Irreconcilable differences. That says so much, yet so little.
"Soft drink?" I ask Lokesh. A distant cousin living in the same city, he is close in acquaintance. He settles, holding out a mithai box.
"No, I’m diabetic."
"Tea? Without sugar?" He’s gained a lot of weight.
"No, I don’t take tea." He grimaces, touches his stomach.
His answer stalls me. The weather is changing; tea with snacks is the norm. I am told he drinks a lot. That acid must come from alcohol.
"I take green tea," he informs my husband.
"I have that!" I am relieved.
He smiles. "Well, then!"
He bears good news; his nephew has a job. After his brother’s death, he is the head of the family, the responsible person. I hear him detail this as I get busy in the kitchen.
But how is his family? Lokesh has a son he rarely sees; they live in the same city.
Lokesh and Asha were like any other pair. It was an arranged marriage. Lokesh was an engineer in government service; Asha, an architect, in the teaching line. Lokesh lived with his parents, and his brother’s family. A joint family.
Asha and her in-laws could not get along. She was expected to hold a career, blindly accede to tradition, and obey without thought, all together. She chose not to bend. And that turned her into a villain for Lokesh’s family. She placed a caveat before Lokesh. Choose her and their son, or choose his blood relations. Now that’s radical! But he refused to see her arguments. They got a divorce.
Kush, their son, was two or three years old then. Now he’s 15. I hear he makes no overture to his father. Lokesh sees him, on special occasions.
I often wonder about Kush. What has he learned about relationships? His father chose to stand by his parents. And Kush’s parents? They chose divided lives.
A few years ago, a relative had stepped in and Lokesh had begun to see his son on regular basis. We were hopeful they would build a relationship for their son’s sake. But the weight of expectation was too much. In a few months, Lokesh returned to the fringes of his son’s life.
Lokesh has changed. He is overweight verging on obese, bloated face, eyes sunken and red-shot.
Perhaps if he’d remarried, things would have been different? But they were so young when they separated! Didn’t he think of remarrying? Perhaps correct a mistake he had made? And how did Asha escape another marriage in a marriage-oriented society? Lokesh and Asha have had their share of these suggestions. We all thought it was just a matter of time.
Twelve years later, he or Asha have not remarried or got back together. They have tried, yes. Lokesh’s refuge from loneliness is alcohol. He hasn’t forgotten her. But neither has he been able to bridge the distance; between love, and maintaining that love.
Commitment requires sacrifice. Sacrifices which we, perhaps, are not prepared to make. If only we knew the cost beforehand.
The family as the priority is a norm in arranged marriages. But how can someone be happy with being secondary, especially, an educated and self reliant woman? In that, I respect Asha’s stand. It’s her right to assert her wishes. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, I find I blame Asha less for the separation.
Indeed, Lokesh should be a loyal son; but what of the vows of marriage? Surely, Asha has a right to choose if she wants to live away from a joint family? I am sure traditionalists will say this is radical thinking. I think parenthood is not a business, where you expect returns.
As I reflect, I realize I would never do what Asha did. Am I just less bold than Asha or more 'adjusting'? Is my husband more adjusting than Lokesh? Yes, we have had differences, but somehow the situation just has not graduated to that point.
My empathy remains, yet, with Asha. But I have my limitations. I can hardly campaign for her. Lokesh is too reserved and never shares what he feels. Since I was not in contact with him much during the divorce proceedings, I haven’t talked to him either. Ultimately, it’s the couple, or the man, who must take the final decision.
I wonder what values couples in such situations give their children. Lokesh and Asha haven’t really bothered. I don’t blame them for drifting apart, but they should have spared a thought for the kid. Be parents, if you can’t be friends or enemies. Neither ensured that Lokesh retain a place in his son’s life. And Lokesh failed to bridge the gap between love and loving, twice.
As the reader, what do you think is the difference between love and loving?