A couple of months back I happened to run through the interview given by Sarvasri Sanjoy Chakravorty and Davesh Kapur, authors of the book The Other One Percent: Indians in America that was hailed as the first comprehensive and data-driven account of the “… entrepreneurship” of Indians in the US, which is still lingering in my mind.
One of their interesting observation is: “…Indians [in America] have the lowest rate of divorce. That means they tend to have two incomes per family … it gives you a household income advantage, which means that your children get better education, which gives you further advantage that your life’s chances are better.”
And intriguingly, this observation pertains to a category of Indians which the book terms as the most promising Indians in America: educated, over two-thirds of them holding high-status jobs and rich with a family income of over $100,000, roughly double that of white Americans.
Obviously this posits two questions: One, how is that the emigrant Indians could hold on their marriages intact despite being in an environment of liberalism and affluence? And two, how the resident Indians, particularly the young working class of the ‘liberalized India’ have lost this “peculiar link between a social conservative trait and an economic advantage” that the emigrants have leveraged on to not only to reap an economic advantage but also to sustain a happy married life?
The first question is answered by a sociologist thus: Perhaps, in the course of their [NRIs] wrestling with traditional values as opposed to the challenges posed by the new environment, families have become “the sites for the negotiation of issues pertaining to cultural values, enculturation and economic activity” for the emigrant Indians. This staying together, this sticking to the family while negotiating the way forward, has obviously engendered enough bondage between wife and husband, including children and in the process helped them to cling to each other amidst the scenario of divorces all around for every damn reason, …perhaps.
Now, from this explanation, the likely answer that emerges for the second question is: the young couple of today’s service sector of India are missing that staying together for long. For, couples who are working in different cubicles… different platforms… different schedules … and importantly at different times … and even in different cities find little time to stay together and engage actively with each other. In fact, both of them are spending their active time more with ‘others’ than with the spouses. In other words, it does mean that the new couples in modern India are finding less and less time to be together … to have quality engagement with each other and work on strengthening the newly acquired relationship [?].
This beneficial effect of staying in proximity —‘holding’ together of a wife and husband for long—in generating affection has indeed been highlighted by Valmiki, the author of Ramayana when he makes Manthara say to Kaikeyi as an explanation for Rama becoming so dearer to citizens of Ayodhya as well as to king Dasaradha while Bharata, who had been living since childhood at maternal grandparents’ house, could not garner the love of Ayodhyans, thus: “sannikarcacca sauhardae jaayate sthaavarçc vapi (2.8.28)—Proximity creates friendship even amongst the inanimate objects.” It is because of being nearer to the people of Ayodhya for long that Rama could win their hearts by his well conducted behaviour. For, after all nearness develops dearness. Say for instance, if you own a pen or vehicle for long you become so attached to it that one finds it difficult to part with it. That being the reality with inanimate objects, could human beings fail to develop sauhaardata when they live together for long?
If we juxtapose Valmiki’s assertion with what we have seen in the case of emigrant Indians in the preceding para, it becomes so clear that what a marriage needs to remain intact is: staying together—being nearer to each other tends to educate them about each other’s persona… facilitates easy negotiation to move ahead, indeed tends to generate warmth. Of course, staying together here means having quality time together. And staying together and having quality time with each other doesn’t mean that there are no fights in the marriage.
Marriages can certainly be stretched when situation demands—for, the more one cares about somebody, the madder one can get with him or her—but remember, temporarily. And quarrelling over differences is much better than silently sulking individually in seclusion. For passive aggression is a cancer that silently mars relations, kills love, could even break families. To let you appreciate this phenomenon, I may again draw your attention to how Sita in Ramayana makes Rama know about her not approving his behaviour as a warrior in the Dandaka forest—for, he was ordained to live like a muni—which incidentally, so eloquently displays her sense of ‘belongingness’ to her husband.
One day in the forest, as Rama and Lakshmana are about to leave to kill rakshasas at the behest of rishis, which according to her is a transgression of a muni, which Rama was supposed to be in the forest, she says: “there are three transgressions to which a man is liable even when he makes a slight departure from propriety. One, false speech; two, copulation with the wife of another; and three, cruelty without enmity. Deliberating on each one of them at length, she finally concludes, “…you should never kill the ogres residing in Dandaka without enmity. ...It is the affinity that I have had with you which emboldened me to remind you; …However, thinking over it by recourse to reason together with your younger brother you may do whatever appeals to you.”
Here what is to be appreciated from what Sita said is: her argument does not exhibit any contempt for Rama nor does she underestimate the virtue of Rama, which danger always lurks behind the ‘familiarity’—of warm association. It is very important to realize here that nearness for long and the resulting ‘familiarity’ likely to breed contempt. And should this happen in the marriage, there is always a danger of one of them or both tend to pull down his/her estimation of the importance and sanctity of the other—indeed sanctity of the very relationship. In fact Valmiki portrays a fence being built by Sita around this danger by making her conclude her advice to Rama thus: “sneehaacca bahumaanaacca smaarayee tvaan na siksayee (3.9.25), it is the affinity that I have had with you that emboldened me to remind you; I am not tutoring you… thinking over it by recourse to reason together with your younger brother you may do whatever appeals to you.”
Mightily pleased with what Sita said, Rama replies: “You have said this to me because you have a right to do so. It was done in good faith, out of an honest desire to put me on the right path. I am not offended... Nobody will chide one whom he does not care for. You chide me, because you are interested in me, because you love me, because you think I should do no wrong, commit no sin.”
Now, what is the take away from this scene? Rather than holding back one’s opinion in a given matter close to chest, it is airing of it freely and leaving the decision to the other’s wisdom that keeps one in good stead. And that’s what Sita did here and thus she could remain ‘homeostatic’. Similarly, listening to Sita’s observation attentively and showing respect for her observation by carefully analysing it and logically reasoning out as to why he has to continue with his act of punishing the ogres, Rama not only made Sita believe that she matters for him but also pursue his dharma, as he enunciated. It is this reaching out to each other—as both Sita and Rama exhibited—that obviously strengthened the fabric of their matrimony.
This whole scene compels one to infer that any other kind of behaviour would have certainly created consternation between Sita and Rama. If this is true, it postulates another dictum: that the two people in the marriage should never ever expect to become one. For, no two can ever become one. They are what they are. So, there must be space in togetherness—a space that accommodates this separateness. This understanding tends to allow each other to be what each of them separately is, while paving the way for a strong togetherness. Love does born out of this respect for another person. And it is this mutual respect that enables each of them grow individually and also helps them build a strong togetherness simultaneously. And that is what perhaps, Khalil Gibran meant when he said: “pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
I wish to conclude these reflections by borrowing the contents of a letter written by the father of Nobel laurate, Dr Chandrasekhar after he left India with his newly married wife into an uncertain future, for I cannot find better words for icing the post. The letter draws the attention of Dr Chandra and perhaps, his wife to the words of Anatole France:
“Children, it is not enough to love much; you must love well. Great love is good, undoubtedly; wise love is better. May yours be as mild as it is strong; may it want nothing, not even indulgence and may some pity be mingled with it. You are young, beautiful and good; but you are human and, for that reason subject to many miseries. This is why if some pity does not form part of the feelings you have for each other, these feelings cannot be adapted to the circumstances of your common life; they will be like holiday clothes, which are no protection against the wind and the rain. You only love those securely when you love even in their weakness and meanness. Mercy, forgiveness, consolation, that is love and all its science.”
That’s perhaps, what it is meant by when the elders often say: “Marriage is what one makes of it”.