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ABHIJIT CHATTERJEE

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 7/15/2015 |




Songsoptok: ‘Marriage is a lifelong symphony with one central theme but the music is played in anew everyday’ – this is a rough translation of a line from a short story by Rabindranath Tagore. Do you feel that this comment, made in a period dominated by Victorian romanticism, is true today?
ABHIJIT: It is an eternal truth. It is a different matter that sometimes the notes reach very high pitch and strings snap. This is indeed an age of hot headed madness. But even in the Elizabethan era, didn’t Shakespeare write “Is this the generation of love? Hot blood, hot thoughts and hot deeds? Why, they are vipers. Is love a generation of vipers?” If romanticism could survive through that to bloom later in the Victorian era, it can do so now as well.

Songsoptok:What, in your opinion, is the real chemistry of an intimate relationship? Do you think that the social institution of marriage is based on that chemistry?
ABHIJIT: Almost every chemical reaction needs optimum temperature, pressure and amount of chemical ingredients involved to succeed. Likewise, every relationship has certain conditions attached to it which are unique to itself. However, there are two ingredients which are common to all of them. Those are TRUST and UNDERSTANDING. Those also form the pillars of the institution of marriage.

Songsoptok: What according to you are the main factors for keeping marital relationship alive and healthy?
ABHIJIT: The pillars of marital (or for that matter any other) relationship, as stated above, should be so deeply rooted and strongly built that any external influence should not be able to shake it. Open and frank communication between the two individuals in relationship helps in this matter.

Songsoptok: Very often we see that a happy marital relationship results when one of the partners surrender to the other’s ego. Do you think this is how it should be? Especially since it is most often the woman that surrenders to the man, or more generally to the patriarchal system?
ABHIJIT: I think it should be a fair exchange but again that is a matter to be decided jointly by the two individuals involved in a relationship. While women’s often surrendering to male ego was a reality in olden days, the table has definitely turned. The cases involving dominating female partners are very common now-a-days. For an outsider to judge a relationship from what looks apparent often leads to an erroneous result.  

Songsoptok: Tolstoy said in his story THE KREUTZER SONATA “... a marriage without love is no marriage at all, that only love sanctifies marriage, and that the only true marriage is that sanctified by love”. We all agree that this is how it should be. That there should not be a tragic end to any marriage. What is the reason then for the increasing number of divorces in all societies?
ABHIJIT: There can be so many reasons - starting a marital life without love and unable to carry on (in case of arranged marriages in India and some other countries), falling out with each other over the years (this could happen gradually based on change in behavioral pattern in one of the partners which could be due to many reasons), unhappy sex life leading to extramarital relationship, finding out about impotence/frigidity in one of the partners or finding out he/she is gay (yes, this happens), falling in love with somebody else all over again, greed (getting to know somebody promising a better lifestyle) – just to name a few.

Songsoptok: By the word ‘marriage’ we generally think of a well defined relationship built on the tenet of spending the entire life together. Do you think that this in itself creates a type of suffocation which leads to break-ups and divorces?
ABHIJIT: It should not because one gets into this relationship with full knowledge of its implications. In all marriages, the bride and the groom are reminded of their roles in the relationship and made to consent / take oath to fulfill those. The problem lies much deeper.

Songsoptok: In a very general way, marriage is understood as the cohabitation of man and woman with a view to reproduction. Can this narrow and very physical dimension be the essence of marriage? Doesn’t the success of marriage depend also on a communion between the personality, psychology and above all the soul of the married couple? What is your opinion? Do you think that in modern society such a definition of marriage is relevant and realistic?
ABHIJIT: During early days in India there used be a saying ‘पुत्रार्थे क्रियते भार्या’ (Putrarthe Kriyate Bharya – meaning a wife is required to bear sons) which sounds such an MCP comment today. It is true that one of the main instincts of all living beings (homo sapiens included) is to leave behind its bloodline (maybe roots in case of plant kingdom). The intellect of human race has developed enough to see far beyond this philosophy. The famous Bengali writer Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, negating the old adage, wrote 'বিবাহে যদি চরিত্রের উন্নতি না ঘটিল, সে বিবাহের প্রয়োজন নাই' (the marriage that does not improve one’s character is not desirable). I personally think that the married couples being soul mates, is the most ideal situation for a marriage. Yes, it is possible in the real world today and I can say that from my personal experience.

