“What's for dinner tonight my friend", asked Momen. "What do you think? Bhorta, daal and deem bhaaji of course", answered Rubel. It is almost 11 at night. Like all the other night Rubel is preparing their staple food bhorta-bhaat at this hour. Rubel and Momen are friends from the university. After completing MSS from DU they've managed to rent a little room in the attic of a five-storey building.
Life is fun for these two single friends most of the time. It is like having a picnic every day. No strings attached, no one to give sermons or assert decrees on certain habits. Jumbled up personal belongings adorn the little room. Bed on the floor, no sofa for guests to loosen up on, no curtains hanging on the window, and books piled up right beside the bed. Kitchen is full of utensils in disarray. Plates are still in the sink, full of leftovers from the other night.
As for females living on their own, life might occasionally be divergent from their male counterparts but not always entirely dissimilar. Somewhere else in Dhaka Kanta and Shormi are preparing their bed. They have just finished their grand feast with almost the same dishes in the menu. They live in a sublet room almost as the same size as Rubel or Morshed's. Although not too common in our society, there are single females in this city living on their own. Their living quarters would be a little tidier and their life would be a little more regular. Nevertheless, it is more or less the same.
This is the general exposé of the living arrangement of single persons residing on their own. Life of a single male or female, is it as smooth as we have just portrayed? That's what we are here to find out.
Momen, living in an apartment adjacent to the PG hospital, tells us it is not always that simple. The first problem is encountered when approached for rentals. "Most landlords do not want single males as tenants, considering them as disturbance." If anyone does consent to let in a single person, they place a certain set of rules. You might not be allowed to go to the roof, look out the window too often, or if you are late at night then you are not getting in that night. Sudden evacuation notice by the landlord is another problem. It comes like a blow if you are single, but in the case of a family it is handled in a courteous manner.
For some people living alone is like a non-stop party. Adda for hours with music turned up at a high volume. However, sometimes other tenants complain about the noise. Female friends are sometimes barred from visiting. Special sanctions about this particular issue are imposed.
Apart from these little problems, it is quite all right. If there is domestic help to take care of the household things then it is the life of a blessed man. No one is going to enquire about when you are coming home. If you manage to build a comfortable relationship with the owner of the house it is even better. "I stay out as long as I want. Sometimes I even stay at my friend's house at night" tells Rubel. "Although bhorta, daal or khichuri can be boring sometimes, I still like my single life", he added. Breakfast at noon is a common practice among these young lads and tea is consumed in greater quantities than water.
This isn't always the case for single females. Kanta and Shormi may enjoy freedom to some extent but their experience is more bitter as compared to what Rubel and Morshed experience. Both of them were forced to look for an apartment after their Masters exam. They had no close relatives in Dhaka. After getting non-resident status from the DU hostel, they applied for seats in the Govt Kormojibi Mohila Hostel at Nilkhet. It took them six months to become residents there. During this period they experienced tougher consequences when looking for flats. First question they had to answer to the landlord is "Why do you girls want to live alone?" Then follows, "Where are your parents, and how are you going to pay if there are no guardians?" Refusal from the owner is very frequent, which is why females have to wander around longer while searching for flats.
Neighbours keep an eye on them always. Other tenants regularly interfere in their personal affairs without trying to know the actual reason as to why these girls are living on their own. Instead of helping, every move is questioned. Misapprehensions always exist about them. One of our interviewees, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells us how she suffered while living in her Shukrabad flat. "At night, I felt really insecure. One night some guy was trying to peep through the window." She also complained about the regular misconduct meted out towards her by the shopkeeper of the little neighbourhood store, just because she is living a different life. "Romeos of my locality always showed extra interest about me and my friend. It is really scary," she added with displeasure. Wasn't there anything to love about the single life, we asked. She answered with a sign of contentment on her face, "I enjoyed the carefree life that I had".
However life isn't that carefree for some people. For divorced females the torment is three times greater than others. Bidisha Choudhury (not her real name) got divorced with two kids when she was 28. She had a boutique shop and earned enough to raise her two children. When she approached to rent a house she was refused in a very offensive manner. She experienced this insult several times. Then she decided to conceal the fact and succeeded in getting in a Shantinagar building. Eventually other tenants guessed the fact that she was divorced. The situation turned in to a nightmare for the young woman. "My kids became socially disabled. Everyone looked at them in a peculiar way. It was like living under a microscope." Women like Bidisha usually become the subject of gossip in our society. "My landlord occasionally knocked at my door when he was drunk." narrated Bidisha with disgust.
