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Marriage Aaj Kal

Chanakya of the Mauryan dynasty, a prime minister in his time, is said to have remarked, “A good wife is one who serves her husband in the morning like a mother, loves him in the day like a sister, and pleases him like a prostitute in the night.” It’s impossible to confirm whether he actually said this, but it isn’t too difficult to imagine, based on the time period he hailed from.

What I find strange is that after all these centuries, Indian men still harbour a similar attitude. This attitude can be traced to the Kamasutra as well that he allegedly wrote (many historians assert that Vatsyayana, author of the book, and Chanakya, are the one and the same). As mistakenly understood by many, the book is not just about the art of making love, but also about the male art of making love to women without committing sin. According to the ancient text, it is perfectly okay to sleep with another woman if there is an ulterior motive involved. For example, in an English translation by Deepak Chopra, a rule states that: “I love another woman, who is this woman’s best friend. If I sleep with this woman, I can get to the one I really want.” Another example: “By winning this woman over, I can kill her husband, whose riches I covet.” Note that these rules apply only to men, and deem it tolerable to objectify women in order to satisfy personal again.

Helter Skelter: Marriage Aaj Kal
With the unrealistic expectations of Indian males all around, it’s difficult for Indian women like us to find someone to ‘live’ with.

But I don’t want to refer to ancient texts (or their translations) to paint you a picture of the unrealistic expectations of Indian men. Gayatri Gopinath, a queer theorist of diaspora, in her article Nostalgia, Desire, Diaspora: South Asian Sexualities in Motion, points out that patriarchal attitudes of men towards women exist not only in the homeland (India), but also in the diaspora. The female gender is viewed as “the symbolic center … [for] … ‘home’ and ‘family’”, and heteronormative female sexuality can only exist “within the familial and domestic space”. Thus, it is acceptable to be sexual if you are married and only with your husband, while homosexuality is either criminalised or ignored. Gopinath cites a real-life example, where the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (S.A.L.G.A.) was denied the right to march in the Federation of Indian Associations (F.I.A.)-sponsored annual India Day Parade in New York City, both in 1995 and 1996. Consequently, the F.I.A. is run by a group of Indian immigrant businessmen.

All this only leads up to the question of ‘why’. Why would these men be so hind-sighted so as to ignore that women nowadays are free, independent agencies, who are not confined to traditional gender roles whether in India, or outside of India? The only answer, in my opinion, is their false sense of entitlement. They appear to believe that they have this ancient right to have these equally ancient expectations. As the S.A.L.G.A. example would suggest, men outside the “homeland,” have been unable to evolve beyond their view of traditional gender roles, as applied to women back in the homeland. Maybe, it can also be attributed to parental and societal pressure that plants the seeds of such inane ideas into their heads at tender ages, so that they grow up having expectations that only become more traditional with time. For example, this summer, when I was in Calcutta, a neighbor subjected me to a volley of questions. She is currently on the prowl for a bride for her younger son (who never wants to leave India). Some of her questions were:

“Do you know how to cook?”

“Don’t you want to settle in India?”

“Do you know how to wear a sari?”

All her questions were addressed with a smile. It was as if she hoped I wouldn’t see through her façade of ‘innocent’ questioning. Instead of being mortified, I was faintly amused. Really? Do I represent the ideal future daughter-in-law for your ‘modern’ son, who also expects to have a very traditional wife at home (ironically, chosen by his mother. Really, you can’t get more traditional than this!)? I had some questions for her too: Does he know how to cook? Doesn’t he want to settle abroad? And, why on earth does he talk with that put on accent? It sounds neither British nor American. Just an Indian trying very hard to sound foreign!

However, don’t castigate me yet. I don’t have a problem with arranged marriage. On the whole, I find the concept very gratifying. It’s really very similar to set-up dating. You say ‘yes’, only if you feel you are compatible. Yet, with the unrealistic expectations of Indian males (and in this case, their mothers) all around, it’s difficult for us women to find someone to ‘live’ with.

