Two of Krishnaraj’s cousins are getting married within the next couple of months. Preparing for the two weddings, the entire family has been shopping, planning and organising food, clothes, décor, invites and a million other things. After one such shopping for yards and yards of silk, my niece Varsha in her third year of college, heaved a sigh – ‘what a huge amount of time, money and energy is being spent on the wedding ceremony!’ Understanding the spirit of her statement I said – “True! The family’s focus is on giving the most memorable day to their loved ones. But never forget Varsha, the bride and groom are totally focussed on their life of togetherness – their marriage and not merely the ceremony!’ With her new found maturity of being able to discuss relationships with her aunt, Varsha said ‘But Akka! My question is Why Marry?’
Not wanting to lead the conversation I remained silent even as Krishnaraj overheard the comment and joined us. Confident now that she could hold a mature discussion with her uncle, Varsha continued – ‘Seriously Mama! Why should one marry? I mean, I don’t need the money. I have enough friends, so I don’t need the companionship. If it is for kids, I anyways want to adopt, so I can do it on my own…’ There was a pregnant pause and I filled in for her ‘… and marriage is a huge price to pay for a simple physical need… that’s what you wanted to say right?’ ‘Exactly’ she chipped in, glad she didn’t have to verbalise her thoughts. While I was very happy to know that she was feeling close enough to us to discuss this, I was also happy to know that somewhere she had enough doubt not to voice her opinion fully! ‘Very true Varsha! I agree with you that marriage for money, companionship or even a biological need is not very complimentary to the institution of marriage. Why then do you think so many people get married?’ I asked in turn. ‘I really don’t understand. I think it is crazy. I mean, when I can be self-sufficient and self-reliant, I will have my own career, my friends, my likes and hobbies, and you all – my family, why should I let someone into my life to spoil it. I mean what could he add to my life that I wouldn’t already have?’
Silent till then, Krishnaraj decided it was time to answer. ‘See Varsha! Marriage is a defined path… a way of life. Like how we say you learn, you earn, you also marry and establish a family. Imagine if Gita and Meenakshi weren’t in my life, there wouldn’t be any hold for me… it would be rootless!’
‘But Mama! What if I don’t want to follow a set path?’
Krishnaraj smiled and said ‘At nineteen you will say things like this… you may think this is revolutionary but when you turn 25 – 26 you will want the security of a stable relationship. We’ll have this conversation again then!’
But Varsha was not willing to be convinced. She kept looking at me, waiting to defend her way of thinking if I raised any argument. I wondered if now was the time…
I remember asking and answering this question ‘Why Marry’ so many times in so many different contexts. Academically trying to rationalise the institution of marriage; with immaturity having debates not understanding anything about marriage; emotionally wondering if it were really worth all the effort; intellectually giving logical reasons to stay married – Oh! How often I have fought this war from both frontiers! Until a few years ago, I could have taken either side of the argument with equal ease. However something deep within me was always for the ideals of marriage – though I never could pin point its veracity. When I read in K.N.Munshi’s Krishnaavatara the story of Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavas, I truly began to understand the spirit behind the institution of marriage. Without going into the detail of that episode, I can only say that no woman born at any time in any land would be freely willing to share her husband with another woman or for that matter take the terrifying task of marrying simultaneously five brothers. Truly understanding the question ‘why marry’ and its real answer in Veda Vyasa’s words, that incident of Draupadi marrying five brothers can never be used to validate polygamy or polyandry. Every allegorical meaning of the great Indian epics and puranas, have unfortunately been lost in superficial understandings and superstitious beliefs. Veda Vyasa beautifully explains to Draupadi the role of marriage in society in that august assembly with the Pandavas, Kunti and Lord Krishna present. If marriage was indeed for the sole satisfaction and gratification of the couple concerned, one shouldn’t be bothered about the sustenance of that relationship – which brings us back to the basic question why marry then? That kind of a ‘marriage’ is merely a gift wrap to the biological need of the animal kingdom. However the ideals of marriage are neither a law nor a need. Marriage is not for the individuals alone, it is for society. Marriage is a Dharma!
