Today my parents completed 30 years of being together (32 if you count the two years of courtship) and to be very honest, it completely astounds me how they have managed to be together. Papa likes watching National Geographic, English movies and calls Hindi soap operas rona-dhona (weepies); Mamma watches soaps and loves Hindi movies. He was the most charming bachelor (think he was a player, never dared to ask so far, will do though!), a very good singer-dancer and an excellent public speaker. She was a beautiful girl, insecure, no talent for singing or dancing and a complete introvert. He had traveled a fair bit, had a sense of style, loved books and his English and had a sense of ‘class’. She had never been anywhere except her maternal home and Jabalpur, adored Rajesh Khanna, read only Denise Robins and Mills & Boon and spoke passable English.
They met at her grandma’s place, where he had come to visit another relative, slipped on a wet floor, she had laughed and he had been smitten. Despite their obvious differences, she refused to let anyone insult him – his family was known for their temper and he was short (5 feet 5”) – and he overruled his mother and refused to take any gifts from anyone. His mom wanted a carpet, a vehicle and what not, he refused to “accept” his bride in anything but “the sari she has on her body.” And that’s how he got her home. She got her Prince Charming but there was no kingdom. There was a baby on their first anniversary and at the meager salary Army officers got back then, they had to sell off whatever little jewellery she had. From having the most exotic and latest collection of colognes, the latest chart busters and a weakness for classic, expensive ties, he went to being happy with his quota of cigarettes, his rum and buying expensive dolls for his three-year-old.
As we grew up, she often complained about him not helping in the house, of being domineering and a tyrant. He in turn blamed her for being a nag, a party-pooper and for speaking “Mrs Pinto’s English.” She still cannot pronounce ‘statistics’ properly. Yet if he bought me my early books and read some of them, it was she who explained the meaning and encouraged me to participate in debates, dance competitions, speech contests… And they both stood proudly when we did well at school. The only times I have seen my parents kissing is when he would be going out-of-station; then too a chaste, gentle kiss on the mouth, with all attempts to NOT do it before the children. Hmm. I’ve never heard them exchange I-love-yous. Yet he completely broke down the one time she fell really ill. (Strangely, Ma’s never fallen ill! Touch wood) I was 14 and Ma was in the hospital and Papa had not shaved – blasphemy when you’re an officer – and had called me and said, “Mamma is ill, you’re the lady of the house, you have to help Papa, you know Papa is not too good with housekeeping.” That after he had refused to let me make tea because, “My daughter will not work in a kitchen,” from a man who needed his meal to be “proper”. After two days of washing dishes, I promptly fell ill (weak shit) and Mamma miraculously recovered. That was the only time I’ve seen her resting.
If I were to apply my Rules of Relationship Maintenance (as Partner calls them), their marriage should not have lasted. It has. Can I do the same, make a relationship last? Can you? Can we?
This is a cover-story I had done for What’s Hot, a Friday-pullout published for The Times of India; used to be their features editor then. Perhaps I'd do the article somewhat differently today... A two-years-old article (first published August 25, 2006), the questions still remain…
Age old marriage, same old questions
Armed truce? Loving someone else? Money? Kids? Jhoomur Bose finds out the little things creating big problems in marriages today
Infidelity is the flavour of the season. If the column space, film reel and talk time given to the phenomenon are anything to go by. Blame it on Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar for showing the ‘reel’ face of Indian marriage where couples fall in love with someone else and go looking for happiness outside marriage (Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna). But is that really the case? Are we ready to leave our partners for that elusive soul mate who might be waiting somewhere? Or are we looking for the love we thought we would find in marriage, but didn’t?
What’s Hot conducted a survey and asked 200 married people to find out if they would break their marriages for love—outside marriage. A whopping 73 per cent said they would NOT leave their partners for another. This is where it gets interesting. On the one hand, most say they will not leave their spouses. So if couples today are not leaving each other, does that mean Marriage has survived? Experts tell us that it might just have, but with a new set of problems and a new set of understandings. Marriage today means...
