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October 31, 2016

How Modern Couples Look At Marriage

Text by Madhu Jain. Illustration by Sirawon Khathing

An imaginary scenario that presents a succinct picture of couples today….

Scene One
It had to be Kerala. And it had to be December. That time of year when our diaspora desis come swanning in. The sea was a sparkling blue. The water in the infinity swimming pool was an even more sparkling blue. The champagne never stopped sparkling, as corks kept popping. This marriage was made in NRI heaven. Most of the guests were from NRI land — the Eastern Coast. Relatives had been kept to a minimum.

She was from Lady Shri Ram, Delhi and Columbia, New York. He was from St. Xavier’s in Mumbai and Wharton, Philadelphia. Their respective CVs and bios were sterling, sparkling if you like. Both were good-looking, athletic. What could be more perfect? They had met at a common friend’s wedding in Goa the year before. Both had good corporate jobs in the land of opportunity, paradise for clever desis.

But, soon there was trouble in Paradise. The bride came back home.

Scene Two
Six months later, in a living room with fake Louis XIV chairs and a genuine, but small Raza, in a sprawling bungalow in South Delhi, with a lawn as smooth and green as a billiard table. Photographs in silver frames of the smiling couple taken during the wedding in Kerala adorn the little tables in the living room. She, one of those fair and lovely Punjabis, sits on a sofa with her mother. The latter holding her head as if in real pain; a turbulent tooth it would seem. The father, stoic, his forehead layered like a millefeuille, is slouched in an armchair facing them.

She: “Mama, I couldn’t take it any longer. I tried. I really did. He wasn’t at all what I thought he was. I had looked up to him. Imagined he was a bit of an intellectual, and not just a whiz at number-crunching. He used to spout poetry when we were going out. Do you know, he never reads. Well, hardly. When he does, it’s the airport bestseller stuff. James Patterson, Robert Ludlum…. We can’t even agree on films. He loves the testosterone-fuelled films of Vin Diesel, Jason Statham and gothic horror films…. Television is another conflict zone. For him it’s soccer and basketball. He is really quite an American, despite growing up in India….”

All the while, the father descends further into despondency. A sheepish expression creeps over his lowered face. The mother did English Honours in Miranda College, quite the (as they then used to say) ‘hep’ college in Delhi. She wanted to go to the United States to do a master’s in English literature and then go on to teach. But her parents insisted that she marry a dashing captain in the army from a family with money, soon after she turned 20. The father retired as a Colonel, didn’t quite make the brigadier grade. Golf became an obsession, as did playing cards at the Gymkhana club, most evenings. Conversation between the two had long come to a standstill. The mother sought deliverance in novels and TV serials from Pakistan. Marriage, Indian style….

Scene Three  
Back to the mother and daughter on the sofa: “Beti, you are making too much of it. My mother always told me that women had to adjust; wives have been expected to do so. We were told you don’t marry only the man, you marry the family. And men, the elders stressed, were the providers. Even my mother had had dreams. She wanted to be a doctor. But she wasn’t allowed to, and once married, had to look after her mother-in-law and your dada’s younger sisters and brothers — and then all of us. I did what my mother had to: adjust! Of course, I protested a bit in the beginning. But for the sake of peace I forgot my own dreams….”

At which point the bride’s father’s head is at more than half mast. His wife had rarely expressed her frustrations and unhappiness. Good wives did just that: many of them turned to soap operas on the small screen and learned to live their lives vicariously. As for him, the balancing act between his mother and his wife had taken its toll. He withdrew, hiding behind a newspaper, or staring blankly at the television screen. When his daughter unexpectedly came home with her bags, the only comforting thought was the fact that his mother had passed on and his sisters were in other cities. What would they say, what would people say?

Scene Four
Four hours on…. Lunch over, tea arrives, and the sun has become less brazen. Much emotion has been spent, the tears have dried. The mother advises her daughter to return to New York and try and make her marriage work. To grin and bear it, as she had done. The word ‘adjust’ punctuates her little sermon, like a broken record. The father continues in silent mode, suddenly realising how disappointed his wife must have been with him; she had never expressed herself before.

The daughter, fairly reticent until now, suddenly jumps up from the sofa on hearing the grin-and-bear-it advice. Sacrifice is a dirty word in this context. Something has obviously snapped.

“I am not going back. It is just not working. Why does one have to stay on in a dead marriage, like so many of your generation? And, I don’t need a man to support me. I have a job, I have friends. Perhaps, I will meet somebody more suitable….”

Epilogue
As you would have surmised, this is an imaginary scenario, and the monologues are also imaginary. However, all this is based on conversations with many disappointed mothers and young women who have walked out before their first wedding anniversary. The new mantra: if it doesn’t work, chuck it.

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