On settling down

The only kind of chauvinist worse than the ignorant, khap-panchayat type is the supposedly well meaning, highly educated type.

My sister, S, is currently on vacation. Last evening, I found her uncharacteristically quiet. When I spoke to her, I realized I was wrong about that. She wasn’t uncharacteristically quiet – she was on the verge of tears.

For all her independence and willpower and corporate toughie attitude, S has always been an exquisitely sensitive person at heart. And one conversation with one of our myriad uncles was enough to send her mood into a tailspin for the rest of the day.

I wasn’t party to the conversation itself, but I got the gist from her. This well-meaning uncle had been shocked to learn that the man S is planning to marry is not the scion of a large London-based Punjabi Indian family. Nope. He’s the son of a primary school teacher and is not Indian at all, let alone Punjabi. The uncle proceeded to tell her to get over her “infatuation”, marry a man from a good family (read rich family), quit her job and live “like a queen” on her husband’s money. Being who she is, S did not appreciate that advice at all and there was a…scene when this  extraordinarily persistent mamaji chose to involve my parents in the discussion and advised them to get her to settle down.

I don’t get this obsession with “settling down”. For god’s sake, the woman is in a job she loves, gets paid extremely well for it, has a car, an apartment, and complete financial security. She’s been in a committed relationship for over two years and is planning to tie the knot soon enough. Isn’t that “settled” enough? What, pray, is the definition of being “settled”?

Does it mean you should be in the traditional, pre-defined role that has been set out for your gender?

Does it mean that you must do exactly what the earlier generations did?

Does it mean that you should stop living life on your own terms?

And why MUST one settle down, anyway?

What if I don’t want to settle?

What if I my aim in life is to trot the globe, climb Mount Everest, visit Mars, take a hike through Antarctica, host a charity sale and have wild sex with women from at least thirty-three different countries?

What is the overarching benefit I would get from settling down and being a good Indian son or whatever? What is the benefit S gets from being a good Indian daughter?

Why must life paths follow beaten, broken-in, severely traditional trajectories?

They don’t have to. At all.

Let’s learn to say “hey, whatever floats your boat”, and move on.

Settling down isn’t that important. Being happy is. If following a traditional trajectory makes you happy, great. But don’t harp on the rest of us.

Let’s just live our own lives and concentrate on being good people, and not follow hidebound mores and conventions.



24 thoughts on “On settling down

  1. Agree with you on that–at least the Khap panchyat types are mostly illiterate and have some kind of an excuse. You can even say that they’re seeing the massive ‘change’ in India in terms of economics and even culture, but haven’t received any of its benefits [exempting those who’ve sold land and are quite rich, but still illiterate]. Therefore, they’re clinging to their uber-conservative beliefs.

    The way I see it, most of the world’s conservative people are alike. Whether it’s the Reagan obsessed right wing republicans in the South East US or the conservative Hindu crowd in India–they seem to really push people into heterosexual marriages and producing offspring.

    • Well, I don’t think every conservative is alike in every sense.

      A lot of the social conservatism in the US is tied with religious absolutism. Arguments for socially conservative policy decisions in America are almost always made from a religious platform (“The Book says it’s a sin, therefore it’s a sin”). This is not at all true for India, where arguments tend to be more about “culture” and “social fabric” than religion.

      The latter is much harder to dispute. You can always reject religion (or at least absolutist interpretations of it). You cannot really reject something as vague and omnipresent as “culture” outright, which means that you must redefine what people mean by culture itself, and the inertia against that kind of change is truly mind-boggling.

  2. Relax and ask your sister too to relax.
    There is nothing new in this story.
    We have have been hearing about these situations from every part of the country, from every linguistic group, from every religious or caste group and hopefully this will be the last generation of elders who behave like this. Simply take them in you stride, listen to anything sensible they may have to say, address their genuine concerns if any, and if they still don’t come around, simply ignore their opposition and go ahead.

    Don’t be harsh on your Mamaji. He is just being the typical family elder and playing his time honoured traditional role and I am sure he means well and is concerned.
    Allow for the fact that he belongs to a different era which had a different thought process.
    These things usually get sorted out on their own with time and patience.

    If your sister has been steady in this relationship for two years, then the test of time has been passed. This cannot be called an momentary infatuation.
    Let her, without arguing too much or confronting the uncle and parents simply stick to her decision with quiet determination. The anger of elders is also a passing phase. Most of them will reconcile later and all will be well.

    Incidentally, in my own family circle, three girls , (my daughter, and my brothers two daughters) chose their own mates and faced some opposition from well meaning elders initially but there has been no antagonism later when the girls stuck to their decisions.
    In my own daughter’s case, I merely asked her to wait for two years and agreed not to try to arrange her marriage elsewhere . I wanted to be sure that hers was a lasting romance as she was only 22 and my son in law was just 23 when they served notice on me. I wanted my would be son-in-law to give himself some time to stabilise himself in his career. It’s now ten years they have been married and I have no regrets. Many elders in our family had behaved just like your Mamaji and had advised me to influence my daughter and persuade her to call it off. I stood by her like a rock, as I could see no logical reason for questioning her choice.

    I wish your sister all the best.

