Disclaimer: This longish post might reek of pessimism and aggressive rants, so be forewarned. Things will be sunny soon.
Personal desires or bowing to the honor of the family tradition is virtually a no-brainer when placed in an Indian context. Umpteen Bollywood flicks have grossed millions of rupees exploiting this virtual deadlock on personal life choices. All the stories of mera pyaar versus dushman zamana have beaten to pulp a dead concept of liberation of human emotions, especially the one capitalized with the alphabet L. Personal choice is considered supreme in the so-called advanced Western society but the Indian society is sanctimonious in its perception of societal acceptance of personal choices. The most over hyped deliberations involve the union of two individuals commonly known as marriage. When stripped down to its extreme basics, it boils down to the need of two individuals to share emotional, mental, and physical thought processes and ultimately procreate to pass on the baton of those shared values. Somehow this union has achieved the iconic status of inevitability in an individual’s life and anyone refusing to accept this phenomenon is viewed with eyes of suspicion. Men profess fear of commitment and women develop cold feet but somewhere down the lane, they do succumb to the verity of marriage, some more willingly than others.
Muddled with human emotions, the Indian subcontinent has extrapolated this simplistic union to gargantuan proportions by literally involving the value systems of nearly four generations. Suddenly the choice of our life partner has to be approved unanimously at different levels of the family tree, usually in chronological order, yours being the least important. Ohno! You do have access to my opinion and wishes but are asked to keep in mind the repercussions on our “great Indian tradition and heritage”, personal wishes be damned; .sounds like a mundane Bollywood masala, ain’t it. But, such scenes play out everyday in life around us. During one such unfortunate experience few years back, I was told that marriage is not merely union of two individuals rather the harmonious unification of four families. That quadrupled the proverbial family tree expectations and bringing all their perceptions of an ideal match was much beyond the Herculean task. That was too much work for one lonely soul. So all said and done, are we really free to choose our personal life direction?
The Indian arranged marriage scenario is like an extended emotional black market. Personal choices and family “tradition and honor” are pitted against each other in a classic duel of wearing down each other’s defenses by gradual but persistent bombarding of emotional baggage. We boast of a 97% success rate in marriages; but has anyone ever examined the underlying stress of making a marriage work. The will to express your heartfelt wish is weighed down by the burden of societal responsibility and upholding the family honor (again that superficial word). Is it really worth it? Hanging in there for the sake of it, ruing your decisions and passing on your frustrations to the future generations, making them repeat it. Love for parents — the ideal Indian dream — has to be reinforced, withstanding the test of time. Everything ultimately works out well is the definitive argument. Of course, it does. Do we really have a choice? Watch Jogger’s Park if you do not sound convinced. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, we choose the way we feel. We choose to be happy rather than live with a long face. Little things begin to give us pleasure and time gradually erodes the larger pain.
Ally McBeal once advised me to answer three basic questions before I decide on my life partner i) Can I envision talking to her all night long and yet long for more? ii) Can I envision her to be the mother of my children? iii) Can I lick whipped cream off her navel? Although extremely corny, it made me think of the three basic (really?) pillars of a married life; compatibility, parenthood and sex. Of course, as the horror tales goes, the sex eventually dies out. Gays at least have a pal to watch the game with whereas we, straight guys have to deal with a PMS-ing female trying to pry the remote out of our weakening fingers to watch the latest update on Saas-Bahu conflicts. Alright I am just being sarcastic here, don’t read too much between the lines. So getting back to Ms. McBeal’s pragmatic advice, she never must have envisioned satisfying her mom’s images of an ideal son-in-law who would call upon her umpteen relatives to wish them on their birthday nor does he remind her dad of the son he never had. Boy, was she lucky! But on the other hand, she ended her final season being a single mom, shunted away from her friends in an alien city and without a steady love in her life. So I don’t know if she is the authority on the qualities of a good life partner.
Anyone with better ideas on this lame oft-repeated topic? Or am I just flogging a dead horse?
I will be at SeCoPA until Tuesday, so miss me.