Sunday, July 29, 2007

Indian IT Couples

My most recent Indian workplace experience is four years old now so I have missed out some of the hottest action in the IT scene there. But I was very familiar with the insane work hours and the absence of work life balance. My typical day started at 6:00 a.m. (to give me enough time for the commute) and ended at around 9:30 p.m. when I finally got home. I typically did not work weekends but most of my team did so regularly and without complaint. Though I was a single parent, I had family to help me with J and that was a huge blessing. There is no way I could have made it past the first year of my child's life without the support I had.

My martial situation was an anomaly at the time but there were plenty of drifting couples at work. One woman's husband spent most of the year outside the country working onsite at client locations. She had a child about the same age as J and had her parents looking after him. Swapna and I went out for lunch sometimes and conversation would inevitably turn to her absent spouse.

Apparently the distance between them was as much emotional as it was physical. Part of her wanted out but she was not ready specially because of the child. I could tell she enjoyed the male attention she got at work and sometimes it was hard to not think of her as single. There were several others at the office like Swapna. The couple was not necessarily apart geographically but the work hours made it impossible for them to spend any quality time together. The children were inevitably being raised by two sets of grandparents. It was common to see a married co-workers in what would appear to be a romantic relationship with someone at work. Their spouses were most likely working their 14 hour days elsewhere in the city.

Apparently, the undecided and floundering couples are deciding to end it these days. It was only a matter of time. Someone had to start and the exodus would follow. Keeping a marriage going is tough for an IT couple in India but it is not any easier if the wife is a homemaker - it is possibly worse. I had a newly wed bride accompany their husbands to work on weekends. She would sit in his cubcile and watch him work all day long- this was possibly better than being alone at home with little to occupy her time. We felt sorry for her knowing that he would not be able to take a vacation until the marriage had turned relatively old.

The IT wife has the ability to support herself and the kids (if needed) financially and is more likely to get out of a marriage that gives her no comfort. This is not an option for the stay at home wife and it is likely that her discontent will manifest itself in more unhealthy ways. Outsourcing has been a boon to the Indian economy - its Hindu Growth Rate is now ancient history - but all of this comes only at a great social cost.

This is like the line from the ads by EggIndustry "Most eggs are so cheap because the birds are forced to pay the extra price". People don't always pause to consider what the caged chicken went through to put a hard boiled egg on their plate. Likewise, the IT industry is not loosing any sleep over mounting divorce rates among its employees or the larger questions of what this means for the socio-cultural fabric of India.


Suchi said...

Two other things have helped this: more supportive parents and the rise in young people living alone.

In my parents' generation, even if the woman wanted to leave, and had the means to do so, she would have nowhere to go. Living alone was also out of the question, unless you were in a very prestigious job or moved in higher social circles.

Heartcrossings said...

Suchi - You make an excellent point about parental support. Our generation is blessed with parents who believe that their daughters have a right to happiness and live with dignity even if that means getting out of the marriage.