The deconstruction of infidelity, courtesy Bollywood

Aug 24, 2006 Lamat R. Hasan

New Delhi, Aug 24 (IANS) The notion of infidelity in marriages - a hitherto taboo subject in India - is being deconstructed like never before after Bollywood director Karan Johar's three-hour film "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna" (KANK) opened to full houses earlier this month.

News channels are going live with shows that explode the hypocrisies of relationships gone wrong and newspapers are dedicating the sacred edit space to debate if marriage is a dead institution.

We have Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan saying "marriage and infidelity are the same" and "sometimes it is fun to flirt with somebody's wife or husband"; author Shobhaa Dé defending the institution of marriage, but claiming that infidelity is a "non-issue" for today's generation; and the very eligible Karan Johar saying "marriage is not for me".

Shah Rukh-speak is endorsed by his fans on the web: "I totally agree with Shah Rukh. Sometimes it is fun to flirt with somebody's wife or husband. This brings some kind of freshness," says G. Shobhana. Another comment by Manish reads: "Marriage is an outdated institution. It is on its way out in India too. The intelligent youth can see that it does not suit this age."

In this sea of contradictions the only clear message we get is: Every one cheats. And infidelity after all is not a big enough reason to walk out of a marriage/relationship.

Neshat Kaiser, a senior sociologist, who patiently sat through a KANK show says, "I think infidelity in marriages is an interesting theme; that's why the channels are treating it as an issue of national importance. Who knows if the shows are manufactured?"

Manufactured or not the shows have got everyone talking - about infidelity, about marriage and about love.

A 24-year-old journalist thinks her chances of getting involved with someone are "very high" after marriage. "I believe that human beings are many-partner animals," she reasons. But she is not willing to write off the institution of marriage so easily for its many comforts.

Adds Anurag Basnet, 22, who works for Penguin India: "You can cheat on your spouse as long as you don't get caught." Asked why relationships don't last, he says, "Lots of reasons but mainly because people get bored."

Kaiser argues that human beings are essentially promiscuous and have always been disloyal. "From the time of Babylon we have been cheats. There is no married man or woman who has not thought about someone else at some point of his/her life. If there is an element of desire even in the thought process it amounts to infidelity."

Shinie Antony, author of "Planet Polygamous", a book about infidelity, says: "Affairs are open-ended, a fresh slate, power play. Like a new face cream, it's an anti-ageing illusion, playing up a misplaced craving for spontaneity."

But infidelity is not easily defined.

"If you have a boyfriend and don't sleep with your husband, then you are being faithful to the former, isn't it? And if a guy is having an affair but occasionally sleeps with his wife, technically he is sinning," adds Antony.

Under such circumstances it is best to walk out of a marriage, suggests Kaiser, "Couples are not conjoined twins that they cannot separate easily. A break-up is always emancipating and liberating."

But what happens to the children?

"They did not demand to be born. So it is up to the parents to minimise their suffering. Children are attached not due to biological determinism but due to social determinism. The process of parting is painful, but those who have learnt to live with flies and mosquitoes can tackle infidelity in marriages," argues Kaiser.

According to Dr. Sanjay Chugh, a leading psychiatrist in New Delhi, people who are dissatisfied in marriage turn outside to fulfil those needs. The need could be sexual pleasure, emotional security, appreciation, approval, or plain simple love.

Chugh says there are two types of people seeking love (or whatever else) outside marriage.

"The first kind has a tendency to keep moving from one person to another. The second kind has been in a state of deprivation for long and so finally, post-saturation, they decide to step out.

"Both kinds are looking for easy solutions without knowing what the problem is. A person in such a situation invariably presents himself or herself as a victim."

The fact also is that divorces are becoming more acceptable.

"We often find people walking into a marriage with the option of divorce in mind. They are constantly trying to look for escape routes instead of trying to understand how they managed to invite a particular problem," he adds.

Many people feel they are married to their jobs; many more feel they are married to their co-workers or office-spouses - as they are now called.

So is it time to say good-bye to the institution of marriage?

"No," says Dr. Samir Parikh, chief psychiatrist, Max Healthcare. "Family dynamics are changing, but the institution of marriage is not dead yet. No one compromises his/her marriage so easily."

"Every one is vulnerable to attractions - this is a lifelong experience. Whether one has an affair or not is a different issue. But our inhibitions are falling easily because every one around us is doing the same thing."

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Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna


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