Friday, August 25, 2006

On marriage, fidelity and such

I know I promised people a post on my cats, but earlier this week I caught the last half of Barkha Dutt's We the People on NDTV, which perplexed me one hell of a lot, and raised rather a lot of questions that I would like to discuss. So that is what this post is going to be on - I'll give you all the lowdown on the feline half of my family next time, I promise.

The issue was marriage and fidelity, prompted by the release of Karan Johar's much-hyped Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - or so I gathered from the fact that Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan were part of the panel - along with some esteemed people who the media clearly considers specialists when it comes to matters pertaining to emotional well-being - Shobaaaa (did I get the number of 'a's after her name right?) De, some tarot card reader whose name I've forgotten, and the creator of Anyway, what I want to discuss is the issue of fidelity. We've all been brought up tp believe that cheating is BAD, seen enough films and telelvision shows that show marriages breaking up thanks to extra-marital affairs, and have a well-defined contempt for the greatest vamp of all times - the 'other woman'.

Yet here were people blithely asserting that fidelity isn't such a huge issue any more, because 'everyone cheats'! And, since everyone does so, it ceases to be wrong - in fact, the tarot card reader, who doubles as a counsellor (presumably because of the qualifications deciphering pretty coloured cards load her with), stated emphatically that she never encourages women with straying husbands to leave them - quite the opposite, in fact, even if the wives are clearly shattered by the incident. Ms De (when she wasn't busy promoting her latest book) supported this statement. And everyone imputed this recent sociological change in the family structure and roles to modernity, since it's the youth who are supposed to be indulging in merry cheating everywhere you look.

Shah Rukh was actually the only one who made any sense, and certainly the only one who came across as honest - after candidly confessing to being 'old-fashioned' and 'conservative', he exhorted people to be clear in their heads about why they were getting married - did they genuinely believe in the commitment they were making, or were they doing so because everyone in India is expected to marry at a certain age, in much the same way that they're expected to graduate or get a job? Because if you believe in the commitment you make, you will honour it. But his was a lone voice - even people from the audience calmly said they wouldn't leave their partners if they discovered them cheating.

Now this is where my perplexity lies. Because I always thought marriage - any relationship - was a pretty sacrosanct deal. You become responsible for the happiness and well-being of another person, and the commitment you make is not so you can break it at the first available opportunity. When I got married, I did so to a person I loved, someone I wanted to share the rest of my life with. The commitment I made was a promise I'm not going to renege on. And one of the essential components in a relationship is trust. You trust your partner to be with you, to honour his/her commitment towards you, to never hurt you in any way. Cheating means s/he's done all the above. How, then, can you stay on in a relationship with a person who's betrayed your trust? How can you ever trust her/him again? Does anyone else feel the same way, or is it true that fidelity has become a bit of a joke these days? Is it true that, despite the sanctity social norms have bestowed on the institution, marriages are increasingly becoming a sham? I know my friends feel much the same as I - so where is this 'everyone' who cheats as a matter of course? Is this yet another sign of the moral turpitude of our times?

Here, I'm not taking into consideration 'open marriages/relationships' - if people have stated their intentions of eschewing monogamy to their partners, and if the partners are happy with the arrangement, there is nothing else to be said. But that isn't the case here, obviously - surely women wouldn't be tearfully asking the tarot lady if divorce is a good idea if they knew what they had signed up for?

It came as no surprise when, later in the discussion, one found that divorce was much frowned upon. Bad word, that - still is, strangely enough, even in the liberated 21st century where everyone cheats. People were even more firm when it came to children - a couple has got to stay together if they have kids, was the unanimous opinion. Except for Karan Johar, and I agree with him (can't believe I actually said that!) - wouldn't living in the company of two adults who just do not get along, in an acrimonious, tension-riddled household, actually harm the children in the long run? Contrary to what most adults think, children are not stupid. Far from it. Their parents' unhappiness and hostility would communicate themselves to them - and imagine living the better part of your life in constant tension and stress. Wouldn't it be better, given that scenario, to separate and give children some form of resolution?

Tough choices, I know, and complex issues, but - what do you think?