An Ode to Saying No to Dowry

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Yet another day in Kerala. Yet another dowry death.

Vismaya, a 23 year old, who died days after sharing her pics of abuse with a relative, has yet again prompted many to chant “A divorced daughter is better than a dead daughter.” Her parents were very much aware of the abuse she was going through, so was her brother and cousin, but unfortunately, not one of them could save her. There is no single person to blame here. Almost everyone is at fault, including the society.

I am a divorcee. Fortunately, my parents were super supportive, and gave my safety the utmost priority when I chose to leave my husband’s place after yet another episode of abuse. The day I left home was the day my parents came to know that I was facing physical and emotional trauma over many months. I did not want to worry them. Maybe Vismaya felt the same. The difference was, my parents did not tell me to compromise.

Mine was an arranged marriage. My parents and I were, are and always will be strictly against dowry. We always had made it clear when a proposal came by that no dowry would be given. My in-laws and husband said they had no demands, though traditionally their family practiced it.

On our wedding day, amidst all the flurry of activity, it felt odd when my husband quipped happily “(So and so) told me you are wearing a lot of jewelry; that I am a very lucky guy.” It was a hint of what was to come.

The emotional blackmail began on the first day of marriage. My ex-husband’s old relative, with a full authoritative tone, told me to put my jewelry in a locker at their chosen bank. When I naively told him that we usually put our jewelry in our own lockers, he was adamant that I keep it in a new one at the current location. This was odd to me, because I have never heard of such a thing happening in my family before. The women of the family always kept their jewelry in existing lockers. There was no question of transferring or shifting it to the husband’s place. Plus, it is so redundant – why open another locker when you already have one? There can only be one answer.

I consulted my mother, who panicked and told me not to do anything till they arrived. So I kept stalling their attempts to put my assets in their locker. My mother came to visit soon and took away the jewelry. This angered my ex-husband, and things (predictably) went downhill from then on. I remember asking him “Did you marry me for my money?

Physical abuse soon began. Not enough to get me hospitalized, but enough to give me bruises. “There are so many women getting hospitalized, that’s what real physical abuse is!” – he justified his actions to me. I forgave, but could never forget because he would keep repeating it. At the end, I ended the relationship and walked out. I realized my tears did not matter to him, nor my well being or happiness. I was married for just one year.

To all the unmarried women who are reading this, this is something you should note. You will hardly see anyone talk about this anywhere online – how dowry nowadays is rarely mentioned before marriage, camouflaged and hidden, all ready to make a move on its prey when the time is right. Many predators, cunning to the core, have realized that this right time to get what they are eyeing, is not before marriage but after it – when the woman is the most vulnerable, getting accustomed to a new place, confused and dazed. No one is explicitly going to use the word “dowry” but you will get to know from their actions.

Please remember, your current assets are yours alone. This needs to be strictly mentioned before marriage. You need to underline your deal breakers, so that there is no room for confusion. If after marriage, you decide to mutually hold future assets together, that is entirely up to you. But do not let anyone emotionally manipulate you into gaining access to your safety and security. Once you lose control of that, you lose control of your life.

I survived the worst phase of my life because I had solid support. Whenever I see a death or abuse case, it feels overwhelming. A lot of “if only” phrases come to mind.

  • If only, the family had supported her enough. Instead of telling her to compromise, they had told her to come home or “We are coming to pick you up” instead.
  • If only, the victim realized her life is not meant for suffering, to endure everything in silence. That staying married, even if toxic, is not the ultimate goal in life. Happiness is.
  • If only, the society made it easier for women to call it quits when her relationship with her partner becomes irreparable. Instead, mostly, we are told to compromise and adjust more.
  • If only, all men had the guts to strictly say no to dowry, go against tradition.
  • If only, a man’s parents did not put social status on such a high pedestal.

If only…

Many women, like Vismaya, would then still be alive.

An Ode to Being Selfishly Independent

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“Why don’t you get married? It will make your parents happy. It is selfish not to think about them.”

“If not now, then when?”

“Your biological clock is ticking. We need to see our grandchildren before we die.”

These are some dialogues, I and many, have heard at least once in our lifetime.

Now if we marry someone outside our religion or caste, the society chimes in with:

“The poor parents. Their child married someone from a different religion. Why don’t kids understand the sacrifices parents make?”

Your happiness gets the least precedence.

We are almost always emotionally blackmailed into following the norms set up by society. The questions and self-doubts then arise in our mind – “Why am I so weird? Why don’t I feel happy following what others are following” You think – “If so many people are saying the same thing, it must be right,” – when the truth is something else.

It took some unlearning for me to realize, there are no fixed protocols to be followed to live a happy, fulfilling life. No researcher has written a book saying “this is how everyone should behave or else the world would crumble in a day” Rules are formed because they make life less confusing, but they do not necessarily make life more fulfilling.

The blueprint of life is out there – study, study some more, get a job, get married, have children, work until you die. There are examples to follow, whereas, for someone who is single, there is no chart as such – you work, and then what? This lack of clarity, makes many shy away from choosing a different life. People want stability, and following the rules makes them believe they have certainty in their life, irrespective of whether they are mentally at peace or not.

After studies are done, an adult should have the freedom to chart his own blueprint. Conditions apply, of course. If the adult wants to be a terrorist, having his own blueprint would be a disaster.

