Interfaith Marriage.

Naomi Schaefer Riley has this to say to conclude her article in the New York Times – “So while I recognize that the diminishment of religious institutions and a rise in marital instability could be among the long-term effects of interfaith marriages, I cannot wish for the tide to ebb. Nor do I think it will.”

In India, there are two types of marriages as shown in the cartoon on top. My own marriage is what was called a Love Marriage because, our parents and families had nothing to do with our selecting each other to get married to. Mine was also an interfaith marriage. I am a Hindu and Urmeela was a Methodist. Neither of us were practicing any kind of religion at the time of our marriage. Our son Ranjan for want of a better alternative calls himself a Hindu and believes that Ganesha looks after him. I disagree. Ganesha has provided Ranjan with me to look after him.

My interfaith marriage lasted a little over forty years and was what could have been called a successful marriage. We had no confusion about what rites or ceremonies to follow or festivals to celebrate. We did them all including Muslim ones as one of our very close relatives converted to Islam to marry a Muslim girl. Once Ranjan grew up and started going to college, we stopped following all rites and celebrating all festivals as we found them to be totally meaningless. I still do not.

In my family, interfaith, inter-caste, interlingual and international marriages are quite common and no one bats an eye lid when someone announces a marriage which could fall into any one of these characteristics. We also do have the arranged marriages and that too is perfectly acceptable. We also have one same sex marriage within our family and so that too is part of our tradition. We now also have live in relationships within the family without anyone batting an eyelid about them. All in all a crackpot family in the eyes of traditional Indians.

All Indian families are however not like us. Most of them are orthodox when it comes to marriages and all the negative things about marriages that Naomi writes about happen more within the arranged and same religion / caste / language etc combinations. Somehow the interfaith marriages seem to survive longer and in better condition. Or at least they seem to within my sphere of experience and observation. There are however commentaries that I keep hearing about or reading about that both arranged and love marriages have 50/50 chance of success/failure.

Our society, particularly in urban India is undergoing major upheavals and there is a lot of flux in all institutions including that of organised religion and marriage.

We live in interesting times and with increasing globalisation and wealth even events like the clip below have become passe!

Indian Marriages -II

This is the second story as indicated in my yesterday’s post.

Dr Swarnambal and Dr Kumaraswamy—A 65 year old saga.

It was a love marriage. It was an inter community marriage. It was the classic boss and assistant getting together marriage and it became for many years a long distance marriage. Dr Swarnambal, now 86, went to work as Dr Kumaraswamy’s assistant in his rural clinic in Polur. Two years later they got married in Tirupathi. “There was no objection from my parents. My mother and eldest sister Ramalakshmi helped to arrange and perform the wedding”. It was not without drama though. Her brother rushed up the hill to try and stop the wedding at the last minute. He could not find the venue and promised Balaji that if he showed the way, he wouldn’t stop the wedding….and he did find and bless the married couple.

Then began a life of service and spirituality. Swarna worked with the Durgabhai Deshmukh program to open and run Baalwaadis and maternity centres. She was the Chairman for the North Arcot District and Polur Taluka and twelve centres were in operation. She had to visit and supervise their functioning in a jeep given for this purpose. After two years when she had collected some good funds for the project, local politicians wanted to misuse the funds and she resigned in disgust. She then concentrated on her husband’s practice.

Three children were born and their education became a matter of concern. “We had a lot of family burdens. Doctor Mama had to educate his brothers and get sisters married. We wanted to give our children a good education away from the village. So I migrated to Madras and initially stayed with my older sister Nagammal. Then I set up my own establishment close to the children’s schools. Of course I moved again when my daughters joined Church Park”. This period of about twenty years was a time when the couple lived apart. “He would come to Chennai whenever he wanted to see the kids. As our clinic was focussed greatly on maternity there was no weekend. So he would just get into his car late afternoon or evening, and drive in to see us, spend the night and leave early in the morning to go back to Polur. He was doing his cooking, practice and earning money for us.”

Swarna has learnt to change the dialect of her Tamizh to suit the language of her in-laws and the transition between Brahmin Tamil and Mudaliar speech is fluid. The joke in the family was that Swarna was an excellent , ‘kai rasi’ doctor. She would put up her board and build up a good number of patients and then change house or disappear!! “I would spend the children’s holidays in Polur. We lived in Triplicane, Gopalapuram and now for many years in Shastri Nagar. Our old house has been converted into apartments. Our son Dr Srinivasan lived in the UK for some time and then came back to India. He and his wife Raji look after us now. We have no responsibilities, no anxieties…in fact I do not know the prices of anything. Daughters Dr. Shanthi and Bamini are settled in UK and USA and visit regularly. Vasu and Shanthi chose their own partners. Bamini had an arranged marriage. Our grandchildren have grown up to be good human beings….that is what makes our life contented and blessed”.

After the children’s education was done Swarna did go back to Polur for some years. Then began their travelling to visit and help with grandchildren. This was also a time when Doctor began to immerse himself in spirituality. Swarna says, “I went with him everywhere barring Amarnath and Mt Kailash —he has made two trips!”

“The success of any marriage depends on a basic concept” says Doctor Kumaraswamy. “You have to be considerate partner and there should be equality, a sense of give and take…then family life goes on smoothly. When a feeling of superiority creeps in then the marriage collapses”.

Spirituality has been a part of Doctor’s life. “Both of us had upadesam from the Madurai Adeenam and that was the beginning of our spiritual life. Swarna took on the daily burdens of our life and I concentrated on supplying the finance. My focus has been on parents, patients, social service and in spiritual elevation”.

It has been an austere way of life for Doctor for many years. A cold bath, puja, compulsory sharing of the food before eating with a child and any other guests has been his way of life. He has practiced equality and insisted on sharing his meal with the house help too. If any case came up during his morning puja, he would go and attend it, come back have a bath again and then finish his prayers. “Athithi devo bhava has been my philosophy. Meditation helps to clean your mind, your thoughts and facilitates withdrawal from the world. I believe that the divine is within you and outside you. This awareness helps to interact with the world and makes you feel that I have everything and results in divine bliss”.

Doctor had a reputation in Polur that he never ever asked for money. Whatever the patients gave he accepted…there was no fee structure. He has been leading an austere life; both have visited Sabarimalai innumerable times. Doctor used to walk from Salem to Pazhani and then on to Pampa for many years. He was regular in performing the Giri Pradakshanam in Thiruvannamalai on Poornima days. The Krithigai and yearly Sashti vradam has been part of his spiritual life. Now at 95 he is weak and unable to keep the vigorous religious regime. He spends his time listening to Swami Paramarthananda’s lectures and transcribing them.

In the quietness of their lives both Swarna and Doctor rest on their laurels. The divine glow in both their faces inspires younger generations to search for satisfaction and peace after leading such an eventful, service oriented and fulfilling life.