I’m walking past the park to the subzi wallah to buy some okhra. I see my neighbour come down the street with her husband, they do this every evening. We are about the same age and we seem to believe in the same things, such as, walking to our destinations wherever possible. I smile at them. They look away. I guess smiling back at a divorced woman will taint their lives.
It’s really very interesting how the act of telling people in India that you are divorced evokes an imperceptible, uncomfortable reaction. In the metros. I’ll come to the small town reaction later. Just to give you a small idea though, my cousins still phone me to ask after my husband’s health (5 years after my divorce) !! I have given up trying to reform them and simply say he is fine, if I take their calls at all. I have no desire to communicate with people, members of my own family, who show themselves to be so insensitive to my situation.
In so-called educated circles the reaction is a little more ambivalent. Poor things. Despite being dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, they profess to have some degree of education and feel they must therefore also claim to be ‘liberal’. So they pretend to take this information in their stride but they don’t quite know how to react.
The kind thing to do would be to be extra sensitive about an event that is as traumatic as a death in the family. Instead of this humanistic compassion there is an underlying feeling that ‘you don’t believe in family values’, and ‘you are a mentally weak person who does not know how to adjust’. There is also downright nastiness. At one get together of people who I considered my friends one woman called out to me, clear across the lawn, “Where is R…” with a smirk. This was a month after we had had a conversation where I had briefed her about the entire situation. At the party I then said, “ Not here” and it’s clear to me that I don’t want her on my list of friends.
There is a world of a difference in the treatment of a 40 something woman who has lost her husband and a 40 something woman who has split from hers. The second one is seen as a tough demon out to grab everything in sight while the first is of course a saint going through hell on earth, a victim of circumstances.
How exactly is there a difference between two women, till now part of a partnership, suddenly alone, one because of divorce and the other because of death? Both have moved from togetherness to singleness, from eating with a family to eating alone, from caring and being cared for to being responsible only for themselves and having to handle everything single-handedly.
And in addition to all this they are scorned by society – one less, the other more.
And the divorced woman definitely takes the cake. The stigma of being ‘divorced’ is so great, that many people carry on in marriages that are pathetic simply to be able to have the ‘married’ tag.
Yeah…it IS that bad.