Last week I came across an amazing fact (among a slew of others) about my home state. Did you know that Kerala happens to have the largest number of girl child adoptions in the country? Having been brought up in a neo-traditionalist Nair family, which follows a matriarchal system, women have always played a positive and central role in our families. We have lots of female cousins, and all males in our family have the utmost of respect for them.
So it is surprising to see the stance taken by my family members towards a close relative, who is currently undergoing marital issues (for obvious reasons, I would like to maintain anonymity as far as her name and my relationship with her goes). This relative was once the apple of the eye, not just of her parents, but also for the rest of the associated family. Being the only daughter, she was brought up with a lot of love, affection and pampering. So, when during her post-graduation she fell in love with a (non-Malayalee) classmate and decided to get married, she faced the least of resistance. They ended up having a near fairy tale wedding and kids followed. My relative, though highly qualified, gave up her career and decided to become a homemaker. Looking after the kids, and moving around India and globally, as her husband kept getting transferred, became part of a lifestyle that she happily accepted. She kept building a cosy little cocoon for her family, while the husband earned moolah to keep the house fires burning. Both were highly individualistic, independent and had their own distinctive ways of looking at life. The inevitable marital friction that comes between personalities of such mental physiognomies, was ironed out by what they thought was their aeonian love for each other.
But after over fifteen years of marital bliss they reached an aposiopesis in their blissful marital relationship. About a year back, this relative called me, cried her heart out and announced that she was leaving her husband. Being elder to her, with logical and verbose avowals I tried to reason out the sanctity of the institution we call marriage. I asked her to reconsider her decision since there are children involved – one of whom is old enough to understand the significance of the dreaded D-word. After she kept countering my arguments with her own logical affirmations, I bluntly asked her the real reason for her decision – was it abuse or infidelity on either side? But she negated this and said that she had simply fallen out of love with him. Somehow I immediately understood what she was going through because over a period of time I have realized that it is as easy to fall out of love as it is to fall in love with someone. Being in love requires efforts from both the parties involved and it is perfectly plausible that somewhere down the long-winding road of marital bliss, either party slips and tumbles off the path. I refrained from calling her husband – the decision to separate was taken by a mature, intelligent and highly educated person, who could no longer live with her spouse and, I (or anyone else for that matter) had any right to question it. Another thing she told me was that she now wanted to lead a life of her own and not remain shackled with the chains of matrimony. This may shock most of us, and believe me, for a moment so was I. When I gathered my thoughts and reflected on her statement, I sadly realized that many Indian couples remain together in loveless marriages, either for the sake of the children or to avoid social ridicule. So her decision to step out was a bold decision indeed.
Later that day, I discussed this at length with my wife, and we decided to stand by our relative, irrespective of who was to blame for this breakdown, and I blissfully thought that our family would do so too. But I was bitterly disappointed when her own parents virtually disowned her, as in their opinion, their “saintly” son-in-law could do no wrong and the fault lay in their daughter. Even other relatives were no better – except a few, everyone had their bit of righteous advice for her, and in a roundabout way all wanted her to “compromise” and return to her husband. The standard counsel offered was that women have to “adjust” and meekly “accept” the mandates of the domesticity. No one among our family even entertained the thought that marriage is a two-way street and that in this case maybe the fault lay at both ends, or that she had reached the break-point in terms of compromise! What astonishes me no end is that at a time when she needs them the most, her parents have almost left her to fend for herself. Rather than holding her hand and helping her tide over this arduous period, her mother is going to town spreading canards about her! So what is the reason for this all-round haranguing that she is receiving? Is it because she is a woman? But that does not hold water – do we not follow a matriarchal system where women are held in high esteem? Is it because she took a decision that goes against the norms of what is considered acceptable societal behaviour? But again, are we not mature enough to understand that a grown-up mother of two, with all her mental faculties intact, must have taken such a drastic step only after giving it a lot of thought? The reason I think, is two-fold – firstly the hurt ego of her parents that their darling daughter had the temerity to take such a decision without consulting them, and secondly the prospect of facing the superfluous social embarrassment that follows such marital upheavals. Come on people! She does not need your gratuitous advice now – she is way beyond that stage. All she needs is your support and assertion that you are with her.
But I am happy to say that my relative is holding up quite well. I am proud to say that she has taken all the disparagement, condemnation and denigration in her stride while moving on with her life. She has immersed herself in her professional commitments and is treading confidently over the mine-field of legalities that she now has to traverse. But should we not as a society rise above our discomfiture and aid a woman who has decided to go against the moral and ethical fetters that Indian men have fashioned around their women? We cannot make pretentious and condescending claims to respect women while we continue to constrict them! Time to clear the cobwebs of the mind and snap out of our hebetude…