Live-In Aaj Kal

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“Blame it on a shrinking world, blame it on the invasion of American sitcoms and soaps with their liberal morals, blame it on the pressures of urban life but prudery and traditional mores are finding it exceedingly hard to survive in this age of practicality,” says sociologist Nayana Mittal. The Propinquity theory of attraction has never been as alive and ticking as now. With mixed hostels in professional institutions, group projects that throw youngsters together for long periods of time and the immense pressure to succeed, there is a pressing need for companionship from like-minded people. Resultantly, a large percentage of youngsters are already hooked up and living together by the time they pass out with their degrees.

By Kankana Basu

The times they’re a changing… The recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality of living together seems to be in sync with popular sentiment. A high-pressure lifestyle and economic independence of women have all contributed to more and younger people choosing to live together rather than marry. Is living-in intrinsically more equitable than marriage?

A large percentage of youngsters are already hooked up and living together by the time they pass out with their degrees.
Shailaja (26) and Ankur (31) are upwardly-mobile professionals leading busy lives. A typical day in their lives involves getting up at the crack of dawn, hitting the neighborhood gym, rushing back home to get dressed and leaving together for office at eight. Working in different offices (situated in the same area), they meet again at five and drive home in Ankur’s car, stopping to pick up groceries, vegetables and clothes from the laundry. On reaching the foyer, the watchmen salutes while handing over the day’s mail and the building secretary makes a spot of polite conversation. Shailaja starts to cook dinner, while Ankur runs the washing machine after which they settle down to a hot, home-cooked television dinner. Seems like the perfect recipe for a happy married life, right? Wrong. There’s a vital ingredient missing in this fairy tale; the page containing a marriage certificate. Shailaja and Ankur, though living together for six years, have never felt the need to tie the knot. And what is glaringly noticeable is that while earlier such a couple would have elicited disapproval, dismay, distrust and possibly even disgust from the neighbors, in recent times the social stigma seems to have lifted off live-in relationships.

Legal backing

With the recent Supreme Court ruling putting live-in relationships on par with marriages, there is much jubilation all around. “When two adults choose to live together, does it amount to offense?” were the famous words of the three-judge bench who expanded that there was no existing law that prohibited live-in relationships.

“Blame it on a shrinking world, blame it on the invasion of American sitcoms and soaps with their liberal morals, blame it on the pressures of urban life but prudery and traditional mores are finding it exceedingly hard to survive in this age of practicality,” says sociologist Nayana Mittal. The Propinquity theory of attraction has never been as alive and ticking as now. With mixed hostels in professional institutions, group projects that throw youngsters together for long periods of time and the immense pressure to succeed, there is a pressing need for companionship from like-minded people. Resultantly, a large percentage of youngsters are already hooked up and living together by the time they pass out with their degrees.

Ironically, as the craving for emotional, physical and intellectual companionship gets more intense, the age for marriage seems to be rising for urban professionals. “The late twenties is a period when one is on a single-track mission to make a mark career-wise. By the time you’re reasonably settled professionally, chances are that you’ve already hit your thirties. By then, most people are well into a relationship and living together,” says marketing executive, Maya Correa.

Present-day parents have undergone a radical shift in attitude compared to their earlier counterparts. “There was a time when I insisted that my son marry a homely Bengali Brahmin girl. Then came a phase when mixed-religion marriages were on the rise and I felt that it would be enough if the girl hailed from the same religion, caste being a superficial factor. My son went abroad to do his MS and I prayed that he wouldn’t get home a foreigner for a bride. Then came a couple of disturbing Bollywood movies revolving around homosexuality and I prayed that my son would get home a girl and not a boy! Now that I’ve seen just about everything there is to see, I’m game for anything,” laughs Lavinia Mukherjee, parent of a 29-year-old computer engineer. More and more people are throwing off the shackles of tradition to embrace a more liberal way of thinking and living.

