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

whisper netork.jpg

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!


Being an NRI with a semi-swollen face



If you think being an NRI is fancy, look at my semi-swollen face once and you’ll surely reconsider. For most part of my life, I have gotten away with minor ailments without really seeing a doctor. I really only go to a doctor/ dentist when things get really bad and desperately require medical attention. In that sense, UK is a great country for me. From the time you call the NHS and actually see a doctor, your “roga” will likely be fully cured, so you don’t even bother calling the NHS in the first place unless you need to go to the A&E.

Being anti-doctor means, there are only a handful of medical practitioners I trust and hence, wait till I see them to have any issues fixed. So, I usually have a few treatments scheduled every time I come to Bangalore. In the last 4 years that I have been away from Bangalore, I have come back 6 times and about 4/6 times, I have been sick or have had medical treatments scheduled. Out of the 4 times, I have had wisdom tooth extractions twice, which means I have had a semi-swollen face, where I look like a half-hanuman.

So what, you ask? This means, I have to pack all my eating out to a bare minimum since I have to allow enough time to heal before I head back, which means I can’t really have all my cravings satisfied. Screw the cravings, because I can cook most things I feel like eating, thanks to Hebbar Kitchen and the likes. But the family functions!!!! Although I love being able to meet all extended family in one place during a short visit home, I don’t love going in like a half-hanuman.

Given how often I see them with a half-swollen face, they have no reason to believe that I look any other way. They probably think I’ve taken to excessive drinking or lead a shitty life filling fuel at a gas station or running a video rental store (although the latter is kind of true because I run supply chain for Amazon’s movie business in the UK!). They probably think, “Aiyo papa, ille channagidru, alhogi yen kashtano!” (aww, they were fine right here, wonder what troubles they have back there). So, I try to overcompensate for what I believe their doubts might be, by trying to explain what it really is, over and over again.

Despite my hesitation to trust new medical practitioners, I think it’s time to put my private insurance to some use when I go back to London, just so I don’t spend half my time at home getting treated and the other half justifying the treatment.

Dating’s over-rated!


Few weeks ago, a friend was visiting London and we were talking about my escapades at Marriage Broker Auntie. In passing, I said, dating’s over-rated and that people much rather build the muscle to make a relationship work. A week later, he asked me to explain what I’d meant by dating being over-rated and as always, I thought I’d attempt to think out loud through a blogpost.

Until the late 90’s and early 2000s, you’d have a handful of people settled abroad in the extended family circles. With the advent of IT, pretty much every Indian household today has atleast one member of the family settled abroad. This exponentially increased our exposure to western culture. While earlier, Indian men were happy to fly down for a weekend, get married to someone from a prior shortlist by parents, suddenly these men wanted to “date”.

First, it started with the girl and boy going out a few times, with the excuse of learning more about one another with a clear intent to be engaged within a certain time frame. Then, this evolved into hanging out without any guarantee of these meets resulting in an engagement. After having lived away from parents for a while, there was less and less coherence in criteria of spouse selection, and hence, people wanted to lead the search independently without parental involvement. Hence, the advent of things like South Asian dating, Tinder in India and so on. Without much parental involvement, this was a great proxy for falling in love.

While largely chided by society in the past, falling in love suddenly became a matter of status for the entire family as if it reflected on the progeny’s ability to land a catch. People started looking down upon arranged marriages as the search was led by parents and this was perceived as a sign of inability on the part of the ward. Suddenly we were more hung up on how we sourced rather than the quality of marriages itself.

While marriages had always been a contract, trade in the relationship was more straightforward back in the day with men offering the finances and women running the administration. Today, the lines are all blurred with greater women empowerment (which is a great thing!) and hardly any work being done in redefining the terms of this contract, which makes for the increasing number of troubled marriages.

Some might argue that dating helps draft the terms of this contract better for individual couples and if we are all busy re-drafting terms, collectively, this will result in a better contract for the institution. But really? All people are trying to do with dating is test the waters before going knee deep into it, and if the waters are murky, dating allows a low cost exit that is not offered by a marriage. May be there is a marginal improvement in terms but why can’t this be done post wedding anyway?

By creating additional flexibility in the selection process, we are less flexible when it comes to accommodating changes post selection. We spend so much effort on selection, that we believe there’s nothing left to be done except living happily ever after, and that’s where we couldn’t have been more wrong. Relationships take a lot of work, sometimes every day and for years, and our societies have stopped focussing on preparing individuals for this journey, rather we are heavily focussed on beautifying the tickets for this once in a lifetime journey.

What you learn about someone while you are dating is like the tip of an iceberg waiting to be discovered post wedding, so why bother trying with incremental gains in discovery when you’d rather start seeing the whole deal once you’ve taken the plunge. Sound like an auntie you think? Yeah, I am one. Kthnxbye.

Letters to my Berry#19


“Alexa, you 5 up up pi ba ba ba”. That’s your first ever conversation with someone, a virtual assistant, nevertheless. This is probably a preview of all that’s to follow from your generation. You know how to operate the TV, phone and every other electronic device in the house. But the good thing is, you have a way with humans as well – every single person you meet on the tube everyday gets a friendly smile, wave and if lucky, a flying kiss too, from you. I don’t know if this is any indication of how socially adept you will be as you grow up, but I’d like to believe you are shantamma’s (your great-grandmother) boss at making friends out of strangers.

