Why we must stop asking ‘When is the good news?’………….

“When is the good news?”

Every Indian woman, at some time, is probably asked this seemingly harmless question.

A casual question that is addressed to a woman, generally in public, within earshot of all present, and meant in all innocence. For those who don’t know, the “good news” is not an update of passing an examination, a new job or a promotion. No, nobody really wants that kind of information. For a woman, specifically an Indian woman, the “good news” can be only one of two options. Number one: When is the D-day, the wedding day? Number two: If you are married, when are you telling us that you are pregnant?

Yes, it’s true, “when is the good news?” is a loaded question.

Question one: When are you getting married?
Question number one starts being asked soon after a girl turns 18. Maybe even sooner. “ When is the good news?” is addressed to her family, and sometimes to her, and is a not-so-subtle way of prodding, hinting,and taunting to continuously remind that getting married is one of the 2 things in life that an Indian woman is expected to do, no matter what. It is a way of questioning the parents about their duty, admonishing them for slacking and not getting all worked up to get their daughter married off.

“ When is the good news?” is like an alarm that goes off at social gatherings at the sight of a girl who is of marriageable age.

What is one supposed to say to “ when is the good news?”?

Are you supposed to predict the date of your wedding when you haven’t met Mr. Right yet? Are you supposed to give them the low down and details of all the men you have seen in the typical arranged marriage scenario and why it hasn’t worked out yet? Or are you just supposed to squirm uncomfortably in embarrassment and let the painful expression on your face do all the talking? Are you supposed to accept the question as your failure in finding yourself a match in marriage? Or do you just develop a thick skin and ignore the question as just one of the many remarks that people make in ignorance and insensitivity?

Either way, there is no denying the fact that this supposedly good-natured enquiry starts making the rounds from well-meaning people once you cross a certain age. It comes from people who don’t know much about you (except that you are unmarried), from people you have just met, from distant relatives intending to have a little fun at your expense, and most ironically, it invariably comes from other women.

Yes, I am sorry, but it is women who make it their life’s duty to inflict this hurtful question, this upsetting query at other women. Women like aunts, married cousins, neighbours, women you have known for about 5 minutes of your life at some social gathering who think nothing of nudging, digging, punching you with this line. They do not want to know what you do for a living, what your hobbies are or what your opinions are. No.

It is almost like at that instant all that matters about your existence is whether you are married or not. It is like all the other things you have done in your life – your education, your achievements – don’t matter.
It is as if the only thing that really defines you is your ability to acquire a partner in marriage. In the utterance of the questioner, lies the insecurity that is behind such an enquiry. These few words sum up the thinking of the asker who is probably, smugly ‘married’. Happily or unhappily is not the question. But married, yes!

Yes, we know, men are subject to this to this question as well. But the same question “When is the good news?” has a different connotation for a man. It does have the same mocking tone, the teasing tenor or the biting sarcasm as it does for a woman. It does not question his masculinity, his worth, or the purpose of his existence.

Question Two: When are you getting pregnant?
Questions for “Good News – Number Two” start a few months after marriage.

Again, sadly, it is other women who make it their life’s mission to make sure that they taunt and haunt women who have not yet had a baby to get down to business. To prove her worth, to redeem her existence, to establish her femininity. Again, questions about how you are adjusting in your marriage are irrelevant and immaterial. What you are doing in other areas of your life is inconsequential. It is whether you can deliver the ‘good news’ or not. If you can, welcome to the club, if not, face the scoffing, the derision, and the ostracism.

“ When is the good news?” they ask.

Of course, expecting a baby is great news in a woman’s life. There is absolutely no denying that it is a wonderful, magical moment knowing that you are pregnant. However, all the events leading up to finding out about the pregnancy and declaring it are private moments; only for yourself, your partner and whoever you wish to involve in your life.

Then why do random women – even those who don’t even know your name to those who have never spoken more than two sentences with you – make it a point to hurl this question at you? Without a thought, and without a care.

Does it ever occur to them that they are asking the most intrusive, private question that a woman can ask another?
Or a man can ask another.If you wanted the world to know, they would find out, isn’t it? Then why do other women go out of their way to ask this question? In that one question they are questioning her fertility, her worth, and making it sound like her existence is only complete if she can pronounce the good news.

