You live only once!

I was listening to a podcast the other day about correlation between our childhood and political views during adulthood. Given that we are governed for the very first time at home, our political preferences are very much shaped at home. I have mostly been a very obedient kid at home, where I’ve constantly feared the consequences of being otherwise. Having said that, I have done my share of sneaking behind my parents back to do things that they’d have never approved of, but everybody does that.

I have seldom challenged this invisible rule book for an acceptable format to life  – You study, you get a job, you get married, you buy property (more than one is preferable), you have children, you attend all family functions, you organise a few yourself, you go on foreign vacations, bring back presents for family, you continue to keep your job, go on business trips, bring presents again, religiously market your life on social media and so on. I may not have necessarily followed this myself, but I acknowledge the need for such rule based existence.

Naturally, when Karthik left a stable job within the first year of our marriage, you can imagine how distraught I must have been. I could never come to terms with his need to “take a break” because I was raised to slog my ass off in the hope of a post-retirement hibernation when I’d be free from all my familial duties. Karthik and I fought lots, not because he didn’t have a constant source of income, but just him sitting at home all day, everyday was just not healthy for him or our relationship.

The only way I knew how to get him to do what I wanted was to threaten him, and obviously, that didn’t work and we fought more. Sometimes it got very ugly, but none of that convinced him to get back to a job. He was so stubborn because life had been so unfair to him in the last few years that he genuinely believed he didn’t owe anyone anything. But I wouldn’t give up either – I revived my own dreams of studying further to make up for our combined dreams being shattered.

Recently, Karthik met a friend of his who was visiting London for a business meeting. This chap lives the epitome of a professional life that I had once aspired for. He found it hard to fathom that Karthik had moved to a new country just like that without a job. When Karthik told me this, I found myself getting extremely defensive although in the last 6 years I would never been seen defending Karthik’s life’s choices. I realised that I am incredibly proud of everything Karthik has done ever since he quit a stable job with Goldman Sachs, including moving to a different country just to support his wife live her dreams.

For a child prodigy, having always been miles ahead of his class, having topped JEE and CAT, it must have been incredibly disorienting to see that one needs a very different set of skills to survive the corporate world unlike in school years. After having been disillusioned at his first consulting gig, having gone through several less than stimulating jobs consequently, and dealing with the death of both parents, it must have taken enormous efforts to pull off a stellar consulting business, become a faculty at his alma mater, become a national newspaper columnist and a soon to be published author (Skipping the part where he has been an amazing partner putting me through business school, managing an entire household and surviving long-distance, because this would need an entire blogpost).

Over the last few years, I have begun to make peace with Karthik’s aspirations being very different from mine, and how we optimise for different things in life – me for stress and he for the lack of it. As a couple, if our focus had been on nurturing common formula driven dreams, building complexes and farm houses, we’d have learnt so little about embracing differences and me, about challenging meaningless rules.

Most people just cannot take risks and in turn impose the limitations of such a life on everyone around them. Anyone not following the prescribed path for success is warned of the potential dire consequences instead of just being understood. We think we are doing this out of concern for the other person, but in reality, we are trying to validate our own path by being skeptical/ condescending about someone else’s. It’s this lack of curiosity that deams us to failure as a society.

P.S – In our madness of shuttling between abiding and challenging, we have managed to study, get jobs, buy properties, have a child, travels loads and have the balls to quit jobs and move countries whenever we’ve wanted because you live only once!

Living for social approval

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Growing up, I was forbidden from doing several things (being “too” fashionable, drinking, dating, etc.) and the number one reason presented to me had something to do with how the society would perceive it. As you can imagine, being a teenager, that never seemed like a good enough reason for me to care about. Why were these elders so obsessed with social approval that I didn’t necessarily care about? As far as my logical mind is concerned, I think you should do something if you want or not do it, if you don’t.

One of the things I do as Marriage Broker Auntie is to help people identify new channels to find potential spouse. Recently when I suggested to a client that she get on a few dating apps, it didn’t go down quite well with her as her family was concerned about what people would think about finding her on “Tinder” for instance. Now, first of all, I don’t think your pakkad mane aunty would be on Tinder to find you, and even if she did, hey what was she doing on Tinder now?! More importantly, why should you care given that she is not sweating to get you married.