This is the phenomenon generally prevailing among the middle class of our society. The idea of females living alone is still not approved of. Single males enjoy certain privileges from the male-dominant social order, although in some cases they are equally distressed. However, with a little more monetary solvency, these problems tend to go away.
Aside from all the maltreatment, the amount of freedom they enjoy is impossible to imagine while living with parents or relatives. One piece of information was shared by all our interviewees that is, if you live alone you are your own master. The life of single individuals may be considered bizarre in our ethos but they are more and more escalating. People like Kanta, Shormi, Rubel and Momen are accepting the challenge even if it means bhorta-bhaat everyday.
By Shahnaz Parveen
F R E E D O M files!
You are your own boss. There is no mummy, daddy or husband or wife to tell you what to do or how to do it. Your home is your own turf, and you can keep it the way you want to, neat as a ninepin, or as sloppy as a sty, and you don't have to answer to anyone for it. You can maintain your own timetable, no matter how crazy the hours are. Sounds too good to be true? There are people who actually lead such lives. Rare they may be, but their numbers are on the rise. In a society where marriage is viewed as a necessary and inescapable rite of passage, these are the mavericks who dared to strike out on their own. Was it easy? Was it worth it? We asked a few of the 'Singletons' (as Bridget Jones so aptly calls them), and here are a few of their stories:
Moushumi, 45, who is divorced and lives on her own says that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The main advantage, she says, can be summed up in one word: "freedom". There are also no differences of opinions, arguments and fights.
However, there is an "insecurity" which haunts you always. During illness it feels worse when there is nobody around. Though she can drive, a "flat tire" at night would frighten her as our roads are not safe for women. There are also times, she says, when you need advice to make an important decision. Household problems, such as a guard stealing also are better dealt with when there is a man around. There are deeper issues. Married women feel threatened by them and feel that single women are always out to get their husbands.
Yasmeen, divorced, and a mother, however, would definitely disagree. "I'll admit that our society doesn't react very kindly to women who choose to live alone, but if you're fortunate enough to be financially independent, then you don't have to be accountable to anyone else." She holds a well-paying, respectable job, has her own apartment, and shares custody of her young child. "I think our society needs to be a bit more open-minded. Even then, if you choose your friends carefully, and associate with people who are educated enough to be free of social superstition and narrow-mindedness, a single woman would be lauded for taking charge of her life" she tells us. Life isn't all roses, though. "It's very hard, juggling a full-time career and household responsibilities without having someone to share it with. I do everything myself. It's a lot of hard work, and I occasionally get very frustrated," she admits. "Yet, at the end of the day, I know that it's my life, and I can lead it any way I want to, and that's the best feeling. If you have the means, and the will to go through with it, I'd say it's the best thing a woman can do."
This single life is probably a bit easier for guys. Javed (27) who lives alone and is not yet married says that 'single-hood' has its good sides. On weekends he can wake up whenever he wants to and skip shaving. He can also choose not to tidy his bed and keep the moshari half hung at all times. However, he misses home cooked khichuri on cloudy days and sometimes wonders what he will do with all this freedom.
Farhad, 27, is single and he says that being single is not giving him much freedom as he is living with his parents. About the advantages of being single, he says that it is saving him a lot of money! As for the disadvantages he says that he feels the disadvantages only in parties where everyone is with their spouses. He says that in Dhaka all girls above a certain age are either engaged or married or have boyfriends and therefore the only girls available for meeting and dating are young teenagers and hence it is quite difficult to find a suitable girl.
Neelum, 26, who is single wants to live on her own as she feels that it would give her a lot of independence. She says that in our society, parents interfere even when their children are adults and earning for themselves.
Tanveer, 27, says that single life does not make him feel lonely. He says that if one is satisfied with himself then single hood is unlikely to cause loneliness.
By Sabrina F Ahmad and Malina Islam Halim
| Issues | The Daily Star Home|
© 2003 The Daily Star