Armed with an undergraduate degree in engineering, an MBA from IIM-Calcutta and the unstinted support of her tiger mom, Malini Parmar spent her 20s and early 30s climbing the “greasy corporate ladder”, as she calls it. Eighteen-hour workdays and travel four days a week were all par for the course at the IT major she worked in, compensated for by a salary that allowed her to spend on whatever she wanted, whether i t was parties or a holiday to Peru. When she hit her mid-30s, she decided she was ready to start a family — to adopt. She did not let prejudices against adoption stand in the way. Nor the fact that she was not married.
“I knew, even when I was 26, that adoption was how I wanted to build a family though I had no thoughts about marriage then,” says Parmar, at the office of Stonesoup, the waste management startup in Bengaluru she founded after quitting her lucrative job in IT. The 45-year-old is now a single mother of two girls she adopted from Odisha, who tell her “she is the best”. Parmar says she has always been dating and continues to do so, but when a proposal crops up, she weighs whether she would be happier single or married. “And the answer is always single,” she says.
In Delhi, 29-year-old Kanika Tekriwal, too, is hard at work smashing multiple stereotypes. Her Marwari family expected Tekriwal to follow convention by getting married and having children. But they had not reckoned with the ambitions of Tekriwal who, at the age of 16, was using the business acumen usually associated with her community to launch her own aviation enterprise. “With a 20-hour workday, I don’t have the time or inclination for a relationship,” says the founder of Jetsetgo, India’s largest private plane charter platform with 24 aircraft exclusively on its platform and access o another 80 from various sources.
In a country obsessed with marriage, the single woman had long been considered an anomaly. If she was below a certain age, the family’s collective energies would be devoted to getting her married. If she was older, a divorcee or a widow, she would be slighted, particularly during religious ceremonies where she would be considered inauspicious. “People tend to consider single women as incomplete or of dubious character,” says Binita Parikh, a 44-year-old communications professional based in Ahmedabad, who is currently working on a book on single (or independent, as she calls) working women in cities.But this is 2018, and there is an increasing cohort of single, working women in our cities, who are unwilling to let their lives be dictated by norms set generations ago and have been liberated by the salaries they earn. Data illustrates the rise of the single Indian woman. In 2001, there were 51.2 million single women in the country. By 2011, this had leapt to 71.4 million, according to census figures. A Newsweek cover story back in the 1970s spoke of being single in the US: “…singlehood has emerged as an intensely ritualised — and newly respectable — style of American life. It is finally becoming possible to be both single and whole.” While that might take a while in India, the foundation is being laid.