The marital whisper network and why men don’t have it

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Disclaimer – While I am principally not opposed to the idea of gender as a spectrum, I must confess I am fairly illiterate. So, as always, this blogpost will cover only the two ends of this spectrum. My sincere apologies to anyone else in-between for not having enough to say.

I was talking to a good friend from school earlier this morning and we were exchanging notes on our respective married lives and she said atleast we women folk have a whisper network where we are able to vent/ share experiences, although we are shamed about it as being disloyal to the husband/ family, whereas men don’t talk about these things. Anecdotally, this seemed very true, but I wondered why men and women behaved differently despite sharing the same experience – marriage.

The three questions that I set out to answer are – (1) why do women share their personal stories, unlike men? (2) Why are they then shamed about it? (3) Why don’t men share their marital stories?

Men are structurally stronger, they went out to work, hunted/ gathered to feed the family and subsequently had access to education that resulted in superior jobs. Women on the other hand were the child bearers and rearers, and then when we started leading more settled lives, women’s responsibilities extended to managing all responsibilities within the house. This natural division of labour resulted in men becoming the financiers and women feeling indebted to the income for running the house. In this way, for hundreds of years, men have dominated women, and especially in marriages.

Given this social structure that has been nurtured by our patriarchal society, women opposing this dominance is never a pleasant thing. From a man’s perspective, shaming this rebellion is the most natural thing to do. Whether this is right or not is a completely different question, but all I am saying is that given our social conditioning, this is not unexpected. From a woman’s perspective, it is a matter of pride if you do stand up to this dominance, and like anything else we are proud of, this deserves to be shared to. However, given that women have to balance this pride with the shaming, they resort to whisper networks.

Does this make a woman disloyal to the husband/ the family? This question is best left to individual judgement as everyone’s circumstance is different and this depends on who you are sharing what information with and how that would affect the person being discussed. But you are being bloody disloyal to our patriarchy I tell you, for which our forefathers would never forgive you. But I’m okay with that, are you? Now, what about men? Why don’t they talk about their marriage with others? Ideally, I would have liked to ask men this question, but given that they don’t talk about it, I’ll try answering on their behalf although I’d be thrilled to have a man challenge me on this, though.

If our society is structured for men to dominate, then it is socially unacceptable for a man to declare loss of control. If a man talks about a disagreement with his wife, he is implicitly admitting to loss of control. What man can’t keep his woman in her rightful place? It is a matter of shame for the man, so he’d rather not talk about it. Today, as more and more women gain control in relationships, more and more men are comfortable breaking free from social conditioning to allow greater balance in power in a marriage. Unfortunately, in most cases, this is confined to the walls of their household.

Men are yet to talk declare loss of control more openly, and this is all down to social conditioning and how little incentive they have to break free from it. Why should they be more vocal about their problems? Who is going to champion this change? While gender equality is a great thing, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I have access to more opportunities than my grandmother did, I think we must encourage our men to speak up. It’s okay to not be in control. It’s okay to grow a pair and talk about your marital problems, because you are not alone!

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Bendekai huLi and being a naughty wife

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I grew up in a household where what my dad wanted to eat was always more important than what my mum wanted to eat. For most of my child-hood, my mum ate leftovers from dinner for breakfast and so I don’t think it ever mattered what she made for breakfast, as she never ate fresh breakfast. My mum was/ is a very devoted wife. She comes from a world where she believes that satisfying her husbands dietary needs is her duty as a wife. Most of her generation is like that and I don’t think any of them ever questioned it’s premise and validity in a world where women worked just as hard as men outside of home, if not more.

We never appreciated each other in our house very much. We all did things for each other as if it was our duty, and expected nothing in return. Then I got married to Karthik, in whose house people always gave each other feedback on every meal that one cooked. It was strange in the beginning, but I began to appreciate the new tradition until I had a series of “not nice” from Karthik. I realised I was making all this effort to cook and make him happy due to social conditioning. I always only cooked the vegetables he approved of, in combinations and proportions his mother had got him used to. I stopped eating all the vegetables I really liked – bendekai, tondekai, etc. because after all, what the husband wanted to eat was always more important than what a wife wanted.

Then I moved away from home for my MBA for about two years and I could suddenly eat what I wanted, and I didn’t have to ask anyone. Also, I lived with two guys who did most of the cooking at home, even when their girlfriends were visiting. I suddenly saw a world difference in how romantic partnerships worked outside of my society, and I couldn’t help but wonder why we led such illogical lives that were just legacies left by our grandmothers who didn’t have full-timejobs. I couldn’t understand how I’d just dropped everything I wanted to make this partnership work, even thought no one had explicitly asked me to do so.

