Wednesday, December 31, 2014

For the sake of others

I am neither a misanthrope nor asocial. I am not driven by rebellion or non-conformance either. However, I am strongly driven by values of secular humanism, chief among them being fairness, simplicity, respect, integrity, wisdom, efficiency and scientific thinking. I also judge my actions by a simple thumb rule. I always ask myself "Is what I do thoughtful, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind?". If the answer is no to any question, I choose to avoid the action. I call this the "THINK" rule.

During the months leading to my wedding and the weeks following my wedding, I have often heard the phrase "man is a social animal" being used as a driver of certain actions that seem illogical but indispensable part of our fabric. In addition, many practices are disguised under the veil of apparently righteous terms like "culture" and "tradition". Many of these actions or practices surrounding the wedding strongly challenged my value system. I was able to reach a mid path on many of the practices I objected to. However, some of my objections were vetoed due to my lack of seniority in the household despite the logic being sound.

In an ideal world, I would have preferred having a court marriage or temple marriage in presence of my parents, closest relatives and friends. This would be the wedding that would minimize effort, money and time and would significantly enhance the quality of time spent with my loved ones, including my wife to be. After the wedding, I would want to spend some time relaxing at home or away from home, bonding with my spouse and her first family.

India, on the other hand, is still a collectivist society where decisions are taken incorporating everyone's view. Everyone's view in turn is governed by societal acceptance and image. No where is this seen more than in a marriage. While I am not against maintaining an image in the society that is a reflection of who you aspire to be, I am against maintaining an image that is corrupted by my community's perception of how an ideal wedding and its participants should be.

For example, I do not see the reason why a bride must conceal her flaws under tonnes of make up. I do not see the sense in buying and wearing dresses that will probably never be used again in a life time. I do not see why hundreds of people, some of whom have never visited your home, need to be treated to a lavish spread of food. It is absolutely fine to indulge in these practices if you think they will make the wedding memorable. However, if you have strong logical reasons to reject them, then you shouldn't blindly follow them for the sake of society.

Moreover, the problem with the community perception is it hasn't changed with time. The reason behind some traditions no longer exist - which makes the same traditions irrelevant in today's society. However, we not only continue following these traditions but also impose them on others, just because they have gone on for centuries.

For instance, calling the community to the wedding was a norm because in olden days, everyone stayed in a close knit village. You interacted with everyone on a day to day basis. Bonds were formed not just because your were related by birth but because of mutual coexistence in a restricted geography.

The people who now form a part of the guest list, technically are not a part of your community because community is defined as a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. Apart from their lineage (because my great-grandfathers lived in the same town in Pakistan), many people neither live in the same place nor have anything remotely in common with my family or me. Yet, we are expected to be a part of their celebration and they are expected to be a part of ours.

What has made the practices worse is the impact of carefully planned marketing driving comparative materialism through the roof from one wedding to another. It is true that people have spend $500 Mn on Indian weddings, which is about as vulgar as wastage could get in a world where inequality is in extremes. You don't need to hire a Mercedes for the bride and groom nor do you need to buy expensive jewellery because someone else from your social strata had it at their son's or daughter's wedding.

When you indulge in tradition and social norms with understanding the rationale, the marriage changes from being a happy union of two people and their families to an exhibition of materialistic power and an exercise in branding.  These practices are the cosmetics that whole families together put up to conceal their insecurity of being rejected by the society, many of whose members wouldn't turn up to help you on a rainy day.

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