Warning: For all the women who consider mangalsutra very close to their hearts, as a must-wear tradition, as a cannot-dare-to-be without, this post could be shocking. Scroll down at your own risk.
I love to exist with a free neck. Wearing something constantly on the neck feels like a tied dog.
For college studies, for the first time, I moved to one of the smaller towns from my birth city.
“Sheesh! Did you forget to wear your chain? Your neck looks bare.”
I’ve heard someone or the other exclaiming this statement, almost every other day. In fact, it became a matter of being looked down upon, for it indirectly indicated my financial status. If you don’t wear a chain, at least an artificial one, it means, you can’t afford one.
“Bare?” “Poor?” It felt as silly as irritating it was. In spite of the conflicting opinions, I was matured not to get into arguments but neither did I change ‘my’ tradition.
Note: Was any of my male class mates ever looked down for being ‘bare’? No, they weren’t even noticed!
A few years down, a relative or a known acquaintance would comment, “How will anybody consider you to get married if you remain without wearing something around your neck?” It’s a hard truth, but yes, a girl cannot appear presentable to the potential grooms and their families, unless she agrees to hoard a necklace on the ‘day of presentation’.
Does a potential groom have to sign such agreements? Not required!
The wedding! No, I didn’t decide to be bare-necked on my wedding. However, I couldn’t see myself as a jewellery brand model either. The few hours of being a bride is an experience of it’s kind, which one cannot relate to unless if been one. A bride is a judgement factor of her father’s wealth. She is a display of how well her father has done financially, all his life. In spite of her father’s monetary achievements, if she fails to do the right ‘display’, her mother should take the blame for not bringing her daughter rightly.
Can I not, instead display the minimalist in me? Can I not let my father’s life history take a back seat and instead show off the woman I want to be? Can I not take the blame on my individuality instead of dumping it on my mother, who has actually grew me up to a sensible woman capable of taking independent decisions? Yes, I can and I did! I decided what I had to wear. Of all the big outings and occasions I had to dress up for, my wedding was the day I felt the most confident. And you know the reason; I wore what I felt comfortable wearing.
Did you even think if the man who sat next to me was eyed for what he wore? How could he be? And he didn’t have to make a choice about it either because it was his birthright.
I thought all is well that ends well, when after all, it was the beginning and not the end. How can a married Hindu woman ever remain without her neck being labelled with the mangalsutra (‘thaali’)?! My in-laws were very generous. They selected an heavy gold chain + a 3D mangalsutra + around 20 different additional pendants. That equaled to almost 7 sovereigns of gold! Note that they had the choice to select what I had to wear, every single day, for the rest of my life! And what choice did the person who was destined to wear, have? Nothing!
Do men have any such signature possession to display their married status? Why is the tradition so partial towards men? If tradition took care that married women shouldn’t attract other men, why does it leave married men astray?
I respect the culture. I respect the tradition. I respect the vedic rituals that have gone in, by a learned priest, to make it a sacred treasure. I understand that mangalsutra gives a status and statement to married women. But I simply couldn’t imagine sleeping, walking, and just ‘being’ with a load of gold on my neck.
What could I do with this forced life-long accompaniment?
Should I nod to the customs, accept it as a burden and change my appearance for the sake of social concerns? Or break the norms, get labelled as a rebel and remain my real self? I could understand that my in-laws had great respect for the tradition. I have no problem in that. And I knew they wouldn’t in turn understand the conflict of beliefs I was going through within. Even if I try to explain it to them, they will try their best to convince me on the name of tradition.
In the early married days, I did carry the heavy baggage. In fact, once a relative commented, “You are a new bride. You shouldn’t remain with the mangalsutra chain alone. Your neck looks empty. You must at least wear another small chain.”
7 sovereigns looks empty?
It was only a matter of days. I had to wear T-shirts. I had to wear kurtas. And H was the first person to ridicule the ‘combination’. So you know what I had to do!
I began to work. Now I could find a reason to explain to my in-laws. ‘It is not safe in a metro’. Thus, I brought the 7 sovereigns to 3, with smaller attachments. With pregnancy and child birth, I had to remove it on and off. When my son grew up to the playing age, I found another reason. ‘The 3D structure hurts him often’. Since then, I could decide when I wanted to wear it. Of course, I make sure to give its due respect during traditional occasions. But I am relieved that my mangalsutra is no longer a burden to me. I wouldn’t have respected this possession as much while keeping it away as dragging it on my neck. I found this more important than others respecting me for the traditions I am able to carry.
During times of worry, especially when H is out to explore a dangerous trek, I unknowingly pray to my mangalsutra, even though it might lie safe in the locker. We don’t always carry a copy of all our favourite Gods with us, do we? Thus said, I am not against the tradition. But I don’t feel right about people and society who judge me based on how I appear to them. I don’t feel right about their judgement about me as an uncultured Hindu wife based on the absence of a physical evidence. If I don’t wear my mangalsutra, it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t value it. It simply means it wasn’t designed in the right way to suit the life of today’s women. The faith, the trust and the life-long bond it promises between the couple, are deep in my heart, regardless of whether I wear it or not.
Which sounds right? Curse it and wear it as a burden? Or keep it away and regard it as sacred? I know I did the right thing!
However, in the beginning, if I would have raised my tone with my in-laws regarding this, it would have made everything – a whole lot with the marriage – sour. As a new bride, I was expected to behave a certain way. I did. With time, they could see me beyond what my jewellery and ‘my’ traditions dictated about me. They could accept me for what I liked to do even if it didn’t convince them. If relatives were coming home or if we had to go for a family visit, my mother-in-law would secretly whisper into my ears to wear the mangalsutra. That says the ‘space’ I found in my marital connections. Today, I can write this post for public reading and can tag my in-laws in social media because I know it will no longer be a concern between us. I am thankful to H and my in-laws for not making ‘my choice’ a problem in their lives.