Arranged marriages can work out just fine | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 21, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 21, 2008

Arranged marriages can work out just fine

A celebrity writer's recipe for a fruitful relationship is good news, says Mohsena Reza Shopna


To me Shobhaa De is a 'counselor' who has delved into human psychology to bring out for us a 'manual' which I think is a rare collection for any library. Her insight into human relationships is remarkable. She says there is no such thing as a perfect marriage or a perfect spouse. This statement is in itself explains the truth about marriage.
For her it is a flawed institution and not a sublime, divine and idyllic union of two bodies, minds and souls. It is a malleable idea; it is what you make of it.
“Who needs it” served as a trigger for this book? De wonders why people are turning away from an institution that has survived for centuries. The only social contract that has worked across cultures and yet is struggling for survival. She asks this generation: “Why does permanence scare us? Have we forgotten what it means to give ourselves unconditionally to a life partner? Do we even want to?” It is her finding that marriage is for those who believe in it, who actually want it and enjoy it.
De is conversational in her writing; when she discusses her family we feel we know them well. Her language is simple and understandable, which makes it so easy for us to find what she wants to convey. When she divulges her son's opinion on getting married she surprises us by casually letting us know about it. She tells us he is not ready for marriage as he is self-focused. This 'self' is the elusive word which became the key to writing this book.
De's belief is that one should not marry for the sake of some 'imaginary security' for none exists. Marry because you want to; you believe in it, because you wish to share your life with someone you care about. Only then will that marriage survive and thrive. No marriage is without its blights and flaws. She recalls how we grew up with the reservation that open demonstrations of affection were almost taboo. Most couples stop touching each other in an affectionate, non-sexual way, no eye contact either. How sad! She notes that just the lightest of touches can do what a thousand words often fail to do, make a person feel wonderful. A hug can be the best substitute for a verbal apology.
The writer has not failed to study men's psychology either. Men are highly possessive by nature. A wise woman should place her cards on the table just once and make no further reference to her past. What does the 'confession' achieve, besides causing hurt, pain and suspicion? Being a woman she knows how we love compliments---- even fake ones. We will be lying if we protest we are not prone to flattery. We do have a soft spot for people who make us feel wonderful. She takes a dig at couples who address each other by their pet names in public, the actuality being that they have now reached a plane where they are worlds apart. Hypocrisy?
De notes that these days there is no time for conversation. The modern day version involves nothing more than a cold exchange of info. One cannot but admire the realism in her writing when she observes that fights leave residue behind and begs that we not allow it to leave permanent scars. Patch up, and definitely not include a third person, she advises.
Shobhaa De has touched on all aspects of marriage. She proposes that arranged marriages have as much of a chance of working out as love marriages. Do not feel embarrassed about opting for the former. 'Arranged' is not for leftovers; it is an intelligent choice and today's confused young people are wisely leaving their decisions to parents, figuring it is a smarter option. 'Arranged' can progress to 'love'. But, alas, it doesn't work the other way round!
The lines which brought tears to my eyes, having two daughters myself, is the reflection that once a daughter is given away in marriage, she is supposed to turn into an amoeba and assume any shape her husband's family expects her to. If she fails to do so, fingers are pointed at her upbringing. Divorce she tosses off as a sad but inevitable part of a larger social change.
Respect is the very foundation of a civilised relationship. Even if you are culturally poles apart you should not express it in public. If you think it enhances your own image it is a fallacy. Most people can see through the attempt and end up losing respect for you. De's anger is eye-catching when she blasts 'Elitist Pursuits' indulged in by urban millionaires and the peccadilloes of married bachelors. Infidelity has become the leitmotif of our TV soaps. The most famous couple in the literary world, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who advocated a no-strings attached relationship and never married eventually admitted (at least de Beauvoir did) that their long term relationship was turbulent mainly because of the affairs they conducted outside the association. What was agreed upon in a cerebral context did not work on the emotional plane.
“I'll always be there for you” is a feeling at the very foundation of marriage. Couples need time, tolerance and tenderness to make the relationship sing. If complete self-sufficiency is everything, why bother about marriage at all? “Tumi je amar kobita / amaro raager ragini / amaro shopon adho jagoron / chirodin tomare chini --- De's opinions of those intimate moments remind me of those famous lines. For she says, and I echo with her, that the woman should make her husband feel he is Jackie Shroff or Kabir Bedi and he too should make her get the impression she is Bipasha Basu at her sizzling best. Couples who do not recognize or respect the spiritual core of their partners can never achieve that wonderful level of becoming soulmates, an idea poets frequently uphold. A shared religion or faith acts as a powerful binding force in marriage, she concludes. I cannot but reiterate along with her my own emotions because I share the same feelings. She says, “I could have done things differently, but I chose to opt out of the rat race early in life. I chose not to work full time; I chose to structure my career around my home, my husband, and my children. I am happy with my choices. My contemporaries have scaled professional peaks, I feel proud and happy for them, but not for a moment do I want to switch places. Marriage was never a 'goal'for me. It was life itself. It is like a patchwork quilt--- some patches are prettier than the others.” She adds, “Marriage is all about trust, companionship, affection and sharing. It's also about learning to cope with your partner's moods and eccentricities.”
While reading this book you feel you are sitting in your living room conversing with an intimate friend who knows all the secrets about marriage. The diction is down-to-earth and one feels like sharing the entire conversation with one's children, friends and relatives. Make a gift of this book on any occasion and make the recipient feel one has all the answers to one's queries about life.
Mohsena Reza Shopna studied English literature and is Past President, Inner Wheel Club of Dhaka North .

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