Yesterday once more?

GENDER BENDER

Yesterday once more?

Dr Rasesh Shah is a busy cancer specialist who travels a lot as he has patients in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries. His wife Sania, a beautician with a busy parlour, is on her own for most of the year. Being a beauty consultant to celebrities, Sania keeps herself trim and enjoys an active social life. A few months ago, she fell for a young man who kept texting her every day and following her. They had an affair and when Rasesh came back, Sania told him about it.

Rasesh says he was shocked but eventually he took her to the man’s house and asked them if they wanted to get married. When Sania refused, he took her back home and life — the couple says — has been “normal”.

Mayank Mehta is a travel and tour organiser. He takes groups of tourists from Western countries on mountain treks. His job keeps him away from his wife for long periods of time.

“I know that my wife sleeps with my friend when I am away,” he says, “but I love her too much to grudge her the happiness. She loves me and it is clear that the relationship is only temporary. If a man can have affairs, a woman too can look for some fun.”

 Rasesh and Mayank, most people may say, are exceptions. “Time was when women stood by their husbands when they discovered their extra-marital affairs,” says Rhea Dewan, a marriage counsellor, “In most societies, there is tremendous pressure on wives, emotionally and financially, to forget and forgive their husbands’ misdeeds when they have affairs. There are many reasons for this.”

Dewan explains that till recently, women were seen as the supportive half of society and had to show patience, forbearance and fortitude. They had to provide sustenance when the family finances went through tough times, support the sick and disabled, and stand by the husband through thick and thin. Most women tried very hard to match up to such impossible ideals because they believed that they had nowhere safe to go if they left their marital homes. Even if they were educated and could earn their own livelihood, they didn’t feel safe. There was usually family opposition to their single status. While their parental families would support a separation in cases of physical violence, they would advise them to stay in a marriage in case of infidelity. “Children are a big issue too. No mother wants to give up her children and when fathers fight for custody rights, there is too much emotional turmoil to face,” she adds.

Dewan says that as long as they get what they want out of a marriage, many women — even today — accept the husband’s drinking, smoking or womanising. “Societies all over the world idolise ‘tolerant’ women who forgive erring husbands as has been reflected in films like Man In A Grey Flannel Suit or its Indian version Masoom.

“In mythology too, powerful men have always prided themselves in having many wives while the wives have always been loyal and saintly,” Dewan says.

Krishna Kapoor, the wife of Bollywood actor-director Raj Kapoor, took the decision to stick by her husband through his affairs with some of his beautiful leading ladies. Years ago, Prakash, Hindi film actor Dharmendra’s wife, remained silent when he married Hema Malini. More recently, Shiney Ahuja’s wife Anupam played ‘loyal Indian wife’ to the hilt. In the West, the case of Bill Clinton is an example.

According to Sudha Rajan, a lawyer specialising in matrimonial rights, husbands and wives today see which way the wind blows and make their choices depending upon the pluses rather than the minuses of the relationship.

“The length of the relationship, the comfort level, the accumulated property, the children and their security, the attitude of the family — all these are important factors in taking a decision to leave or stay. Marriage is a bargain and most people choose the best they can get out of it. Men too marry into well-known or rich-powerful families to get advantages and tolerate a good deal to launch themselves on a path of success. This is nothing new. Historically, we have known about ‘marriages of convenience’ — they continue in one form or the other even today,” she says. This sure makes one wonder when words like love, trust and mutual respect went out of fashion?

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