By Samyuktha PC
When our beautiful daughter Yazhini was born, my partner Muthumoorthy and I did not make it a point to call everyone we knew. Even very dear family members and friends were taken aback when they suddenly saw a photo of us holding a baby, on social media. Many of them were angry that we hadn’t invited them for our wedding and others quietly assumed that we were married.
Newsflash: Yazhini’s parents (Muthumoorthy and I) are not married.
What does making a baby have to do with marriage? Marriage is, after all, a social contract. And weddings — the face of marriage — are displays of social status. This is why the interpretation changes over religions, governments and cultures. One can decide whether or not they want to get married. This has nothing to do with creating a family. Sadly, most people find this hard to believe.
Sex, similarly, is also a choice. Consensual sex is an erotic and biological act, which has to surpass many societal judgments about body-image and body-joining to become enjoyable. In case you didn’t know, there are people who engage in premarital sex, extra-marital sex, swinging sex, orgies, non-monogamous sex, queer sex, masturbation, geriatric sex, and even no sex at all. There are all kinds in our beautiful species. Married people are not the only ones doing it.
Basic biology teaches us that sex (sometimes protected and most of the times, unprotected) can result in a pregnancy. Feminism 101 teaches us that a woman can before, during and thereon choose what to do with her own body.
After the fourth pregnancy test turned positive pink, I made it clear to my boyfriend: “This baby is going to happen. You can be as involved as you want to be.” Now this could confuse even the most feminist of boyfriends, because it meant that life plans would be changing. We had a short argument and together decided to learn how to do this, one day at a time. Before that though, we had to tell our parents!
My parents are cool, okay. But, pregnancy is always a bomb of a news. We asked a family friend for some advice and she said we should cushion the fall. She said that the man must first ask for the girl’s hand in marriage, and then the couple could reveal the news of the baby. We did that, and my parents were so happy.
Neither of us wanted to get married, but we decided it wasn’t a bad idea if it could allow us a peaceful pregnancy with both our families’ support. Instead, what we faced were long days of drama on how live-in-relationships imported from Western cultures cause such an unwanted mess, on whether we should simply register (our marriage) or have a ceremony, but how could we have a ceremony with my baby bump, then should I just get an abortion and avoid stressing others out. Meanwhile, I was growing bigger, gassier and sprouting my own species of mood swings.
The need to get married started seeming stupid to us. Who were we trying to satisfy when we were pushed into such distress? Pregnancy, by itself, is difficult. So we endlessly postponed the marriage and gave vague answers to those family members who tirelessly inquired about when we'd tie the knot.
Around the ninth month, we agreed to my aunt’s request of a valakaapu (a traditional South Indian baby shower). I was insanely scared about the baby’s well-being and my ability to survive the ordeal of giving birth, and felt that a few good vibes and pampering would do my pregnant soul good. My boyfriend warned me that there would be rituals. We made it clear to everyone time and again that this would be a celebration and a house-warming ceremony. Nevertheless, there were societal demands. Some could have been subverted and some — like Muthu and me having to garland each other — were subverted by my sister, who embraced Freud and garlanded me.
The shower was brought to a close with a traditional vegetarian ela saapaadu. Though everyone did enjoy it, my friends shared their disappointment, “We expected biryani and beer from you”. Left to me, I would have done this differently, but I was caught up with satisfying the chief guest — my grandmother. She had her own demands. She gifted me a karugamani maalai (mangalsutra worn by some Muslim sects and certain North Indian Hindu sects) and asked me to wear it. I should have said no, but you don’t say no to gifts. I wear it when I meet her, and she knows this. She also informed us that she will tell all her friends that we had registered our marriage, because she finds it very hard to explain our choices to them. Again, I should have said, “No Paati”. I was like, even if I say no, you are anyway going to go ahead and say so, and I also don’t really hang out with your friends and maybe this shouldn’t matter. Until…
Last month, we went to Muthu’s parents’ house at Peravurani for a wedding. There too, everyone believed in this fantasy registered marriage. Muthu tried telling one of his grandmothers that we are not married and was immediately reprimanded by a sister who lives there as she did not want to receive the backlash for it.
The sad part is that people’s discomfort with us not being married in the current social situation is understandable. How would you explain it to yourself or others? So yeah, most of our family members lie to themselves and others that we are married. Once in a while, they sigh about how nice it would have been to have a wedding and do all of this with so much peace.
Ever since we returned to Chennai, Muthu has been asking me to write about this and tell the world that we are not married. Umm… but I am a well-seasoned procrastinator. I write this now, because I am actually supposed to be editing something else!
The truth is that we are never going to get married. Hell, we don’t even think we will be monogamous. You may ask, aren’t you forcing your daughter to experience social pressures because of your choice? How will she deal with it? I suppose she is going to learn that she can make her own choices.
When I was little, I used to tease my father that I would, just for the sake of it, rebel against them and have an awesomely garish, ritualistic wedding. He would try to reason with me and I would persist with my silly arguments. He just patiently let me come to my senses. Today, he is sometimes confused about my choice, but somewhere, trusts me or in liberty to let me be myself.
Throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we anyway go through a variety of identity crises. This is good. Parents think that their job description is to protect the child. They forget the nurturing bit. It may be fine to protect your child from falling off the stairs. But there is no point in trying to protect your child from all the possibilities of the “self” out there thinking that it is going to confuse her or subject her to societal pressures. It is more important to be there when she is confused and explore that territory with that same confusion. Read with her, travel with her, question the world with her, sit with her and tell her to go ahead, take her time and make her own choice.
However, you have to make sure that your child can handle a crisis. There is no point in avoiding a crisis. In fact, this would make them weaker in the face of inevitable crises. There is also no point in simply waiting for the rest of the world to become an accepting and peaceful place. That is not going to happen until we first make our choices and continuously challenge the status-quo. Indirectly, this is what my parents gifted me — though they sometimes interpret it as failing to protect me.