Psychologists Dr. Nirmala Rao and Malini Shah, who run the Mumbai-based organization, Aavishkar Self -Enrichment, believe that the live-in relationship comes with its unique share of pros and cons. While the absence of a legal status entails a greater degree of commitment in making the relationship work, on the flip side is the possibility that a partner might walk out at the first serious tiff. “There is a certain degree of accountability and responsibility in the institution of marriage, also the awareness at the back of one’s mind that there are family and friends supporting the bond. A live-in relationship may contain a lesser degree of commitment and hence carries with it a possibility of multiple partners and the resultant emotional and medical hazards,” says Malini.

Kids coming into the picture in a live-in relationship also necessitate some serious re-thinking by both partners. Surekha Anand (name changed), an air-hostess and Capt. Piyush Rastogi (a pilot) lived together for seven years before going in for a simple court marriage. “We never really felt the need to legitimize our relationship. It was only after my son was born that our airline colleagues persuaded us to tie the knot. Now when I look back at the legalities involved in getting a ration card, school admission, passport, etc., I’m convinced I did a wise thing. Besides, children can be very cruel. There was also the latent fear that someday, my child would be labeled illegitimate by his peers,” admits Surekha.
Economic independence

The rise in live-in relationships has a lot to do with urban women earning almost as much as their male counterparts, if not more. There is a greater degree of economic security in contemporary women that gives them a strong sense of identity and confidence. “A couple of decades back, a larger number of women depended on their partners economically. If a man walked out of a relationship, it would leave the woman stranded financially. With double income partnerships, the situation is now altered. Added to that is the fact that more and more professionals, caught in the career trap, are delaying parenthood. Re-lationships now come uncluttered by the presence of kids — all these factors contribute to a rise in live-in relationships,” says adman Pratik Nandy.

While those of a traditional mindset may lay the blame squarely on cinema, soaps and chick/stud literature, a peek into Indian mythology reveals that the gods set the trend aeons back. “If you analyze the legendary love stories, there were broad hints of premarital togetherness. Polygamy and polyandry were common in our historical texts and Lord Krishna frolicking with multiple consorts was viewed benevolently by society. However, most mythological stories are symbolic and representative of a deeper meaning and interpretation and do not serve as pointers for actual conduct,” says Vandana Pai, professor of sociology.

In recent times, celebrity culture is thick with no-strings-attached relatio
nships with the partner being politely referred to as “companion,” “long-term friend,” “significant other” etc.; politicians George Fernandes and his close colleague Jaya Jaitley, poet Dom Moraes and writer Sarayu Srivatsa, the late Bengali actor Uttam Kumar and his heroine Supriya, movie heart-throbs of the 1970s Rajesh Khanna and Tina Munim being examples that come instantly to mind. Sarayu, who confesses to having been more of a nurse-cum-companion to the ailing poet in his twilight years (besides being a co-author), shies when women perceive her up as a poster girl for free-thinking women, who choose to follow their hearts rather than the dictates of society. “My mother, a typical Tam Bram lady hailing from Bangalore, was icon material, being amazingly progressive in her thinking. I think women, when they hit their sixties and seventies, develop a certain spiritual slant which makes them very tolerant and supportive towards youngsters who choose to live life differently. They also get a glimpse of all that they missed out in life,” says Sarayu, who remembers straddling a fine line between the traditional world and the unconventional one for a few (much publicized) years. She also recalls her mother rubbishing rituals that forced women to stick to bad marriages and being extremely vocal about the good sense of living with a person to check out on mutual compatibility.

Bollywood, with a spate of films focusing on pre-marital pregnancy/motherhood (Kya Kehna, Salaam Namaste), older-woman younger-man and living-together themes (Wake Up Sid, Dil Chahta hai) is also responsible for giving a fresh perspective to live-in relationships. “When at the height of popularity, actor Hema Malini, who hailed from a traditional family and epitomized uprightness, chose a relationship that was unharnessed by a legal status, she was probably paving the way for a new kind of thinking in women,” says film writer Reva Ghosh. The quiet dignity with which she conducted her personal life only enhanced the shift in society’s perception of a phenomenon that was for long considered forbidden.

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