Single ladies, stop listening to the ‘Rishta Auntie’



Last week I had two friends visit randomly on the spot on a Tuesday evening. They texted at 7PM to ask if they could turn up, got on the 7:15PM train, and were at my door by 8:02PM.

Normally, if someone were to inform me that they would be inflicting me with a heretofore unscheduled pop-in at dinnertime, I would do the sensible thing by inventing a prior engagement. However, fake evening plans were not necessary in this case because these two friends – a scientist and a dentist, respectively – occupy the minuscule centre spot of the Venn diagram that comprises the following categories: Pakistani, single, successful, female-in-thirties.

Unlike, say, a matriarch grandmother (or a patriarch grandfather), a single successful woman in her thirties – regardless of ethnic background – is unlikely to expect Michelin-star food on house calls. Scientist Friend (SF) and Dentist Friend (DF) – both of whom are sisters and roommates – had very kindly lied by insisting that they were “not hungry”, but I understood that it was the socially acceptable thing to offer a home-cooked meal, preferably something more exciting than a peanut butter sandwich.

“Do you two eat daal, chawal, bhindi?” I asked them after taking a quick inventory of refrigerated leftovers.

“Of course!” said DF as if I had asked if she would be partial to a sizzling barbeque platter with naan fresh from the oven. “We eat anything because we can’t cook most things,” added SF. “We usually end up having a boiled egg for dinner.”

I had already felt the stirrings of envy that these two incredibly brainy ladies could make evening plans without consulting anything other than a train schedule. But if anything could have driven home that final stab of jealousy, it was this cavalier attitude to cooking. How liberating to be able to declare “We can’t cook”! How delightful to live in a home where an entire evening’s dinner preparation consists of boiling an egg!

After giving my daal a baffling 10 out of 10, DF and SF went on to paint a vivid picture of burning garlic during the daal-cooking process, and then having to eat it for the next three days. “This daal,” said SF, gesturing to the two-day-old masoor daal hastily tempered with zeera, half an onion and the last two curry leaves in the fridge – “is heaven.”

I’m not quite sure how burnt garlic tastes and hand on heart, I could never follow a food regime with boiled eggs anywhere near the menu. Still, it is a tiny price to pay for a stellar CV, a flat to call your own, and the freedom to burn whatever you want without batting an eye when your sister-cum-roommate pulls faces at it.

Steps to becoming a proper woman

Rishta Aunties, of course, would be at pains to correct this scandalous lifestyle. I know this because I am a voracious reader of the Soul Sisters group on Facebook, which is a goldmine if you are interested in real-life accounts of unmarried women who have been cast aside by Rishta Aunties.

A Rishta Auntie is a lady whose raison d’etre is to join a man and a woman together in wedded bliss, whether they like it or not. A Rishta Auntie is a faithful follower of society’s expectation of acceptable womanly behaviour, and the rules are laid in black and white. The correct order of achieving your milestones is as follows: get married (allow five minutes after your final university exams for this), have children (one baby every two years), and start your career afresh after packing the last child off to school. Then google ‘how to revive a dead CV’ and create a LinkedIn account. You’re not going to win that Woman of the Century trophy by just sitting at home peeling potatoes and scrubbing toilets! Being an involved mother and an equal financial contributor is a top requirement of the modern woman. Get to work!

How to find a life partner

But back to Rishta Aunties. An expert at separating the wheat from the chaff, she compiles her list by singling out her candidates using the following criteria for a man:

Age: 25 – 97

Looks spectrum: Brad Pitt – Elephant Man

Job status: Anything at all

For a woman, the requirements are as follows:

Age: 21.5 – 21.75

Looks spectrum: Angelina Jolie 2005 – Angelina Jolie 2006

Job status: A thing that will soon vanish into a puff of smoke

Wearing a blindfold, the Rishta Auntie then selects a name from each list and, with the finesse of a child fitting a square peg in a round hole, she sets about uniting the two. It is tricky for a Rishta Auntie to find the right woman, but the most undesirable of all are the women who have sturdy careers and no financial use for a man – like my dear friends SF and DF. Socially speaking, they are equivalent to escaped convicts or heroin addicts.

What to do if you fail

SF and DF are unperturbed by their embarrassing social ranking, but not everyone else is as emotionally secure. According to Hello!, Emma Watson – who has starred in several blockbusters and is currently studying for a part-time master’s degree in creative writing from Oxford University, actually said the following words: “In the run-up to my 30s, I felt this incredible, sudden anxiety and pressure that I had to be married or have a baby or move into a house.”

Little does Emma know that a Rishta Auntie could have cured the anxiety with a top-quality husband. However, Emma has taken matters into her own hands and now calls herself ‘self-partnered’. “I needed to create a definition for something that I didn’t feel there was a language for,” she explained.”

My friends SF and DF need no such definition. They also have zero intention of finding husbands (not that any self-respecting Rishta Auntie would touch them with a barge pole were they to change their minds). They are content with the careers they have worked hard for and know they can always turn up at the doorstep of friends with a functioning kitchen when they get sick of boiled eggs. So, my dearest Soul Sisters, do not despair when that Rishta Auntie ghosts you. Be like Emma. Be like SF and DF. Or better yet, just be you. Because remember: whatever the Rishta Auntie says, square pegs do not belong in round holes.

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