by Zainab Mohamed
As we are heading towards 14th February, famously (or to some, infamously) known as Valentine’s Day, I am provoked into questioning the validity and strength of relationships in our society.
Not less than forty years ago, relationships outside of marriage were almost non-existant and if they did exist, then it was within such closely guarded boundaries. My own grandparents had what you call an arranged marriage and prior to the wedding ceremony, they had not uttered a word to each other much less celebrated Valentine’s Day. To them, marriage was and is a sacred institution and anything outside of it is and should be frowned upon. On the contrary, couples today know each other for some years, they have been ‘dating’ each other and then decide to legalise their relationship before the eyes of the Lord. Couples look forward to Valentine’s Day and it is celebrated with oomph.
In our culture, relationships are held in a very high regard. Forging relations is encouraged and maintaining those relationships is given priority over other tasks. South Asians are famous for nepotism because they even do business with people they have forged good relationships with. Marriage is encouraged and supported by the whole community and in a crisis, you see everyone wanting to embrace you and help you dispense with the crisis. Currently though, you can see a trend, a very vicious one, mind you. Couples prefer to live-in rather than get married. Men move from woman to woman seeking gratification and vice versa. Materialism in relationships is encouraged. The idea of a family is now reduced to the man, his wife and his children. Sometimes, not even that.
The change is very distinctive. Forty years may be a long enough time in theory but is it enough for a cultural over-haul without the help of some catalyst? What influenced our society to adopt the culture of the west, and not completely so, such that we do not have our own identity anymore? The first and only culprit that comes to mind is the media, be it the innumerable channels we have today, the easy internet access or the cinematic medium. Each is to blame, equally, for the derision of the south asian culture. The eve of 1st February, every year, calls out for all media sectors to form slogans of valentine’s day and love and intimacy. Channels showcase ‘romantic’ films. Internet polls are created about the most romantic scenes/gestures in movies. Banners are put up throughout the city advertising 14th February as the ‘it’ day.
Makes you wonder if we have the whole ideology right. Are relationships dependent upon a particular day in the year? In fact, the way relationships (and I refer specifically to a relationship between a man and a woman) are portrayed on celluloid, is that correct? Majority of the television dramas and plays and movies that are made in today’s time are about a very selfish kind of love. Women are encouraged to think about ‘Mr. Right’ and men are encouraged to ‘play the field to gain experience’. Women and men are shown to be in relationships where they have crossed all their boundaries and are not married. From the way the girl dresses to the way she has to talk on the phone is dictated to normal lay-man girls using the media. Then the name is given, emancipation of women. The end result? You see a twelve year old with highlights in her hair that could be seen from Okhlahoma, her face caked with make-up, a mobile phone in her hand (the ringtone of which is a cheesy romantic number) talking to a dumb fifteen year old boy who she happens to be dating. The same twelve year old will not know the depths of a marital relationship but she will know the physical aspect of such a relationship. She carries in her head this false perception of what romance and love is all about...and somewhere along the line, ends up alone, with a baby in tow. It happens.
Several surveys have been carried out to show that divorce rates have increased. Single parenting has increased and so has the rate of adultery. No surprises here. Again I take you back, some forty years. Divorce was a taboo. People worked on their relationships. Not walked out of them. People accepted other peoples faults and moulded/adapted themselves accordingly. People were taught to respect relationships not mock them. We have reached a junction where each is his own. Marriage holds no sanctity, relationships are considered a burden and children are the condom factory’s pending suit.
It is scary to think about, is it not? Yet, when you look around your world without the rose tinted glasses on, you see media feeding your children, your future, with a totally different culture. And what do you do about it? May be it is time one thought about that.