At 19 months, you have shown some basic mugging capabilities as you can sing a few rhymes, say A-Z, 1-20, 10-100, sarLe verse, name all the planets and people in the house, although your pronunciation still has a long way to go. 😀 You can even count numbers on your fingers, although it mimics that of a Sushi trader in Japan (blame me for that!). You can wipe your own nose, take off and wear some basic clothes, so as per the British requirements to start reception, you are already good to go! 😛

You have shown profound interest in dressing up and putting on make-up, may be inspired by everyone you see on the tube everyday. You were trying to mimic some lady on the tube when you were using your finger to put on lipstick. The same evening you came home, stuck a finger in my only lipstick and squished it out (thanks!). You have nail polish on your toe nails since you wouldn’t quieten down till I put them on for you. Oh and you also got your first haircut recently, just a trim really, but still! We also did a photoshoot for you with all your new clothes and you totally amazed us by your various poses every time I asked you to act “stylish” – You sat down with your legs stretched, put one arm on your hip and what not.

We got you a new potty!! Every time you do kakka, we make you go sit there even though you usually have a diaper on just so we can start conditioning you before the “all reals”. You can brush your teeth on your own, although you need constant encouragement to keep going so either one of us has to be brushing with you and saying “hinge hinge hinge” so you know which direction to brush in. You can comb your own hair, although I must admit you almost always have a messy just woken up look. But that doesn’t stop you from putting your winter jacket on and sitting on your pram to head out.

First thing every morning, you go sit on your pram screaming “bubba bubba” so we take you out. It’s funny how you want to wear your winter jacket to head out even if it is 25 degrees outside because you’ve seen mostly winter all your life, so you don’t really know any other season. So, next month, being in India will be fun given how hot it’ll be. Talking about sun, you can recognise both the sun and the moon now, all thanks to Vinay and Subhashini for giving you the very hungry caterpillar book. That is your all time favourite story, you won’t even go to bed without making us read it to you – EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The parts of the story you love are – all the numbers in the book, when the caterpillar becomes big and fat and generally saying “ca ca ta ta” for caterpillar every few seconds. You’ve got a tiny toy baby now that you tell the story to, and it’s so cute because there is no way to know that you are telling that baby this story except when you keep saying “ca ca ta ta” ever so often. You love hanging with that baby, although you are sometimes upset with it when it tries to steal your thunder like sitting in the pram or if we cuddle it too much. But it’s amongst the few toys you have shown in interest in besides your teapot (which is your all-time favourite toy!). You keep serving people tea, which is so English. Haha.

I should honestly write more regularly, because I feel like I forget what you do because you are constantly doing something new. Hopefully, fingers crossed!


So you’re 30 and still single, what now?


With the recent shutdown of Mint on Sunday, my column died too. My dream of having a column in a national newspaper about love and relationships was pretty short-lived, but lived nevertheless. Sigh. So I shall continue to publish my works here.

A couple of months ago, I wrote that the average age at which people are starting to look for partners nowadays has gone up significantly and how the lack of liquidity in that market has made it challenging for people to find mates and easily settle down. An overwhelming number of people reached out to me and said #metoo (no pun intended). Most of those emails went, “I am in my 30s and struggling to find a partner, so what’s the solution?” There is no simple answer really. I wish life were straightforward – you install an app, right swipe twice, find your soulmate on day 2, download a child on the same app, outsource its maintenance and live happily ever after. Wait, you knew that already.

What most of you don’t know (or prefer not to acknowledge) is that a part of the reason you are in your 30s and struggling to find a partner is because of you. The other part is the universe not providing enough liquidity, but that’s not something you can do anything about, so let’s talk about things you can do on your own. So, the first thing to do is to figure out why/ how you got here in the first place. Despite each of us having our own little quirks, we are more similar than we think and so, I’ll closely classify us into 3 different types to help explain why we are where we are and how to get ourselves out of the trap –

I want a love marriage types

These are people who have not come to terms with the fact that they are in the arranged marriage market where finding a spouse is anything but serendipitous. You are introduced to a fairly curated list of people that have been double filtered like groundnut oil, and you are not meant to fall in love. But still, these people will diss every prospect in the market because they didn’t feel a “spark”, being fully aware that the process is not designed for sparks, instead it is a fairly regimented process to make a rational (or superficial) decision on who best fits your template for a partner. So, the sooner you start playing by the rules, the faster you will move ahead in the game.

I am still not over my ex types

This is fairly self explanatory. I am reminded of gully cricket, where the first couple of balls a batsman faces are deemed as “trial” and don’t count towards the game. And then what Bangaloreans call “all reals” begins.

In a similar manner, people who get into the arranged marriage market even before they are over their previous relationships pretend like the first few prospects don’t count. The problem is, sometimes you have met the best people you could’ve possibly met early on, and then by the time you have made up your mind to move forward, you have exhausted your supply. So moral of the story – get over your ex quickly and move on, because like most other things in real life, there are no “trials” in the arranged marriage market. It’s all reals from the get go.

