or) a “good” widow could confide in prayers and lifelong mourning (ashrams in Varanasi particularly sought to make life hell for widows by restricting their diet, shaving their head, making them beg for food, and in some cases even forced prostitution, etc.). Luckily in Bengal, in later years, (thanks to Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Iswarchandra Bandyopadhyay) widow remarriage became a possibility — thus giving widows an almost single status. Although the stigma of being without a man was always eminent, compassion for spinsters (including widows) has been omnipresent. Today a spinster (a single woman), or a widow (almost single woman), in a country where male population is greater than female (48.20% female population compared to 51.80% male population), is a prized marriageable commodity whose circumstantial singlehood isn’t always perceived as a fault. Despite the aspect of discomfort in the act of engaging in a conversation with a widow, widows are still well integrated and cared for in Indian societies. From this generalisation, however, I will exclude the impoverished and less educated parts of India. These areas show staunch Hinduist holds, pledged to obliterate facts and encourage (often forcing) Sati practices. Death.
Death thus is, in itself, a multifaceted concept of all the byzantine and acutely complicated things to talk-of, grasp, and experience; — death over-ranks all. The concept of death and how to approach such colloquy concerning death, especially while having a heart-to-heart with someone who has recently lost a loved one, can be tremendously uncomfortable. That’s why so many euphemisms stand as a gentler way to approach the topic. But what do you say to a woman who has equally lost someone. Someone who is metaphorically dead to her? Someone a woman deliberately leaves to protect herself from any further harm? Where do you place a woman who left her husband, or has been left by her husband? Divorce or dissolution of marriage in India has been allowed since 1869’s Indian Divorce Act for Christians; and it went on to include Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1936, Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act of 1939, Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, Foreign Marriage Act of 1969, and the current Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill of 2010 (allowing “irretrievable breakdown of marriage”). Divorce is not unknown, but is often considered by conservatives as unethical. One can divorce on grounds including adultery, cruelty, and desertion (for over two years), as well as, forced religious conversion, mental abnormality, venereal disease, and leprosy! But of course, in all these cases the man is less implicated by society than the woman, — who will be slut-shamed and blamed for not being able to “keep a husband”. Ironically, today a widowed woman can almost be treated as single, and get similar sort of unspoken respect and be desired as a “relationship material” as would be a single woman (traditional context of single). But now, a divorced woman is the new devil in the block. Perhaps, a hopeless romantic who fell in love with the wrong man and it took her down the wrong path? Who cares! She’s scarred.
Albeit, being a widow can make one feel lonely, but little do we realise that being divorced can do just the same — irrespective of which side of the fence one is on. It is common that, be it a divorcee or a widow, a woman can wake up in the morning feeling heaviness inside that she is yet to learn to live with. Getting sad when something good happens as she realises that she has none to share it with. Divorce, much like death of a partner, affects a woman socially in that she was once a part of as a couple. A widow, like a divorcee too, has married friends, did married things, and everything she said and did affected her social standing. Once widowed, much like once divorced, a woman is thrown back into the single world with all these memories of being married that won’t truly let them be single again. Yet, by all means of being partnerless, she is kinda single! The role of a widow and a divorcee turns out to be two sides of the same coin.
So when I sat in my bath, sipping wine and taking in the whole movie, I couldn’t help but think of the moment when I felt “like, heavy. But… Free!” … ‘Cause technically, I am almost as single as a single woman, almost as pained as a widowed woman, stigmatised for not being able to “keep a man” as a divorced woman, and yet free as an independent self-made woman – with the luxury of being “Qarib Qarib Singlle”.
Sex ratio of India, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, UN (World Population Prospects 2017); From: http://statisticstimes.com/demographics/sex-ratio-of-india.php; Retrieved 4 Jul. 2019.