I would constantly be reminded of an episode from when I was 21. My mum had had a viral arthritis attack, and she was basically bedridden for a few weeks leaving my dad to sub for her in the kitchen. He was used to making lunch on Sundays, but this seemed like quite a lot for him to handle apart from going to office and taking care of my mum. His frustration was obvious sometimes, although he is too nice to say anything out loud, and that would make amma guilty for being ill, which seemed silly.

Although today, my dad gets more involved in the kitchen than amma given that he is retired, I can’t help but feel like my mum had a huge role to play in terms of not involving my dad equally in running the household early on. My ajji (the mother-in-law) might have played a role in setting expectations around what is to eaten at home/ what not, but I had no such pressures in my marriage. Everything was self-inflicted, may be due to social conditioning, or sheer stupidity, but ever since I have had a chance to re-live my life away from home, I have become a very naughty wife.

While I love to feed the family, I bail the moment I smell lack of gratitude for the efforts I make beyond what is fair in this relationship. I make sure I am always fair to myself, and have no regrets around how I treat myself in a relationship. This grossly scribbles all over the template of a wife my society has drawn for me, but I am living exactly how I want to. That’s precisely why after being criticised by the husband about my cooking 3 times in a row, I decided to make bendekai huli (picture above) for the 1st time in 7.5 years of my marriage because I love bendekai huli (and the husband hates it!). Berry and I absolutely enjoyed our meal, while the husband went out and ate Sushi at a nearby restaurant. So, I guess that was a win-win situation for all of us?

Berry might grow up to either endorse/ rubbish my way of living, but it’s for her to figure out how she wants to lead her life, I am by no means trying to set any examples.

 

The generation that wants it all!

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Today, the thirty somethings in India are really struggling to find life partners like never before. When I say like never before, I mean these are people you would have expected to be already married by now, but not anymore. Some 8-9 years ago, on Varamahalakshmi festival, our family priest, who also doubles up as a matchmaker, had come home to perform the ritual. He mentioned that one of my dad’s younger colleagues had approached him for matchmaking help. When my dad asked the priest about this colleague’s prospects of finding a bride, this is what the priest said – “This chap is a 30 year old muduka (roughly translates to grandpa), that too with just an engineering degree  (no masters) working in some private company, not even Infosys or TCS. Even software fellows are struggling to find women because all brides want to go onsite nowadays, so this guy doesn’t have a chance!” Of course it sounded a lot more amusing in Kannada with alliterations and all that, but the point being I am not talking about such men or women here. I am talking about people our society would generally consider very successful, if not too successful. So, why then, are these successful people struggling to find partners?

What is different about this generation is that we are full of high achievers, we thrive on a sense of achievement and we don’t settle for anything less than a sense of achievement from whatever we do. Simply said, we are at far higher levels of the Maslov’s hierarchy today than any other generation in the past. Until we have checked that self-esteem box in our professional lives (which is roughly measured in terms of founding one’s own company and making millions of an IPO/ sell-out), we want to push the decision of getting married and hence, the average age of people looking to get married is far higher today. So what does this mean in terms of finding a partner?

Men no longer just want a wife who can look gorgeous, cook, clean and bear their offspring, and women no longer want men who can just be the breadwinner for the family or be the macho protector like the Shah Rukhs and Hritiks of the world. We want partners we are proud of, we want partners who make us feel like we have achieved great heights in our choice of partners, and in turn our personal lives. And, it’s okay. Well, to be fair, our grandparents or parents were also fairly ambitious and you might think this is the problem of every generation with respect to the previous, but what is different about this generation is that we are looking for trophy partners in India vs trophy son-in-laws or daughter-in-laws or a general addition to our existing esteemed families unlike in the last few hundred years.

In the past, when parents/ aunts/ uncles found a potential daughter-in-law/ son-in-law, they optimised for values that matter when you recruit a new family member – cultural upbringing, physical genes, compatibility with a large extended family, workload reduction for existing family members, protection of family wealth and so on. The bride who finally got recruited would have cleared the bar on all counts, and the groom has nothing left to do in terms of getting social approval since his family would have taken care of that bit during recruitment. At the most, the girl would have to check off the “oh how did this dude land such a cute chick” test amongst the groom’s gang of single male friends.

Most of us have been in and out of several relationships before we have resorted to the arranged marriage route, and we have pretty solid ideas on what kind of a partner suits us. Parents have no clue about what we learn from our past relationships and hence, there is a lack of interference in filters between parents and us. So parents actively encourage their kids to find their own partners, in numbers larger than ever before, despite having a pretty static view on what is a good son-in-law or a daughter-in-law.