What is one supposed to answer to the question? Give the due date of the baby’s arrival? Tell them details about your fertility treatment? Cry about the fact that you have been trying for 5 years? Shock them with your ‘family planning’ details for the next 10 years? or just brush the question aside?

What answer do we expect when we ask the question ‘when is the good news?’? To an unmarried woman, however thick a hide she has acquired, there can be no answer she can give without feeling hurt and insulted. To a woman yet to bear a child, however well she is doing in life, however happily married, the question is always going to make her feel inadequate as it is meant to be.

So, please ladies [and gents], the next time you want to ask someone that question, spare a moment to think. Before you innocuously blurt out “So, when is the good news? ” just like ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’- just pause to consider that you could be unknowingly saying it to someone who is in silent pain from a break-up or a miscarriage.

First wrote this for Womensweb



This article was first published in Womens Web.

Let us start with the basics: what is a handbag for? For me, a handbag has always been a practical carrier of my ‘stuff’.

Much as I pride myself on being a multi-tasker as I am expected to be, being a female, I cannot possibly carry multiple assorted items in my invisible multiple hands. That is where a handbag comes in, the one accessory I must carry at all times for possessions that need to be protected, objects of value like my money purse, for bits and pieces that I need through the day, for girlie gear that needs to be under wraps, for kiddie paraphernalia that needs to be lugged around and so on.

As long as a bag has plenty of pockets, inside out, a good quality zip and a sturdy strap, I am sold. That it is attractive, is a bonus, of course.

Thinking along these very logical lines, I have outlived several handbags in my lifetime. I mean, a handbag is an object after all and has a shelf life. Some bags survived longer than others, some were prettier than others. One fell victim to a pickpocket, a few yielded to zip malfunction, others managed to endure several years but eventually succumbed to wear and tear. Some refusing to wither away, were forced into retirement and now lie in the back of my closet.

Then of course, there were the impulsive buys; the ones where practicality took a back seat and I allowed the current trends to sway me into buying the latest offering in handbag fashion. Again, some of these fashionable bags lasted a few days as straps snapped, zips jammed and clasps loosened.

For some inexplicable reason some lasted months if not years. A lot depended on how I used them. If I used them lovingly, only pulling them out for special occasions, they lasted longer. If I used them everyday, lugged them along to work, stuffed groceries, toys, food into them, and plonked them about roughly they did not last long. But then again I had some handbags which defied logic. They could be the most inexpensively priced ones I bought off street stalls, the ones I practically lived in, the ones I never cared much for and yet they carried on and persisted, threatening to outlive me!

That is how it has always been over the years. When a handbag gets worn out or I have used it for too long and I’m tired of it, I go out to buy a new one. That’s it. The overriding thought is that it has to satisfy the criteria of being functionally efficient and it goes without saying that it must be reasonably priced.

Then a few years ago, a strange thing happened to me. I began to feel peer pressure of the handbag kind. Yes, something was happening around me and it was beginning to affect me. It wasn’t just pressure – it was temptation and an inexplicable mysterious curiosity. That a handbag could kindle these feelings in me was a revelation in itself.

In case you cannot fathom what I’m talking about, it is the somewhat recent trend of handbags that one has to be seen with. The glossy fashion magazines that I often browse through to amuse and put me to sleep, tell me that these handbags are a ‘must have’ in my wardrobe. Do I have the ‘It’ bag of the season? No? It is the bag that is photographed in enticingly close up detail, the bag that does not have a price disclosed or a price that is ‘available on request’, which is basically saying that the price runs into several thousand rupees.

I see these bags staring at me from the pages of these magazines, their buckles gleaming alluringly, luxurious looking material beckoning, the polished logo screaming for attention. But then, these very glossy pages also authoritatively tell me that I need to paint my eyelids a bright canary yellow this season. It is easy to brush aside suggestions that would make me look jaundiced this season, but it is not so easy to resist the lure of the ostentatious handbags on display.

It is easy to brush aside suggestions that would make me look jaundiced this season, but it is not so easy to resist the lure of the ostentatious handbags on display.
That is when peer pressure came into my life. Never did I think that in my forties, I would have to fight inwardly against pressure that had to with something as mundane and humdrum as a handbag. Yes, a few years ago, it so happened that I found myself meeting new women, new acquaintances in a new social circle, who I was compelled to mingle with due to a change in life circumstances. They were lovely women, friendly women, but from a different background, living a lifestyle that I had no exposure to.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was in awe of them; actually not of them, but of what they wore, to be specific. Here they were flaunting the very bags, shoes and sunglasses that I saw in those glossy magazines. I never thought that real women actually bought the bags that were shown in these magazines, but here was a full scale display of the latest ’It’ bags, a full blown parade of the trendiest footwear on perfectly pedicured feet and a competition of various logos on unabashed show.