If you haven’t already learnt from the internet, there will always be people who like what you do and some others who don’t. This is inevitable, but why should this change what you do with your life? Pakkad mane aunty thinks you are a slut, then thank god you saved yourself from being recommended to her narrow-minded bhatru nephew. It’s not only important for you to maintain a safe distance from your society, it’s also important for you to keep your distance from people who are obsessed with societal approval because they keep their word only as long as the world is watching.

Why is suffering a much glorified idea?

Growing up in India, every kid has probably heard Gandhi ji’s famous quote about non-violence – “If someone slaps you on one cheek, show them your other cheek as well”. But my philosophy in life is modelled after actor Malasree in the Dynamic star-Devraj starrer Kannada movie, Gruhapravesha, where she champions self defence by stopping her mother-in-law Satyabhama from slapping her, in turn letting  everyone know she is not to be messed with. I don’t like to actively cause any harm to others, however, I also don’t like to cause any harm to myself in the name of propagating Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence.

Suffering is a highly glorified trait in India and I realised that this is much more commonplace among womenfolk. As women, we are designed to endure more physical pain (menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and so on) and yet, we try so hard to prove that we can take on more. We want to be great wives, great mothers, great professionals, we want to have it all even if it means killing ourselves over making it all work. In pain, we seek happiness and validation because our lives are pretty thankless otherwise.

Above and beyond our society,  most religions also preach that suffering is the route to heaven. If you don’t eat meat or drink alcohol on certain days of the week and endure the pain of controlling your craving, you are somehow better off than people who’d rather take pleasure for a place in heaven. If you fast in the name of god and kill yourself from hunger, you’ve earned yourself a spot in heaven. Its almost as if suffering has been glorified over the years just to induce some sense of fear so people don’t enjoy pleasure guilt free.

Pleasure/ happiness is desirable. When we see others have it while we can’t, it makes us jealous. We need a way to believe either that we shall have a shot at pleasure too or that the ones who are currently enjoying will soon join us in misery too because this is the only way for us to feel at peace. And so, our society devised this great trick for us to believe that giving up short-term pleasures and enduring suffering gives us long-lasting benefits at some unforeseeable point in the future. We obviously believe this because humans are greedy and we’d rather enjoy a little extra happiness tomorrow versus limited happiness today.

Distinguishing between loves

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On my flight from Bangalore to London yesterday, I watched Woody Allen’s “The Cafe Society”, a 2016 romantic drama that has a chain of betrayed relationships – one man leaving his wife for another and then this one leaving for another and so on. Woody Allen’s movies are always about unrequited or in-satiated love and people love it because they can all relate to it at some level and it makes their one-sided loves worth loving.

The human spirit loves complex problems or challenges. We can never truly appreciate and cherish what we have. It is in our nature to want what we can’t get. Even my 5-month old daughter isn’t happy with just rolling over or crawling, she wants to stand up even though she can barely even sit by herself. So, chasing people who won’t love us back is like the ultimate life challenge. Even the Hindu mythology is all about it. The Ramayana is essentially about unrequited love of Ravana for Sita and the Mahabharata is that of Duryodhana’s for Draupadi or Amba’s for Bheeshma.

While literature, drama and media have glorified this sort of love over the years, the only thing left to do with “the discussing grocery lists” sort of love between a man and his wife is parody. Having discussed grocery lists with Karthik for over 6 years now, even though I don’t say it out loud every single day, I love it. I love it in a way that I could never love my crush from the 9th grade who I’d be dying to see everyday with such naive passion.

One presents volatility and uncertainty, while the other presents stability. Some people prefer indulging in self deprecation driven by irrational passion while some others value reciprocation of emotion.  Neither love is less than the other, it’s just different. Having seen different kinds of loves over the years, in hindsight, I’d anyway prefer the mellow “talk for hours about arbit things under the sky” till you fall asleep sort of love over the state of ambivalence an intense passionate affair leaves you in.

