What’s age, other than just a number?
“Kuri tei buri” (old by the age of twenty), is a phrase that most women grew up hearing, especially millennials. Not sure if people say it anymore. A phrase that has its historic roots in the time when people in general had a lower life expectancy rate. Most people did not live beyond the age of 40. So, I guess it made sense at that point in time and age, to say that women are old by the age of twenty having the underlying connotation of reaching their expiry date. Therefore, women needed to wrap up their life’s goal of getting married, bearing, and raising children by the age of 20. I mean look at those beautiful black and white photos from the old archive, where women our age had wrinkled skin, wrapped in white saris, mostly without blouses, and loads of traditional pieces of jewelry sitting with their twice-the-age husbands and a bunch of children of different sizes.
“Kuri tei buri” (old by the age of twenty)...a phrase that has its historic roots in the time when people in general had a lower life expectancy rate. Therefore, women needed to wrap up their life’s goal of getting married, bearing, and raising children by the age of 20. Yet somehow, this phrase is still associated with women these days, where women are thought to believe having an expiry age specifically because of their reproduction age.
Yet somehow, this phrase is still associated with women these days, where women are thought to believe having an expiry age specifically because of their reproduction age. The time has changed. A lot has changed for the better. But women still have to fight outside and inside to decide on their life choices. If one wishes to study further, have a career, or just travel the world before getting settled i.e., getting married and having children, they still consciously or subconsciously take into consideration their biological clock. Am I crossing 30? Or 35? If I wish to have children, I might have a complicated pregnancy or none at all. And those who dare to not have children, whatever the reason may be, are ostracized by everyone irrespective of gender. As if you are leaving this world behind without fulfilling your only duty to continue the human race.
And here I am, a 39-year-old woman, who ticked all the checkboxes as a “woman” by the “standard time limit” set by misogynistic science and society, you might assume that I am free from all of this crap. Well, not quite so. I dared to choose myself over my duty as a daughter, wife, and mother too many times now. Did I feel guilty? No. But society tried and still tries to make me feel guilty every second. Did I win? No. How so- that is a completely different story that I might share some other day. Getting back to why I brought up my age here is that I just moved to a new country, almost 17 hours flight time away from Dhaka to get my second Masters.
My classmates, who are mostly within the age group of 21-26, were surprised to know my age, but not shocked. Their surprise was mostly around the fact that I don’t look my age, which is nice to hear. I mean my shit load of money spent on skincare products after all did pay me off. More interestingly, none of them ever bothered to ask if I am married or have children! On the contrary, in a different class, I met this deshi woman, who heard my name and came up to me asking if I am from Bangladesh. I replied, “yes”. She then asked, “from which part?” I said “Dhaka”. She said she is originally from there as well but is now a British citizen. And guess what was her next question? “Are you married?” I will not divulge the rest of the conversation, but I just want to let you all know that I never crossed paths with that woman after that first meeting.
Now you see, no matter which nationality you hold, which place you live, which environment you are in - if you have been raised in or breathed the Bangladeshi air in your life, you are conditioned in a certain way where desher bari (hometown) and marital status matter the most.
Now you see, no matter which nationality you hold, which place you live, which environment you are in - if you have been raised in or breathed the Bangladeshi air in your life, you are conditioned in a certain way where desher bari (hometown) and marital status matter the most. If you are a woman, these will be followed by “bhai ki kore, baccha kon class e pore” (what does your husband do? Which class is your child in?) and how could you leave them behind, don’t you feel sad? I have never in my life heard anyone asking a man the same way. It would often be a polite version of “bou-bacha ke niben naki rekhe jaben?” and not a single reference to make them feel sad or bad for leaving them behind.
