Marriage today is a substantial entity that is far more consciously experienced than it ever used to be.
After years of suppression, we, as a nation, are suddenly discovering that we have the power of choice.
You don’t have to be a social scientist to conclude that the institution of marriage is currently facing its most severe test. Gone seem to be the days when a man and a woman, stoically (oftentimes, lugubriously) plodded their ways through anni versary after anniversary of cohabitation, the perpetuity of their relationship being almost fatalistically taken for granted. Today in metropolitan India, issues like serial monogamy, simultaneous multiple relationships, single parenthood, voluntary single status and the like actively impinge on the conscious minds of many young adults who seriously address the issue of whether and when to get into matrimony. On the flip side, the extraordinary success enjoyed by Internet matrimonial portals does perhaps testify to the fact that the institution of marriage is not yet on the verge of collapse, although it must be said that non-marriage friendship portals are enjoying increasing popularity. Even when educated urban Indians do finally decide to get married, they tend to do so when they are a bit older and, arguably, a little more mature than their parents were when they themselves tied the knot. Also, when one takes a closer look at urban marriages today, it appears that the rules of marriage are changing significantly. In other words, in adapting to contemporary social and emotional realities, “New Indians” in metropolitan India seem to defining a “New Indian Marriage” markedly different from its “older” counterpart.Emerging creature
Before exploring the phenomenon of the New Indian Marriage, let us take a look at the “New Indian”, a recently emerging metropolitan creature who is perfectly happy to live in India, warts and all. Even if an overseas work assignment is sought it is more for the experience, the independence away from the family and for enhancing the résumé than for leaving the homeland for good. Apparently, the grass is green enough on this side. Paav bhaji and masala dosa are as much enjoyed as pizzas and hamburgers; Kumbakonam degree coffee as much as Cappuccino; tender coconut water as much as energy drinks; Shah Rukh Khan as much as George Clooney; the salsa as much as the garba; Art of Living as much as Stephen Covey. In other words, the New Indian does not reject India and Indian. Other things from other parts of the world just get added on. The New Indian’s patriotism is not of the jingoistic, chest-beating variety. Being an Indian is just a fact of life. It’s who s/he is. It doesn’t need to be cried out from the rooftops, nor does it need to be a well-guarded secret.
The New Indian is more pan-Indian in perspective, perhaps on account of leading a more mobile life. Born in Ludhiana, educated in Kolkata, MBA from Lucknow, working in Chennai and married to a Hyderabadi is no longer an exceptional scenario. The New Indian does not make a big deal about language; it is seen as only a tool for communication and no longer defines identity. The New Indian lives life more consciously. As a result, relationships are more emotionally intense and personal experiences more meaningful. However, the New Indian is also impatient, brash and in-your-face. Frustration tolerance is poor. Instant gratification is demanded and the tendency towards impulsive decision-making is high. Political awareness and participation is not particularly high on the New Indian’s agenda. Art is not as highly valued as is entertainment. And the risk of conspicuous consumption also looms.Emotional fulfilment
All of these attributes of the New Indian find reflection in the New Indian Marriage, which is no longer seen as an inevitable stage of life, but as a life domain that needs to be nurtured and configured to provide emotional fulfilment. Put differently, the New Indian marriage is growing into a substantial entity that is far more consciously experienced than it ever used to be. The fact that divorce rates are on the increase need not be cause for concern, for, re-marriage rates are still fairly high. Also, it must be acknowledged that the reasons cited for divorce in recent times have more to do with frustration, intolerance than with fundamental incompatibilities. The way I see it, this is just a part of the early reactions to the phenomenon of liberalisation of the new Indian thought process. After years of suppression, we, as a nation, are suddenly discovering that we have the power of choice. So we make our choices more consciously today. However, some of us, intoxicated by this sense of personal empowerment tend to go over the top a little. Until we reach a certain level of maturity, we may, in the interim period, exercise our choices without proper application of mind. But this is only a transient phenomenon, a correction of a hitherto lop-sided situation. Many of the “old Indians” would have dearly liked to have divorced their spouses, but could not owing to the social stigma at the time. Today New Indians can, and often do. But, I believe they are smart enough to realise that they don’t always have to. Particularly, if they succeed in structuring their marriages and personal relationships slightly differently.Witness to the changes
As a couples therapist I have had a ring-side view of the changing face of Indian marriage. And I can attest to the fact that the last decade or so has witnessed some dramatic shifts in perspective. The New Indian Marriage tends to focus on emotional fulfilment for both partners, and not merely procreation or recreation. It is owned by both partners in the marriage and not by everyone else. This is true even in “arranged marriages”, for, the New Indian tends to participate more actively in the search for a spouse through matrimonial portals and so on, as a result of which the sense of ownership of the marriage is generally higher than it used to be in the past. Both partners recognise two sets of personal spaces (“I” spaces) in a marriage, but pay due attention to the marriage space (“We” space) as well. They also appreciate that fights, issues and conflicts are inevitable when two individuals engage in a close and intense relationship and attempt to use rational processes to manage these. Adequate attention is paid to the experience and expression of sexual and emotional intimacy. There is also a recognition that parents and children need their own spaces and that these spaces are to be clearly located outside of the marriage space. Both partners work towards transparent and honest communication styles. New Indian couples generally do not hesitate to seek professional help when things get sticky between the partners or when they find it hard to find solutions to their issues. Also, they understand that divorce is a legitimate option (if the marriage does not work despite the best efforts of both partners), but only the final one.
I am not for a moment suggesting that all contemporary urban Indian marriages are conducted on the above lines. They are not. But, given the fact that these New Indian Marriages are becoming increasingly more visible, I am hoping that they also become more enduring and viable in the years to come. The New Indian Marriage is definitely here, but whether to stay or not, only time can tell. The only thing that can confidently be stated today is that it is too premature to write an obituary for the Indian marriage.
6 months ago