Is love with someone else possible when one is already married?
Yes: 73% No: 27%
If love happens outside marriage, should one leave the current
partner? No: 70% Yes: 18% Unsure: 12%
If a married friend leaves his/her spouse, will you be okay with it?
Yes: 72% No: 28%
If your partner falls in love with someone else, how will you react?
Will let them go: 57%, Will hurt, but will stay: 26%, Will have no issues: 10%, No issues if platonic: 7%
TOO MUCH, TOO SOON
“And they lived happily ever after” is one of the most tragic sentences in literature. It’s tragic because it’s a falsehood. It is a myth that has led generations to expect something from marriage that is not possible.” — Joshua Liebman, author
Expectations. The one word that usually sounds the death knell for innumerable marriages. The expectation usually comes with a ‘high’ attached to it and also with varying stages of ‘unpreparedness’ for marriage. Says Sanjeeta, clinical psychologist, St. Stephens Hospital, “Readiness to marry is very important when two people tie the knot. However, that does not happen. People today plunge into marriages with a lot of unreal expectations, when they are not even prepared for marriage and have no clue of what marriage entails. Disillusionment is inevitable.”
Take Ruth and David,* who were college sweethearts. However, once they were married, love flew out of the window as soon as they were confronted with the mundane tasks of life. While Ruth had been the princess of her house and hadn’t ever lifted a finger, David too had been a pampered child and was expecting his wife to look after him like his mother did. Result? Ruth felt inadequate, she couldn’t “live up to his expectations.”
Sanjeeta points out that it’s not the major flare-ups that cause problems in marriages, but the smaller, seemingly trifling issues. “When both parties realise that marriage is not a bed of roses, when reality hits home, the men turn alcoholic, even violent, and the women go into depression.” Tarot reader Poonam Sethi, spiritual guru Yogi Ashwani or Sanjeeta, ask any expert and they tell you of many, many couples who come to them seeking relationship solutions. “Don’t look at marriage as a key to the perfect life you’ve always aspired for,” advises Yogi Ashwani of Dhyan Foundation. Sanjeeta feels the same, “People want their partners to be everything they dreamt of. You have to realise that your husband or your wife cannot give you all the happiness you want, in the sense that they cannot be everything for you.” Have expectations but do keep them real—your partner’s human too.
BAGGAGE: WOULDN’T WORK
“If I did not succeed in marriage, how will my daughter succeed?” — Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt on his then-unmarried daughter Pooja Thankfully though, neither her father’s failed marriages nor his optimism about her failure in the marital arena daunted Pooja when she married Manish Makhija. However, neural wave therapist and counsellor Ranjeev Malhotra will tell you that it’s not as easy to get away from the influence of parents. “People are insecure, even afraid of marriage. From what we see of our parents and things that happen with other couples, people come with preconceived notions about marriage. When we see a marriage or relationship failing before us, a context is created. Later when something similar happens in our marriage, we see things in the context of the past and not in the context of current events. People don’t do a reality check and believe that marriages are like this—that they’re meant to be broken.”
Dr Samir Parikh, clinical psychologist, Max Medicare, calls it the “desensitisation and disinhibition” of people. “Earlier there were certain social deterrents when it came to maintaining a marriage. However, with divorces rising, infidelity increasing and because of things you hear and see around you, those very deterrents are being pushed back. People end up thinking, ‘When everyone else is doing it, let me do it too.’” And he’s right. Payal, 34 and mother of two, justifies her affair with a younger colleague. “Look around and show me one happy marriage. It’s been happening for a while. So what if couples are breaking apart or sleeping around to remain married? Everyone is doing it—and as long as my marriage is intact, who really cares?”
Maintaining conjugal bliss is all about giving each other a break and not getting hassled about what’s happening with other marriages. As Ranjeev says, “Our upbringing, the relationship our parents shared, the marriages of our friends—all factors affect our view of marriage.” However, just because your friend’s marriage ended doesn’t mean yours will too. As Poonam says, “The smart ones stick on. The emotional fools wreck their marriages.”
