Monday, May 07, 2007

Acting For Self

Saintly Sita's post about the nature of the Indian Marriage gave me much food for thought. She asks some very interesting questions :

The Indian Marriage is the bulwark of the Great Indian Family -- its warp and weft. Its the glue that keeps our society together, and helps the ordinary Indian survive exploitation at the hands of an indifferent and corrupt bureaucracy, and a political class that seems to have become so cynical that one wonders if they are still human.

How is it then, that our public sphere is so corrupt and soul-less, when our private lives are so rich, replete with the spirit of giving, generosity, affection and selfless love? Why don't these admirable qualities seep into our public spaces and pervade our public lives?

How does a dutiful son and loving father transform himself into a corrupt politician or spineless bureaucrat the moment he steps out of his house?

In the typical Indian family it is a foregone conclusion that the grandparents will care for the new mother through the post partum period, help raise the children until they are able to fend for themselves. The extended family will come together at the slightest whiff of crisis.

Even in our present day, fragmented and nuclear state the Indian Marriage certainly offers certain guarantees that are hard to by elsewhere. The "admirable qualities" of the Indian Marriage are not as admirable as they seem at first glance. It is steeped in selfish motivations. You expect your aging parents to sacrifice their superannuated life to raise your kids, you expect the wife to juggle multiple identities seamlessly to appease a variety of constituents. The husband is expected to work uncomplainingly to provide for the family - often to the detriment of his health and sanity.

The high burn out rate among male middle and senior level executives in India is a proof of this. The husband is the designated provider of the family and his sense of self is completely linked to his ability to live up to the expectations from this role. In the end, each individual is working towards the goal of the unit they feel make up together. The only thing "selfless" about it is that the unit in question is not an "I" but made up of several individuals who though "we" act with unity of purpose not unlike an "I" would.

The kids have to make the grades, the man has to have a successful career, the woman has to make balancing work (if she has a job), children, marriage, managing family expectations and obligations seem entirely effortless. Together they become the great Indian family living the "values" and "tradition" that make the institution "great" in the first place.

Together they must be better than the family next door and all other families in their clan. There is no desire to act for the greater good. It is unthinkable to expect the unit to sacrifice as a whole for the benefit of something larger than itself. It is about competitive instinct and selfishness. In as such, there is no hope for the public sphere to benefit from the Indian Family's unflagging desire to get ahead and do better for itself. It makes sense then that while the family unit continues to prosper, the nation does not reap the benefits of such prosperity.

No comments: