Marriage is a hollow, irrelevant institution – it is perhaps the singular cause of gender inequality.
Last night, over dinner, Vaani and I had an interesting conversation with a friend’s daughter. We talked about marriage – and its increasing irrelevance.
This young lady is in a long-distance relationship. Her boyfriend comes from an affluent, conservative family. The boy’s parents are keen to have the engagement done now and the wedding sometime next summer. The young lady is not sure what she must do. She is wary of walking into a family which does not believe in the bahu, the daughter-in-law, following her own bliss and career. The girl’s brother is advising the couple not to rush into a marriage. His view: “Understanding each other is very critical before you end up in a marriage.”
I agree with him. In fact, although Vaani and I are married, I have come to see marriage as a totally avoidable practice. Here’s why I feel so – and this is what I shared with the young lady too last night.
In the garb of according societal approval and fulfilling religious norms, marriage actually, unnecessarily, limits Life between two people. Clearly, the reason why two people relate to each other for long periods of time is not because they are married. It is because there’s a friendship between them, they understand each other and are willing to be non-judgmental about each other despite the circumstances. This relating is continuous, and is never limited by gender, class, religion, nationality or language. Of course, to build and sustain this companionship, two people need not be necessarily married. On the other side of this view, people can stop relating to each other after being together for a considerable amount of time. It is very natural. But as we see all around us, it is only marriage that makes any divorce painful and messy. So, if you place societal requirements aside, marriage is irrelevant. What people do today while they are still in a marriage they can and will do even otherwise. They will either relate to each other and be great friends or they will grow out of liking each other and move on or they will stay together and have other relationships that will make them feel complete and fulfilled. But when they do all this without being married, they will do so while being a lot, lot more, happier. Simply, they will experience total freedom and zero guilt in doing what they really want to do! If you examine society around you, there’s isn’t unputdownable evidence that supports the utility of marriage as a social contract – it has neither aided the building of great companionships nor has it prevented people from exploring Life outside of its framework. This is why, I believe, marriage is irrelevant.
The other problem that marriage has created is that it has, again unnecessarily, made a very basic human need, sex, appear illicit and salacious whenever it is indulged in outside of a marriage. This is outright ridiculous. As Osho, the Master, says, the bees, the birds, the fish, and every other species don’t find the act of having sex illicit. They do it freely. They don’t have any rules that promote monogamy and condemn polygamy. So, why are we humans outrageously supportive of this regressive framework called marriage that restricts free access to a basic human need, to a beautiful spiritual expression – sex?
Also, it is the imposition of the draconian code of conduct of marriage that has singularly led to gender inequality. This is particularly true in Indian society even though it is evident in several other cultures world-wide. Consider this: the moment she marries, a woman must serve the interests of the family, often at the cost of her career, her passion, her bliss. She must rear children. She must not step outside of the marriage, the relationship, even if she finds someone that she can relate to. But the man she married can do what he pleases, with whomever he chooses. And because she agreed to be subservient, and often just a doormat, if at all she dares to seek a divorce, she has to be at the mercy of her estranged husband and seek alimony for survival through an inert legal process, that’s always messy and emotionally draining! Doesn’t all this sound so stupid, so repulsive?
I would any day champion that people just develop great friendships while living together. If they grow out of liking each other, they can, and must, move on. And if they want to procreate and have children, let it be a mutual choice, not a necessity. Yes, for reasons like securing passports or buying material assets, if there must be a piece of legal documentation, let there be. But don’t get wedded to the legalese. The real contract is in the spirit of togetherness – of a friendship, of relating to each other, of enjoying each other, of giving and receiving, of always being there for each other, no matter what the circumstances are. As I share in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal and in the film Rise In Love (that a young film-maker made to understand how the companionship between Vaani and me thrived in the face of adversity), Vaani and I are friends first and then a married couple. In fact, if I was meeting Vaani now, I would not have chosen to have a marriage. We would have lived-in together and would still be loving each other as much as we do now. Our marriage has not helped us stay together. Our friendship has.
