What My Stuttering Taught Me About Disabilities and Arranged Marriage


What My Stuttering Taught Me About Disabilities and Arranged Marriage

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

Getting your vision checked isn’t usually accompanied by a prescription for speech therapy and a free counselling session. But looks like I was the chosen one. Last year, I was getting my eyes checked when the doctor noticed I stammer. Worried, like every other Indian who has no sense of boundaries, he doled out some free advice to my mother. He suggested that I consult a good speech therapist because “Beti hai, shaadi karni hai aage jaa kar.” Catching a glimpse of my perplexed expression, he added, “Don’t mind, but in India, even basic issues like stammering cause problems in finding a match.”

I have never thought of my stammer as a disability or any sort of weakness. I grew up receiving the best of education, being surrounded by the most loving friends, and never being treated as “different” by my parents. But ever since I entered the “shaadi ki umar ho gaye hai” phase, everyone around me has suddenly turned overtly concerned and sympathetic, making feel like I am “not normal”. 

It all started last year when an aunt’s friend stumbled upon my Facebook profile and found me eligible for her son. I’m not sure what caught her attention — my face or my work profile, but the woman was persistent. After some convincing, I agreed to chat with the guy; my number was forwarded to him. But I never heard from him. I thought he probably was a little reluctant to cold call a stranger. Or maybe I didn’t match his expectations of what he wanted from his spouse. Whatever be the reason, I didn’t think much of it at first.

But it was only days later that I learnt that the boy and his family, refused to take the “rishta” forward after they found out about my stuttering. Fortunately or not, my Facebook profile only has a decent-looking picture of me and an elaborate work profile; it makes no mention of a stammer. What left me unnerved was that without any communication with me, without knowing the magnitude of my stammer or how it affected my speech, I was deemed as someone not worth marrying. This was the first time someone had thought of my stutter as an imperfection.   

I am often counselled on how to compensate for the stutter. Some say I should improve my cooking skills to impress the parents of the prospect.

The doctor, as I now realise, was probably prophetic. Arranged marriage comes with its own set of prejudices. Even in today’s India, women are the ones who are expected to be “flawless” and make comprises when it comes to marriage. This only becomes worse for women who are not what society perceives as “perfect”. 

Overnight, my stuttering was branded as a “disability”. The suggestions that come from relatives are mostly coated in pity, as I am reminded about my inarticulate speech. I am told time and again that I will have to compromise when choosing a partner. I will have to marry someone who is less qualified than me, otherwise, in the words of a maternal relative, “the guy will always have an upper hand over you”. 

I am often counselled on how to compensate for the stutter. Some say I should improve my cooking skills to impress the parents of the prospect. Others say that I should get better at household chores. Now I often ponder if  people would notice my disinterest in cooking or my career ambitions if I had an impeccable speech. 

A romantic at heart, I’ve grown up believing that the basic premise of a marriage should be love. But the arrange marriage ecosystem has rules of its own – you are screened by the suitor and his family, interrogated, often asked questions that lack insensitivity, and this can be demoralising. This has led me to wonder, that if not for a love marriage, will I have to die single? Or will have to settle for someone whom I am not attracted to? But I’m not going to let this pressure to get the better off me. 

A romantic at heart, I’ve grown up believing that the basic premise of a marriage should be love.

On days that I get bogged down with the sudden attention that my stutter is receiving, I think of Laila from Margarita With a Straw. She has cerebral palsy, but like any other girl in her 20s, craves intimacy, discovers her bisexuality, falls in love, dates, watches porn and even masturbates on her wheelchair — all of that without a shred of self-pity. The movie is uplifting, and views Laila as just another one of us. And that’s how I hope society views me and those like me.  

Because sometimes life can be as rosy as the movies. A heart-warming story from Kolkata is proof that love can transcend shallow first impressions. Forty-eight-year-old Jeeja Ghosh, who was born with cerebral palsy and holds a double master’s degree from the University of Delhi and the University of Leeds, was often reminded that marriage was not something that was made for her. In 2013, Ghosh married Bappaditya Nag, a completely able co-worker, was quoted as saying by the Times of India, “I fell in love with her naughtiness, her humour. She is also my mental strength and support.”

Ghosh’s love story gives me hope. Today, I wait patiently until I find someone who listens to me and is not distracted by my stutter, someone who eventually gets so used to the stammering that he doesn’t even notice it. Or to put it in a more hopelessly romantic way, I will wait until I can say “I love you K-K-Kiran”… but just not in a creepy way.