I am saddened that society made me doubt myself for so long (I’m in my 30s) by indoctrinating me with the feeling that I, on my own, am not good enough. I need a partner, followed by kids, to be termed complete. We see so many celebrating their wedding, engagement anniversaries but have we seen anyone say “Yay! I have been happily single for a year now!” Obviously not, because we have been conditioned to believe, being single and happy is not something to celebrate.

Time and again, I have seen many friends being forced by their parents into marriage, jobs, religious practices, and then living an unhappy life afterward. And the irony is, they haven’t learned from this. The tradition will continue to the next generation from what I have deciphered from their talks. Because society has taught them this is the norm, this is the way it should be, and they should follow it, no questions asked.

It is all so subjective, this happiness. But more often than not, we have to mold them as per societal constructs, even if it is not what we are ready for at the moment. Forcing can make an individual follow the path you want, but the gratification you hope they would achieve through this process can likely be lost. The whole exercise (be it anything) loses its meaning if it has to be drilled down and is not coming from the heart.

Why are we following everything to a tee, to make others happy, when we ourselves get only one chance to live the way we want?

Why aren’t we giving enough freedom for our kids to think, to choose?

Why aren’t we giving enough importance to our happiness? If not in this life, then when?

Isn’t it selfish to demand your loved ones, who are now adults, to unquestioningly follow the rules you have set or the dreams you have selfishly conjured up in your mind for them?

I have stopped falling into this trap. I am no saint and I don’t aim to be. And I hope everyone gets a chance to be selfishly independent too – to realize how insanely happy and beautiful this life can be, just the way it should be.

An Ode to Your Controversial History

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Time and again, we see an article about a well-known person having a controversial history. You hold it against them thinking they must have never learned or risen above it. “So and so said this or that ridiculous thing 10 years back or 20 years back. They are not what they look like!

People change over time. I can say for myself that my beliefs 10 years back aren’t the same as now. I have evolved and learned from my mistakes. I used to say the weirdest things, which when I look back at now, make me cringe into oblivion. It helped that I had a written version of all these thoughts (one of the few times I would like to thank social media), but since many don’t, you never get to recap on your judgments and think “What all shit did I say back then!” It is not the same for a celebrity though. Every single thing done or said by them is chronicled.

Sometimes I am glad I am not a celebrity. There is no one keeping a record of what I am saying and I have no fear of someone putting it on a big banner and exhibiting it in front of me many years from now when I am trying to progress in life.

Some people don’t learn, but should the default thinking be always pessimistic?

A controversial history could have been a very valuable lesson for the person. But how can they move on if society will not allow them to? At every road and juncture, they are reminded of what they said years ago – back when they didn’t know any better. Imagine that happening to us – someone continually reminding us of our failed relationships or divorce or mistakes.

Instead of judging by their past, analyze them by their current events, behavior, and personality. That will hold more true than outdated facts.

An Ode to Not Being Ambitious

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I recently watched a podcast by Kenny Sebastian on YouTube (Simple Ken – Episode 19), and something the guest said resonated a lot with me.

I am not at all ambitious. I have zero ambition. My ambition in my life is to be happy. I am not really competitive. For me to see another person doing well, I don’t really care, as long as it is not affecting my happiness. If you are really happy with yourself, another person’s achievements won’t concern you. There are many people who can look happy from outside, but miserable from inside.

I just want enough money to live a comfortable life. I mean, my own money, not taken from someone else. There is an amount that will make me comfortable, and I am okay with earning that amount or a little bit higher, but I am not reaching for something more.

It just makes me happier and calmer.

Tara Molloth

I am a minimalist, so each and every word struck a chord with me. I found it refreshing, because it is not something you hear people say openly. It is almost like a sin to say you are not ambitious nowadays in this fast-paced world.

Why isn’t this way of life more common?

Why isn’t happiness an ambition?

It’s okay to take a step back and breathe. It is okay to slow down. It is okay to not want the same things as others. It is okay to feel happy with little.

Our world is so obsessed with stellar achievements, ambitions, agenda, goals and to be on the move all the time that we often forget the key ingredient for survival: happiness.

  • To be happy with your work. Is that big fat paycheck, the sole reason you are sticking to the job you hate, really worth your mental peace?
  • To be happy in our relationships. Why do people sometimes suffer so much for so little?
  • To be happy with what we have. Why do we have to indulge in more when we are already content with our current standard of living?

Is “more” always the answer to happiness? If that were the case, celebrities would never be diagnosed with depression.

We have never been more fanatical about perfection. What is even more concerning is happiness being valued in terms of material possessions. That we *should* have the perfect car, perfect job, perfect house etc.

Your dream is sometimes not your dream, but a dream that someone else subconsciously has painted for you. We could be satisfied with far less, but we always push ourselves to do more, because truth be told, society is not impressed with frugality. As an example, look around, and see how many people are complimenting someone for their money-saving skills. We never say “Wow, you saved so much money by buying a small house/car/TV” We never show off our small expenses, but are quick to pose in front of a fancy restaurant or expensive car or check-in to business class lounges on Facebook.

The showstoppers, the ones with a deep pocket are admired, whereas the ones who enjoy a quiet and peaceful life are looked down upon. But then the world doesn’t care if you slip into debt or depression either.

Don’t let everyone’s preconceived notions steal you away from your one true goal and ambition: happiness.