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Business News/ Lounge / Features/  Opinion: A mother’s note on marriage and consent

Opinion: A mother’s note on marriage and consent

  • If you do decide to enter into a long-term relationship with anyone, please debate its form and function beforehand
  • Under the electron microscope that is marriage, every flaw is beautifully highlighted

In the 1995 movie 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge', Farida Jalal's character asks her daughter (Kajol) to follow her heart.

My dearest Babyjaan,

Last week 10,000 young boys and girls in Gujarat took an oath that they would only marry a partner selected by their parents. They pledged that they would not get married without permission. They said they would end any relationship that didn’t have the approval of their parents. I felt panic when I read this and I want you to promise me something too—marry whoever the hell you want. Don’t marry if you don’t want. Please, don’t ask my permission.

The man responsible for engineering this oath told The Indian Express he got the idea while counselling young people. “They would come to me with problems like their parents are against them marrying the person they love." It would have been nice if he had used the opportunity to explain the idea of sexual consent to these students, but he was more worried about preventing parents from getting hurt by their adult offspring’s choices.

I know it’s unlikely you’ll seek my approval. At 8, you don’t even ask me before you raid the stash of chocolates in the fridge. From the beginning, we invested a lot of our parenting energy in helping you figure things out yourself. I can’t ever remember chasing you around a room with a loaded spoon, convincing you to have the next bite. Your father and I encouraged each other to step back.

Before you decide who to marry, you’ll have a slew of important decisions about college, work and money to tick off. You know you have my support and love, but don’t ask my permission for those decisions either. Now that we are clear, I don’t plan to shoulder the responsibility of your adulting, I would like to offer you some hopefully helpful tips.

I’m fond of repeatedly reminding your father that marriage is an unnatural institution but if I’m honest, part of me just likes how badass I sound when I say this. We’ll be married 20 years this December and apart from the bickering—mostly centred around who parents you better (you and I both know the answer)—his godawful taste in films and his inability to remember where he keeps anything, it has been a crazy, fulfilling two decades.

You’ve seen him in action around the house. He begins every morning by making a mug of steaming hot tea for me and breakfast for you, mixing it up so you don’t get bored. He hands me my chai with a side of morning love, then makes you giggle as he convinces you to crawl out from under the blanket and eat your breakfast. Sometimes, he even fields disapproving growls—“I didn’t want ham in my omelette!"—while he’s doing these daily tasks.

I’m your strong woman role model but it’s mostly thanks to him that you believe men and women are equal partners in everything, including household labour. I hope I’m around to cushion the blow when you realize #notallmen are like this. Surviving any partner for an extended period of time—and this especially holds true if you opt for a man—will be one of the biggest challenges life throws your way. But don’t be disheartened, daughter of mine.

If you do decide to enter into a long-term relationship with anyone, please debate its form and function beforehand. Remember, people grow and change, so what you discuss at the start of the relationship shouldn’t be set in stone. Find someone who understands that you need to keep on talking and reinventing your relationship.

Under the electron microscope that is marriage, every flaw is beautifully highlighted. In this hurt-on-loop world of repeat offences, humour is the only workable coping mechanism. Don’t stay angry. Bonus points if you find someone who can laugh at themselves. Be kind, forgive. Don’t make excuses to stay in an abusive relationship—for your sake I hope you never have to hunt for love amid toxicity.

Reconsider the idea of marriage entirely. It’s too much pressure on a couple, even if you follow Kahlil Gibran’s instructions (On Marriage) on how to stay together yet apart. For those who say marriage is guaranteed company for when you get old—it’s not, and good friends are often better company than a spouse in your last decades.

Why do two people need a scrap of paper except to reassure them there’s concrete proof of their relationship? We did the paperwork only to make our parents happy but you can breathe easy about that because your father and I don’t care. I haven’t confirmed this with him yet, but after 20 years one can occasionally take the liberty to speak on behalf of one’s partner.

Millennials, America’s largest living adult generation and the one before yours, began the process of delaying marriage. It’s going to be up to your Gen Z—defined also by your lack of memory of 9/11 (or India before the demolition of Babri Masjid)—to give marriage a much needed makeover.

Understand all the rules about marriage, starting with how you are expected to dress/behave to whom society says it’s okay to marry. Then ignore all of them. Remember, we are privileged enough to live in a bubble where skin colour, gender, caste, religion and nationality are not barriers against loving someone. So cast your net far and wide. Be free. Certainly, don’t ask my permission. I hope, Babyjaan, I taught you well.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

She tweets at @priyaramani

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