India’s Miserable Singles

 Bungee Jumping at Jumping Heights in Rishikesh. (sanjay austa)

 (Published first in DailyO, July 2015)

Not too many years ago when I became single, I found myself on the other side of green that I had looked at longingly all my nearly five years of cohabitation. Like a chicken cramped in the coop for too long, I emerged gingerly, uncertain of the newfound freedom. I was tentative and I blinked awkwardly into the sunshine.

In all those years I had forgotten how accessible many of life’s luxuries could be. I could whistle. I could snore. I could sing in the shower. I could strut about naked or fully clothed. Walk out the front door when I wanted and return without having to think up the five W’s (Who? What? When? Where? Why? ).

I did not break into cold sweat if I sidled up to a pretty girl at the party and heavens did not fall if she came home to check out my book collection.

In short, I had been released. I was reborn. I was all agog to flock with my kind. It was not hard. With urban Indians pushing marriage to their 30s, there is a growing population of singles in the cities. There are now even single clubs in India’s big metropolitans, places where I thought singles meet to exchange notes on bliss and freedom.

But at a party in one of Gurgaon’s mushrooming high-rises my fantasies lay as shattered as the landscape before me. Puffing dispassionately on their cigarettes, a group disinterested in dance, booze, music and the merry-making of the party inside, huddled together in a balcony moaning their collective fate; singlehood

They were regulars at the single clubs. The bash was thrown by a couple, who after years of desperate single clubs and dating sites hopping had found each other. They were celebrating their first anniversary. They were thrilled to bits and were serving single malts to friends, family and gatecrashers.

That’s the strange reality. Singles don’t want to be single. Whether a committed long-term relationship or marriage, singles just want to be hitched. To be single in India is an anathema. The stigma is probably second only to divorce. It’s an affliction every single man or woman wants to get rid of as fast as possible.

And single-clubs in India are not places of celebration as I had naively assumed. They are whining clubs where sad desperate singles come to moan their wretched single status hoping anxiously to meet desperate singles like themselves and get hitched.

Singles are not living it up but float about waif-like, seeking out husbands or wives in boardrooms, in birthday parties, in weddings, in Facebook friend-lists or dating sites like Tinder. To their credit they display amazing perseverance like taking time-bound gym, yoga or pilates memberships, (to be discontinued promptly after the motive -marriage- is achieved.)

Despite our cultural constructs of love, singles, like everyone else are driven by the evolutionary need to breed. But not having the avenue to do so, their plight is indeed a sorry one. It’s sorrier for women up against the ticking ‘biological clock’.

As the steep Indian population graph indicates, every Indian religiously fulfills his or her evolutionary goading. Those that cannot find success even after well-timed romps in the bed, queue up at one of the many IVF clinics sprouting everywhere in the country. Everyone wants a baby. Even this very liberal, unconventional single friend of mine who during a desultory whatsapp chat one day, let slip, “Sanjay do you think you could give me your sperms? I want to have a child and I would like it to have your genes”.

There was no expression of affection, no proposal of marriage or even a hint at good old lovemaking. I was not offended. But I had to politely decline.

Truth be told, there are no singles in India. Indians go directly from living with their parents to living with their spouse. There is no experience of being ‘single’ in that sense of the word. Fully functional adults well into their 30s choose to shack up with their parents and continue to do so after marriage.

Call it a Utopian cliché but being single means not depend on ones happiness on others. To be single means to love but not out of a sense of duty as it often happens in matrimony where after a few years one even fornicates with each not because of any sexual impulse but to rebuild that ebbing bond. To be single means to care but not in the narrow, exclusive way. It means to extend the scope of your affections. On a broader level it means to live without the buttress of ideologies, beliefs and cozy mutual back-scratching cliques.

To be single means not to conform. There is no grander act of non-conformism than to keep at bay the one institution that is the biggest symbol of conformism- marriage. But there is a great emotional and psychological security in conforming. The widespread cheer the recent legalization of gay marriages in US reveals just that. You are not ‘gay’ enough until you are endorsed at the alter.

The world allows development of no idioms for singlehood. Getting married is often the easier way out. And thereby hangs a tale.

12 Responses to “India’s Miserable Singles”

  1. Ushamrita says:

    Well-timed piece.
    Am single, not happily, though. And I am not not happy because I’m single. I’m not happy because I am being compelled to conform, as you’ve rightly pointed out.
    The ongoing strife is apparent in several unhealthy ways. The worst affected, believe it or not, is the one who’s the subject of the whole deal.
    However, such obligations cannot be hidden, nor can they be ignored. They can only be objected to, with the resultant bitterness and fraying of relationships as residue.
    A point to make, though, is not everyone who is unattached by way of a civil/social partnership is desperate to be hitched. A lot of them, I’m one such, who enjoy the status of being single. They enjoy and fulfil the notions of being non-conformists, living out their single lives with dignity, and responsibly. Yet, I fail to understand the need to uproot such fulfilled persons from their normality, and thrust upon them the need to be with someone.
    Honestly, I guess for singles it’s about wanting to be with someone. Coz the need will never arise considering singles are secure, rooted persons totally content with themselves. And until it’s a natural ‘want’, it’s unfair to assume singles are wretched by themselves, and that they should have someone alongside for the sake of ‘companionship’. Don’t agree with it, never will. Of course, this applies to the ones who’re exceptions to the singles you spoke of.
    Enjoyed reading the piece, and identified with most parts of it, if not all.

