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The Spinster's Yarn

by Jagari Mukherjee
(Kolkata, West Bengal, India)

A couple of months ago, I had to fill a form that included check boxes for selecting, among other things, one’s marital status. I was surprised to realize that instead of words like “Single” or “Unmarried”, the form had two choices: “Bachelor” and “Spinster.”

I stared in disbelief at my computer screen. SPINSTER? Who uses a word like that in the twenty-first century? The word originated as unmarried women (who did not have husbands to support them) often had to make a living as the village dressmakers. They worked on spinning wheels, designing frocks and wedding dresses for the other ‘lucky’ girls.

I was no stranger to the word. Every literature student knows that some of the world’s greatest love stories were penned by ‘spinsters’ like Emily Bronte and Jane Austen. Emily’s older sister, Charlotte, spun her passionate yarns while she was still unmarried. After her marriage, she gave up writing novels in order to focus on her duties as a reverend’s wife. I ponder: could a married woman have created unforgettable heroes such as Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, or Fitzwilliam Darcy?

Once upon a time, when I was in college, around seven of us single girls got together and organized what we called a ‘Spinsters’ Party.’ The occasion was Valentine’s Day. We were in dire need to cheer ourselves up. Everywhere we turned, we saw ads for events that came with the motto ‘Only Couples Allowed.’ Our college campus was abuzz with lucky classmates discussing what to gift their beloveds. We took revenge against it all by keeping the motto of our party ‘Couples Not Allowed.’ We wanted to prove to ourselves that even nineteen-year-old spinsters like us can have fun on Valentine’s Day. I got a new hairstyle, donned a shiny orange top, and drowned gallons of Sprite as the other girls sipped lemon-flavored gin and smoked. At night, we lit the night bulbs in the bedrooms and danced. I remember that day as one of my best Valentine’s Days.

Today, a ‘spinster’ has options than her fellow-sisters in the preceding centuries did not have. They baked breads and cakes, sew dresses, or worked as governesses. In today’s world, they go to work, go for higher education, go shopping and traveling. A husband is no longer seen as a meal-ticket, or even as the ultimate prize.

And so, every morning, I resurface at my office and let my fingers spin yarns on my laptop.

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