    • I suppose you’re right, Vishwanathjee. If anyone is well equipped to do her own thing, it is S.

      Still, when people I cherish feel hurt, it does get me riled up. I realize that the uncle has a different perspective – I am perfectly fine with that. I’m not fine with his creating a scene. That was absolutely unnecessary.

  3. Oh yes! The being “well settled”. For hell’s sake! I have never understood the concept. I mean someone like your sister is not well settled, but a non-working woman married to a man at a young age and who cannot cal her life her own, is well-settled! o_O

    And I rotfled at “What if I my aim in life is to trot the globe, climb Mount Everest, visit Mars, take a hike through Antarctica, host a charity sale and have wild sex with women from at least thirty-three different countries?” I have somewhat similar aims, though not specifically the same, lol!

    • My point exactly.

      If the definition of being settled is being in a traditional marital setup, then yeah, she’s not settled. But if it means getting some stability in life, I can think of many married people who aren’t nearly as stable.

      I somehow KNEW your life goals would be interesting. 😀

  4. Yeah , I totally agree. I don’t understand why the Asian society doesn’t understand that settling down can be with anyone. It doesn’t have to be with a certain person from a certain race, in a certain kind of vocation. Life’s about being happy. If “settling down” procedure can satisfy you, why does it matter anyways. Its your life. No one’s going to come live it for you.

  5. Whenever people enquire if I am “settled”, I mostly reply back asking if they mistook me for an old house’s foundation. It is an innocent question most of the time, but highly irritating none the less. I mean, imagine that I did genuinely want to get “settled” in the traditional sense and so far did not get an opportunity to do so. Then repeatedly asking me if I am settled and advising me to do so at the earliest would be rude and heartless. Either way, no good comes out of it.

    • What do you mean you did not get an opportunity to do so! You just have to stop being so ‘demanding’ and settle down with the first man who offers. Now really! It is all in your own best interests.

  6. I assume some of these questions are rhetorical, because if you want an answer to “why conservative Indian men want women to be “well settled””, you will need to create a space here for at least 100 posts relating to patriarchy, sexual fixation, money transfering and women as goods of similar value to tabacco, whiskey or 3 goats.

    You know there is no point.

    What matters is that your sister has a nice independent life and if she wants, she can show the middle finger to anyone who dares to tell her what to do next. Now, being sensitive is not a problem. There is a saying “if you have a soft heart you need to develop a hard butt” – oh well, immunity to stupidity comes with time. 😉

    • Heh. True, true. It was rhetorical, of course.

      You know, S is the sort of person who WOULD (literally) flip the birdie at someone and then spend the rest of the week thinking of ways to apologize, ways she could’ve argued the point better and avoided the hostilities. And when she gets upset, I get upset.

      Just how we are. But the butts are becoming harder.

  7. hm…it stems from the notion that marriages IMPLY stability which in turn stems from the idea of monogamy. having said that, what your uncle said is nothing new. believe me it happens in every household. people have a HABIT of nosing in on other people’s affairs and commenting on it. and this is something which will go on forever. understandably so you are angry and your sister upset. yes it hurts too, especially emotionally. it is difficult, but if you get worked up every time something similar happens, honestly it ISNT WORTH IT. wasting your emotional and mental energy on this, when you know its ridiculous. you have to listen from one ear and let it go from another. once your sister gets married and is happy, it will be like in your face. tell you what be so damn good in what you are doing that they have no face to comment. however most importantly, dont develop any sort of malice as such, sometimes it is difficult to alter thinking drastically, but like i said not worth your money.

    P.S. when you have children, and your sisters have children or you might adopt whatever, the next generation be sure to inculcate all these things, it leads to this sort of passing down or a cycle and in the long run transforms set patterns. i have always felt that one shouldnt try to change things overnight..:) go cook for your sister and make her happy…:D

  8. More importantly for me, what does “settling down” have to imply leeching off the husband’s money? Isn’t that disrespectful to both the woman and the guy?

    If I was your sister, I wouldn’t be upset because I was told to “settle down” with an Indian guy. I would be super pissed because my uncle thinks so little of me to suggest that I’d marry a guy just to live a comfortable life.

    This may sound crude, but how is that different from being a glorified prostitute?

    • Of course it’s disrespectful, but hey, since when did “respect” begin to form a part of a chauvinistic worldview?

      I suppose it was nothing personal. He probably just thinks that anyone without a Y chromosome is incapable of being self-sufficient.

    • //This may sound crude, but how is that different from being a glorified prostitute?//

      hahahha! Then you would be happy at my calling one of my so called uncles a pimp for keeping on hinting (in a very disgusting manner) on showing me off to prospective grooms. “Only pimps do that with their women!” *wide eyed innocence*

  9. As long as your parents support S, she shouldn’t be worried about what the rest of the family has to say. Our society is not individualistic. But even in an individualistic society, some people are conservative, meaning, they don’t take risks. They actually need to see different methods of floating before they can say, ‘whatever floats your boat’. People like S are actually creating a change in the society that will get conservative people more comfortable with multiple choices. She is actually setting an example that future generations can see.

    I have seen people expressing disappointment over their bro’s/sis’s kids’ choices until their own kids/grandkids make the exact same choice and they give in to their wishes.

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