What if you have never experienced different kinds of loves? Do we then simply have to rely on Bollywood to meet our ever elusive loves on a Eurorail in Switzerland? Would you be able to tell what kind of love you’re looking for? I am sure my grandmother would have argued that it doesn’t matter, and we just have to make do with what we get. She’s damn right, but we’ve too much exposure nowadays to simply make peace with our loves without sampling. So, I say, go out there and sample, even if you are 45, because its never too late to fall in love and that’s the only way to distinguish between different loves.

Hobbies, habits and hobbits

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In the past, women were made to sing or have their hobbies like tailoring/ crochet skills praised at the bride seeing ceremony because most of the time these women were going to be housewives and had to justify how they would spend time productively at home besides cooking and tending to the family. Today, both men and women work and their time at home after work is their own and nobody needs to justify what they do with it. However, people care about hobbies of a potential partner like never before.

There’s a good chance you might not relate to this post at all because this post is based on data gathered from my extended social circle. I have a friend who has been single for a while. He is a good looking, well educated, cultured, comes from a good family and pretty much checks off everything a great tharkari should, but is still single only because he is looking for a girl with a serious hobby. Simple enough, right? But you’ll be surprised to see how few people have hobbies as adults. The last time most people have hobbies is the first time they make a professional resume.

People with decent careers think they have their lives sorted and there is no reason for them to struggle in the marriage market, but they falter to even sustain another person’s attention because they are so one-dimensional. These people are exhausted after a hectic 5-day work week and the only way they know how to blow off some steam is by binge-watching sitcoms or drinking one’s gut out just because these are the easiest things to do. In fact, drinking is considered more of a “habit” in the marriage market (Lolz).

This is essentially a result of not knowing how to productively engage oneself in interesting activities. This leads to us looking for inspiration in a partner to make our lives more interesting putting unnecessary pressure on the relationship. This one time a girl rejected a boy with a very hectic creative career because she felt he wouldn’t have the time to spend with family. While this may or may not be true, someone assessing quality based on quantity of time  could potentially be a liability in the relationship.

If both the boy and girl have serious interests they pursue, this means minimising the time each of them spends alone wanting attention from the other, hence keeping expectations from the relationship at bay. Even at an individual level, they’d be more content with themselves allowing them to contribute positively to the relationship.

Now, there is a flip-side to having serious independent interests beyond work because you might have little chance of overlap in your lives to grow closer, but that’s a risk some people are willing to take because if they didn’t, they’d probably end up with someone who will neither let them be happy with themselves or in the relationship.

PG rated spouse hunting

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Despite pivoting from matchmaking to matrimonial advisory, I continue to get tonnes of calls everyday from some aunty or another about their son (not daughter, mind you!) who is in the market. I try to explain what I do but somewhere through the conversation, I just give up and tell them to ask their wards to get in touch.

The most common immediate reaction I get from these mothers is them thinking how absurd it is that I want to talk to their wards because after all parents know whats best for their children, right? As parents, some of us really have a tough time letting go. We are so used to double guessing what’s good or bad for them from the time they are infants that we refuse to see that figuring things out on their own is a part of growing up and living life itself.

Thanks to education and advent of feminism, daughters have made way for better parents who have learnt to strike a balance between holding on too tight and letting go. A lot more urban women choose their partners independently as compared to urban men, if the number of mothers who call me about their sons over daughters is any metric. Here are some of the most common reactions I get when I ask mothers to let me speak with their sons –

“I can tell you everything about him myself. “

“Oh my son is quite well mannered and shy, he hardly speaks to any other women apart from me, so I am not sure if he’ll open up to you.” (I independently learnt from the son that he had recently broken up with his girlfriend and wasn’t ready to get married yet. So much for being shy huh?)

“What do you want to speak to my son about? We can’t even see your photo on WhatsApp, so he is wondering why he should speak to you. Can’t you just find him a bride without talking to him? I have already told you what kind of a bride we want.”

