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Single in the city: A woman's perspective
Shilpa Shet
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March 05, 2008

They're in our offices, our housing societies, at the supermarket -- just about everywhere you look and their numbers are on the rise. We're talking about single women in the city.

More women are choosing to leave their homes for higher education, better job prospects or just to gain some independence. However, while they are certainly living life on their own terms, life is not all fun and games for these ladies.

Household chores, managing finances, overcoming discrimination, safety issues -- these women have a fair bit of challenges on their plate. Here, we speak to some single women on the fun and not-so-fun aspects of living on their own.

Kavitha Menon works with an e-learning company in New Delhi. The 24-year-old left home when she was barely 20. Living the life of a single woman in a foreign city has been very telling and very exciting.

Says Kavitha, "I knew I had to leave my home town (Coimbatore) because there are very few opportunities there. I have always been interested in writing and when this opportunity presented itself I took it up."

Coming from a protected background, the first year was rough. "I didn't have too much cash then since I had just started," remembers Kavitha, "I lived frugally, in very cramped conditions. I skimped on everything. I also could not socialise very often because of this."

So, what other compromises did she make? "I had to live with a roommate (roomie). Our habits didn't match. I had to put up with these differences. Initially it was very frustrating but then I realised that I had to adjust," she adds, "Eventually, I moved out."

The living-alone challenge
Living alone has its own set of problems. Swapna Pikale from Bangalore, who stays alone in her apartment, says, "The typical challenges are cooking for yourself, having to deal with all utility services like plumbing, gas connection, etc, especially, when you are away from your city of origin."

The other, more important aspect is that of safety. Take for example traveling alone at night. Swapna explains, "Sometimes late travels are needed. Our office arranges for a transport most times. However, there are times I have asked some male friend or colleague to drop me home."

Many girls/ women feel that local support is very important in such instances. It's important since the person is new to the city and one doesn't know the dynamics yet. For example, which parts of the city are unsafe at what time of the day?

However, local support is not always possible. Swapna admits she has amazing neighbours. "I am very lucky to have friendly neighbours, who have become my support system," she elaborates, "If the power cut is extended for a long period, I go and be with them rather than be alone in the house. If I have a plumber or electrician coming for repair work, someone from next door will be with me in the house so that I am not alone with a stranger. They help me negotiate money with such help since I am new to the Kannada language. They share homemade food at times and then festivals are again a time to share."

There are some for whom local support is not easy. Kavitha recollects, "My neighbours were all north Indians and it was sometimes difficult to break the ice. Language was a big problem. However, once I learnt to speak Hindi well it was easier."

She feels that the cultural barrier and attitudes are difficult to bridge. "There are many girls from our office who live independently. But very few of us are really comfortable. It is not a city that respects single women living alone and working for a living."

This is probably an attitude that is prevalent in most cities of the country. Swapna adds, "Perceptions (of people) vary. While a lot of people think one is "very bold and brave" to take "such a decision" or "must be a desperate person" to be a single woman. There are some men who want to extend their help with certain ulterior motives. On the whole though, people are very friendly."

Living with roomies
The big advantage of living with a roomie is that you have a companion who can form your support system.

Says Vinita Sharma, a student from Pune, "I live with my roomies in an apartment close to our college. It has been convenient since we share resources and it is also economical."

Vinita and her roomies take turns cooking, cleaning and maintaining the apartment. "That way each of us is conscious of the mess we make," she adds, "I have seen girls who are really messy. But once they start living like this they have to change their ways."

She says if a roomie acts particularly obnoxious, she is politely asked to change her attitude or her location.

The best part though of having roomies is that it is fun. "We have loads of fun. We are truly lucky to have clicked well together," she adds, "We visit places, have fun watching movies, shopping, cooking, and most of the times, chatting."

A changed perspective
Most girls who live alone say that the journey has been sometimes rough, sometimes fun, sometimes exciting. But they all agree that it has been an enriching experience.

Vinita says living alone has been a boon for her. "I come from a very conservative household. It is only for education that I've been sent away from home. So living independently, facing the world on my terms, having fun, studying hard has definitely made me a more mature person," she says with a smile.

So, while we celebrate Women's Day, let's give a round of applause for these single women and the thousands of others like them living alone, battling odds and growing within.

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