HER WORLD Sunday, June 2, 2002, Chandigarh, India
  If it feels right, why should it be wrong?
Rajshree Sarda
HATEVER the reasons, it is a fact that extra-marital affairs are slowly but steadily finding a way in to the psyche of the average Indian. That such instances are growing by leaps and bounds today, has a lot to do with the opening up of the society.

The female voice in folklore
Usha Bande
IT, humour and repartee are the best ways to diffuse anger, enliven the atmosphere and relieve tension. "Laughter", said a wit, "is the best medicine without side effect." Men often allege that women in general lack sense of humour; they have no wit, nor the ability to repartee.

Pangs of growing up too soon
Kanchan Banerjee
HE’S still a child often tying her shoelaces in a knot, which I’ve to undo. And now she has to cope with sanitary pads and keep track of dates. My child has become an adult, biologically, and yet she’s only ten," says Suheita Gulati a mother and housewife.

What infidelity entails...
OST women believe that if you love your partner, you wouldn't even be interested in an affair. But I know many men who love their spouses and yet never turn down an opportunity for extra-marital sex.




If it feels right, why should it be wrong?
Rajshree Sarda

WHATEVER the reasons, it is a fact that extra-marital affairs are slowly but steadily finding a way in to the psyche of the average Indian. That such instances are growing by leaps and bounds today, has a lot to do with the opening up of the society.

A significant factor is that nowadays even women are not averse to seeking satisfaction outside their marriage and developing a relationship to seek

When it comes to a woman, it is rarely sex that drives her to another man. Most often it is the need to be noticed, appreciated and listened to with respect. She wants to be seen as desirable and she wants an intimate relationship with romance, tenderness, laughter and respect. Sex is, more often never, the initial driving force in the affair. Men feel more betrayed by their wives having sex with some one else. Women, on the contrary, feel more betrayed by their husbands being emotionally involved with other women. What really tears men apart is to visualise their partner being sexual with another man. Women certainly do not want their husbands having sex with somebody else, but they may be able to deal with an impersonal one-night fling better than a long-term relationship in which their husbands were sharing an intensely emotional bond with somebody else.

There was this nice, ordinary and decent woman who came to me because in spite of marriage and motherhood she was involved with another man. She called her affair "a meaningful one," not something that made her out to be a deceitful, scheming woman. In her words "my marriage felt dead after my first child. My husband is moody, verbally abusive and made me feel worthless and I actually believed him. I blamed myself and decided to join a gym to lose weight.

There I met Rakesh. He was shy at first but full of fun once I got to know him better. We started chatting a lot and grew very close. I feel beautiful, happier and I have more self-confidence now than I ever had in my life before. I am still with my husband and sometimes it bothers me that I am cheating on him, committing adultery. But how come something so wrong feel so right? I think he deserved this."

Here this woman went outside her marriage to seek emotional fulfillment, which wasn't there at all. Her yearning for love and acceptance became the primary need for her to go astray. She didn't have a series of trivial trysts and affairs but just this "meaningful relationship" because it made her feel good about herself and she didn't want to deny herself this. There was no role of an outsider coming and destroying and disrupting her life because according to her it was already disrupted.

The most important question to ask of a partner who has strayed is "what were you looking for that you were not finding in your primary relationship"? There are two answers.(a) what he/she wanted was available at home, but he/she didn't have the vision, willingness or ability to see and claim it. (b) The home relationship simply did not have the substance for longevity, the partners were not well matched or the relationship in some way was getting toxic.

The affair then was an unconscious statement that something was not right with the primary relationship. A third party has no power to break up a healthy relationship. No one can come between you and your partner unless something has already come between him and her. An affair then is not a cause for condemnation of self or other, it can be the most valuable wake-up call of a life time. If there was not a lot of substance to the relationship in the first place or they grew apart, it is probably a blessing that one partner took the step to leave. Granted it would have been gentler if the person who strayed came forward with direct communication.

But actions speak louder than words. Our bodies communicate what our words do not and if a woman took her body to another man's bed, she is making a statement that cannot denied. Yes, there is pain and hurt in the aftermath of the revelation, but consider the alternative. A person could have gone on for many years trudging through a half relationship, issues buried and the heart weeping, never confronting the issues that were slowly killing you.

Rejoice that you can now take the next step toward going deeper with each other or moving apart. At least, you have the truth on your side now. Do not waste a moment blaming the third party.

Who he is, or how she connected with you or your partner and the details of the drama are of little significance because the behaviour is about the mate who strayed, not the third party.

Meanwhile, the third party has some introspection to do. Why she could choose to get involved with someone who is married or in a relationship is something he/she needs to look at and come to terms with it. Attempting to blame a third party is a tactic of distraction that takes the spotlight off you and your partner.

What people say...

Neera Loomba Faculty member Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chandigarh, "An extra-marital affair results from the nature of the individual. However normal a marriage may be,if one of the partners decides to add some spice to his/her life, he goes for a lighthearted flirtation. This may turn in to an affair without even him/her realising it and can lead to a lot of unwanted complications."

Jasjeet, a doctor: " Affairs are often a chance to try out new behaviours to stretch and grow and assume a different role. I meet people who love their partners and yet never turn down an opportunity for extra marital sex, for the heck of it. I do not justify this as there is always a moral compromise in being in an affair and it is not worth the tension."