“We only want a simple working girl who can support herself and also balance work at home without being too career driven. My son is too nice to tell you this himself.” (This was from a mother who claimed to be a feminist)

And saving the last one for the best –

“Nan maga antha helkothilla aadre yelladrallu munde idaane avnu. School time inda nu ashte, yelladrallu avne firstu. Avnu school drama nalli sugreevan part maadidda, tumba channaagi madidda. Yellru yesht claps hodidru gotta (I am not saying this because he is my son but he is good at everything. Since his school days, he has been the best at everything. In a school play, he played the part of “Sugreeva”, the monkey king and he was so good at it that everyone clapped a lot). ” 

All of this point to the fact that these parents have a tendency to interfere a bit too much in the lives of their children and it might not do much good to the marital lives of these kids. While the kids might have found a mechanism to deal with this level of parental influence in their lives but the new couple is going to struggle to keep pace, especially in cases where they all live together. There’s no way to make parents mere search agents without allowing them the joy of colouring the search criteria. Its only human.

If you are the type of person that needs your parents to play such an active role in finding you a life partner, that says something about the type of person you are. Judgemental much? May be. If you do not enjoy the journey of understanding yourself, sourcing your  own partner and then pursuing them to forage a meaningful long term relationship, then it probably says a little bit about how much effort you are going to put into your marriage.

Think about this like campus recruitment. Parents are like career services and bring in great companies for you to apply to and interview with. While you might be cool enough to make an impression and get the job (or spouse) you want, you might not be brave enough to put yourself out there into an off campus job market where you face greater competition and you really have to sell your worth to lock a job down. So, just like most campus jobs, you might mostly end up with cookie cutter or run of the mill type marriages that are formula driven.

Real joy is in spending time to understand yourself and sourcing your dream job (or spouse) and pursuing it until you have locked it down, sort of like love marriage. It is this journey that makes for a great story, people like to recount. While everybody wants love marriage, it takes a little bit of talent to make that happen and not everyone has it. So for everyone else, there’s always PG rated spouse hunting and I am not going to help you with it!

Connectivity and de-existentialism

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Have you ever incessantly checked your Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, WhatsApp, etc. through the day wondering if you have some poke, like or a notification, some sign from the virtual universe that it cares? And after doing this about a 100 times a minute, wondered what the hell is happening with you? Then maybe you contemplated getting off social media for good, but instead convinced yourself to start with a mild detox by deleting all the apps on your phone and decided to use chrome/ safari to open these sites if a “business” need arises?

So, you are sitting there quietly staring at your phone wondering how you managed to start living your life as a string of social media posts rather than experiences that stay as memories until moments before we die? While leaving remnants of our life all over the internet is a great way to crowdsource a distorted history for a future generation, it degrades the quality of our present lives.

While online social networks have greatly helped in reconnecting with people we’ve lost contact with, it crosses the line once in a while. When I meet a friend after 10 years, I want to enjoy the feeling of still being able to connect despite all the lost time between us. I don’t want to have a conversation just for the sake of verifying someone’s Facebook timeline. I almost hate it when people I am introduced to for the first time tell me they know all about me through Facebook.

It’s like the digital you is more important than the real you. I wouldn’t be surprised if some day our physical existence gets banned and “de-existentialism” becomes a thing like demonetisation. Imagine if we aren’t allowed to talk about or use any bits of our personality that isn’t already uploaded on the internet? Every time I felt overwhelmed by advancement in technology and how it is affecting the human race, I want to curl up in a ball and disappear. It feels like we are swimming away from a whirlpool, but in vain. Okay wait, maybe I’m watching too much Black Mirror?

Why am I complaining when I can make and stay connected every second with friends in every corner of the world (at literally no cost) like my parents couldn’t? Why am I complaining when I can capture and imprison every moment of my life without rationing like my grandparents never could? Why am I complaining when I can get you to read what I write so much more easily than Shakespeare ever could with his plays? We have made so much progress, yet we want to regress into time warps that would take us back to our yesteryears because we have seen times that were radically different.

Is it just us? or does every generation feel this way?