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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

sannikarcâcca sauhârdaE jâyate —Nearness Generates Friendship

Fuming and fretting, Sweety dashed in. Leaving the two suitcases behind, walked straight into the room blurting, “Enough is enough, no more of him… it’s quits once for all, that’s it”, and shut the door with a bang. This is for the third time that she rushed in like this during the last four months after she got married.

Yesterday, it was Neha, day before yesterday, it was Jessy and a few weeks back it was Dolly in our block and now Sweety to so walk out of their marriage. I don’t know how many more are there in the whole of our Sunny valley enclave!

As the tumultuous news was slowly sinking in, I pulled out the clipping of interview given by Sanjoy Chakravorty and Davesh Kapur, authors of the book The Other One Percent: Indians in America that was hailed as the first comprehensive and data-driven account of the “selection, assimilation, and entrepreneurship” of Indians in the US, to recheck if what I remember to have read is right. Yes, they did say, “…Indians [in America] have the lowest rate of divorce. That means they tend to have two incomes per family … it gives you a household income advantage, which means that your children get better education, which gives you further advantage that your life’s chances are better.”

Interestingly, this observation pertains to a category of Indians which the book terms as the most promising Indians in America: educated, over two-thirds of them holding high-status jobs and rich with a family income of over $100,000, roughly double that of white Americans. And this posits two questions:
  • How is that the emigrant Indians could hold on to their marriages intact despite being in an environment of liberalism and affluence?
  • Where did the families in India lost this "peculiar link between a social conservative trait and an economic advantage" that the emigrants have leveraged on to not only build a happy married life but also reap an economic advantage?  
The first question is answered by a sociologist thus: Perhaps, in the course of their wrestling with traditional values as opposed to the challenges posed by the new environment, families have become “the sites for the negotiation of issues pertaining to cultural values, enculturation and economic activity” for the emigrant Indians. This staying together, this sticking to the family while negotiating the way forward, has obviously engendered enough bondage between wife and husband and in the process helped them to cling to each other amidst the scenario of divorces all around for every damn reason, perhaps.

Now, from this explanation, the likely answer that emerges for the second question is: the young couple of today’s employment world in India are missing that staying together for long. For, couples who are working in different cubicles… different platforms… different schedules … and importantly at different times … and even in different cities find little time to stay together and engage actively with each other.  In fact, both of them are spending their active time more with ‘others’ than with the spouses. In other words, does it mean that the new couples in modern India are finding less and less time to be together … to have quality engagement with each other and work on strengthening the newly acquired relationship?   

This beneficial effect of staying in proximity —‘holding’ together of a wife and husband for long—in generating affection has indeed been highlighted by  Valmiki, the author of Ramayana when he makes Manthara say to Kaikeyi as an explanation for Rama becoming  so dearer to citizens of Ayodhya as well as to king Dasaradha while Bharata, who had been living since childhood at maternal grandparents’ house, could not garner the love of Ayodhyans, thus: “sannikarcâcca sauhârdaE  jâyatç sthâvarçc vapi (2.8.28)—Proximity creates friendship even amongst the inanimate objects.”  It is because of being nearer to the people of Ayodhya for long that Rama could win their hearts by his well conducted behaviour. For, after all nearness develops dearness. Say for instance, if you own a pen or vehicle for long you become so attached to it that one finds it difficult to part with it. That being the reality with inanimate objects, could human beings fail to develop sauhârdata when they live together for long?

If we juxtapose Valmiki’s assertion with what we have seen in the case of emigrant Indians in the preceding para, it becomes so clear that what a marriage needs to remain intact is: staying together—being nearer to each other tends to generate warmth. Of course, staying together here means having quality time together. And staying together and having quality time with each other doesn’t mean that there are no fights in the marriage.

Marriages can certainly be stretched when situation demands—for, the more one cares about somebody, the madder one can get with him or her—but temporarily. And quarrelling over differences is much better than silently sulking individually in seclusion. For passive aggression is a cancer that silently mars relations, kills love, could even break families. To let you appreciate this phenomenon, I may again  draw your attention to how Sita in Ramayana makes Rama know about her not approving his behaviour as a warrior in the Dandaka forest which incidentally, so eloquently displays her sense of ‘belongingness’ to her husband.