  2. Bharati says:

    Sanjay, the desire to cohabit is not just ideology or societal norms, it’s biology. And this goes beyond baby-making. We are biologically wired to build nests or be part of a herd. Not just to to raise our children , but because our bio/psychological health depends on it. We are wired to mate – and not just short-term. Doctors find that married people tend to have better immunity and are more likely to recover from serious illnesses.
    It will take considerable self-knowledge and inner-resources to not be fettered by biology. Personally I find that it is wiser to recognise and embrace the limitations that being human puts on us, rather than expend energy resisting. They say that what you resist will persist. Besides being happily single is a state of mind. Like freedom.You could well achieve that within a marriage :-). Mandela felt free in his prison cell.

    • Jagdeep Kaur says:

      First time I heard this. Biologically wired to cohabit? Nope…it is a societal thing. Society has wired the general public’s mindset so. What we are biologically wired for is sex, and the sheer enjoyment of it. Sadly, in Delhi I guess, it’s difficult to come by for single people. And I feel it is a Delhi thing…the hai-i-am-single rona-dhona. I have lived in Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad and for a very short while in Bangalore; single people love being single and enjoy it thoroughly. I am single, and I love my single life. 🙂 And I have m-a-n-y single friends who have no interest in “sharing” life with anyone. 🙂

  3. Ayesha Dahra says:

    Great write-up! very current! I also liked Bharati’s reply to it…what is natural should be embraced. However it should be each to his own. We create our own happiness in each space. Whether Single or Double :-)),..if ‘Doublehood’ does not give happiness then be single and be happy! Cheers!

  4. Ratnesh Mathur says:

    Chummery – thats the old english concept, which the corporate world incorporated until the explosion of the IT/e-world converted corporate perks ( & thereby corporate cultures) into all-cash compensation deals. But the “Chummery” was the singles home. And I can think of some “gentlemen” who emerged single from the Chummery & continued their bachelor status, living with a butler to assist with their home needs. Relocate to London & join the Pall-Mall Men only clubs. In Delhi, join the Free-Masons society & revive the lodge to its past days of glory at Janpath & Civil Lines.

  5. Mukul Sheopory says:

    Very well written article Austa! I think there is a certain “Indianness” to conforming.. Not just for shaadi, but also for naukri.. In the US and Europe you see people taking a year off after college or between jobs to travel. We Indians rarely do that. Taking a break voluntarily from an ‘acchi naukri’ would be considered blasphemous by society. It may be a remnant from our Colonial and License Raj past where there were a handful of good jobs that thousands of Indians fought over. Alas, we Indians are confined to marching in a straight line from point A to point B to point C..

    Someday I’d like to take a few months off to travel around the world, or maybe just spend the few months loitering around Shimla..

  6. Seema Sangita says:

    This article does make single people sound miserable. You even call it an affliction. But come on, I don’t think its this bad.

    Searching for a life partner does not mean that one is miserable with current state of life. Or that people are trying to date primarily to conform to the ways of society. If this conformist narrative was correct, all the women you met at that party would have been married at 20 and had half a dozen kids by now.

    I am happy single and just as happy meeting potential dates. There are joys of being single and also joys of being in a state of committed relationship. And there are difficulties in both. The fleeting feeling of happiness or unhappiness is there in both situations. Also, the hard work of keeping life together is there in both situations. Mostly it is sweet destiny at work – some find the right life partner, some don’t and some find several right people! Hence, being single does not happen by choice or strategic planning.

    And the thing about not depending on others for happiness – I think it is important for all regardless of relationship status.

  7. Rashmee says:

    And not to mention that people jump on Shadi websites even before the ink on the divorce decree has dried. Fourth meeting is at the green card weeding!

  8. Global Indian says:

    Such a lovely piece! Can identify with it and also the concept of “to each his own”.
    The French – and expectedly so – have had a fairly liberal attitude towards “marriage”/cohabitation and even in “live-in relationships”. Rooted in the Rousseau-an concept (is there such a word? otherwise pardonnez moi) of “Man is born free..”, they carry their iconoclasm from the body politique to art to the boudoir.
    I also loved the ‘reply’ about “Indians marching from Point A to B” et al. 🙂 When will be allowed to chose our own life partners (or not), since we’ve been colonized from within for so long.
    Yes, Simla is a lovely sojourn – for the bohemian artistically inclined Indian 🙂 Another famous one, Amrita Shergill produced her greatest works in its balmy air.

  9. Hi. Nicely written article. I am single and choose to remain the same. I have dedicated a blog for single men in India. It is titled as the diary of the single Indian male.Please go through the link below:

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