So, my (unsolicited) advice to my children, Aashirwad and Aanchal, and to anyone wanting some perspective is this – marry only if you want to; please don’t marry because society or family wants you to. It is a meaningless, irrelevant, practice. Between being stuck in a relationship and being able to relate to each other no matter what, relating to each other is more valuable. Between your marriage and your happiness, obviously, happiness wins hands down any day, doesn’t it?!
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A cardinal principle of parenting (especially of adolescents and young adults) is to not come in the way of the passions and dreams of your children.
In a recent story “The lure of foreign education” in Business Standard my former colleague (when I was with BusinessWorld/ABP) Anjuli Bhargava reviews the pros and cons of educating children abroad – especially if parents can afford it. I am not going to analyze her piece here. All I am going to say is that whether it is their education or their relationships or their careers, give your children the power of choice. Offer your insight from an experiential and values-based point of view. But leave the final decision to them. If you can fund their dreams, great. If you can’t afford to fund them, at least don’t stop them from chasing their dreams. Encourage them instead to believe in themselves, to trust the process of Life and that will lead them to find creative ways to fulfil whatever they are setting their sights on.
I talk from personal experience. Vaani and I have followed this principle with both our children – Aashirwad and Aanchal. In fact, the decision to send Aash to the University of Chicago in 2008 in the most improbable of circumstances – when we had no means to even cover living expenses for us in India dealing as we were with a bankruptcy (which we continue to endure) – and the story of his miraculous graduation from there is detailed in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland). I always tell Aash that his real education happened over the course of the four years of his undergrad program in the way he learnt to thrive in a multi-cultural environment and in how he conquered the harsh winters of Chicago. The degree that the University offered him is just a piece of paper. But what he learnt from Life on a US campus he will find unputdownable, and invaluable, over time. Aanchal is currently looking to do her Master’s overseas. And she’s working on getting her funding in place – through scholarships and grants. We know that she will find her way. So, what we have learnt, as a family, is to never come in the way of what Life is offering us. We truly appreciate the value of going with the flow.
Vaani and I believe parents must never weigh the aspirations of their children against their own (parents’) insecurities. This is not about education alone. Even in the matter of relationships and career choices, as parents, we must learn to let go. We must understand that our children have unique Life paths. Just because we went through a certain experience it need not be necessary that our children will go through the same. Yes, all of us parents are always wishing that our children must not encounter pain in Life. We want them to lead good, comfortable, prosperous, healthy and happy lives. But do you even see the futility in having this expectation? No amount of prayer or wishing by you can prevent your child from having to go through her or his unique Life path. To put it bluntly, you cannot live your child’s Life. You cannot prevent your child from experiencing pain. All you can do is to, if you know that art yourself, teach your child how not to suffer in the face of Life’s challenges, when pain strikes. And if you don’t know how to avoid suffering, then just back off. Let your child learn from her or his own unique experience. Also, please, please, don’t see your child’s Life as a financial opportunity, an investment that you must seek to extract a yield out of. Your child is not here to fulfil your dreams either. Nor is your child here to jump at your every whim, obey your every command and fear your every look. Your child’s future – be it education or marriage – is not a duty or responsibility either that needs to be ticked off as having been accomplished in your Things To Do list. Your child is, to quote Khalil Gibran, Life’s longing for itself; your child is born through you and not for you. And certainly, your child didn’t ask to be born. So let your child simply be. And believe me, or look at yourself – haven’t you, despite all your frailties and challenges survived and reached where you have in Life? – your child will be just fine!
Finally, allow me to suggest this. Be your child’s BFF. It’s far more fun than being your child’s parent! So, go get yourself a Snapchat account and an Instagram handle. Be an uber cool parent. For, parenting in today’s world, especially of adolescent and young adult children, can be a joyous opportunity to practice detachment, to let your hair down and to let go! And when you do let go, you will find that your children always turn out more responsible, more caring, more compassionate, more strong and more successful – in that inescapable worldly sense – than you would have ever thought of them to be!