I was asked this question quite bluntly a few weekends ago right before the music concert I was attending started. I suppose the person concerned was trying to ask me why I was not getting married without mentioning ‘marriage’ directly. While I am quite used to this question by now and know how to brush off such comments without committing to anything or hurting anyone’s sentiment but this time I was put off.
If I was in a particularly charitable mood, I’d have thought he was aware of Plato’s two-souls theory and is genuinely interested in my emotional and psychological welfare. But I suspect it was nothing of the sort because the vibe I got was a distinctly weird one. At first I tried my usual tact, a non-committal smile which said nothing. Then the smile got wider and become a laugh. By this time people are usually puzzled and leave me alone. No effect this time. (Note to self: must change tact) Then I explained how I have seen some terrible marriages (and I have) which discourage me (it doesn’t but it works to deflect attention for the time being). No effect again. All I got was counter ‘gyaan’ echoing one of the quotes of Eleanor Roosevelt. I am not sure if the person concerned would have realised that he is echoing her. (Roosevelt said ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ I got this version: ‘No one can hurt you without your consent’). My smile become wider more forced and I wanted to throw something at him without his consent. Except I had a book and my clutch – hardly things that can be thrown. Anyway he plonked himself in front of my seat and refused to leave through the entire concert which got on my nerves. This is the same man who a few years back wanted to advice my mom on my wedding menu. An indirect way of asking when is the ‘bhalo khobhor’ (good news i.e. marriage).
I usually avoid attending events where incidents of such kind have a high possibility of happening. But didn’t think a music concert would be a place where I will be attacked. And yes, it feels like an attack. I kept trying to keep my cool by thinking of Plato and his theory and how in college I had spent several afternoons in the mezzanine floor of the college library, which housed the reference volumes of all the Greek philosophers. Those fat leatherette brown books with gold lettering in whose pages I discovered the origins of the two-souls or divided soul theory. I remember I was surprised because it was not exactly as I thought how it would be. It was better, less rigid and really well thought out. I am not going to summarise it here. I am sure you can look it up on Britannica or one of the philosophy websites. My reverie was cut off by more personal questions and more gyaan. I was thinking if he has ever heard of Plato. I doubt it because Plato would not figure in this person’s worldview at all. If given more time, I’m sure quotations of other Indian language writers would have followed including maybe the Hindu holy texts. Anyway, I looked away pointedly and refused to engage in a debate. I think he got the hint. I was a bit furious. I wanted to make sense of this. As usual when I want to understand the world, I look for it in literature. So my mind turned to one of my professors, the brilliant Jean Fernandez who taught my undergraduate class. She had once said – I am not sure if these were her own words or she quoted someone else – ‘A single woman is a threat to society.’ I kept turning that line in my head. By remaining single, she is basically challenging that very foundations of patriarchy – i.e. marriage. By refusing marriage, she is refusing to live under a man’s rule. She could be under her father’s rule unless she is financially independent. So, a single woman who is financially independent is a threat to society. Maybe that is what the person concerned reacted to. At least that is what I think it was. Patriarchy asserting itself in a different way. Now it all made sense. I might be a source of immense frustration to him. For a very long period, since I kept my interactions to just a few people with whom I can connect with, I felt free. However, the inconsiderate impolite world is always waiting out there.
And oh, just to be clear, I never thought I was incomplete or halved or quartered. I am a complete person, thank you.
*The word chosen in Bangla was ‘kata’ or cut. That is conveying a sense of incompleteness. That is why ‘incomplete’ is the closest English term I can come up, which gives a similar sense.