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Being a woman. Being single. Being Indian.

Personal image. Shot in Hong Kong.

“So how was your trip to Singapore?”, asked the attending nurse to me as she prepared to administer the weekly round of chemo to my Dad. “It went well actually. I managed to finish the work and meet some friends too,” I replied. “Oh, wait. So you went alone all the way to Singapore?!,” she remarked. “Umm, yes. Haha,” I replied. “Really? All alone?” “Yes. I lived there for two years. It’s not a big deal.” The nurse turned to my Dad and said, “You have a son in the form of a daughter.”

This is definitely not the the first time I’ve heard that line. In the past few years, countless people have told this to my parents, quite distinctly as a compliment. Dad’s aunts, Mum’s cousins, the friends, etc. Each time, every time, they compensate my parents for not having an elder son. “It’s okay. Mariyam is following her duties just as a son would!” Remember all, this is 2018.

I list below some of the sexist gems that I’ve heard while being home with Dad.

One aunt in the family, was too astounded to hear me describe the details about Dad’s disease and treatment point by point, and exclaimed, “Oh! she seems quite knowledgable.” Yes Auntie, my father is suffering from an illness, not a distant neighbour, in case you didn’t notice.

Another “concerned” friend to my mother, “So, what is Mariyam doing home these days?” “She has taken a break for a while and is looking after her father,” my mother replied. “That’s good. But you should now look for getting her settled. What will she do sitting at home?” the friend’s advice. The answer that I’m tending to my father and spending time with him, doesn’t meet her expectations.

“So, Mrs. Haider, when are we hearing wedding bells for your daughter?Especially in such a crisis, it is best to get your daughter a husband’s home,” another saintly advice from my parents’ friend. Yes, of course. At a time when my father needs me the most, I should invest myself into getting married, take on marital responsibilities, and be forced to live away. And oh yes, find a husband’s home, rather my own.

“What do you plan to do next?” someone asks me. “I’m planning to take up a job and continue with my writing.” “Oh, nice. But you should also look at getting married soon. Your parents will be comforted that you are sorted, and you will be happy too. We’ll find you a husband who lets you work.” Ahh! Because even at the age of 27, I need permission from my partner to work. And obviously, you know what makes me happy, without having even asked me.

“What is she doing home, sitting idle these days? Why doesn’t she find a job in Delhi or Mumbai?” Well because I don’t want to. And because I am happy being home.

“If she doesn’t get married now, all the good guys will be gone. She won’t have much choice. Especially, when things at your home are rough.” Exactly. I should hurry up because there are guys in incessant rush to get hooked and my father’s illness is what they’ll take advantage of and I’ll agree to their demands. My career, my life choices do not matter in front of the ‘good’ guys.

All these remarks do sound easy to tackle with, but when said to you in your most vulnerable states, they bite right through your rationality. You are suddenly attacked without warning. And you are left with nothing but glaring, imploding silence or perhaps weak responses. Some of these statements have left me dumbfounded and crippled my tongue at some instances.

Crises teach us a lot. They test our patience, our perseverance limits, and our strength. They also question our principles, our values and ethics with which we have lived so far. But most importantly, they make us recalibrate our persistence to find an identity, to recognise what we really care about, and prioritise accordingly.

These instances have helped me recognise the people who genuinely want to understand me, helped me value my own opinion, and above all, develop a deeper understanding of what I really want and who I really am. Nothing gives you a deeper sense of yourself than a difficult period. What you choose to do in a tough phase exposes your innate fears, insecurities and sometimes hands you the courage to face them.

So, today, as I begin a new journey in a new country, I look back at those voices and know they will not shut down. There will always be people who will not like my actions and deter me from taking the course that I desire. Because they have not made the effort to know me. They have simply lensed me through their own versions of living life.

But guess what, I’m not living life their life. I’m leading mine. And even if I fall tomorrow, it will be me supporting my actions, and not my dad’s sister’s mother in law’s brother. So, to all those Uncles and Aunts out there, you can keep coming up with your best ideas about what makes my life worth living, I’ll be busy testing out mine.

Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love.

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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