The recent death of actor Kashinath, who revolutionalized the Kannada film industry in the 1980s, has left many of his fans, myself included, aghast with an irreplaceable loss. To commemorate his spirit, I decided to look for scenes of his movies on Youtube and I found this lovely song called Navaratri Yolage from the legendary movie Anantana Avantara. The song is about when one must get married (before Navaratri) and when one must conceive an offspring (before Shivaratri) and the two are normally about four months apart. The great thing about his movies is that they mirrored societies with little censorship, and the symbolism is timeless and easily relatable to any generation.
The song has a stanza that goes “Until this madness goes I won’t get married / But until I get married this madness won’t go”. The meaning of “madness” is left ambiguous in this song, but you can think of getting over madness as getting to know yourself. Earlier generations preferred to let marriage take care of their madness, and they discovered themselves along with their partners. The current generation, though, prefers to get rid of its madness before finding a partner, and this means postponing the age of marriage.
Getting rid of one’s madness and finding oneself also means developing a personality and character, with which comes rigidity and less willingness to accommodate changes in life with a partner. While knowing oneself can lead to making an informed choice of a partner, it also means that you are that much less likely to appreciate the changes that come with being married (and having an offspring, which is in a different league altogether).
When our parents were growing up, they were among four or five children at least, and so they were perpetually fighting for basic needs. When they grew up and secured mostly public sector jobs, their value in the marriage market shot up. This resulted in securing an equally competent match, who they could combine forces with to amass wealth (properties, jewellery and wedding fund for each future offspring). Given that this generation had mostly coherent goals, getting to know each other was relatively straight forward, so they didn’t take very long before they produced children and moved on with wealth amass-ification (children are not inexpensive, mind you).
Thanks to this generation, you and I never have to worry about basic survival, so we can focus on what is now called problems of the “urban poor” such as if I am really happy with my gender, if my partner is truly over their ex, if my therapist is really helping with my depression and so on. Given how complex each of these questions are, with no straightforward answers, we are bound to take years before we understand ourselves, let alone a spouse, and hence the average age at which people decide to grow families is a lot higher today—be it going from single to committed or from being committed to having offspring, etc.
Also, our life expectancy has gone up significantly in the last few decades and hence, we are not in any hurry to stuff our lives into 50 years. We go in and out of multiple relationships, each of them life altering and before we know it, we are in our 30s and haven’t found anyone we want to spend the rest of our lives with. This is when our poor parents step in with very little understanding of who we have become, and start introducing us to all these incredibly young women or perpetually mothered men who are waiting to be passed off from one guardian to another.
Your folks are probably optimizing for long-term peace and sustainability, while you are optimizing for some sort of short-term excitement with social approval (sounds like an oxymoron, I know) to help you make a decision because that’s the one thing you haven’t managed to do in any of your previous relationships. Although there is nothing wrong with the people your folks introduce you to, you simply cannot feel it—the universe is not screaming at you to get married. You can’t help but think of your ex who you’d instantly fallen in love with, but since that road’s closed now, you continue your search which you’ll soon realize doesn’t actually get easier or more fun over time.
At this point, you also have a pretty demanding career that leaves you with very little time and opportunity to socialize with people your age, outside of work. Hence, your only source of potential spouses is your parents. If the parents have a huge social circle, you are lucky to find yourself with a good supply of potential spouses—some young enough to not be jaded or some others whose potential is yet to be uncovered. But god forbid, if your parents haven’t gotten onto the WhatsApp bandwagon, you are screwed because the arranged marriage market today is mostly a market for “lemons”—the only ones left on it are these super successful tiger women who can’t be domesticated (I hope you can smell the sarcasm!) or men who are too tired to play games.
So you see, although we like to believe that the 30s are the new mid-20s, we are probably better off being married earlier because the older we grow, the more tired we are and the more rigid our personalities become and hence, it’s that much harder for us to evolve in a relationship. Those who fight this (kudos to them, else our societies would’ve never evolved!), have to try harder to make their marriages work and this is probably one of the reasons for growing rates of failed relationships amongst the urban poor in India. We marry someone (irrespective of how we meet them), try really hard to make it work but learn very quickly that our differences are larger than what we ever had or will ever have in common, resulting in wealth division (read separation) rather than its amassification.
Priyanka Bharadwaj, author, is the founder of Marriage Broker Auntie, a wing(wo)man service for arranged marriages. Founded in 2013 as a personalized matching service, Marriage Broker Auntie now focuses on coaching people and helping them make decisions on finding a life partner.