This puts undue pressure on the ward to not only seek validation from the family, but also their ever expanding social circle thanks to the internet. So what do you then optimise for? Everything. And this in turn, makes it harder to find a partner because let’s be honest, you simply cannot optimise for everything. So, we start with trying to match ourselves in terms of professional success because by 30, our professions are a large part of our identities. Anyone who is as successful as us, is probably just as proud of where they have gotten in their lives, so if you are hoping to force-fit them into your families who is hoping to find you a “smart, modern, liberal thinking, yet homely” person, don’t you think you are going to find them to be “rigid”, “too feminist” or “not making an effort to get along with your family”?

Whether you like it or not, life is about trade-offs and we’ve all got to make them at some point. Being with someone who gives you a sense of achievement also means you both have very strong personalities and you are bound to run into disagreements, more likely on a daily basis but guess what? Making that work, embracing the challenge of convincing someone to see life your way, and agreeing to disagree is what will continue to give you a sense of achievement. Imagine if you were married to someone you never disagreed with, someone who would just listen to everything you said, and life was just too easy, would you enjoy that? Probably not.

You are in a market, this is an auction, and you only get something precious if you are willing to pay the price for it. Each of us has to figure out the price we are willing to pay and that’s what we are going to get. The big difference between a regular auction and a marriage is, you make a downpayment and have a recurring price to pay everyday of your marriage unlike in an auction. Sounds tough? Sorry boss, such are life. So, happy spouse-hunting and enjoy making your marriages work!

Temple Go-ers

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After having lived in West London for nearly a year, we decided to go see South hall to belt some Punjabi food. As soon as we got out of the South hall railway station, we were surrounded by the whiff of mind-blowing food from the neighbouring Gurudhwara. We were no tempted to go inside and check if there’s food for non-Sikh people. We chickened out and made our way to this highly rated restaurant in the area which turned out to have the shittiest service I’ve seen anywhere till date.

Later I learnt that we could have very well gone to the Gurudhwara as there was free lunch being served to everyone. I also learnt about other temples and churches that dole out delicious free food to everyone. I learnt that there is a temple very close to where I live that serves delicious dinner as prasadam on Friday evenings and so we promptly headed there Friday evening. This temple is called Kanaga Turkai Amman kovil, and based on the misplaced ka and ga, I am guessing it’s of tamil origin. Everyone was dressing in very traditional Indian clothes, clad in jewellery, etc. I have never dressed up to go to a temple, so I felt a bit out of place here. I was constantly worried about getting caught. Caught for what, I am not sure.

People started reciting some shloka type thing from laminated sheets with English and tamil writing, that was being passed around to everyone. Sitting amidst all the unfamiliar chanting, I couldn’t help but think of what Yuval Noah Harari had to say about religion and how it is yet another imagined order. The way I’ve understood God, is that he/ she always existed, before all humans and before all animals. And most well respected temples back home are old very old temples that have existed from before our grandparents. Also, most of the time, there is a story like Old Rama stopped here on his way to Lanka, or Ravan dropped this Linga on his way from Kasi and so on, which makes the idol holier than a piece of stone some humans erected. The older the story, the more authentic the temple seems since more generations can vouch for its “powers”.

While finding directions to the temple, I read a review on google that said this temple is great because a lot of senior devotees come here. Now, this Ganesha in Ealing, did he come from India? How did he get past immigration? What visa is he on? How long has he been here? What are his powers? or do people just come here to feel a sense of community? I had so many questions, and I think I would have been more at ease if I knew the back story of this temple. Although, I was floored by these people who had left their lands (myself included), but brought their collective imaginations along.

All of us had our own reasons to be there, some to flaunt their jewellery, some to ask for happiness, some for the food, some out of practice, some to celebrate our collective imagination and some to just scream and run around like Berry. Ok, Berry wasn’t screaming but was surely running around some boy who was screaming and running to get her attention. These kids were truly having a good time, because how often do you scream and run around people who look familiar (people wearing saris and panches), without your parents constantly dragging you to behave in this country where manners matter more than feelings?

But as all good things have to come to an end, one elderly lady kept coming to us and asking us to control this boy who was screaming and running around. One, we didn’t know who this boy was, because his parents were no where in the scene and two, Berry didn’t quite fit the typical temple go-er profile, as it’s people like this lady (senior devotees who celebrate our imagined orders) who drive better google reviews for the temple, we decided to leave. No doubt, Berry screamed being tucked into the shackles of her carrier but stepping out made me break free from the shackles of a collective imagined order I no longer believe in.

P.S – I am not an atheist. I am not a non-believer of idol worship. I am just a sucker for stories. Thank you, Yuval Noah Harari for opening my mind, for allowing me to see the universe from a perspective I hadn’t known for over a third of my life.

