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The economic downturn was a difficult time for all of us; for our economy, stability, security, jobs – as well as relationships.
By Sushumna Kannan
A question has been bugging me for quite some time now. You could call it that eternal question about the nature of love and human beings and even dismiss it because it’s a difficult one. But the persistence of this question is somewhat transposed by the given timeframe I am now concerned with, by the very concrete nature of its aspects that binds us humans, as breath does to body. Simply put, it would read like this – how has the economic downturn affected relationships?
I imagine there were households that fought about the sudden cut in resources and changes in lifestyle must have been hard to enforce, upon others and upon oneself. The confidence levels of those who were handed pink slips must have dipped even if there was some consolation in the randomness and the collective nature of the misfortune. And occasionally, it must have felt a little like a natural disaster. Regret, sorrow and a sense of betrayal, and then, many relationships strained.
The counseling services included men this time. It acknowledged the notions of masculinity in place and the pressures they suffer from. Yet, some of the saddest stories I heard during the recession were from women friends with broken hearts.
It’s not even news that women, and Indian women at that, get a raw deal in most relationships, but to end up with a cancelled engagement in the US all because one had lost her job still gave me a jolt. When a friend from the US called, telling me about this, I realized anew that women with jobs were a new form of dowry and much more. Supposedly, you wouldn’t qualify for someone’s love if you were jobless.
Sadly, physical and emotional bonds until then had meant nothing to the man in question — he had just walked out in the changed scenario. A neighbour or relative might chip in quickly and say, “This is why we don’t believe in love marriages. See, what is this ‘love’?” True. Yet, the aunty-logic seems too stoic. So does the new super-cynic generation. After all, love happens and there are men and women who have the commitment to make it last. So, what was happening? Why were women who were already achievers in their own right faced with the demand for more money from well-educated Indian men? I have no answers really. Perhaps the men do.
The economic downturn, strangely or not so strangely, had raised for me, an old question about relationships and wealth that no one can ever really elude. Global markets, capitalism, profits, cheap labour and also love’s labour lost! I was reminded of that infamous word; adjustment and the equally infamous Indian mantra: “svalpa adjust maadi.” It made me think real hard, but in circles somewhat, about the control, co-operation, forgiveness, the support and the blessings as it were, present in all relationships, but especially within parent-child and spousal relationships. The whole ‘deal’ seemed raw from the very beginning. Daughters-in-law are generally supposed to feel grateful for the food, clothing and shelter provided in their marital homes, is it not?
Another friend suffered heartbreak when the man she was in love with said goodbye without much hesitation because, of course, he had lost his job. It is not always funny when people talk of 50 ways to break up with someone or ‘moving on.’ His e-mails declaring eternal love remain with her as relics of passive and cowardly cruelty. Well, relationships are fragile, you say. Yes, I agree. I couldn’t agree more. But that doesn’t mean that I can stop wondering, “But why? Why, why, why?”. Didn’t marriage or love actually mean that people stuck together through thick and thin? Or was this too going to be dubbed ‘sentimental’ soon by the practical Indians in my neighbourhood? At least, we know of both those great myths about women: too sentimental and too shrewd.
“I have lost all hope.” and “I have learnt my lesson“, said my friend from the US in the same breath! There is little consolation to offer either oneself or others. Trust me, the time is just right for Indian women to ask for prenuptial agreements and much more.
*Photo credit: nubuck