Loving and relating, in the present continuous, are what make Life beautiful!
A young man asked me and Vaani this question yesterday, in the context of a relationship between two people: “What is the meaning of love?” I told him loving is more relevant than love. If you are loving, then you are relating to the other person. Loving is present continuous, it is flowing. If you fall in love, chances are you will fall out of it. But if you are loving, if you are relating to someone, you will keep rising in love.
Vaani is often asked how she continues to stand with me, walk with me, through this crisis-ridden phase of our Life. (Read more about this phase here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) And she always replies saying, “The circumstances in our Life have changed over the last 30 years that AVIS and I have known each other. We had no money when we met, we then made money and then we have had no money for over a decade now again. While the circumstances have changed, while how we look physically has changed, how we look at each other has not changed. AVIS as a person is the same. His values are intact – just the same as they were. I continue to relate to him, so, I walk with him.” That’s really what loving is all about. And I am grateful Vaani’s loving me this way.
Life is a journey. And companionship makes it very special, very beautiful. I am not necessarily meaning a spouse here when I say companion. I mean anyone who you can relate to, who is loving, who is a soulmate. Of course, if that companion is your spouse, it is truly a blessing. When there is loving between two people, then the relationship really does not matter. And when two people are not loving, no matter what their relationship is, it is dead – there is no relating between them, you see!
Another couple I can think of to celebrate this idea of loving are Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan, the dancers. In their mid-to-late 70s now, their companionship, of over 65 years on stage and over 50 years as a couple, is inspiring. They have grown up together, they have faced Life’s upheavals together, they have offered their art to the Universe together, they have taken Indian culture and dance to global audiences together – and they continue to rise in love. Over this IPL season, both of them have featured in Ogilvy & Mather’s Vodafone TV commercial series doing together many things that not many folks their age will really venture doing. The series has been aptly themed #MakeTheMostOfNow and shows them on a second honeymoon in Goa, riding a two-wheeler (wearing helmets – and that’s a wow!), paragliding, doing Facebook Live, and holding videoconferences with their extended family on their smartphones. (Watch the commercials here.)
Vaani and I believe that Life must be experienced to the fullest, through its highs and lows, through its upheavals and through all its magic, mysticism and beauty. You can do that only when you are loving, in the present continuous, and only when you #MakeTheMostOfNow – together!
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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