Drinking buddies

It was a usual night at Shabnam bar tucked away in a lane behind a local train station in Central Mumbai. Some were nursing drinks, some gulping them down, some brooding over every sip and some laughing hysterically at not so funny jokes. Kishore and Rafi were alternately crooning about the greatest disappointments of their lives on the bar’s music system.

And as it was a usual night, Rajesh was there. Everything was familiar here and that soothed his senses. It was a refuge from daily struggles, a place to reflect, appreciate the songs born out of life’s ironies and generally numb oneself at the end of the day. Most of the clientile was the same. Hardly anyone new came there, but Shabnam had many loyalists. Rajesh knew everyone’s story. He liked to hear them and marvel at how much better his life was. And at times when he felt the other person needed it, he told his story too.

Suddenly the door opened and a gust of the pouring rain from outside breezed in and along with it came a man who had the most disturbed face Rajesh had seen in quite sometime. He didn’t look like someone who drank, but then who can say that anymore. The man sat down and ordered 2 pegs, neat. Rajesh raised an appreciative brow and went back to his drink. After a while when Rajesh started to leave, the man was still there, ordering 2 more. It seemed that he had had quite a few of them already and didn’t want to stop until he lost himself completely.

The other man started coming in regularly. Another Shabnam loyalist, Rajesh smiled. His name was Abhishek; Rajesh had seen him swipe a card once. They had both started acknowledging each other’s existence by now. Abhishek would get pissed drunk every night. Rajesh enjoyed his drinks but he had a self imposed limit, one that he stuck to, just enough to get some relief at the end of the day. But this man seemed to be on a mission to drink his body down.

One night however, Abhishek seemed to be even more melancholy but he was gulping down drinks with the same fervour. Rajesh got worried. What if the man was on some suicidal mood today? He certainly looked so. Rajesh went up to Abhishek’s table and tried to start a conversation.
“Hi, have been seeing you here regularly now, I am Rajesh. You on some drink till I die mission today dude?”
“Err…hi…you won’t understand.”
“Try me…”
Abhishek smiled with melancholy dismissal.
“They say majority of men drinking in dimly lit bars are of two types. Ones who are thinking of the girl who got away and the others who are trying to forget the pain of having one. So what is it with you?” Rajesh persisted.
Abhishek laughed out harshly, “Maybe they are right. But let’s hear whats it with you?”
“Mind if I take a seat,” Rajesh pulled a chair next to Abhishek. “The one who got away. She was my college mate. She came into my life when I had almost lost hope. I can still feel her hands cupping my face. There never was anyone who could love so unselfishly, so truly. We would have done anything for each other.”
“That would have been a fairytale, ” Abhishek pointed out.
“Yes, if we could have stayed together that is what it would have been.”
“So what was it? She turned out be a fickle woman? Triya charitra was it?”
“Just shut up ok, I won’t hear a word against her. She was never like that. She was everything one could ever dream for in a companion. She was mine for as long as she could and somehow I know she is still mine, though she is far away, married to someone her parents wanted her to. She hasn’t cheated on him physically though, that much I can tell you. She is his for all worldly purposes, but I know her heart will always be mine.”
“Aah but if your love was that true, you had to lose her buddy. That’s the way of the world. Its a law of nature I think, that if you love truly, you won’t ever get it back, or be fortunate enough to live out this dream love. I love her too completely, honestly, but somehow it never penetrates her heart. Its like she will never understand it. You are lucky. Your love was atleast reciprocated. I had no such luck.”
“No dude, you are lucky. You have no idea how bad it is to lose what you once had. You have never had it, so your pain will ease away. Don’t lose heart. You have no memory of how glorious it felt to have her close and then to be reminded everytime that its gone forever. You are lucky Abhishek. For people like me, love is now just a picture inside a wallet.” Rajesh pulled out his wallet, took out a picture, “This is all that I have of her now. Look at how sweet a thing I have lost,” he smiled ruefully.
Abhishek was completely silent for a while and then he rose from the table, “I should go. You are right I am the kind who don’t have the right to even die,” he said somewhat heavily and left. Rajesh sat there looking at the picture.
Out on the street, Abhishek thought, “You have no idea that its more painful to never really have what you have.” The girl in the picture was his wife.

What is a successful marriage?

