When I meet people for the first time, I usually don’t tell them that I’ve written a novel – let alone that it’s being turned into a film. This is because I don’t see myself as an ‘author’, or that I think this was the single greatest achievement of my life. I would hope that this is one small thing in a list of many things I’ve done – mostly with minimal to zero degrees of success – and that it’s not the only thing I’m going to do in life.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think it was an achievement; that it didn’t merit one – or many dozens – celebratory glasses of wine. Of course it was.
But it doesn’t matter. I could have written a dozen books. I could have published some amazing stories. None of this matters, because success at work isn't equal to a Facebook status announcing I’m getting married. After all, regardless of how much people moan and complain about weddings and so on, marriage is the only achievement that counts.
I know what you’re thinking. This kind of judgment must be coming from typical South Asian parents and uncles and aunties asking ‘beta, don’t you want to settle down?’ who don’t care that you’ve become a doctor/engineer/stand-up comic/writer/artist because you’re not brandishing a nikah nama. They’re the ones who’re always hassling people about getting married.
That’s where you’re wrong.
Look at who is really asking these questions. Is it all your family, or is it the 20-, 30-something acquaintances and friends and colleagues - your peers - who cock their heads to a side, and ask, all concerned, if you’ve met anyone yet?
I am 31. For the past decade – God, I hope it’s just me and you’re all not suffering from this – all I’ve been asked is by various friends/acquaintances/people I’m no longer in touch with/people I give zero fucks about:
When are you getting married?
Shadi kab karrahi ho?
Acha na tum sunao, koi mila?
[Me, itching to say] “Yes, I’m super happy you met someone and that you could afford to spend thousands of dollars on a wedding, but actually I just got discovered something really amazing for a feature… [eyes glaze over] – yes, I’m single, and no, it’s not because I’m ‘too confident’ and I’m sure I can spend the rest of my life alone. How’s your marriage? Are YOU too over confident in bed? What, am I *not allowed* to ask that?”
As I spent this past weekend intermittently bursting into happy, emotional sobs – my book is the basis for a BOLLYWOOD FILM, FFS – I didn’t have the seventeen thousand ‘congratulations! So happy for you!’ posts on Facebook or the messages or the requests for live updates or excited calls or (actually this is an upside) WhatsApp groups created solely to congratulate you when you announce some sort of marital status change. It’s because unlike marriages/babies/whatever furniture-buying opportunity Facebook encourages you to post about, actually doing well at work doesn’t count for anything. You’re not obliged to congratulate someone for doing well at work. But we’re all apparently supposed to congratulate each other for getting married and having unprotected sex and having children. People are allowed to ask – heck, they expect and outrightly demand – money and gifts when they’re getting married. But what if you need money but don’t have a wedding invitation to tack it on to? Then it’s a loan, and cause for a shame spiral: if you’re not getting married, you’re not even allowed to admit you might need the money. (Don't even get me started on how single people are treated in visa queues. Just don't.)
We know the judgmental aunties and uncles who are obsessed with marital statuses, but you know what - we are them. We don’t call to tell our friends to tell them how happy we are when they do well at work, when they’ve actually made something of their career, we don’t call to console them when they get yelled at by their boss, but we’re happy when they “find” someone, as if they’ve finally found the missing dice from the overturned Ludo game from 1992. We splash out on gifts for weddings, but not for promotions. We’re all guilty of this. We ask about personal lives first – ‘how are you / how’s life / how’s x or y or z?’ – not about the reason the other person gets up every day - to make a living.
For the last year, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to not ask people about their lives. It hasn’t always worked, and I also ask people about who they’re seeing. But I’d like to hope that I will one day know more about how someone’s doing at work and if that makes them happy than their kids or partners.
This is the thing. Whether I'm married or not, it doesn't matter. That's really not any measure of success or achievement. And unlike your marriage or child whose well-being I have to politely inquire about, at least I’m making money off my work. You could ask how it’s doing.