Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pitter patter

8:45 a.m.

I'm starting a new case today, a new industry. A Private Equity case, and a highly analytical one from what I know of it. A typically challenging and steep-learning-curve day stretches ahead, one that I know will give me the opportunity to step up to new challenges and new levels of responsibility as I grow into my job.

Yet, as I sit in my car waiting for the lights to change, my thoughts are less on the office and more on the way the overnight rain has given way to a wonderfully light drizzle... how the surprisingly stiff breeze does not carry the now-wet sand as it normally does, instead bringing me a whiff of spice, perfume and wet earth. The trees on the once-dusty roadside, newly planted, sway as though celebrating their clean, washed greenery.

The lights change, I put my car into gear and pull ahead.

A radio station is playing old Hindi songs. A fine spray of rain kisses my face, moistening and teasing my right earlobe. Little droplets crowd my windshield, clinging onto the glass in a brief declaration of independence before gravity pulls them downwards, joining their bulbous brothers and coalescing as they fall below my line of sight.

To the left, the road leading to my office. Straight ahead, merely one hundred metres away, the highway.

Somedays, I wish one could just bunk work like one bunked classes in college.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Random thoughts on inter-cultural love/marriage

Over the last year or so, several people I have known (worked with, studied with, laughed with, cried with, lamented life with, celebrated life with) have gotten married.

I've received numerous invitations, and much as I'd like to have been able to attend all of them (especially those of classmates from SVCE or IIMA), being a working professional and having to earn one's salary has got in the way just a little. Plus the not-insignificant flight costs, although that's much less of a consideration.

What's struck me as an interesting feature of these marriages is the fact in a majority of the cases, the couple met, fell in love, and decided to get married even though they were from different cultural backgrounds. In other words, these were 'love marriages', as several relatively (in many ways) orthodox people I know of say with a disdainful look in their eyes and a pursing of their lips.

In a country where the concept of arranged marriages has long held sway as the right and proper and honourable way of setting up an alliance, I see this as an interesting shift in mindset. It's not surprising that it's happened among people of my generation - it was bound to, given the kind of influences and stimuli we are fed thanks to our global outlook, and the renewed desire to be seen as independent and deciding one's life. What's surprising (and, perhaps, heartening) is the fact that several parents (i.e. one generation up) are now willing to consider this.

Among the weddings I've been invited to (or have been told of) of late have been the following combination of cultures/religions
-> Tamil Brahmin - Maharashtrian
-> Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) - Tamil Brahmin (Iyengar) Yes, that's a fairly big deal too
-> Tamil Brahmin - Punjabi
-> Punjabi - Bengali
-> Bihari - Kannadiga
-> Punjabi - Gujarati

There have been several love marriages of people I know within the Tam Brahm community (I don't know what castes the couple belonged to; knowing that society, that would have been a huge cause for debate as well), as well as one Christian-Hindu marriage.

One of the couples above eloped to get married. As expected, there was a great deal of hand wringing and disowning and threatening police action on charges of kidnapping. The issue was settled with the girl's family disowning the couple, but the thaw is under way. If one were to go by a similar story of elopement in my extended family, fences will mend quicker once a child is on the way.

Some of my friends have had to fight for years to get their parents to agree to their choice of life partner. Some of the parents have gone as far as to threaten legal action if the inter-caste or inter-culture marriage was carried through. In some cases, the parents finally agreed (perhaps more out of resignation and a feeling that it was high time their son/daughter got married). In others, the relationship broke off under the strain of dogged parental disapproval and years of insult and rebuke with a great deal of heartache, disappointment and loneliness for both parties. The parents, of course, were joyful at the split, seeing it as an opportunity to set their errant child upon their pre-approved, socially acceptable and appropriate path.

Almost all the married couples I have known who have had had love marriages over the last two to three years are very happy in their current lives.

All the examples I've quoted (or have experienced from any reasonable distance) have been of well educated, urban families. Both the good examples where the parents trusted their kids to make responsible decisions, and the bad ones where parents were heavy handed in their denial of freedom of choice. I'm not saying its bad/wrong of parents to disapprove - if your child is marrying a gold digger or drug addict, you have every right to object and steer them away from that path. As a parent you are probably mortally scared that your child might be making a big mistake that you find yourself powerless to stop. You're probably torn between the clashing instincts of protecting your baby and letting him/her stand on their own feet as individuals with self-thought. And that fear stems from love, affection and a desire to see your child have what's best for them and settled in a long happy marriage. But to denounce a relationship purely on the basis of caste or regional/culture considerations, especially in the current world of nuclear families where a couple does not have to live with the extended family, seems regressive, unfair and just plain unacceptable.

Often, a parent's views are defined by what society would think. "Oh, what will people say if I marry my good Tam Brahm daughter to a big loud Punjabi boy? I won't be able to hold my head up in society again!" Stereotypical associations kick in and there is a marked unwillingness to even meet or talk to the potential son/daughter in law, much less accept them into the family. There is probably a need to understand that the 'kid' is grown up too. I can understand concern about an 18 year old wanting to get married, but if your child is 24/25 and is atleast a little worldly-wise, a little trust and understanding is required. Love is no longer blind at that age, the attendant reponsibilities make one think long and hard before a commitment. No one wants to mess up their own life, and by that age, a certain sense of responsibility and accountability kicks in, which allows the 'kid' to make more rational, well thought out decisions. If one can legally make the choice to drink, drive, have sex or vote (although that doesn't always turn out too well), why not the choice to marry?

When weighing (potentially lower) social acceptance and what the neighbourhood maami gossip circuit thinks against a well thought out (and trust me, by a certain age it is well thought out) decision from one's child that he/she is convinced will bring happiness and stability, sometimes one just needs to say "Screw you, society. Screw you and your hypocritical, insular ways that steal a person's right to make his or her own decisions and give it to a bunch of stars and an archaic caste system."

Again, all this is in an urban context. And I firmly believe urban India is more progressive in this sense, more willing to accept these new fangled concepts of love that would have meant instant shame and ostracization a generation or two ago. Yes, even in urban India, one often reads about cases that come frighteningly close to honour killings... but one hopes that over perhaps one more generation, a greater level of tolerance and understanding will develop.

(Here's the story that triggered the train of thought leading to this post, although it's not directly related: The original story and the follow up. I also stumbled across a couple of interesting articles on inter caste marriages and a Christian-Muslim wedding.)

I've just read through what I've written, and I realise it's far from well written. As I am wont to do, I just spill thoughts out onto the screen, tilting against my windmills with little thought for wording, structure, readability and sometimes grammar. I see I've mixed tenses and first/second person views and written unbelievably long and sub-claused sentences. I've also been fairly harsh at some places. I apologize for the style (or lack thereof) of writing, but not the content. I do have a point to make, though, and I hope that's come out clearly enough.