Velai Illa Pattadhari* (F)

* – unemployed graduate (female)

While watching Velai Illa Pattadhari, I found myself relating to the hero, who was an engineer, and unemployed. When I saw him do odd jobs around the house and watching too much TV, I warmed up to him, reminded more than I needed to be, of the way I spent almost a year cooking for room mates and going grocery shopping and watching every American TV show (from House of Cards to Gossip Girls), not to mention Tamil movies from 1977 to 2013. What I remember most, is the overwhelming urge to make myself feel and be seen as useful. And therefore I helped other graduate school students with their homework, and went about my travel agent duties (such as helping others discover cheap flight tickets). Small successes like meeting someone else’s deadlines do wonders for your self esteem, and I also came to realise I immensely enjoyed travel agent work. (!!?) 

Of course the movie was predictable and in that sense enjoyable – the unemployed finally become employed, the victory of the underdog, the shirtless fight sequence leading up to aforementioned victory, a supportive partner to help the hero tide through life’s obstacles, etc. It got me thinking: what about a motivational movie for female unemployed graduates? Oh that’s right, this is not a demographic to be considered. Presenting to you the one line directed at me more often than I care to count: onakku enna, yaarukkavadhu kalyanam panni kuduthuruvanga, avan kandippa neraya sambadhippaan, appram onakku velai kedacha enna, kedaikkalana enna. (How does it matter to you, you are anyway going to get married to someone who earns a lot, why do you bother so much about remaining unemployed?) 

There are several attacks in that exasperated question thrown at me:

  • In spite of being an educated woman, I am not expected to support myself. 
  • My parents are anxious to find me a groom, preferably taller than me, more qualified than me, more educated than me; and then I can decide along with him what avenues to pursue (this time paraphrasing what elders in the family have repeatedly been telling me). As a bonus level – the topic of pursuing one’s own partner will be pursued separately. 
  • No matter how hard I work, how much I study, I’m still going to be measured against that unfair yardstick of how well I married.
  • Nobody is particularly worried about my lack of employment or my possible lack of employable skills, except from the point of view of the distress it seems to cause me. My parents are genuinely puzzled that I tried so hard: they mean well when they tell me with concern, why do you trouble yourself so? I can take care of you, I am able to do that. Once you get married, your husband can take care of you. Hmm. So what does that make me? (Answer: moveable asset?)
  • The assumption that all that I may have done up until this point is not very significant: It rankles a bit, this discounting of one’s trials, and to be reminded that in the end it doesn’t matter if I studied home science or engineering, as long as I perform extra curricular duties as per expectation. 

It is often seen as unrealistic, impractical and odd to have ambition or to want to achieve something for myself. ‘I don’t understand where you get these ideas from. Studying abroad has made you strange.’

Sometimes, I lose focus, I can’t recall what I’m fighting for, whether I want to prove my ability to myself or those around me. Some days, I question if it is worthwhile to do so. 

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