To assuage the attitude of men here in Canada, I had a discussion with some of my male friends on the topic of marriage and the kind of qualities they would look for in their future wives.

“She must know how to cook!”

“She should keep the house nice and tidy.”

“She should be a virgin!”

I was faintly aghast at such pronouncements. These were Indo-Canadian men living here in Toronto for the past 10-12 years. Were they actually hoping to find the “wife” described by Chanakya? The irony was that not all of them were virgins, and none of them had any experience with cooking or cleaning.

In the case of my parents, I believe they got lucky when they found each other. Their’s was a love marriage. And even though my father is not exactly the most liberal man alive, he definitely didn’t hope for the ideal Chanakyan wife. And, since my mom works hard at home, and at the office (she is my dad’s business partner and they work together), I can only imagine her staring scornfully at Chanakya, if he had made the mistake of making that comment in her presence.

In my case, I too have the image of an ideal man in my head. He may not be the ideal man, but ideal enough for me. He would be someone: who looks decent (this might appear a little vain on my part, but if I had to choose between the frog and the prince, the frog would probably end up dead face down in a pond somewhere); can clean, if not cook; and has a tolerant nature, since I tend to get impatient and lazy at times. He need not be a virgin. Most people I know of my age, are not. He need not be super-intelligent. However, I wouldn’t tolerate a super-idiot. And definitely, he must not have too many unrealistic expectations of my abilities. I cannot speak for other women, but my girlfriends also harbour similar ‘attainable’ attributes within their future spouses. Yes, I do believe that we are the more rational gender, but that’s my personal bias.

So, I ask you, where do women like us expect to find our men? And where and when exactly do these men of today expect to find their women? With distorted realities clashing into each other, the answers may be “in our imaginations” and “never”.

I think I have come to terms with that reality. The question is: Have you?

Sanchari is a Bengali Canadian who was born in Calcutta, India. She is a graduate student of English Literature and claims to have been writing since the age of nine. You can find her at sursanchari.wordpress.com, where she posts her cynical, ultra-feminist thoughts about issues that get under her skin.

Was it good for you?

  • Isengardosgiliath

    Erm the Kamasutra as we know it was written by Vātsyāyana compiled of course from different sources.

  • Isengardosgiliath

    interesting that you say Chanakya is the same as V.

  • I don’t say that. Many historians do.

  • Pingback: Marriage Aaj Kal*: An Ultra-Feminist Take on Arranged Marriages | South Asian Girl in the Diaspora : Sanchari Sur()

  • Vpbakshi

    Hi Sur!
    Ur article touched me. Whatever opinion u have ingested about men from various sources, I feel the greatest need of a woman is someone who loves her, cares for her and blesses her with a child (or children) in bringing up whom he will stand shoulder to shoulder with her. Those who neglect this basic truth backed by anthropology,end up as spinsters in most cases. Independence…..self sufficiency…ok….but they cannot have children until they are emotionally linked with a suitable partner who can be only gotten till a woman retains her charm and complementary sentiments for the other sex……Wish u all luck!!!!

  • Hi Vpbakshi

    I disagree a bit with you. I do not think a woman needs to have a child with someone to be emotionally happy or satisfied with life. In fact, I do not understand your logic in regards to the child argument. So, are you saying that the ultimate destiny/goal of a woman’s future should be to have children she can take care of with a man? I get my kick from writing, and can imagine my entire life doing just this. Writing to me is my baby, and I don’t think I need to have someone’s child to become “complete”. My point is that yes, I would like to meet someone who I can consider my equal. But I might or might not want to have kids with him.

  • Ambikanarain

    Interestingly, I posted the quote from chanakaya to all my colleagues, who are predominantly male. Believe it or not, most of them agreed, save one. I also got a reality check, because somewhere I imagined that the men of our generation have started conceiving of women differently.

