As I write this piece, rumours of Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s upcoming wedding are doing the rounds. And just as this was the (obvious!) topic of discussion on a family Whatsapp group, an older female relative happened to comment. Kuch bhi bolo, ladki professionally jo bhi karle, shaadi toh sahi umar par hi honi chaiye.
And this got me thinking.
Ever since I remember, the terms ‘aurat’ and ‘umar’ have been interrelated. Especially in the case of women. For everything, there’s a supposed right and wrong age. Graduate at 21, marriage at 25, first child at 27….and the list goes on. And since forever, we’ve been convinced that this is the template on which we’re expected to live our lives. And if you don’t fall into line with these, you’re the naughty one who hasn’t followed the rules of society.
This means the unmarried woman at 30 will be surrounded by aunties at weddings – each trying to cajole her into a rishta she may not even be interested in. The childless one at 35 will become the topic of conversation everywhere she goes, with people whispering to each other that mujhe pata hai use koi problem hai, even suggesting all the solutions in the world – from IVF to the ayurvedic baba who miraculously produces children! And the person who says she wants to go back to college at 42 to complete the graduation degree she was forced to leave mid-way will be laughed at.
And so the saga of the umar shall go on. It’s like one of those physics laws we studied in high school. For every age – there’s an appropriate action. Because who said so – the society of course! From personal experience, I remember my own relatives asking me to hurry up and ‘settle down’ before I touched 30 because all the good boys in the marriage market would vanish, and also beta, maa kab banogi? A neighbour became the talk of our entire housing society because after being widowed for almost a decade, she announced her engagement to someone else. She was called everything from desperate to besharam. All because she was almost touching 45, and according to all the uncles in the housing society, this was the age she needed to be worrying about her daughter’s wedding, not her own.
And somehow, the saga of the umar seems tilted towards the younger lot. The earlier everything happens, the better. No one bats an eyelid when a girl gets married at 18 and a mother at 21. But turn the tables, and all the mamis and chachis go haw-haw. Arre, yeh bhi koi umar hai? They remark. Well, giving credit where it’s due, maybe there could have been some old woman’s wisdom in the 1970s where biological restrictions affected female reproductive health, and perhaps a few other things. But does that same logic apply fifty years later too? When everything from adoption to IVF to surrogacy exists as an option? In a world where marriages break up more often than before, mostly because women refuse to be in bad marriages for social, familial or financial reasons, is it a sin if someone finds love relatively later in life, and chooses to tie the knot? And as for women who pursue dreams like education, travel and entrepreneurship at later ages, instead of cheering them on, why is it that we choose to make fun of them?
Perhaps, we as a society need to do the one thing we’re not good at – minding our own business. For once, take off our judgemental hats and put on our sensitive ones. Or, if we don’t feel sensitive towards others, the least we can do is be insensitive. And as for clocks, let them do what they do best – tick. And not take life decisions for you.