Long ago, in a school debate, I had spoken out for arranged marriages. That was before I had ever seriously thought about what marriage would entail, at a time when I was just out of my teens and believed that some prince was waiting somewhere to whisk me off, with my parents blessings of course. But its been almost a decade since then and I have seen quite a few make ups and break ups in my friends’ lives to understand what a relationship constitutes in today’s world. It is simply not the same age old era where people put up with each other because they feel that is their destiny. In fact, destiny is an out dated word. Choice is the reality of today. No one needs to stay on in a marriage now and that is what has challenged all our known notions of marriage.

In our society we are still big on tradition, which is why the child maybe outgoing and outspoken in every other way, but when it comes to marriage, she/he is still expected to toe the family line. She/he is expected to settle with someone who the family selects. If you do that, you will forever be called the grateful child. A colleague had once put this into sharp focus when she talked about her and her brother. Her brother was always the obedient types while she had been the rebel. But while the brother married someone of his choice, she after having her fill of testing waters, settled for an arranged marriage. She jokes about how that one decision washed off all her past flaws in her parents’ eyes.

We are told parents know best and when both sets of parents are in agreement, there will always be someone to salvage your marriage if there are some problems. That is a debatable thing. But the argument that I hear the most is that arranged marriages last, whereas love marriages generally end up in divorce. There are statistics to prove this too, I agree. But is longevity the only measure of a successful marriage?

I know of many couples who are married to each other just because they feel they have no other option. Life is a cycle of forced responsibilities and civilities and oh yes, the most important word of all – compromise. They say that is the most important thing in a marriage. Excuse me, have we confused adjustment and acceptance with compromise here? For according to me marriage is supposed to be a union of equal, mature individuals who share a life, without losing their individuality. But that is not the case I am told. Compromise is the word that ensures that marriages don’t break up. But after a long day at work in a competitive world, does anyone have the time and energy for a compromise?

I know of couples who have been married for ages, but rarely talk with each other now. But for the society’s purpose, theirs is a successful marriage. They haven’t broken up and divided their children’s life. A friend’s grandparents chose to separate after all their children were settled. No they didn’t divorce, they just started staying with different children. No divorce, so successful isn’t it? There are some who don’t talk to each other and their children act as go-betweens. There are others who lose their own identity (both female and male) to keep the marriage going. After all, if it lasts, its successful. Also families do bind these relationships, there is pressure to listen to them and stay together, so what if its killing you? Its gotta last.

I am not building a case here for love marriages or for divorce at the slightest provocation. What I am trying to say is that our idea of a marriage itself is skewed. Marriages are not made in heaven, you need to work them out here on this earth, no doubt about that. But what is a marriage really? Is it just something you get into because you are expected to? Is it something bound by the correct background, kundli alignment and surname? Is it a way to get sex with societal approval? Or is it something you get into because you want to share your life with someone? Because you found someone with whom you can relate to on an intellectual and emotional level? Is it about understanding and accepting a person unconditionally so as to be able to be a soul mate? Because if marriage is about meeting the match of your soul, it could happen anytime, in any way, with anyone. You don’t need to go through countless profiles of ready for marriage ‘fun loving, caring, blend of traditional and modern values’ type of people on marriage websites to find the one. They just might happen to you.

But if they happen to you, families will probably tell you that it is an emotional/hormonal reaction. Umr ka takaaza hai. These things don’t last and if they don’t last they can’t be successful can they? Well they might last if the couples don’t always have it in the back of their mind that they have done something they shouldn’t have and that they would have been better off had they listened to their relatives (sometimes this emotional blackmail continues even after the so called acceptance).

Longevity is a virtue in any relationship. But it can’t be the sole factor to determine its success is what I feel. What is needed whether the match be arranged or love, is a mental connect. If you can relate to the person, if you feel that you can talk to that person any time of the day, if you think that you can handle waking up to this same face everyday, then I guess you have a shot at a successful relationship even if your mom thinks that he/she is not the dream catch. Call me a romantic if you will. But no point in getting married to please someone else, because those people will be long gone or far away, while you might have to remain ‘stuck’ with either a ‘dutiful’ bond or a failed relationship. The choice is always ours and a decision once made needs to be followed through, whatever be the ramifications, isn’t it?