In India, we date in English.

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I was researching dating apps in India and stumbled upon videos created by some of the big players in the space – this was a combination of testimonials from real success stories and other promotional content. As I watched most of the videos on a particular youtube channel – I found a huge disconnect between the real people who’d found success on this app and the actors from the promotional videos who were portraying potential users of the app. The most apparent difference was that these two sets of people were conversing in different languages – the real people in English and actors in Hindi.

Fortunately or unfortunately, for having learnt English for more number of years than any other language (Kannada/ Telugu/ Hindi/ Sanskrit/ Japanese/ Spanish), and for also having grown up in a house where the mother tongue was Telugu but the spoken word was Kannada, my preferred language of communication is English. Given that I am a native English speaker, it was easy for me to not relate to the app but I wondered if you would relate better as a native Hindi speaker? The real people from the testimonials all had “hindi speaking” surnames, so why were they all speaking in English? Do we prefer to speak in English when we talk about love/ dating?

In order to test my hypothesis, I quickly re-watched a few Hindi movies that popped up on top of my netflix page – Raja Hindustani, Jab we Met and Kabhie Haan, Kabhie Na. Barring the last one (given that this was based in Goa, where people do speak English quite commonly!), the other two are classic hindi heavy movies. In both movies, the first words/ conversation between the actors is in English, especially when they recognise the other person as a potential interest. Maybe we prefer to date in English?

This is not surprising, given that dating has not been a part of our culture atleast for the last 200 years, and it has come around as a result of western influence. Thanks to penetration of western television, and Titanic, we like to now “date” in India, and date in English. If someone texted me on Tinder and said, “Hai wanna hav sex?”, I’d still prefer that to someone saying “oye chodhna hai?” or “yenema keyonva?”, despite the spelling mistakes (Yes!), because we like to date in English. The countless hindi movies in the 90s, early 2000s that had the hero pull off some English stunt with the heroine when he was hitting on her, have made it cool to date in English in India.

Now, if we like to date in English, why are these apps making ads in Hindi? Do they even get their customers? For all the apps that are stagnating at less than a million unique users in India, remember that we date in English – whether we are from Bangalore or Bhatinda.

 

Can we just be humane sometimes?

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I frantically finished work early to go pick up my daughter from her nursery, so I could reach home before a call with my mentor at 6:30pm. I arrived at the nursery door only to realise I didn’t have the access key with me, which is normally in the same bunch as my house keys. Thankfully, there was another parent walking ahead of me, who had opened the door and I ran in behind him. My mind was now racing as it was busy calculating the time it would take to go from Farringdon to Victoria (where my husband’s office was) and then to Ealing (where I live) all before my call at 6:30. I had about an hour and a half, so it was almost impossible to make it back home in time, and so I decided to ring my husband up while I walked behind the other parent as I hoped to be let in through the door behind him.

The man in front of me just stopped, and stepped aside. As I stayed on the phone hearing my husband’s number ring without being answered, I asked the man if he could let me in as I didn’t have my access key with me. The man looked me straight in the eye and said, “I am sorry, I don’t know who you are and I can’t just let anybody into the nursery like this.” At first, my mind was too pre-occupied to even comprehend what he was saying because I wasn’t expecting him to say anything but “of course”. Now, if this man had never seen me before, I would still be okay with him saying that but we had seen each other almost every day when we both went to pick up our respective children from the nursery.

When I finally understood what he was saying after a few seconds, I wanted to scream at him asking if he is completely out of his mind to say what he just said given that he has seen me picking up my daughter several times before, but I was too shellshocked that anyone could be so rude to say anything at all. Thankfully, before anything else could happen, someone from the nursery came in from behind the door and let me in. But I couldn’t stop thinking about why that man said what he said. Was it just a lack of decency? or was it racism?

I don’t know, but sometimes I wonder what stops people from just being humane? There’s way too much hatred in the world already, thanks to the comment section of any piece of writing on the internet. Why can’t we just be nice to people we can physically see in front of us? It’s not like I was asking this guy for his kidney, all I was asking was for him to let me pass through the door behind him.

There are so many parents I see everyday when I go to the nursery, and we all acknowledge each other in some form or the other – hello, smile, half-smile, nod, etc. You wouldn’t do that if you saw the same people on the tube or even in your own office every day, but you would somehow do this with other young parents – almost in a “I get your pain” sort of way. It’s nice, even if this is short lived. It’s nice to know that there will be intermittent phases in the life of a human being where we can all relate to each other irrespective of class, colour, creed or religion, just like we did as little babies. It gives me hope.

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!