(*Some names changed on request)
BASTARD MEN, CLINGY WOMEN
“The conventional Indian man is taking his shower when the conventional Indian woman —his wife—is having her orgasm.” —Dr Jitendra Nagpal, on how sexual incompatibility creates problems If parents and society leave a mark on the way we perceive marriage, preconceived notions about men, women, relationships also play roles. Ranjeev adds, “Most men and women carry certain tainted opinions about the other sex and most of the time we are busy trying to prove how the marriage will not work out. If the women think all men are bastards, the men think all women are clingy. What happens next is that the man thinks his wife is trying to ‘cage’ him and
starts staying late at work, staying away from home and suddenly develops a need for more friends to avoid her. Understandably, the woman feels ignored, rejected, taken for granted and thinks all men are bastards. She starts being too clingy, too questioning and tries to hold on to the man even tighter thus proving his point that women are clingy. It’s a vicious cycle.” For Sanjeeta, it all boils down to space and mutual respect. “It is always a good idea to keep some amount of formality in a marriage. The moment you stop respecting the other’s personal boundaries, your marriage begins going downhill.”
CASH: YOURS, MINE OR OURS?
Earlier, things were simple in a marriage: hubby went out to earn, wife stayed home. This cozy scene was spoilt once women started earning. Jitendra Nagpal, marriage counsellor and consultant psychiatrist at VIMHANS, explains, “The male has always been head of the family in the patriarchal set-up. Trouble starts when, even with changing equations and women working, we are hypocritical and would like to believe that the man is STILL the only head of the family.” Dr Vasantha R Patri says that the problem arises because a large number of married women do not have control over their own money as it’s still the husband who decides how the money is spent.
LET’S GO FISHING
“Couples are placing less premium on commitment and are constantly confused.” — Dr Sanjeeta Prasad “When you get into a marriage, you need to give your 100 per cent to it. However, given the socio-cultural changes we are undergoing today, an increasing number of young couples feel there are ‘more fish in the ocean’. Where if one partner does not work out, we move on to another, and another... But are these couples sure where their search for Mr/Ms Right will end? The whole attitude of ‘hua to hua, nahi to nahi’ won’t get us anywhere,” says Sanjeeta. Vasantha feels today women are fishing too. “Looking for love, sex and companionship outside marriage is nothing new to us. Look at the zamindars and maharajas. Today it’s different because the women want it too. Earlier they kept quiet, today women will have their fun too and will stay in a marriage for other benefits, not just the husband’s love or loyalty.”
WHOSE WORK IS IT ANYWAY?
“In the last 25 years, with access to higher education and more such opportunities, women have moved on to a more liberated attitude. However, most men are still frozen in time, 30 years ago. Among working couples, while both bring in a good pay packet, it is still the woman who has to do the housework,” says Vasantha. Ranjeev feels the man-woman relationship, particularly marriage, has also changed into a companionable human relationship of two individuals who share equal power. “It’s companionship that women are asking for, which the male is slowly adjusting to. Women want a partner, not a husband,” he adds. But do the men understand this?
For Jitendra, ‘division of labour’ has yet another connotation in the modern marriage. “The onus of understanding this social change has come to lie only on the woman. The responsibility of sustaining the new dynamics in a relationship is also on her, which adds to her pressures.” He adds, “When a couple comes for counselling, it’s funny to see them. Both parties would wait for the other to start speaking first, or one would ask the other to put his/her grievance first, or one would like to talk separately and not in front of the spouse. As a professional, there are many times when I can see that the couples themselves are confused and wondering—Where did we go wrong?”
Changing equations, both working to make the relationship work, understanding undercurrents or letting each other be—what do we do to rejuvenate our marriages into really fulfilling relationships? Jitendra’s take is that it will happen only when the men catch up with the women, who’ve zoomed far ahead. “All that the women need to do is be patient, particularly when it comes to men. As the Irish song goes, it is good to remember your husband at the end of the day is “just a man’.”
Right. But what about “just a woman”? Isn’t this placing the onus back on women?