Of friends in the family

The key to happiness in a family is the friendship between the parents!
Last week we were invited to tea at a friend’s place. Our friend, his wife and their daughter sat with us.  As we sipped some exotic Kashmiri Kahva tea, the conversation meandered to the subject of marriage. We all shared our thoughts on how companionship is more important than just being held hostage in the social framework of a marriage – where two people are trapped, unhappy with each other, trying to please the whole world! It was an interesting discussion that examined how marriage, as a socially-acceptable label, was perhaps losing relevance as a long-term engagement proposition.
Our friend’s daughter talked about the live-in relationship she had when she lived in Europe some years ago. She told us that because her partner could not make the move to India they decided to pursue their careers independently even if it meant separating from each other. But she added that despite their living on different continents their friendship has thrived. She looked at her parents and thanked them for supporting her choices all through – to live in with Mark, to choose to return to Chennai without him, and to continue to be friends with him. Our friend said, “We feel like Mark is one of our own.” And his wife exclaimed, “We will always love Mark. He’s a great guy!”
I found the entire conversation mature, honest and beautiful. For a couple of reasons. One, marriage as an institution indeed requires deconstruction and reengineering. Clearly the happiness of the people involved must be focused on more than the relationship. And that can happen only when two people are relating, in a present continuous sense, with each other. Often times – look around you and you will find so many examples of this – people are just clinging on to the social definition of the relationship although it has long been dead in a truly, deeply, personal sense! The other reason this conversation interested me was that this family inspires us and show us why we must respect the choices and preferences of our children. It beats me why some parents still want to control their children and force them to make choices for their (parents’) sake!

A good marriage is one where there’s a great friendship between two people. And a good family is one where parents and children respect each other for who they are – this means individual choices, opinions and decisions are not just welcome, they are encouraged; and everyone is free to live their Life, their way, without the fear of being judged. Simply, the friendship between parents impacts the destiny of the family – often determining how their children find love, meaning and happiness in Life! 

Friendship and Relating – the twin factors that make great relationships!

No one is inferior or superior. In a relationship, it is the relating which is important. Not who’s more powerful or articulate or successful.
The Airtel “Priya -Boss” Ad
A TV commercial for Airtel is making news in India for the wrong reasons. It shows a man taking orders from his boss, who is also his wife; while at the same time, she,  as his wife, offers to cook dinner and invites him to come home soon. The debate on social media is on, as one analysis on IBN Live argued, “whether the campaign enforces stereotypes, breaks established family roles, is a modern twist to same old misogynist propaganda or just neo-feminism riding on compromise.”
Watch the ad here

Honestly, I don’t see why there must be a debate in the first place. Why can’t a woman be a man’s boss at work while still offering to cook a meal for them at home? Why do we typecast people in specific roles – that a man should be the boss or should be the bread-winner or that a woman must primarily be a home-maker and not have a career of her own? When I got married, my wife used to earn a salary higher than I did – she worked in the computer education field while I was a journalist, earning a measly income that was determined by a government-regulated wage board! But this never really affected either of us. And then she gave up her flourishing career to stay back at home and help us raise a family. Again this decision never affected our love or respect for each other. I know a couple, both of whom have IIM-A degrees, where the wife is a high-flying software professional with India’s # 1 IT company, while the husband keeps the home and helps their young teenaged daughter cope with high school and now, recently, college. For years now, they both have kept these roles and continue to have a very happy marriage.
So, I don’t think a reversal of roles affects a marriage. Whatever be the role, as long as the friendship between two people is intact, they will continue to relate to each other. I, in fact, salute the Aritel commercial’s director, Vinil Mathew, for choosing to make such a sensitive film. To me, the ad celebrates friendship and relating. And these two are above everything else – even above the label of a “respectable relationship”. There’s no meaning in a relationship if people in it can’t relate to each other or enjoy each other’s companionship. What’s the point in strutting around trying hard to prove that everything’s normal, when nothing really is, to please a decadent society? It doesn’t matter who earns, who cooks, who does the dishes or who fetches the groceries – as long as the two people in the relationship continue to love each other and are willing to grow and evolve through Life – together!

Someone to walk into the sunset with…..

A marriage can be continuously exciting and romantic if the couple in it are relating to each other than merely being obsessed with ‘maintaining’ the relationship.
Yesterday I was watching this beautiful Hindi movie ‘English Vinglish’ (2012, Gauri Shinde, starring Sri Devi). At the end of the movie, Shashi, the housewife played so admirably by Sri Devi, talks about marriage and how it can be nurtured and kept relevant despite the pulls and pressures of everyday Life. I can’t agree with her more.
When you strip away all the frills and the individual or societal expectations, what you are left with is the friendship of two people who come together and decide to live, learn and walk together through Life. True friendship is really about being yourself and allowing the other person to simple be too. Actually you don’t need the label of a marriage to certify or consummate a friendship. We don’t do it in the normal course, with other friendships we may have struck with people from either sex. So, why does it become so complicated, ever so often, in a marriage? The answer lies in the contractual nature of the relationship itself – as defined and practised by society today. While no scripture or tradition prescribes this contractual arrangement, society, over centuries and generations, has ended up, in the garb of pronouncing marriage to be a ‘sacred institution’, turning marriage into a business contract. You give me this. And I give you this in return. If you are this way, then I promise to be this way. A marriage, in its simplest definition, has ended up being nothing but a conditional acceptance of their affairs between two people. Great friendships, however, are never conditional – they thrive on mutual understanding, respect, brutal honesty and compassion. As long as two people can be this way, relating to each other, despite the circumstances, their friendship will survive, grow and glow. Truly, in such cases, you don’t need a certificate, a label or any protection or safety net – legal or social. Of course, it is quite possible that sometimes, friendships grow through a marriage. So, it is not to be concluded that the institution is itself losing credibility.
I guess the moot point then is – how can two people try to continue to relate to each other without really worrying about the relationship?
This, from my own personal experience, and what I have learned observing couples over the years, is possible when the ‘relating’ is continuous. Life is a long journey. Couples experience at least 35+ years of togetherness in a normal lifespan. Now this togetherness can be a beautiful friendship or just a ‘co-existential’ drama enacted for both self and society. That is they “legally live-in together” but don’t connect, don’t relate at all. When relating is continuous – there are no terms, no conditions, no impositions. There’s an expectant air about everything. Pretty much like the early weeks of two people getting to know each other. Waiting for the appointed meeting hour. Letting go. Giving space to each other. Disagreeing at times. But agreeing to disagree. There’s nothing predictable nor taken-for-granted. Then, when everything’s fresh, despite the years of being together, then, the relating is continuous. Conversely, when the relating is continuous, the romance is still new and fresh.
Of course, Life’s design will challenge the greatest friendships. But only those that are built on the foundations of mutual respect and compassion__what I call relating__survive these challenges. Whatever label we give this friendship, I for one believe that walking hand-in-hand with someone you can relate to is the greatest gift you can have in Life. If you have that gift, celebrate and be grateful. If you don’t then stop kidding yourself. Have the courage to accept that while you may be in relationship called marriage, there’s no relating in it anymore. At least stop grieving, stop wishing your Life were different and stop complaining about your spouse. You are as much responsible for the non-relating in your relationship as your spouse is. And remember, you still have an option – if you still want to, you can go find that friend who’s out there waiting for you, and who can walk with you into the sunset!