One day in the forest, as Rama and Lakshmana are about to leave early in the morning to kill rakshasas at the behest of rishis, which according to her is a transgression of a muni, which Rama was supposed to be in the forest, she says: “there are three transgressions to which a man is liable even when he makes a slight departure from propriety. One, false speech; two, copulation with the wife of another; and three, cruelty without enmity. Deliberating on each one of them at length, she finally concludes,  “…you should never kill the ogres residing in Dandaka without enmity. ...It is the affinity that I have had with you which emboldened me to remind you; …However, thinking over it by recourse to reason together with your younger brother you may do whatever appeals to you.”

Here what is to be appreciated from what Sita said is: her argument does not exhibit any contempt for Rama nor does she underestimate the virtue of Rama, which danger always lurks behind the ‘familiarity’—warm association. It is very important to realize here that nearness for long and the resulting ‘familiarity’ likely to breed contempt. And should this happen in the marriage, there is always a danger of one of them or both tend to pull down his/her estimation of the importance and sanctity of the other—indeed sanctity of the very relationship. And interestingly, Valmiki ensures that Sita guards herself from this danger by making her conclude her advice to Rama thus: “snēhācca bahumānācca smārayē tvān na siksayē (3.9.25), it is the affinity that I have had with you that emboldened me to remind you; I am not tutoring you… thinking over it by recourse to reason together with your younger brother you may do whatever appeals to you.”

Mightily pleased with what Sita said, Rama replies: “You have said this to me because you have a right to do so. It was done in good faith, out of an honest desire to put me on the right path. I am not offended... Nobody will chide one whom he does not care for. You have chided me because you are interested in me, because you love me, because you think I should do no wrong , commit no sin." 

Now, what is the take away from this scene?  Rather than holding back one’s opinion in a given matter close to chest, it is airing of it freely and leaving the decision to the other’s wisdom that keeps one in good stead. And that’s what Sita did here and thus she could remain ‘homeostatic’. Similarly, listening to Sita’s observation attentively  and showing respect for her observation by carefully analysing it and logically  reasoning out as to why he has to continue with his act of punishing the ogres, Rama not only made Sita believe that she matters for him but also pursue his dharma, as he enunciated. It is this reaching out both by Sita and Rama that obviously strengthened the fabric of matrimony.

This whole scene compels one to infer that any other kind of behaviour would have certainly created consternation between Sita and Rama. If this is true, it postulates another dictum: that the two people in the marriage should never ever expect to become one.  For, no two can ever become one. They are what they are. So, there must be a space in togetherness—a space that accommodates this separateness.  This understanding tend to allow each other to be what each of them separately is, while paving the way for a strong togetherness. Love does born out of this respect for another person. And it is this mutual respect that enables each of them grow individually and also helps them build a strong togetherness simultaneously. And that is what perhaps, Khalil Gibran meant when he said: “pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”   

I wish to conclude these reflections by borrowing the contents of a letter written by the father of Nobel laurate, Dr Chandrasekhar after he left India with his newly married wife into an uncertain future, for I cannot find better words for icing the post. The letter draws the attention of Dr Chandra and perhaps, his wife to the words of Anatole France: “Children, it is not enough to love much; you must love well. Great love is good, undoubtedly; wise love is better. May yours be as mild as it is strong; may it want nothing, not even indulgence and may some pity be mingled with it. You are young, beautiful and good; but you are human and, for that reason subject to many miseries. This is why if some pity does not form part of the feelings you have for each other, these feelings cannot be adapted to the circumstances of your common life; they will be like holiday clothes, which are no protection against the wind and the rain. You only love those securely when you love even in their weakness and meanness. Mercy, forgiveness, consolation, that is love and all its science.”     

That’s perhaps, what it is meant by when the elders say: “Marriage is what one makes of it”.

Paintings: Sincere thanks to Late Bapu garu.
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