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Satyalogue

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March 2009
Satyalogue

By Rajesh Oza

Marriage: Continuity and Change

The second in a three-part discussion on the institution of marriage

“Family” (used 82 times in M. K. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth).

“I must support the family as ? our father had done. The meaning of ‘family’ had but to be slightly widened?” (M. K. Gandhi).

Each culture develops its own unique organizing principle. In America, the individual is paramount. Indian society, on the other hand, has for centuries been centered on families rooted in villages. It has long been structured around a caste-based system of marriage that encourages familial and communal solidarity and linkage to ancestry.

This sense of continuity in the Indian society contributes to each individual’s psychological security in belonging to a shared and enduring civilization. For their family’s socio-economic safekeeping, parents look within their circle to find a suitable match for their marriage-age children. Not surprisingly, this circle is but a slightly wider version than that of the previous generation. While family elders seek to maintain the status quo comfort of continuity, each new generation pushes the envelope of change.

Consider the example of India’s most prominent political family. When the Kashmiri Brahmin Motilal Nehru arranged the marriage of his son, Jawaharlal, to Kamala Kaul, the younger Nehru protested: “There is not an atom of romance in the way you are searching girls for me and keeping them waiting for my arrival. The very idea is extremely unromantic. And you can hardly expect me to fall in love with a photograph.”   

A quarter of a century later, the secular Jawaharlal, who would become Independent India’s first Prime Minister, resisted change when his daughter, Indira, selected her Parsi husband, Feroze Gandhi; he advised his only child to “avoid also breaking as far as possible with old contacts and ways. You do not know what the new ones will be like and you might well be landed high and dry.” At the time he was advising his daughter, the middle-aged Jawaharlal could hardly have envisioned that one of Indira’s sons would be marrying the Italian-born Sonia Maino.

Change comes knocking on the family door when children live in an expanded universe of choice. For old-world parents, this knock sounds like the tick-tock, tick-tock of an atomic bomb, as the warm huddle of their joint and close-knit families readies itself for disruption. Explosive change not only divides grandparents, parents, and children, but also leaves the seemingly sacred threads of continuity and tradition frail and frayed.

[The next installment will discuss the inevitability of change as it negotiates its way through the sacredness of continuity in the realm of marriage.]


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