Till divorce do us part
When a marriage fails people get severely singed
During my visits home, I spend the first two days gathering news from my mother about people around that we have known for long. Earlier, weddings, deaths, newborns and retirements used to constitute much of her neighbourhood reporting. But of late, I am treated to something that shakes me as badly as any other personal human tragedy — marriages on the rocks. The speed and spontaneity of conjugal breakdowns taking place in my vicinity makes me worry about the future of India’s much-prided family structure, which social theorists aver is not in peril despite the spurt in frayed relations.
A young girl in her mid-20s we know broke off her engagement for ‘incompatibility’ reasons. A couple barely into their third year of marriage called it off, owing to ‘irreconcilable differences’. Yet another with conflicts galore was clutching at the corner, and eager to let go, but hanging in there for their five-year-old’s sake. A marriage on the precipice is hardly a congenial way to lead the little one into life, but if they manage to work their way and claw back to some stability, it will be a unique victory for the child than for her parents.
Time was when parents got their sons and daughters married and returned to their retired existence, happy in the belief that their wards were well and settled. Not anymore. Parents these days live in the secret fear of having their daughter storm out of her husband’s home and breeze back into theirs, with the nonchalance of a hotel guest. Yes, she is plucky, educated and emancipated, and it’s heartening that she won’t take crap from her man or his people unlike women of earlier generations. But the definition of a bad deal in marriage has become so fluid and untenable that any lame excuse is reason enough for pulling out of a relationship that our parents and grandparents had maintained as holy matrimony. And that’s what disconcerts me.
Abuse and infidelity are unpardonable in a marriage and are legitimate grounds for separation. No woman can be excused for swallowing violence and misdemeanor in stoic silence. But mere ‘incompatibility’ and ‘irreconcilability’ as reasons? If that could be a motive to rush to a lawyer, a majority of us would have grown up in broken homes. In our parents’ times, compatibility was not even a consideration to keep a marriage. They stayed together, not because they made an enviable twosome in a tango but because divorce was not even a remote option to them.
We can indulge in endless discourses on the shifting dynamics of our society and the need to change our patriarchal patterns to give our women their due credit and status in a relationship. We can debate till the cows return home about the need to release marital relations from their constricted confines. We can argue that marriages cannot become emotional entrapments in a new, progressive social order. Yet the fact that when a marriage fails, lives do fall apart and people do get severely singed remains.
Couples who head for spiltsville don’t do it alone. They drag their children and the rest of their families into the vortex of turmoil. No, let’s not take celebrity lives as templates. Life in ordinary Indian homes isn’t as flamboyant to make divorce and its aftermath tales of chivalry and personal triumph.
Of course, there is life after every crisis in life, and one is bound to tide over it sooner or later. But when a crisis stems from an indifference to the basic tenets of life and when it happens because of sheer arrogance and irreverence, it becomes ugly than agonizing. That more marriages are failing and nuptial knots are loosening because there is enhanced wherewithal for personal upkeep and disposal is truly heartbreaking.
Asha Iyer Kumar is a freelance writer based in Dubai
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