The last thing I said ‘screw it’ to was the pressure to be married by a specific time. You know, the checklist that women often bear the burden of...to find a partner at any cost and ‘settle down’ by a certain age. This pressure never bothered me until I hit my mid 30s, and suddenly it became a thing, a discussion point, especially when everyone around seemed to be getting married and having babies. I think a lot of South Asian women— and women around the world—feel this pressure to reach certain milestones by certain points in their lives. And they could be extremely successful and living full lives otherwise, but these expectations around marriage remain. So I went through a phase of being very self-conscious about the fact that how I am single, and how there is absolutely no-one on the horizon. And even though I come from a very liberal, progressive family, I felt like I had failed my parents in some way. It bothered me a lot, and then finally, I was like...screw it!
But the very first thing I stopped giving a damn about was caring what other people think. What social media thinks. And what strangers on the Internet think. This attitude gives me the courage to speak my mind, even at the risk of getting trolled or attacked. In our world, there is a cost to speaking out, but I never shy away from a fight or asking the questions that need to be asked. Because when you believe in something, you are willing to stand up for it, and fight for it, right? And so, despite the threats, abuse, trolling, and the very real cost to work, I say what I need to. This is a path I chose consciously...I made a choice to live authentically because that’s the only way I know. On screen, I can lie and pretend and act and perform and play any role required of me, but I can’t do it in real life...like, I just have no patience for being inauthentic.
In India, we care far too much about what people will think of our personal choices. And it starts early... people want to know what career someone else’s child will choose; whether that child wants to be an artist or a painter, as opposed to an engineer or doctor. And other people—some neighbour or aunty or distant relative—have a lot to say about someone else’s life decisions. Young people are taught to care far too much about language and religion and caste identity...about who we choose to fall in love with and want to be with. Many young people, who are dating people from different caste groups or religious communities, are miserable because they say their parents will never let them marry this person. And I am like, ‘Why should you care? You are old enough to fall in love, right? To hold a job and make money, right? Then why aren’t you old enough to decide who you want to be with?’ I believe young Indians give up a lot of their personal liberties without even fighting for them. I find this very odd.
I also believe Indians have a significantly overdeveloped sense of shame. Especially women. We just spend too much time feeling ashamed or afraid, that we will be called names or looked at with contempt. Many have been raised to worry about what the neighbours will think, or what a ‘decent girl’ needs to do or say. I really think Indian women could do with a little less shame...and a little less guilt. We need to let go of this ‘What will people say?’ mindset. And we need to be a little more selfish. We are constantly told to compromise and adjust all the time...I’d like to tell women to start putting themselves first, even if only every once in a while.”
Photographs: Gary Taylor; Make-Up: Anu Kaushik; Hair: Lawang Tamang; Videographer: Shrey Gulati; Production: Vasudev Garg