K. Sudhakar, Karnataka’s Minister of Medical Education and Health, observed World Mental Health Day on October 10 by making this statement at NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences): “A lot of modern women in India – they want to stay single. Even if they get married, they don’t want to give birth. They want surrogacy. So there is a paradigm shift in our thinking, which is not good.”
I agree with the Minister. This paradigm shift is not good. It’s great. It may even be the best thing to have happened to South Asian culture in… Centuries? Millennia? Well, a very long time, for certain.
Last year, I turned 35 – the age at which pregnancies are medically classified as “geriatric”, and data shows a steep drop in reproductive viability. I had decided in my late 20s to some day adopt as a single parent, but still found myself Googling “freeze eggs Chennai” in the middle of some teary nights. Then, tragedy hit my already broken family this year, and as I crawled out of the rubble I found that for the first time in my life I vehemently did not want to be a mother. I did not want to pass on the intergenerational trauma I had inherited, or to take sole responsibility for any life except my own.
I’d been marriage-averse since I was a kid, but parenthood was something I longed for. To lose that longing was my own very surprising and very welcome paradigm shift.
Legend has it that my maternal lineage will end with my generation, due to a curse. Indeed, my cousins, siblings and I are marked failures at marriage or procreation. Who knows what my grandfather’s enemy intended, but I wonder if they imagined this sweet consequence: that at the end of a bloodline is at least one person who has begun to perceive it as a gift.
It’s only been a few months of breathing in this fresh air for me, so I hesitate to make any grand declarations about my change of mind. But I know this much is true, at least for now: I feel free. I feel delicious possibilities stretched out before me: what I can do with my money and my time, how I can date without the pressure of finding a co-parent, how I can centre my life. I feel young, which I factually am, through an unpressured lens. My mental health has improved through this freedom, as have other aspects of my health, holistically speaking.
The weight of oppression within so many marriages and families, bolstered by taboos and a combination of surrounding gaslighting and nonchalance, is hugely detrimental towards the mental health of all those who are trapped within them. K. Sudhakar was right to draw attention to this in his speech, although he had it backwards: those able to choose life outside of those institutions have found a solution. The choice is not only self-compassionate, but also refuses to contribute to suffering in the world through unreflectively entering harmful parental or partner bonds, as far too many do. May our numbers grow, even if (especially if) we don’t reproduce.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on October 16th 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.