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?

Of families and marriages

IHM has written recently about domestic violence and how there is widespread acceptance of it even among the educated class. A lot of interesting comments have appeared on that. I remember this particular comment which talked about the widespread belief that men do lose control at times. A few years ago, I had thought that about a friend’s father, because I knew the mother to be a highly unrealistic person, someone who had married early and thought that life would only be a romantic dream. Things had soured when she couldn’t accept the fact that her husband, whom she had herself chosen, wasn’t the romantic type. And both husband and wife wouldn’t budge from their list of expectations and duties. Things kept piling up, the relationship deteriorated further after my friend was born. And in the belief that the wife was like an errant child, in the next 20 odd years the husband beat her around half a dozen times (maybe sounds little compared to what some women go through). She too had her own emotional blackmail tantrums. It was just a doomed relationship I guess. And though I didn’t justify the beating, the very fact that I tried to rationalise it shows how deep rooted this philosophy is in us. Auntie has now finally moved out, something she should have done long ago, to spare the herself and my friend all that mental agony. My friend still hopes that the parents would reunite. Yes, divorce is traumatic but living in an abusive or incompatible relationship is even worse.

But while domestic violence is something more tangible, most women in India suffer from something more subtle. Mental abuse. The judgemental attitude that is based on the whole she is an ‘outsider’ theory. Most families want a custom made bahu who is modern and yet not too modern, educated but not too educated and so on. And she has to be a super woman who should never complain or get angry. The Tulsis of the world can cry in private and moan their fate, but they shouldn’t air an opinion. Just voicing an opinion amounts to disobedience. There is very little scope for honesty in Indian relationships. Pretenses have to be maintained at all costs. And most women are taught that right from childhood, however educated the parents might be.

So even if your MIL constantly harps on how lowly your family is, you are supposed to put up with it. If you answer back you are the bitchy DIL, the potential home breaker. Your husband might have a tendency to treat you like a dimwit and make fun of you in public, but hey atleast he provides for you and doesn’t beat you. He might be a complete loser, never managing to hold on to a job and yet you are supposed to hold on to the hope that with time he will get better. In no circumstances are you to lose the hope that things will work out in the end, because of the doli-arthi theory. And hey aren’t women supposed to be more tolerant by nature, more patient, more everything that tends towards doormat.

How many times do we hear things like the women in the family didn’t get along and that is why the family split? Is binding a family together just a woman’s duty? If the men wanted, couldn’t they have stayed together and tried to build a consensus? Are men really kids that they can be ‘seduced’ and ‘swayed’ by what is called pillow talk? Don’t they have a mind of their own? Well apparently, though women are supposed to be chastised because they are not mature enough, when it comes to such things men are the impressionable ones.

In India, we are supposed to marry families and not individuals. And when I see all these things happening, I feel disturbed and somewhat scared by the prospect of marriage. Is there anything like a balanced family or is it a myth? Will I be able to hold on to my identity once I get married? Is marriage really worth it? There are ‘good’ families out there I guess, but they are extremely rare.


She watched as the reddish brown liquid slowly trickled down the drain. Her tomato rasam had gone wrong even this time. It never tasted like she wanted it to be. Never like her mother’s. No matter what she did. She knew she couldn’t ever manage to make it like that, but she had to try, if only to face the failure again and again.

She remembered the countless days, as a child when she rushed back from school because she knew her mother had made rasam. She used to have it with rice and then drink up a bowl full like it was some therapeutic soup. She absolutely loved it. Everyone in her family knew her love for rasam. Aunties and grannies at times tried to entice her with promises of rasam at their homes. But no one made it like her mom and so she never had rasam at their places.

Then she had to leave for higher studies. Every time she returned for holidays, her mom greeted her with rasam. Then she got a job and the prospect of returning to her hometown and to her mom’s rasam dimmed by the day. So she got the recipe from her mom and started making it on her own. Her rasam was a hit among friends. At every house party, she was the official cook and she would call up her mom and thank her for teaching her such a beautiful thing. Her new friends had become her new life. And one day Abhishek walked into this life. Abhishek with his shy demeanour and soothing voice. It started with cute smses. The smses became long phone calls and the phone calls translated to long walks by the beach and soon they were in love. Abhishek told her later that she entered his heart via a bowl of rasam. Nothing could have been more beautiful.

She couldn’t imagine life without him. But her parents wouldn’t hear of it. She tried convincing them. Abhishek tried to pacify them. But they wouldn’t budge. Her mother who had never raised her voice at her, had raised a hand. Still she thought that maybe they would agree after a time. She married Abhishek.

It had been ten years and every week she tried to cook rasam. Abhishek had always liked it, but it never felt right to her. So after a year she had stopped serving it to him. But she still made it, hoping to get it right. If only the masala was right, if only she had waited some more for it to boil, if only the colour was a bit darker, if only the tomatoes were juicer. If only, her mother took her calls. The rasam drained away…