Diary of a Feminist: When Younger Sisters Marry First

How would it feel if your younger sister got married first. Quite an embarrassing question to ask and, for many, equally difficult to answer.

Before I venture to ‘dissect’ this ‘sensitive’ social query, let me make myself clear on one issue: I am absolutely in favor of marrying off younger daughters if elder ones are not getting any proposals. Needless to say, it’s quite a norm these days, i.e., marriage of younger daughters while the elder ones remain single.

Once in a while, though, I do come across families where this practice is considered ‘shameful’, (and hence all the daughters are still single). Such is a friend’s mother who says daughters should get married according to their birth order. “In the order they have come into this world, they should leave their parents’ house.” She says it with such doggedness as if it’s a divine law written in some testament! And I feel like telling her, “Aunties, don’t be unrealistic, the world is changing and so must you.”

And how did I feel when my younger sister got married? How do I feel? I felt miserable. And then I felt fine. Does it make any sense?

It’s so simple: when that event happened, I felt miserable. I mean at that particular moment, I was disturbed, I went through a crisis. But once it was all over, I was quite happy and satisfied that my younger sister was settled. It’s like ripples that form when you throw a stone into a lake but then ripples die out within seconds and it’s all calm again.

When this question comes up in casual conversation among friends and acquaintances who have had the same experience, they tell me they felt alright, they felt happy. Which makes me wonder if I am a freak! But when I confess my ‘disgraceful feelings’, I sense a certain unease on their part, a silence, an unspoken cue to ‘please be quiet, don’t say it!’. And I have a vague feeling that perhaps I embarrass them with my confessions.

This is not to challenge their happiness at their younger sisters’ marriage. In fact, it cannot be challenged because despite a certain amount of sibling rivalry and envy among sisters, they truly want each other’s success and happiness in life. And it’s rarely – in pathological families – that siblings wish each other to suffer.

There is another thing: a younger sister’s marriage doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s something young accepted long before. That she is better looking! And I would call it the ‘law of diminishing looks’ due to which daughters ‘with-least-looks’ marry last.

Then why did I feel terrible? The reason was more extraneous than internal, more social than personal. The whole world thought you were a failure. They pitied you, for marriage is considered the ultimate, supreme, noble goal in a woman’s life, and you had failed to achieve it.

That was the time I was swept away by the ‘mob behavior’, I lost my identity, I became one of the crowd and looked at the pitied object – that was myself! I was drowned in the whispers ‘She is the elder sister. She is not married yet.’

I remember I had never been so self-conscious in my life as I was that day. I took great pains in the selection of my new dress: I wanted to look my best. Rather unlike me as I don’t mind wearing the same dress to three weddings in a row!

And when my sister’s nikah was solemnized, many of my aunts and married cousins brought me khajoor “Eat it, eat it. You’ll get married soon.” (In case you don’t know: it’s a nake shugoon for unmarried girls to eat khajoor.) My hands were full of them and I had an embarrassing time disposing of the stuff. Had I eaten them all I would have ended up with a stomachache instead of a beau!

And at the time of the rukhsati, I sensed that quite a few women looked at me to see if I was crying! I wasn’t. For one thing I was so exhausted, physically and emotionally, that I had no stamina left to activate my tear glands. For another, why should I cry at my sister’s wedding? I might have shed a tear or two at my own…

There were other reasons why I thought it was a difficult time. Being the eldest sister, I was the one taking my sister shopping, settling countless trivial disputes that arise in the house during an impending wedding, sharing a thousand worries with my parents, coping with increased house chores, etc. etc.

Then there was the changed relationship between me and my sister. They day she got engaged, something was snapped shut. We were no more on the same wavelength. She was preoccupied with the thoughts of a new life, dreams and fears and dowry and in-laws and what not. And I was left alone to cope with my work and the kitchen and her wedding!

It amused me to recollect it all. I am so relaxed now with my younger sister’s marital status and mine. So much so that whenever we are together, it pleases me to announce to the world “I’m the elder sister. She is younger. And married!”.

Perhaps I feel everything very intensely. And then I am through with it. I am not made of the kind of fibre that keeps smouldering. I guess I am made of stuff that burns instantly. And with an intensity to produce enough carbon dioxide to put it out – without any damage! I guess that’s how God has made us all. So that we could live. And love life.

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