Heena and I were best friends. We met each other when we were both 7 years old and lived in the same apartment in Mumbai. She was beautiful even at 7. She had long hair and green eyes. She was the best dressed child in any gathering. I was exactly the opposite. I had hair cut so short that I could easily qualify for Aditya, dressed in a frock. My clothes would always be dirty because I would roll in the mud, fall down while riding the three-wheeled cycle. I have no idea how I managed that but I did. Heena hated mud, she would always be neat and tidy. My mother would always tell me to be like Heena and learn from her. From a very early age I had a very strong sense of self and hence it was impossible to try to be someone else even then.
After school I would have lunch and a nap and I would run to Heena’s house with a plastic cricket bat in my hand. I would want to play cricket and she would have her ‘Barbie’s Kitchen set’ ready for us. I could never convince her to throw a ball at me and even if she did I would hit the ball hard and had to run after it myself, because she just stood there looking at the ball like it was a beast that would eat her up. I realised it was too tiring to hit the ball and also be the fielder. So I would role -play the dad of the house and she would play the mother and cook food in her small kitchen set.
As we grew up the distance between us grew geographically but we always remained a phone call away from each other. As kids growing up I was the unconventional one with my choices in career and life. As a kid Heena loved romance and totally believed in a prince charming coming on a horse to rescue her. I laughed at her, even mocked her at her silliness. Heena loved marriages and romance and love stories. I hated them. I told her that we need to dream about bigger things. We need to do things that will change the world. Boys and love can wait.
Today we are not kids. Heena changed, so did I. She has evolved so much from being a girl to becoming a woman. The Heena who loved “Barbie’s Kitchen Set” then, today is a lawyer. She lives in Mumbai in a flat she rents. She chooses to live by herself even when her parents live in the same city. She is fiercely independent financially, in thought and in beliefs. I am so proud of the work she does today. Heena doesn’t believe in marriage, in love that lasts forever or in commitment. She is in and out of relationships. She has always been very open about it to me and to her very traditional, hence worried parents. I have never judged her for her choices. I never will. Everyone has a right to living life exactly the way they want to. When I told Heena I was having an arranged marriage she didn’t seem too excited or happy, like my other friends. She just told me that she needed to meet me and talk to me about it. The conversation I had with Heena ten days before my marriage was one of the most interesting things that happened to me in that period.
I entered the coffee joint almost nervous. Heena had not yet come. I always reach a place at least 15 mins before, call it an athlete’s syndrome. The reason of my nervousness was the conversation I was about to have with Heena- my marriage. I was sure she was going to argue,debate and ask me all kinds of questions about my decision. I respect Heena and her opinions. If it was anyone else I would have not cared a damn. Heena came wearing a long skirt and her long curly hair was wet ,unkempt and in a mess. In all her mess she still managed to look beautiful. We hugged, ordered coffee and Heena came straight to the point. In that hour of conversation she asked me a series of questions.
“How long do you know that guy? You have known him for a month and you already know you want to spend your whole life with him? You are sacrificing your job, your life,your friends and everything you know. Why can’t he come down to India? Marriage as an institution is failing. There are thousands of divorces filed every year. You really think it is worth taking that chance? You have always been unconventional and care-free with your choices. Marriage will change everything. It will mean responsibility, being accountable, compromises, adjustments, sacrifices. Do you really want to live with all that? Will you be able to really change the world like you wanted to? When everything about you will have to change?”
I answered these questions the best way I could. I knew I didn’t do a good job of it. She didn’t seem convinced. That night when I came home I was surrounded by all my relatives. I needed to be alone. I was a little disturbed. I thought about all those questions all night long and by morning I had my answers. When I want to feel lighter I choose to write and so I sat and wrote.
I know you are scared and almost petrified of what lies ahead. The feeling is like entering a match you have not prepared for. You don’t really know if you are going to win or lose. It is really strange the way this world functions. There are classes for everything out there but there is nobody to teach you about marriage apparently the most important thing you are going to ever do. May be because nobody really knows the secret to a successful marriage. May be you just have to find your own way through it on your own instincts.
You have seen Aai-Baba all these years. They are the only reference you have to learning something about marriage. Marriage is tough,complicated, it involves responsibility, compromises, adjustments, fights and all things difficult. But marriage is also love, companionship, sharing, caring, dreaming the same dreams, laughter, making mistakes together and learning from them. Yes Aai has made more sacrifices than Baba has. But that is may be because woman are just much more stronger than men. For me really the secret of their happy marriage is Baba accepting his weaknesses and Aai knowing her strengths.
I know you respect Heena and her choices. I know that there is a part of you that thinks her life is more glamorous and fearless. It takes strength to live alone in a society like ours and to make the choices that Heena has made. Though what if Heena’s choice of life is because she is afraid? Marriage may be a commitment she is afraid to make. Just as living alone takes strength so does marriage. Marriage is not weakness. It doesn’t have to mean losing the “I” in the “Us”. In fact a successful marriage might be the one that preserves the “I” in the “Us” and helps it grow. You are not Heena. You need someone you can hold on to, you can love and share your life with. Knowing what you want is strength not weakness.
Marriage as an institution has failed, is a flawed statement. Institutions never fail, people do. Institutions are incapable of failing. You know the man you have chosen is right for you. Right now the most important thing for you is to have faith in your self. You have never doubted your decisions, or regretted them. You need to be secure in the person you are. Insecure people lead to disastrous relationships. Leaving your friends and job was not sacrifice for you. Friends that are lost because of distance are not worth your friendship. The job you were in, paid you well but wasn’t something you wanted to do all your life. You chose to live a life of adventure with a defined purpose. Believe in that purpose always. It will do you wonders.
Now Go Get Married!!
It has been 7 months since I wrote this. When I look back at it today it does make me smile. Just like every other girl before her marriage, I went through my period of fear and doubts. Today I have no doubts about my decision. There are a lot of women like Heena today and I do have a lot of respect for them. But there are also woman who have achieved professional success in spite of being wives and mothers, I will always respect them a little more. It is just a lot tougher and it is the kind of success I want to achieve. I am sure Heena will understand that someday.