Anjali is a spinster who lives with four other girls in a residential area in Bangalore. She works in an IT company, and stays in her rented, carelessly kept house. This is how I am supposed to introduce her. At least when someone middle-aged or one of her remotely related family members is around. But, when it is just us–friends–I can talk about her early morning walks with her boyfriend who lives across the street, visits her every day, goes shopping with her and if I may be frank, is almost her husband.
So, why are they not living together? Why should they live with their roommates when their priority is to be with each other? A one-word answer: society.
God knows who decides these unsaid norms, but we have been blindly adhering to them–the majority of us. Having said that let’s attempt to put forward the pros of getting married. You get recognized by the people around you while they congratulate you and wish you a good future, you get a license to get into a sexual relationship with your partner, you do not break your cultural tie-ups with the society, not to forget, you do not hamper with your family’s dignity.
You get married to someone you love–or at least pretend to do so from the day it is “arranged.” More often than not, this happens via your matrimonial profile or a precisely detailed advertisement that reads: “I am fair and I am looking for an extremely fair partner, who is educated, caring and understanding.” So, the moment you see this person who responded to your advertisement, the caring, understanding, divine relationship sprouts and you get to be the hero/heroine for the day and then you play a lead role in the ceremonies that follow. These are the days when the representatives of society acknowledge your obliged behavior of getting an approval from them to live with the opposite sex and you take up a pledge–in all possible languages in the Indian subcontinent, it apparently means–“I will hold on to this person near me for a lifetime, no matter what it takes.”
This so-called license to live together become a license to take your better half for granted in many cases. To be clear, I am not talking about the minority high-class Indian population that has got the privilege to move on when things don’t work out with their partner. They do not lose their respect among their fellow beings because in their case, reputation is predominantly money driven.
Bound for life
Indian culture does not allow illicit relationships. We are disciplined and true to our partners. I bet we are!
Vasantha Rani has been married to Raj Kumar (names of the couple changed) for 10 years now and they have a 7-year-old son. Their friends, relatives, neighbors and surroundings–the traditionally disciplined Indians, the highly esteemed protectors of Indian culture–assume, “We got them married. We arranged their marriage and look: they are happy!” Vasantha has her version of this story. Raj goes missing every weekend night and comes back home after visiting other women. He confessed this in an outrageous manner. He drinks regularly and abuses her relatives very often. Later in the mornings, he somehow transforms into a responsible husband and a loving father.
Vasantha–though she is annoyed by his behavior and is concerned about STDs–does not want to get out of the family system because she is expected to hold on to him and is advised to be dependent on Raj irrespective of what he does. Her mother says: “Do not come back home. We cannot feed you and more importantly, our neighbors will not respect us. They will talk ill about you.”
But, do we have a situation here where if not for wedlock, men and women would have their own ruthless ways of living? Would they switch partners without any sense of commitment? In Vasantha’s case, but for the society, would Raj have left her alone with her son? Will it not be burdensome for her? If you are staying with someone for the sake of it and if you are forced not to leave someone just because you are married to him/her, do you say that you are “happily married”? Nevertheless, decisions differ based on our sensitiveness in the relationship and the priorities we create for ourselves in life. For all we know, Vasantha might feel that I am overreacting to her situation and she might not really worry as long as she gets financial support from Raj.
Relationships and priorities
I am not closing my eyes to happy weddings, when mutual understanding and love compliments the relationship and the couples cherish being together. For them, marriage is the celebration of their love. I am also aware that a few arranged weddings end up making the best possible combinations ever. But that doesn’t warrant another half of the population being bound by some forced relationship for no good reason.
We seem to regard love as a secondary, taken for granted feeling which definitely exists between partners who are married. The married couple is expected to have sex in the first night of their approved life ahead. What looks healthier and meaningful to me–not only in the romantic sense but also in a pragmatic sense–is the fact that in Western countries people meet, date and sleep with each other the same night but definitely do not marry the next morning. They wait to know each other, take their time before they say, “I love you” or “Will you marry me?” According to them, marriage is an occasion to share the happiness of their love rather than a mode of seeking societal affirmation. When love and trust fails the relationship, they are not hesitant to move on.
A closer look at the other side of the coin suggests that live-in relationships are no happy-go-lucky jokes in an Indian scenario. “Is live-in relationship a better alternative? Do you think it is easy?” asks Pradeep, a postgraduate student planning to get married in another two years’ time.
Live-in couples, in most parts of the country, do not find it easy to rent houses. “Are you married?” is the first question they face–when they look for a room to stay, when they book a first-class train ticket and, of course, when they hold hands in a beach late in the night. Phew! Why not just get married and get away with all these exhausting explanations?
No, I am not talking about relationships that bloom out of the heights of desperation, which, ridiculously enough, comes after this: “Wanted: a live-in partner in Bangalore.”
Pradeep says, “People can live together; get to know each other practically and sexually, before they get married. I am not against that. But, how will I and the girl get to involve our family in this procedure? It would not be comfortable for both of us. If we are confident about our relationship, why shouldn’t we get married? I don’t think there is any good reason for not doing so. And yes, I don’t think India is ready, except if you are a rebel and do not really care about what people say.”
A majority of the elite Indian youngsters, these days, chooses their own partners and gets married with the consent of their families. They do not want to live together making an announcement for the fear of losing their dignity. Another set of youngsters do not mind if their marriages are arranged if they get to choose the attributes of their would-be spouse, however lame it may sound and weird it may feel.
Weddings are becoming sensible by the day, with folks of marriageable age getting open-minded about their choice of partners and prioritizing better wavelength match amongst other preferences. The success of these weddings is not really predictable. The couples are bound to live with the issues, if any, unless they have the courage to face their neighbors with their disgusting expressions.
To get married only if there is real love and urge to live together for a life time sounds ideal. To examine a relationship beyond physical needs and to put an end to weddings solely based on outward looks are very ambitious considering our “we-are-like-this-only” Indian mind-sets. We do not have the courage or maturity, yet, to embrace and candidly support people who live together before getting married. We are afraid to talk about them for we will be accused of losing our inborn values. We are definitely not anywhere close to getting out of the artificially made up bonds. We are yet to discover a perfect alternative to the “made-up-for-each-other” wedded lives.