Every law enforced by man is a mere tool to help society adhere to values or ‘Dharma’. Laws are made neither to follow nor to break, but to guide. If the only reason I don’t resort to stealing is my fear of being punished, I might be ‘following’ the law but my thinking is still unworthy of humanity. Only when humanity matures to understand that one should be honest for ones own sake; when not just the act but the very thinking in man has changed, only then will we truly transcend the need for laws. Till then, we shall remain enslaved by them. The institution of marriage is a codified law giving guidelines for a couple on how to have a relationship. There are any number of ‘marriages of convenience’ that adhere to the law yet remain emotionally dry. An equal amount of ‘promiscuous marriages’ that break the law exist remaining emotionally bleak. Here marriage is a social obligation. To these people social acceptability is of prime importance. So if divorce is not acceptable, they wouldn’t hesitate to let the couple die in their suffocating marriage and if divorce is acceptable within the group it becomes the first option out of the relationship. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against divorce. I’m just trying to say that divorce is again just a guide sign for those who are in an unhappy, unethical and suppressed marriage to start life afresh. Divorce is not a law available for easy exit from the responsibility to grow up!
I took Varsha’s hand in mine – ‘Kanna! There are two aspects to marriage that I want you to understand. First, you said you have a family and don’t need anyone else. Imagine, if Mama and I hadn’t married or for that matter your Amma and Appa hadn’t married, you as a child wouldn’t have this ‘family’ you talk about. As you grow up it becomes your responsibility to help build society. The building block of every society is in the family. Don’t you want your children to experience this same sense of family bonding that you now cherish?’
Ready to argue Varsha said – ‘That is exactly what I am trying to say Akka! A family is nice only when everybody is attached to one another. I see so many of my hostel mates and friends in college with broken homes! Won’t the child I intend to adopt be more peaceful with one happy parent than two argumentative and unhappy parents?’
I smiled and said – “Honey! Our family is united not by design but by each one of us contributing and ensuring that it is so! You build a family… it doesn’t come ready made! After twelve years of marriage there are so many areas where your Mama and I have mutually influenced each other so much that it is hard to say where the trait originated. But this is just a beginning! We are still working on it.’ Smiling into my husband’s eyes I continued ‘I am hoping that by our silver wedding anniversary I would have trained him to tidy his cupboard and I am sure he is working hard to find ways to motivate me to innovate in the kitchen! Marriage is like bicycling on a tandem bike. We take turns to navigate but both need to pedal and stay in balance always!’ Seeing our exchange of glances Varsha smiled – ‘Ok Akka! Perhaps with the right guy… but how can you gamble your whole life and happiness on that one decision? It is toooooooooooooooo monumental!!!’
Settling down in the cushion I said ‘The second aspect I wanted to say was that like the law which is a mere tool or guideline that helps us to adhere to Dharma, marriage is merely a tool to help the individual grow and mature. I am born with a set of genetic coding and I am brought up in a certain family setup. The only way I can mature and expand as an individual is through my interactions with humanity. A very small percentage of people are able to interact with the larger social set-up and grow. But to most individuals consistent, intimate, personal, one-to-one relating is most essential for expansion. However close your sibling or friends may be it is the divine design that it is your spouse who has the opportunity to come closest to you. Your spouse is your training ground to help you become a better human being. It is this relationship that can define your entire outlook on society. It is your spouse who can know your best and your worst; your spouse is your mirror from which you can take a feedback on what you must hold and what you must let go…. In time your spouse becomes an extension of you…’
We were silent for a while, each reflecting on everything we had exchanged. There was nothing more to say. After a few minutes Varsha got up – ‘Good night’. She hesitated … then added – ‘If ever I get married I’d like to have a relationship like you two! Each of you has your independence and freedom and yet there is so much bonding…’ I hugged her tight ‘That Kanna, was the third point I was hoping I could make!’ She looked at me perplexed. I smiled and said ‘When your son and daughter grow up and ask ‘why marry’, not your intellectual answers or lectures can really convince them. If seeing your married life can make them want to experience the same, your wedded life would not have been in vain!’
As Varsha left the room, I repeated the serenity prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr silently – God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published in infinithoughts in August 2008