Thes ones with daddy issues

These are people who think they have grown up, but actually haven’t. These are people who haven’t thought through what it means to live independently and grow their own family without the oversight of a guardian. They will constantly talk about their parents on a date, or let their parents make all decisions for them even after getting married, sometimes outweigh the wants of a parent over the needs of a partner without realising that the new relationship needs nurturing and their partner needs to be included in all decisions. What is the solution for this you ask? Realising that you suffer from these issues is more than half the job done, so I’d say ask yourself if you really have the confidence to run a house independently.

Obviously, there are nuances to each type and the more you think about them, the more you’ll be able to relate to one or more of these types. The sooner you get yourself out of the shackles of these types, the closer you’ll be to finding a partner. If not, you know where to go.

Crossing milestones, experiencing new pains


Every time you embark a new milestone in your life, you feel like you are alone. You feel things you have never felt before, you feel things that no one warned you about and while you are struggling to come to terms with what’s happening with you, someone comes along and tells you that what you are feeling is perfectly normal. For instance, when you loose your first milk tooth and you want to bury yourself in shame, people tell you that everyone goes through this and it’s perfectly normal. I suppose people have good intentions and want to ease your pain, but does that really make you feel better? Perhaps not. May be because you don’t care if it’s normal or not, but you just want the feeling to go away.

As a woman, when you start getting menstrual cramps and you think you won’t survive the day and people dismiss it as normal, it doesn’t help because the pain ain’t going anywhere. When you get married and you are squabbling every day with your partner about unimportant stuff, and people say it’s normal, it doesn’t make you feel better because you are so unhappy deep-down. When you have a child and suddenly no one, including your own husband and parents care about you anymore, and people come and tell you this is normal, it doesn’t make you feel better. Because being deeply unsettled is an unfamiliar feeling and people assuring you that you are supposed to be feeling this lousy is NEVER a good thing.

While the experiences feel strange, sometimes painful while we are in the midst of it, looking back, it begins to feel a lot more familiar. This probably causes people to dismiss the newness and strangeness that freshers are experiencing. If possible, we all would like to play a part in preventing someone from getting hurt, however, we can play a pretty significant role in how people perceive pain/ gain in the way we respond to them when they share their stories. When I say that I feel like a mother more often than I feel like a wife or a daughter, you could either say “Oh come on, that’s natural after having a child!” or you could say “Oh, why’d you say that? Tell me more about what you’re thinking?”

Now, depending on who you are, you might prefer one or another, but I definitely prefer the latter, because it indulges me and allows me to own my experience as my own rather than let every other mother on earth take credit for it.

Immigrant hatred and pining to belong

Being born and raised in Bangalore from pre-IT boom days to now, I have seen Bangalore transform from this chilled out city that everyone thought of fondly to one of the most hated cities in India (more than Delhi even). Everyone has this strange love hate relationship with Bangalore, because it’s supposed to be this cosmopolitan place (thanks to the British) which is a land of opportunities for people all over, but not quite. Until recently, I had only one view of Bangalore – being from the city watching it from the inside, as if everyone was coming in from the outside.

4 years ago, I moved to Barcelona. I found it damn strange that people didn’t speak English. Did that make me angry? A little bit. But I had to get by and I picked up enough Spanish to just live there for two years, not because I was trying to integrate with their culture, just because I wanted to get by easily. To be fair, it was our middle ground since people in Barcelona prefer to speak Catalan, which I had no means of learning easily.

Similarly, when people move to Bangalore, personally, I prefer they speak English (the language I know best) to make it easy for us to interact. I don’t expect them to learn or speak in Kannada, because they probably have no utility for the language unless they are dealing with people who can’t/ won’t speak any other language. When people automatically speak in Hindi, it makes me squirm because my Hindi ain’t great (and I see no utility to improve it) and that conversation is bound to be purely transactional, making us seem like an unfriendly lot.

I am sure a lot of people who have moved to Bangalore in the last 20 years have stories of hatred with my city, and I am truly sorry that you didn’t get the best of my city, and if you think Bangalore deserves to be hated, please hate it because cities that don’t along new people to move in and integrate deserve to be hated. Your experience is that of a handful of incidents, with a small set of people you unfortunately encountered and that might be your story, but that isn’t the story of my city and I shall not stop loving it although a lot has changed since I last checked.

These hate stories are also a testament to us pining to belong someplace, while we miserably do so and decide to blame everything on the city. If that were the case, I could have hated Barcelona instantly. In my early days there, I was robbed and I had to explain everything to the police in Spanish while all I wanted to do was scream and cry in English. It’s not their fault that they didn’t speak English or felt the need to understand me in my own language. I could have thought that they were horrible people and vile, but having travelled extensively, I knew better.

I didn’t really want to belong, so I didn’t mind that I had carefully jotted down everything I had to say and literally just repeated it. I felt no shame, neither did I feel any hatred. I just simply did what I thought would work best. So, sometimes, I just wish we all did that, having fully acknowledged that our place anywhere isn’t as permanent as we think it is.