Can Single Women Get a Happily Ever After Ending in Indian Books?

In Eunice de Souza’s Dangerlok, Rina Ferreira, a middle-aged poet, and professor recalls the advice a nun gave her, “You must marry or become a nun, otherwise you will be lonely when you are old, and there will be no one to look after you”. The book was released at the turn of the millennium, in 2002, at a time when the number of single women in India saw an increase, about 39 percent of women who were unmarried, separated, divorced, widowed. By the year 2011, there were 71 million women who were single in the country, however, India as a country is still fearful of single women, more than single women fear their status and it’s only a handful of books that deal with women who aren’t wives and mothers, those who aren’t extremely caught up with “matters of the heart”, romance, that is.

Single life is not a death sentence because this is what Indian society deems it

Instead, they offer something else, a life that is full of possibilities, potential, and fullness, and these rare novels provide exactly this bucking the notion that in order for women to live a full life, they must be someone’s lover, wife, mother, etc. Another such book is Anita Desai’s 1980 novel Clear Light of Day, which was shortlisted for the Booker prize whose character, Bim, a middle-aged professor, lives in her family home looking after her disabled brother. At first, even though the reader starts feeling sorry for him, readers realize that single life is not as bad as people have made it out to be. In fact, one feels sorrier for Bim’s sister Tara, who has married a diplomat and is living overseas, due to her familial worries. However, one also realizes that that Bim is the way she is because she has made a life in a certain way, not because it has been handed to her. In her collection of essays titled, ‘Single By Choice: Happily Unmarried Women’ sports journalist Sharda Ugra writes, there is a difference between “aching loneliness — which can swallow people whole even in large family groups — and the freedom of solitary calm.”

Indian women are soon realizing that there are far worse things in life than dying alone

“While growing up, I’d seen singlehood translate itself in the movies, books, television, across social whisper. It presented the woman as an entity unfulfilled, incomplete and, leading from there, eventually unhappy. Whose surroundings, it was imagined — and no doubt still is — would be dark, forlorn, gloomy, unkempt and, of course, only half of what a home should be,” writes Urga. Although it’s a deliberate choice of a very small group of people, there is a very repressive opinion about single women and about singleness in all areas of Indian life, whether rural or urban. Moreover, Indian women are soon realizing that there are far worse things in life than dying alone and historically women have only been presented with two options, marry a man and sacrifice your autonomy or marry a man and keep your career only to be treated like you’re not a good enough woman. However, things in India are changing drastically because women are really thinking about their life more seriously, also that a majority of Indian marriages aren’t the best example for young women. Moreover, women actually believe that they have a choice and marriage isn’t the only option for women for a “full” life. 

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