The first time I decided to study abroad was in 2017. When I announced to my family that I got the offer letter, I encountered a wide range of expressions from them. My partner had a straight face and my mother asked if my partner approved of it. And my friends! Oh, they wished me all the best with a ‘but’. Interestingly, things didn't work out that year, so I put my plan aside and moved on with my life. This year, I applied to the same university, got the offer, and applied for the visa the very next day. I did one great thing; I did not announce it to the world or my dear family right away. You see by now; I have learned my lessons so many times. I know how to keep myself away from all the negativity. It’s been years, and I have become the Marie Kondo of my relationships. If one does not spark joy in my life, I kindly give them away to those where they do.
On September 16, 2021, I flew out from Dhaka with my two large bags, my gadgets, shoes, and bags. Before the flight, I checked in from Dhaka airport as I was unable to contain my excitement anymore. My inbox got flooded. I received a few phone calls as well. Most people wish me all the best. These are good people, who mean well. Yet, not one person missed asking if I was moving with my family or just my son. I said- none. Most in a polite way asked if I was sad to leave my son for a year. Others were like- how did your partner or in-laws take your decision? I do not blame them. These are our social conditioning talking. Some, however, just want to know how I manage to do whatever I want, and where my willpower comes from. But I cannot help feeling agitated that my happy moments always get overshadowed by the constant reminders of doing something “unnatural” to a woman with a hint of “you’re emotionless” or “very ambitious”. Mind you, when ambition is associated with a woman, it’s always a negative word.
I never experienced campus life. I completed my honors and master's on the go. There were so many things to consider- money, married life with duties and rules, and lastly, a job. I studied in a very good college followed by a master's from a private university. These were all blocks of buildings; and no time to enjoy student life. The first day I entered the large lecture room here at the University of Sussex, I felt tears rolling down my eyes. I have no words to describe those mixed feelings swirling inside my stomach like a bad bowel movement pushing upwards through my eyes and nose in the form of salty water. Those who got these opportunities without fighting and waiting for it would never understand why I cried.
This university may not rank the highest in so many ways, but its large, green, lush, infrastructurally beautiful, and fully equipped campus is enough to make one’s student life memorable. I might have spent my life’s savings on this master’s course, but I have no regrets whatsoever. Is it too late to pursue my studies? No. There is no age limit for that. We have one life to live, one uncertain life- full of challenges and opportunities. What I planned in my early thirties has come to fruition in my late thirties. This is only because I needed this time to pursue my dreams on my own terms. Am I a genius? No, I am persistent. I dare not give up no matter what society or reality tells me. Do I feel sad? Yes, sometimes I do. Looking around the younger generation, I feel sad that I have never had these opportunities or a support system in my younger days. The years that have gone by, cannot be readjusted, but I do have control over my present. Hence, I am trying to make the best of it. Learning from my past, I want to leave behind a well-trodden path for my son, my niece, and the next generation of my family to look up to someone coming from the same background who never feared to fly high. Growing up, I had no role models and no guidance, but I had books and well-traveled life experiences to widen my vision. I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did know that I had to get out of my comfort zone to explore my potential. At the age of 39, I still have not figured out what I want in life, but now I am at a stage where I have come to peace with myself. It’s okay to not have figured out everything. It’s okay to not have a plan for the next five years. A firm believer in carpe diem theory, I live in the present, seizing the day, and enjoying it. Who knows if I live to make it to tomorrow let alone reach my five-year plan.
There is no shame in living your life. There is no age limit either. Choosing yourself over your family commitments does not mean you are ignoring it.
My fellow women, I come from no place of privilege, whatever I am today, is the result of my own deeds. I am no exemplary person who can lead you either. But if you have dreams, don’t give up. If you have regrets, make that your inspiration. There is no shame in living your life. There is no age limit either. Choosing yourself over your family commitments does not mean you are ignoring it. It’s the same as prioritizing your work to-do list. Some need immediate attention, some can be done in the next few weeks and some next year. You cannot give your best in any relationship if you have not given yourself enough care and love.
You cannot give your best in any relationship if you have not given yourself enough care and love.
As I sit and write this from my own little room, occasionally looking at the green landscape outside my window, I feel calm. I know when I return, I will no longer keep blaming anyone for my missed opportunity. And this matters, because I matter.