As I sat across the main sitting area of my friend’s plush home in New Delhi, I didn’t know that my day from then on would be a funny concoction of situational comedy and some serious ego hurting.
My friend, let’s call her Radha, is from an affluent business family in Delhi. Her family is pretty modern and “cool” and are up to date with most of the newer, outlandish concepts of the youth-enthused India.
Radha was the middle child of the three siblings. Her elder brother was the cynosure of the family while the younger one was still enjoying his carefree, unadulterated life as a college-goer. Radha was a great girl. She had been my friend for years, despite us never living in the same city. We always stayed in touch and that’s how I was always a part of her life’s happenings regularly.
Radha was an excellent student who topped her university in Delhi in Art. She was now working with one of the multi-nationals as a Marketing Manager, quickly rising the slippery ladders of corporate ranks with her sheer talent and grit. She did work long hours and she did do her own laundry.
She usually wore jeans to work and sometimes, when she returned home, she would have her gym-wear on, as she usually went to gym after work. She was pampered by her family, where her father doted upon her and her mother fed her with regular plates of home-made rajma-chawal.
Now, as I sat with my cup of coffee in Radha’s living room, the bell rang.
It was the suitor’s family, or as they say, the boys’ side.
Radha had never had a boyfriend, so her parents started looking for a suitable groom for her last year. Radha is twenty nine years old, a sensitive number when it comes to arranged marriages in India.
I sat there like a relaxed audience as my poor friend Radha was wrapped up in nine yards of glittery fabric in the sweaty summer evening. Radha was a modern girl, but she was respectful. She obeyed her parents and picked up the large tray of tea-cups and snacks and like a coy bride-to-be, served everyone.
After all, guests are Gods!
The boy’s mother quickly blessed my dear friend and gave her a shiny blue envelope. After the customary exchange of small talk, the boy’s mother got to business.
“So, Radha, where is your office? And how long do you take to travel to work?”
Radha simpered, but said,“Two hours on traffic days, aunty.”
“Two hours?! Why exert yourself so much? After marriage, you can join our family business, right?”
Radha thought in her mind,“Agar family business hi karna hota to, apne dad ka nahi kar leti?”
“Beta, you are twenty nine now. After marriage, you will quickly need to think about children. You don’t have much time, you see.”
Radha kept quiet, while her parents smiled with slight embarrassment.
“Waise, Sharma ji, why didn’t you get Radha married earlier?”
Radha kept a cool outlook and didn’t let the rage within her come to her mouth.
But the final straw was when the boy’s mother asked,“Beta, aap khaana to bana leti ho, na?”
I controlled my laughter and hid my face in my cup of coffee as Radha spoke.
“Aunty, khaana to main nahi bana sakti. Wo, kya hai ki, meri mummy ne kabhi sikhaya hi nahi. Main studies aur job mein itni busy thi ki cooking seekhne ka time hi nahi mila.”
I must say, Radha’s to-be mother-in-law was very persistent.
She said,“Koi baat nahi. You can learn after marriage.”
Radha looked at the boy, and then said aloud,” Is your son also going to learn cooking after marriage?”
From where I sat, it was hilarious, but from what Radha said next, it sent out a very strong message.
“Aunty, your son has been pampered by you. My mother has pampered me the same way. You cook all his meals, my mother packs all my meals as well. Your son was busy trying to get his grades together to pass out gracefully from a private college in Delhi, I was busy topping my university. Your son was busy managing his father’s business, I was busy building a career for myself. No, I don’t need to join your business and give up my career just because I have to battle two hours of traffic. And, no, I didn’t get married earlier, not because of lack of grooms but because I didn’t think it was the right time for me. I have plenty of years ahead of me to produce children, as I take excellent care of my health and am perfectly fit. And, no, I don’t know how to cook. And I don’t plan to learn it either after marriage, simply because I have no interest in cooking. Just because I am a girl doesn’t mean I need to cook, clean, do the dishes and manage the household.”
Radha was right.
Radha didn’t have interest in cooking. So she chose not to.
Radha has a career, just like her to-be husband. Radha is a breadwinner, just like her to-be husband.
Radha is a homemaker, just like how her to-be husband should be.
Radha is strong, independent, short-tempered and lazy.
Radha likes to watch Sex & the City. Radha likes to wear shorts at home.
Radha is a girl and just because she is a girl, she does not need to compromise with the things she likes to do.
Radha is not a feminazi.
Radha is all for gender equality.
Radha wants to break the age-old gender-biased norms.
Radha lives next-door.
Radha is your daughter.
And Radha is damn right!