‘Chasing the Good Life…on being Single’ edited by Bhaichand Patel, is delightfully fresh and frank; a compilation of essays by ‘singletons’ from various walks of life and yes, both men and women. The contributors range from Jerry Pinto, the 38 year old novelist and poet to Kushwant Singh, India’s oldest enfant terrible, from Dolly Thakore, casting director, journalist and script writer to Urvashi Bhutalia, the founder of the first feminist publishing house called Kali, and many more..
Farrukh Dhondy, novelist and columnist, explores the insinuations of the words bachelor; meaning gay or resolute bachelor and spinster evoking an image of the ‘unfortunate wall flower that was never asked for the next dance’!! Quite happy with his single status and not looking for that ‘promised land’ any more, he concludes that the quest to dissolve the single is an elusive, never ending but necessary pursuit.
An independent liberal from the tender age of 15, Aruna Vasudev is founder of the cine magazine called ‘Cinemaya’ a PhD from Paris and a reputed writer and has graced many a jury in film fests world over. After having lost her husband to cancer she found herself a singleton and a single parent at the same time! Work, travel, and a wide circle of friends and family leave her no time to catch her breath. Complete self reliance is what life has taught her and she has ‘no complaints’ Life is a party she says when you learn to take the high moments with the low, and treat the two impostors just the same.
Marriages are made in heaven and end in the bathroom says Asha Naarang Spaak, who was married not once but twice and enjoyed it while it lasted! (a case of hope over experience, she explains). For her the joys of being single are too much to give up for the (dis)comfort of having a spouse.
Not all is a bed of roses!! And the question that comes to every ones mind is what about loneliness and what about sex. Well, Gauri Dange, from Pune says…when you are 40 something and all the speculation about your past and future love life has died down… you are in a really cosy spot …no more questions, no more sympathetic looks. When you feel you are on a high and want a partner…a mental image (made of nice bits of all the men you know) comes to your mind. Then the moment passes and you stretch this way and that quite smug and snug in your solitude!!
To Kushwant Singh, the joy of living alone comes from being able to relieve himself of his gastric gases without being embarrassed and to be able walk around without his clothes!! He misses his wife and is sometimes lonely. But he admits that he does not have the gift of friendship and is quite happy with his solitary status. ‘When the time comes,’ he says, ‘everyone has to take the long road to oblivion all alone, so why not prepare for it while in good health?’
For Sheela Reddy, books editor for outlook, the secret success to her marriage is the long distance… her husband lives and works in Bihar and she in Delhi. The perfect recipe for her is two die-hard singles with preferable very less in common!!
After fleeing from her ‘Barsati’ in Delhi where the landlord had actually let himself in, the romanticism of living alone in peaceful melancholy shattered, Radhika Jha, novelist and dancer, still maintains that singleness had to be experienced before any ‘real love’ is possible. However, a lot has changed since those early days and now it’s easy to be single; liberalization, attitudes, lifestyles and finances have benefited singles tremendously. Its a rich experience-(without the glamour) but the price is the moments when one is truly alone which steal up on you, she says, and catch you unawares when you are most vulnerable. Living alone you experience the naked intensity of each moment-the good and the bad!
Single but not alone says…Humra Quraishi. After her divorce and a few painful years of adjusting to a new life, her circle of close friends, two children and close family are her world now and its enough, she says.
What struck me about this one by Varsha Das is its complete honesty and for me, a sense of someone else saying my lines…”I was quite certain that once I moved away from him life would be lovely” she says. She now realizes how foolish and perhaps simplistic her views were. With two kids and meager means she expresses her emotional swings between satisfaction and insecurity. She finds her refuge in a full time job, her kids and home and finally came to terms with her life fully triumphant. Letting go the negative feeling she feels is extremely important to be able to truly move on…’I stopped holding others responsible for my unhappiness’ and that was the turning point! She loves living alone and takes full charge of her responsibilities. And is smiling no matter what!
Dolly Thakore has learnt to deal with all the ‘men’s jobs’ mechanics, accountants, tax consultants, painter and plumbers of the world. After 20 odd years of living alone she has an indomitable persona (a put off for many men?). Loneliness does strike but she does all right she says !!
For Mahua Sen, coming to terms with her singleness has been an experience. She thinks, in life relationships are far lonelier than being on your own. Even you are not on your side she says.
Namrata Joshi, the Delhi based journalist says… you have to stay away from home to find yourself. Single to her is a constant engagement with who you are and the dynamics of this involvement change with time. She objects to the formalization of love and companionship into matrimony. For her being single is like being on a long journey; there are always possibilities as long as you travel. Arrival doesn’t interest me she says. Where do you go from there.
Coming from a conservative upper middle class muslim family, Sadia Dehlvi surfaced from a marriage and began life as a single in saddi dili. There has been loneliness, tears and heartbreak she says but matrimony does not necessarily provide the remedy. She has no need to feel the crippling of ones personal growth with the power play that marriages come to be. Women she believes have changed drastically and men have not which is why they are unable to handle the women of today!!
Single and sixty four, Rahul Singh has never been married. But came perilously close he says. I am not gay, not a DOM (dirty old man). I am a pretty good cook, play a variety of sport and have a close circle of family and friends. Perhaps a little self centered and selfish he admits. But then no one is perfect even if single!
To Urvashi Butalia who seems to think she got there without really thinking but wanting to, there are many more relationships that are sustaining, sometimes much deeper and richer than a married relationship. She is single by choice, and feels singleness suits her, as others may feel more suited to marriage!
Relocation, divorce and death are the most stressful things in ones lifetime says Anjali Puri… who got to tackle the first two together!! As a resentful wife she wondered why she was stuck with the unfairness of the medieval division of labor but now she feels a sense of entitlement managing her home, kids and work!! Her two children are quite resilient she says and quite efficiently divide their time between eleven months of not-quite-perfect-but-always-there-mom, and a month with Santa Claus dad!! Loneliness…After a day at work and an evening of parenting she is not really looking for romance but misses an intelligent, companionable and undemanding adult (of the non maid type) for company!!
There are more accounts of the singletons and their views but frankly the thin thread that runs through all these accounts is that quite happiness, success, close circle of family and friends, societal acceptance and even admiration in today’s world. Finally there is nothing wrong in matrimony if it allows you to grow, be independent and free. But a single life is certainly much better than the shackled, power plays, controlling and even crippling relationships we see more and more today!!
Finally…A very good read and much recommended!!