I hid my own modest handbag just as I tried to conceal the chipped nail polish on my toes. Here were these women, casually carrying around several dollars worth of bags, toting them about, changing them often, replacing them with newer bags of the new season. Sometimes, a bag would be left open unconcernedly to reveal the inner lining to all, so that one was left in no doubt about it being the ‘designer’ brand that it was. One could tell from the checkered or monogrammed lining what brand it was. Soon I could recognize the ‘brands’ and sometimes I did not have to guess at all. The shining logo said it all, the glitzy initials pronounced it all, the emblazoned symbol asserted it all- above all, these icons screamed out the price tag, loudly.

A bag to flaunt, a bag that wouldn’t just carry my belongings , but one that would carry my self esteem to new highs.
It was this pressure to blend in with the new crowd that had me seriously thinking of going out and buying a ‘designer’ bag. A bag to flaunt, a bag that wouldn’t just carry my belongings , but one that would carry my self esteem to new highs. A bag that wouldn’t just be an accessory, but one that would accord me a status. Yes, now I understand, I wanted a status symbol. A certain something to proclaim that I had ‘arrived’! So that I could be part of this group of women.

So after a huge debate with myself, a brief discussion with my husband who agreed to go along with what made me happy, I set about buying for myself a bag. A bag to make me happy. Yes, it would make a huge dent in our collective pockets but I was ready for this.

I stood outside the designer store, strong-willed and ready to make the purchase of my lifetime. As I looked inside the glamorous store, I saw expensively dressed women being shown various equally glamorous handbags by gloved, haughty looking, expensively dressed shop assistants. The way they were handling the bags, one would think they were handling gold or diamond jewellery or platinum. I don’t think they were bargaining, but I think they were discussing the luxury features of the bag. By the way, even the window displays did not have any prices displayed on the bags.

Call it my middle class upbringing, call it my practical mind taking over or call me old or just plain miserly, I am proud to report that I did not even step inside the store.

At that moment, nothing or nobody could have convinced me that I needed that bag. Yes, I had wanted it, but did I need it? No. At that price, I began to calculate the other things I could buy. The result was shocking. At the price of such a handbag, I could feed an entire village in India for a month or more. At that price, I could fund a child’s education including my own. At that price, I could arrange an operation for someone who desperately needed it. Above everything, at that moment outside that shop, I thought of the sweat and toil that my husband and me had put in to make that money. Was it worth just a bag?

Why was I so desperate to buy something that was ‘arm candy’, but would cost an arm and a leg?

Why did I want to hang a bag on my elbow so that I could wear my status on my sleeve?

It was a proud moment to do a full U-turn at the door of the store and never ever think of buying a bag that shook the shackles of the earth for me.

It made me really think of myself and how I want to appear to people and also about what makes me happy. Call me old fashioned, but I know that if I’d bought the ‘It’ bag, I would feel guilty forever, I honestly would. I still haven’t heard a convincing enough argument that would make me buy a bag that costs the earth.

People say the quality is impeccable, the luxury factor is something else. Well, perhaps they are right, the bag will last forever. But do I want to lug the same bag forever? Besides any object when used will show wear and tear, so in theory, can it really last forever? Yes some of the bags come with a glamorous looking lock. But you could still get burgled for the bag itself, wouldn’t you? My argument is that the cost of the ‘It’ bag is always going to be more than the actual contents of my bag. Also I have a question: if do buy this kind of bag, am I allowed to wear ordinary shoes, clothes and watch with it? Is that allowed? Maybe I need to refer to my magazines again.

I think I’m going to be the practical person that I am with a little bling thrown in for some fun.
I think I’m going to be the practical person that I am with a little bling thrown in for some fun. Fashion and trends are all very well, but not at the cost of my peace of mind.

So, no logos, designer brands, signs, crests, monograms or symbols for me. I certainly don’t need any emblems of status to add to my personality. It’s enough if I have an invisible stamp of ‘VJ’ on myself, my clothes and my accessories. I