Let me share a secret. I actually love being single. Not because of the available ‘mingle’ness, or a ‘been burnt’ mind-set. More as a psycho-social experiment. The thought started in my late teens – so did my first relationship. Intercepted my 20s ever so often. In fact, it may even have subconsciously contributed to romantic failures. Now my 30s smile bemused at a life that may be both a cause and an effect of my experiment. So what have I discovered till now?
For starters, the effect of my identity on my life is far wider than I give it credit for. It’s a bit like the nature-nurture debate – the more we think we can conquer nature with nurture – the extra hard our genes make their presence felt. And what’s a bigger identity in this country than religion, perhaps? Yes, there is region, gender, class and many ways we Indians have categorised ourselves – however, none that seems to jump out more than by what name we call the being we call Supreme.
Dates are especially interesting for my experiment. Sometimes sweet – just like the namesake, sometimes dry – again, just like the namesake. Indulge me while I create some categories of my own, and share some real-life conversations I (or my other single Muslim friends) have had:
(Disclaimer – all tags are purely incidental, not intended to be offensive – bearing no similarities to dead, alive, or many wish were dead, people)
Me: Talking about childhood, end up making oblique reference to attending mass in my Catholic school before I even knew how to read namaz.
Him: You are a Muslim?
Me: That’s what my folks say…yes.
Him (scanning me top to bottom very keenly): But you don’t look like a Muslim.
Me: You mean I look the same as any other human?
Him: No… I mean, yes… (quizzical expression)
I stay single
Me: Similar reference as above (it’s actually a funny anecdote, trust me)
Him: You know I had a Muslim friend, too, once.
Me: You had a Muslim friend once, in all your 31 years?
Him: Yeah. When I was 10 years old. His mum made awesome biryani. I am sure you make awesome biryani too, when can I taste some?
Me: I am a vegetarian.
Him: What? How are you still Muslim then?!
I stay single
Related reading: How to identify if you are dating a man or a boy
Me: Similar reference as in the first instance (just humour me)
Him: Yeah, it’s tough to learn about Islam in urban English schools – but it’s so important.
Me: I did learn, of course, from parents, and also on my own. About Islamic values of mercy, kindness, generosity…
Him: What about things like namaz, roza, reading the Quran and Hadis? I mean I’d like my wife to be a good Muslim – read the namaz daily. She’s allowed to work and be independent, but it’s important to stay true to who we are. Don’t you think?
Me: Do you read namaz five times a day?
Please don’t think I come from a place of bitterness – these are the stories which make my experiment insightful and enjoyable. What we expect as single women from the world and what the world expects from us can be two very disparate things.
I understand that my singleness comes from privilege – I am educated and financially independent, live in a big city and in a country that allows me to live and breathe free. But the air does get heavy sometimes, and seems to flow differently if you are a woman, and not attached to a man.
The matchmaking aunties are the same
It is surprising for most people to know that there are many single Muslim women over, or almost over, the age of 30. And that number grows with each millennial iconoclast. I face the same onslaught of questions related to my baby-making-ability getting close to expiry as many of you single ladies of other faiths.
My khalas (mausis) and phuphis (buas) also tried to set me up with any Muslim man they found tall enough for me. In my early 20s, they were fancy NRI Muslims; mid-20s, doctors and lawyers who wanted a post graduate wife; late 20s were some poor heartbroken sods just wanting to settle down. Now the relatives have fallen quiet – but I know it’s the calm before the storm of divorcees and 40-year-olds they start sending my way. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of these categories – just the capitalism of marriage – sold also as a pure union of souls!
Like any other Indian woman
Where does this leave me? Alas, not very different from you. Yes, certain identity markers I have may be considered inherently different from the larger Indian identity these days. But certain others follow the same motions. What I have learnt from being a Muslim and single woman would have remained essentially the same for a Dalit single woman, or a Brahmin single woman. And I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure on Parsee single women, considering their dwindling population!
Jokes aside though, my religion is under a scanner just as much as my choices as a woman. And that is something any other Indian woman would agree with. Maybe some Indian men too, even if #NotAllMen.
But it is a scanner I choose to not come under; instead I now view the world through my own lens. Distorted? Perhaps. Then again, change begins one worldview at a time.