    Aah, well, I think it is a little difficult to digest. And maybe, I’m not mature enough to face that truth.

  • VP Bakshi

    Anthropology Maam!!!!

  • I wish it were anthropology. Men would have evolved in that case.

  • Well!….Well…Well…….Men may have not evolved but dont you appreciate how the cocept of family evolved?….Initially Male and Female hunters hunted separately and the strongest amongst men conquered the woman….with family expanding reason prevailed amongst the two and because of constraints of rearing children the two located caves to live together and the Man undertook the job of hunting for both people and the woman would stay behind rearing the child with a wolf guarding the entry of the cave. This wolf later evolved into what we today call dogs.
    So this was how the family came into being and is now being continued. 
    The present day concept of independent woman ‘hunting’ for herself and denigrating men as male chauvenists is a warped way of thinking.
    Biology unites the two. Ethical reasoning and love takes the two forward.
    Acquiring some skill and then competing with men is a misplaced emotion which should be curbed.No woman who consumes the youth in pursuit of her materialistic goals and allows the period of her charming looks to pass will never ever be able to ‘catch’ a companion of her choice except through now middle-aged  concept of ‘love’. There is a big risk involved in this. It may be agame for the boy…and vice versa.
    My firm belief based on experience is that a girl should acquire as much of talent as can be acquired till say 25 or 26 and thereafter go forthwith for marriage.
    ‘Marriage or ‘children’ cannot be given away for the simple reason that in old age who else would airlift you to say a ‘Medicity’ for heart bypass or who else will take care when you are afflicted with cancer and need a proplonged treatment at a very heavy cost.
    So Sanjana my view is that while no girl should ever deprive herself of avenues for progress she should never underestimate the need for ‘a good marriage’ in the sense of compatibility at an age when she is attractive.
    For, in normal circumstances,  boys’ brains stop working when he has to make a choice of life partner from amongst several proposals and generally his eyes take the decision. In all other cases marriage is a compromise. It may or may not work.
    And remember when a woman is in th arms of a man, she forgets her bank balance and wherever it is, her mighty status.
    God bless you.

  • Pl read Sanchari instead of Sanjana in the earlier comment.

  • Sanchari

    Hello Vicky,

    You sound like a
    grandfather. Not necessarily my grandfather because even he did not have such a
    warped sense of a self-satisfied patriarchal view of what women should
    represent. Much of what you have written appear to be a product of your own
    prejudices. Moreover, I would be interested to know the “source(s)”
    that your intimate knowledge of prehistoric hunting habits stem from.

    On another note, thank
    you for taking the time to read my article in its entirety and feeling
    compelled enough to leave a long (misinformed but passionate) comment, even
    though you did mess up my name.

  • The crux of my msg is this:”my view is that while no girl should ever deprive herself of avenues for progress she should never underestimate the need for ‘a good marriage’ in the sense of compatibility at an age when she is attractive.”
    This is a male view. I hope you will find your Man soon,
    Years later u may be able to appreciate my view when the future of ur wd b daughter confronts you.
    No bad blood between us.
    My observations are based on
    Best wishes

  • Vicky23o

    Hi Sur!
    C what Rani Mukherji says:
    The actor looks forward to have kids too.The bong beauty recently confessed that marriage is important to her because she wants to have kids. Rani went on to add, ‘If you want to have kids in our country, you need to marry’.less 

  • Sanchari

    Surprise of surprises! Rani is at the end of her career. Doubt she had the same views when she was at her zenith. But let’s not mar this discussion with a discussion of Rani’s personal life and views.

  • Sanchari

    That’s fine. I completely respect your view. I just don’t agree with it.

  • Kaushik Chowdhury

    anek din ato hashini……Thanks.. comments gullo porey bojha jaye je we still expect women to be the virginal bride whilst we men can go philandering away to high heaven…. 

    Guys take a reality check… It definitely is the time for us to take a step back and do that.

