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
http://www.womensweb.in/2014/12/marriage-and-pregnancy/

EATING SOLO- WHAT STOPS WOMEN FROM DOING IT?

EATING SOLO- what stops women from doing it?

I love food and one of the things I absolutely love doing is sitting in a public place- a café or an eatery, munching on my food leisurely and watch the world go by. I do not always find company- either my husband or my friends are not available or I just find myself in a place where I don’t know people and need to grab a bite. So I just go solo, find a table, get myself something to eat and enjoy my own company happily- ruminating, alone with my thoughts or simply enjoying the food and looking around, taking in the sights.
This sounds idyllic, but it is hasn’t always been this way and even now, it isn’t always this easy.
Eating out alone in a public space was not something I could do this effortlessly.
In fact, through my college days, although I travelled alone, lived in a hostel and was fiercely independent, I do not remember a single instance of sitting alone in a canteen and having a meal or even a tumbler of tea on my own. As a girl, there was safety and comfort in numbers. Had I been a boy, would I have been bothered about something as simple as sitting and sipping a beverage alone? Would anyone have given me a second look, had I been a solitary male sitting for hours in the college canteen, enjoying a full meal wholeheartedly in a relaxed manner?
But there is just something about being a girl that did not even allow me to consider the thought of doing something like this.
What would people think? Would they think I was waiting for someone, when I wasn’t? Would they make fun of me? Would I get ‘eve teased’? Would someone come and approach me or sit down next to me? Eating solo was simply unthinkable. If one was hungry, one just waited for friends or if desperate, bought something easy to eat and gobbled it on the go or in a ‘safe’ place away from glaring eyes and judgemental faces. This was going back 20 years and when I lived in India.
On moving to the UK, in my early days I found myself in desperate need of a cup of warm beverage to stave off the cold. Entering a doughnut shop I began to harbour ‘bold’ thoughts of sitting inside the cozy café by myself to enjoy a cup of coffee and a doughnut.
So far I had not encountered any ‘eve teasing’ in the UK and hence my bold stance. I still remember being absolutely petrified and thinking all eyes were on me. I was the only Indian face in the place and felt terribly conscious of doing something as basic as feeding myself. With all my bravery, I ordered an exotic coffee that I had never tried before and willed myself to sit down. No one looked and no one really cared, but I was so uncomfortable with what I was doing that I just gulped down the scathing hot coffee, wrapped up the doughnut in a paper napkin to be eaten later and hurried out as fast as I could.
A few such experiences and I got bolder and bolder- trying out new places, sitting sometimes in pavement cafes and more crowded places. Perhaps it was because I knew that there was no threat of eve teasing. Perhaps it was because it is considered normal in western society for a woman to be eating alone- it helped me shed my phobia of eating alone in a public place.
It can still be hard sometimes- I do have to clutch on to my mobile phone and pretend to be busy. I do sometimes have to avoid looking around in case someone gets the wrong message, when all I am doing is casually admiring the décor, how people are dressed, what they are eating, wondering when my order is coming and so on. Some women I’ve seen eating alone, use a book or newspaper as companion and that makes it easy to avoid looking at people and simply look busy. Some just resort to mindless texting or games on their cellphones.
Would a man need any of these aids to eat alone? Why does a women feel the need to have a comforting accessory when all she wants is to enjoy the food and view? Like a man would do…….
Eating alone as a woman can be a challenge anywhere in the world as I recently discovered. Sitting in a fast food restaurant in Singapore on my own I found to my horror a man sitting across from me pointing his camera phone in my direction and taking pictures! I wish I had confronted him but instead chose the easy option which was to wolf my food down with a downward gaze and rush out speedily.
On another recent occasion, I was on my own in Malaysia and ordered a fruit juice at a restaurant that had a bar too. I could just feel the eyes of the male waiters on me as I sipped the drink. Was it because I was a woman? Was it because I was an Indian woman sitting alone in a restaurant? I just felt very cautious and the need to be alert. It just goes to show that as a woman wherever in the world you go it can be hard to fully relax and dine or drink alone the way a man would do.
One day I wish to eat alone in a public space in India. One day I wish I can unabashedly and uninhibitedly dig into a dosa and slurp a masala chai on my own anywhere in India. Not because I won’t find company because purely because I have not done it before. Without fear of being judged, without embarrassment, minus guilt and without being pressured to pretend that I am waiting for someone.
One day, I wish I can eat alone anywhere in the world the way a man can- without gulping, without swallowing large bites and without causing myself heartburn or indigestion. One day I wish I don’t have to think twice before indulging in this solitary pleasure of dining alone because I am a woman. Eating solo is just one of the many male bastions that needs to be stormed before I think I have become free of the shackles that come with being a woman.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN WOMENSWEB