Songsoptok: It seems that in today’s society the clash of personalities, especially within marriage, is an unpleasant reality. Almost 100 years back, D.H.Lawrence said in Lady Chatterley's Lover “The modern cult of personality is excellent for friendship between sexes, and fatal for marriage”. In other words, he thought that the development of woman’s personality is actually a hindrance to successful marriage. What is your opinion? Do you think that it is the inability of the patriarchal society to tolerate the independence of women the main reason for the marital conflicts in today’s society?
ABHIJIT: The relationship between two persons can only prosper through their mutual admiration for each other. Those men, who still think that they are superior to women, are living in fool’s paradise. Acceptance of equality among all human beings does not come as a result of academic education or intelligence. It comes through one’s attitude. At the same time, sometimes the attitude of some women to do certain things just to prove a point also do not help. One cannot clap with one hand alone. For that both hands need to come together. I think both sides are to be blamed for the situation but yes, men are to be blamed a little more than women.

Songsoptok: Do you think that society perceives a divorced man and woman in the same way? Most of the time we see that the woman is blamed for not making the necessary compromises. So the implicit assumption is that the success of a marriage is directly related to the woman’s capacity to compromise. What is you view?
ABHIJIT: No, the life of a divorced woman is definitely a lot harder than a divorced man. However, I don’t like the word compromise. In a relationship, adjustments are to be made out of love, not compulsion. It does not matter who takes more steps to reach that point. In a situation where one party is farther from the logical line of adjustment, he or she has to take a few steps more than the other. That should not be construed as a compromise. Such insensitive comments from friends and relatives also sow seed of discontent and give rise to rigidity.

Songsoptok: Do you think that divorce affects the conscious and the subconscious of the children? What, according to you, could be the effect of a divorce in their adult lives, positive or negative?
ABHIJIT: It definitely does. The rift between the two people they love most affect their psyche tremendously. More so, as they are mostly unable to understand the reason or discuss it with someone else. At times they also face sarcastic remarks from their friends and fellow students as children at times can be cruel with words unaware of the insensitivity of those comments. Children are the worst sufferers in a divorce unless it is because of physical abuse of which they are also victims.

Songsoptok: Generally it is the mother who takes care of the children following a divorce. Although children need their mother more while growing up, what kind of impact can the absence of a father figure have on a growing child? So what according to you should be the role of the mother?
ABHIJIT: This is a bit tricky. While children certainly are attached to their mother, they also often see their father as a role model. A single mother, however much she tries, cannot fill in that spot. However, this situation is not unique to divorced women as widows, who do not remarry, also face the same. If the mother chooses to remarry, acceptance of a stranger (sometimes a little familiar person) as father by the children remains a big question. If she stays single, children suffer from absence of a father. In my opinion, the best course for a divorced mother would be to discuss the matter frankly with her children as soon as possible. Children are more matured than we think they are.

Songsoptok: What according to you could be the impact of the growing number of divorces on the next generations? Or do you think this is the way tomorrow’s society will evolve?

ABHIJIT:   In near future It is already affecting a small percentage of the next generation who are either afraid or reluctant to get into a marital relationship. Some of them are open to the idea of living together but some don’t want even that. However, in my opinion, majority still believe in the institution of marriage and I don’t foresee any major changes in the societal structure in.

ABHIJIT CHATTERJEE: UNDER SECRETARY IN FOREIGN SERVICE INSTITUTE OF MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS IN NEW DELHI.


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