New Delhi: Kamal Khurana, slim, thoughtful and unassuming, is on a mission to save the Indian marriage. That might sound a little grandiose, but a few minutes spent with Khurana in his counselling clinic in New Delhi’s tony Safdarjung Enclave is enough to convince the most sceptical of his seriousness.
“You are not supposed to live alone,” Khurana says, his gaze unblinking behind delicate spectacles, “you are not complete within yourself, you need a partner to enjoy your life better, the main purpose of marriage is growth.”
Perception shift: Khurana believes that the idea that marriages are made in heaven is gradually eroding. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Khurana has counselled thousands of troubled couples in Delhi, the National Capital Region centred on it, and Mumbai over the last 10 years, individually and in groups at his clinic, the exotically named Purple Alley, which calls itself “the only super specialized institute in the field of marriage preparation and enrichment.”
The lilac walls of his waiting room are decorated with slogans on how to keep the spark in marriage alive. And Khurana himself is extremely fond of using colourful metaphors to describe his career choice: “People like me are like a signpost saying that dead end is at the other side,” he says. “People like me are like a mirror, where we show you how to look at yourself, and people like me have the role of a map. We let them know, ‘OK you take a right and a left and here is your success’”, he pauses, apparently out of similes, “and people like me are like coaches, who actually help you see the way of doing it.”
As his words suggest, Khurana offers a multitude of services to afflicted spouses. From marriage preparation classes to perception and communication skills, to full-blown relationship therapy. “I have experience with all sorts of counselling, but this was my passion,” he says, explaining how he started his clinic over a decade ago after training in Seattle and New York in relationship therapy.
Khurana was responding to a growing demand for relationship counsellors.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the divorce rate in India rose over the last decade (even though it remains relatively low at an estimated one in 100 compared with one in two in the US) and even people who hadn’t split were beginning to accept the idea that counselling by a professional might be preferable to living together unhappily, says Khurana.
“I see the last two years as when the demand really picked up well, and five years back was when it started,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that problems were not there earlier, but India was living in denial that we don’t have any problems and the stories used to be just not known to anybody.”
His clientele now ranges from 18-65 years he says, but most couples are between the ages of 25 and 35.
“The problems that they come to me with and the actual reasons for the divorce are two different things,” he says. “They always come with the symptoms but ultimately it always calls for connecting with the partner.”
Khurana believes the situation is more serious than people know. “Relationships are breaking down,” he says. “Marriage was researched ages ago as an institution where you could put your energy, emotionally and physically, into one person, and then that energy would come back to you and make you complete. As per researches we know that 75% of marriages are not working in this country as well,” he says, “It’s a good sign that they don’t want to drag the pain any more and they want to work on their marriages now. There is a positive side.”
His business has expanded quickly, there are now six counsellors and two clinics.
Khurana also has a sideline on television, as an expert voice for the lifestyle channel Pragya TV on spiritual and psychological “wellness” programmes, giving advice on the dos and don’ts of a happy married life. He is a frequent guest on chat shows and daytime TV too, combining a sympathetic bedside manner with a no-nonsense outlook on the reality of living together.
“Just saying that it’s boring or it’s irritating and it’s frustrating doesn’t mean that you will find peace anywhere else,” he says, “Single people have a higher level of stress and depression.” And he’s a fan of getting it right the first time: “If you don’t answer certain questions, then they pop up again in your second marriage, and that is much much more vulnerable to separation than the first marriage. Once you have already crossed the line, you are more vulnerable to cross it again.”
Khurana, who was born and brought up in Delhi, has been married for the last 10 years.
“Obviously if I don’t practise what I preach then I’m in the soup,” he says cheerfully. “I know how painful it is when you get separated, so I lead by example.”
He sees the changing roles of young men and women in recent years as partly to blame for the increase in divorce and separation.
“Reading our culture back to the Vedas...I understand that earlier men and women had their own roles, there was a distinction,” he says. “But now there is role confusion. When the women’s liberalization movement happened, the only problem was that, in the back of his mind, a man always expected his wife to be a homemaker, be it in the West or the East. Now women are studying with them in the classrooms and doing a job with them at work, where they are completely equal. But in the marriage the man always has the homemaking idea, and if not the man then the in-laws do.”
The trend in the West towards a more secular understanding of marriage might also have some influence over here, says Khurana.
At least he believes that the sanctity of marriage, the idea that marriages are made in heaven, is gradually being eroded.
“Today’s generation has no one to tell them what is a marriage and why should the marriage happen. It’s a consumer-based materialistic life. So the centre of marriage is slowly going away here—people are thinking it is only about problems.”
About a year ago, Khurana tried to pre-empt these problems with marriage preparation classes for young couples. “After studying the Indian audience, Indian couples, for all these years I realize that we have to focus more on preparation. So we are coming up with marriage preparation and enrichment programmes where we are working on the roots of a relationship, we’ll be doing workshops where we will be helping engaged couples to know this in advance. They don’t have so much damage done to the relationship, they are just starting out so it’s easier for them.”
However, he admits that this was “an idea before its time” and is moving away from the idea now due to a lack of interest from young couples.
Despite his concerns, Khurana is convinced that he is in a position to help. Over the years, his methods have changed a little, he admits; he is less hands-on than he used to be and gets less anxious about the outcome of his sessions.
He says that many couples give up on therapy because they don’t have the stamina, or will wait until the last possible moment before addressing their issues, but acknowledges that there’s little he can do to change that. “Earlier I used to try to live their life for them, but now I realize that it’s their life and I don’t have to fish for them, I can teach them to fish.”
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