Circa 2004. Forever on the move as a professional journalist, I decided to leave Mumbai and take up an offer with a newspaper in Pune. I had visited Pune earlier, but I had never lived there. During my brief visits to the city, however, what I had loved was the weather – and the relative absence of traffic on the streets.
During my decade-long stay in Pune, I came across individuals who were in relationships that were a step short of marriage. Several of them matured into marriages, while others ended in breakups.
Among those who had broken up were ones who had dated people outside their caste and community – but chose to follow traditional norms while getting married. Eventually, I was convinced that not every Puneite was comfortable with the idea of marrying someone who didn’t come from the section of society he or she was from.
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Abhijit had been working as a teacher when I met him. He had been dating Smita, a girl from a different caste. The two had met a couple of years ago, and the relationship seemed to be heading towards marriage. At least, that is what Abhijit had suggested all along.
She followed her parents’ wishes
Busy lives result in infrequent interaction. When I met Abhijit after a fairly long gap, I was taken aback when he told me that Smita and he had broken up. “She called me up and told me that while our relationship was the best thing that had happened to her in her life, she had decided to get married according to her parents’ wishes,” he said.
“Didn’t you ask her why?” I remember asking him.
“I did. She simply said that the guy was working in a very good company and her parents thought he was the best match for her,” he murmured.
“What now?” I didn’t have much to offer by way of compassion.
“We broke up a few months ago,” he smiled, adding, “I have been with someone from my caste since the last couple of months. She is the one I will be getting married to. My conservative parents, who were hoping that I would break up with Smita, introduced me to her after I told them about our split. They are very happy because I won’t be going against norms, and I am happy because they are.”
“Does your fiancée know about Smita?”
“She doesn’t need to. In any case, how many people get married to the first person they have a relationship with?”
I chose not to discuss his life any further, having understood that both Smita and he were similar people.
It’s OK while we’re dating, but marriage…
Nivedita, another Puneiite, surprised me with her decision to walk out of a relationship one day. A software industry professional, she had been going around with Advait, her colleague and one of my better friends in the city.
As long as Advait and she were together, the two of them appeared to reside on an island of bliss and self-contentment. But the story of their lives experienced a twist that I had not anticipated.
It was during a busy working day that I received a call from Advait. “We are no longer together,” he blurted out seconds after we started speaking.
“For a while, Nivedita had been increasingly uneasy about being in a relationship with someone who didn’t belong to her community. But, there was no good reason for breaking up. So, she started finding all kinds of reasons to pick up quarrels. Eventually, she walked out on me,” he said.
The reasons for fighting seemed to suggest that Nivedita had become increasingly fidgety in the relationship. Once supportive and calm, she started yelling at him whenever she caught him not wearing slippers at his home. Having loved a man who wasn’t ambitious, she suddenly mutated into a critic of his mind-set. She started resenting the car he owned and complained about it every day. A series of differences led to the demise of a relationship that seemed promising not long ago.
Nivedita found a boyfriend from her community a week or two after they broke up, he told me. “Today, it seems that she wanted that, and that alone. I was the wrong guy for her,” he added.
Marriage is a different ballgame
It was only some time ago that I got to know that Nivedita had married her new boyfriend. Both Smita and Abhijit are leading happy lives with their respective partners. Common to all of them was the quest for finding someone who belonged to their respective sections of the society.
Relationships before marriage were non-serious affairs, with none of them looking for life partners through them.
For a long time, I had believed that such an approach to life could be only found among residents of small Indian towns and villages. God knows I didn’t expect to find it in Pune, a city that has grown up and embraced modernity at an enviable pace.
It seems I have been unlucky.