  • Vpbakshi

    Hi!…….let us no more argue with each other……….for a change. enjoy this joke: A man checked into a hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an e-mail to his wife. However, he accidentally typed a wrong e-mail address, and without realizing his error, he sent the e-mail. Meanwhile….Somewhere in Hyderabad, a widow had just returned from her husband’s funeral. The widow decided to check her e-mail, expecting condolence messages from relatives and friends. After reading the first message, she fainted. The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:To: My Loving WifeSubject: I’ve reachedI know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here, and we are allowed to send e-mails to loved ones. I’ve just reached and have been checked in. I see that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow.Waiting desperately for you.Hurry up……………..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sanchari

    Hey, what’s a great conversation without a good back and forth?

    Thanks for the joke. *chuckle*

  • Sanchari

    I am glad this was amusing enough to warrant a laugh!

  • Tripta

    Hello Sanchari!
    I stumbled upon your twitter account, wandered from one link to another and eventually came upon this. You’re a wonderful writer, and I hope you keep at your craft.
    Usually, I’d say this in my head and move on (very lazy about commenting :|) but the last comment was so annoying, on so many levels, that I had to say something about it. I’m a Bio major, and using twisted, misinterpreted facts about the science just makes me see red.
    Yes, ancient human civilizations did have different roles for men and women. This was due to the obvious differences in physical strength and the demands of motherhood- the man became the hunter-gatherer and the woman, the home-tender.   So far, he is right. But human beings are marked as different from most other species because we had something called a “cultural evolution”, with the formation of families, groups and eventually societies, with rules and customs and norms. We had immense advancements/refinements in what were the main pre-occupations- hunting/food gathering/defense. Freed up time, we got the arts. And so on and so forth.
    The point I’m trying to make here is, we’re no longer in the prehistoric times when men and women’s roles were defined by NEED. It is no longer necessary for men to manage the “outside world” and women to look after the “home”, for gender distinctions have long since blurred. There is no hunting to be done. Procreation can hardly be a concern, considering the burgeoning global population. No man has any excuse whatsoever to confine women into a role that THEY consider proper and right. Guess what, we can think, too!
    It’s time men stop thinking we’re competing with them. What we are doing is trying to establish our own identities, and live in a way that satisfies us. I’m sorry, I no longer care if it’s selfish for a woman to put herself first.
    And as for, “in a man’s arms…bank balance….”, I can only say that he seems to be reading a lot of schmaltzy Mills and Boons. I always did wonder if men got kicks out of the stereotypical representations enforced in them.
    Heavy medical costs? Heard of insurance?
    Companionship? Heard of friends? 
    I DISLIKE the way he makes us sound like “fresh maal” who can only be sold within a certain date.
    But then, that entire comment is full of such jewels.
    And you say such men are in the majority? :( I weep for myself!

  • Tripta

    aiiiieeee. i meant the last comment before dropdown *looks very sheepish*

  • SB

    Just imagining if every women (even most of women !) starts to think like you! Your post has a sufficient material for a raging blood flow, but now I have learned not to be provoked. Just an advice from a grandfather: Be certain about your opinion before confronting oldest tradition of life.
    BTW, how old are you? I can assume you are not nanny old.  :-)

  • Traditions are man-made. Enough said.

    I fail to see what age has to do with anything. Don’t pull ageism on me, now. Oldest trick in the book. Pun intended.

  • Thanks for the backup. Some men don’t know what to do when confronted with women who can form an opinion (see SB’s comment below). All hope is not lost, though. There are a few openminded blokes out there. Take a deep breath and keep those fingers crossed. :)

  • Tripta

    I certainly hope so! 
    Oh, and by the way? “I wish it were anthropology. Men would have evolved in that case.” Cracked me up :D

The Oracle of Tripe #18

The Oracle of Tripe #18

By Chaitanya Modak and Benita Fernando
The Oracle of Tripe #18