Shweta Khanna: Presently a housewife "I am against this concept . They lead to a lot of heartache and anguish for all the three partners concerned. The wife gets crushed and the other woman does not get the legitimacy and the man is torn apart. Children are the worst sufferers and their emotional development gets impaired. Lack of communication leads to it and if that is sorted out one does not have to go outside the marriage to seek that temporary fulfillment."

Narender Dhiman: Senior mathematics teacher "when one partner seeks/desires excitement , outside marriage, affairs take place. I for one wouldn't indulge in it. Isn't one enough? Having another one on sly is foolhardy. Who has the time?"

Sukhraj Chahal , House wife, brought up in England "A marriage is based on mutual respect and trust. When that is missing a person is likely to go astray. Instead one should iron out their differences, rather than make a mockery of their marriage. Compromise is better than adventure."

(The writer is a clinical psychologist)



The female voice in folklore
Usha Bande

"In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow,

Thou’rt such a touchy, testy, pleasant fellow;

Hast so much wit, and mirth, and spleen about thee,

There is no living with thee nor without thee." — Joseph Addison

Lyrics help women to express their inner-most thoughts
Lyrics help women to express their inner-most thoughts

WIT, humour and repartee are the best ways to diffuse anger, enliven the atmosphere and relieve tension. "Laughter", said a wit, "is the best medicine without side effect."

Men often allege that women in general lack sense of humour; they have no wit, nor the ability to repartee.

In the field of literature, women’s writing is generally dubbed as "that sentimental stuff", which may express anger or show aggression but never a streak of light-heartedness that may produce a chuckle or two. It is because, men contend, women can be the subject of humour but never its creator. Nothing can be farther from the truth. One just has to have a look at women’s folk songs to understand the subtle sense of humour with which they have learnt over the centuries to resist ill treatment, subjugation and the dominant discourse.

Folk songs have a vast reservoir of humour generated from everyday observations, the stress and strains of life, its tears and laughter. Women’s cloistered in existence so far has had its moments of fun and frolic when they gathered for some ceremony and experienced sense of freedom for a couple of hours. It is then that their songs and dances gather momentum; the juxtaposition of true-untrue situations and the humorous portrayal of the in-laws spread much mirth and cheer. These songs or tales have evolved over the years, subtle modes of resistance to hegemonic forms of traditional hierarchy.

Punjabis have a robust sense of humour and their women folk do not lag behind the men. Giddha is a lively, all-woman performance popular the state. The Giddha verses, called Bolian, have been the best way through which girls and women have flung humour at their husbands, in-laws and others. The verses sung with pleasant and vigorous dancing steps bring out the whims and fancies of the mother-in-law, the eccentricities of the father-in-law, the peculiarities of the husband, and as the other girls/women pick up singing they all enjoy the picture which could not have been much different from what they have known or experienced. Each singer has a short tale of woe to tell or it could be an account of a mischief played to avenge a reproach, as in the following couplet:

Chaulan da pani ni main buey wich doliyan,

Anda-janda phisla gaya,

nikal gaya ni meri rondi da hansa,

nikal gaya ni meri rondi da hansa

(I threw the water of the half-cooked rice near the threshold and saw passersby slipping and falling. I could not help laughing despite my tears). Obviously, the girl was unhappy, may be she was weeping over some bitter words. But she found a way to take revenge. It is crude but the discomfiture of her in-laws’ family delights her.

After marriage a girl becomes the "other" for her natal family but the ties cannot be severed. She visualises all that is good, desirable, and even imperial to belong to her parental family, all that is bad or beggarly describes her in-laws’ family. In one of the Marathi folk songs, the ‘vaid’ who comes with a message from her parents is described as richly clad, showing not only their family status but also the prosperity of her native village. He is wearing gold brocaded dhoti and turban, his shoes are zari studded and he is carrying a silver plated walking stick, whereas the ‘vaid’ from the in-laws is clad in a dirty dhoti, torn turban and worn out shoes. This is how the newly-wed elevates herself and feels empowered as against the constant taunts of the in-laws pointing to her impoverished parents. A similar song in the Kangra region of Himachal Pradesh describes the poorly dressed messenger.

After marriage when the girl visits her natal home, she feels so happy there that she is most unwilling to go back to her husband’s home. She puts it off on small pretexts. In one Giddha Boli the reason given is so flimsy and hilarious that the entire group cannot help billowing in laughter. Similarly, in a Marathi song the girl sings: "Tell them I don’t want your gifts, tell them I refuse to come; Brother, unleash our ferocious and hairy dog on the fellow." This rebellious spirit produces fun and the girls singing in chorus enjoy the imaginary plight of the messenger chased by the dog. But they all are aware of the reality that one can hardly say ‘no’ when summoned back. Thus, by substituting imaginary pleasure for the protean reality, the song helps to dissolve tension in laughter.

The abode of the in-laws is an unpleasant place and a girl from Kangra tells her mother:

Chhalian di roti ni amma,

Khane jo dende,

Hathi dende fafru da saag,

Ammaji main naiyyu basna

They give her coarse bread to eat with a vegetable made of wild grass, so she does not wish to go.

The whims and fancies of the mother-in-law and her cruelty also become a butt of ridicule. One Giddha Boli says:

Saas meri ne dibbi bheji,

Dibbi de vich naag, Naag peya jag

Naag tan main bach gayi,

Es Gabru de bhag

(My mother-in-law sent me a box containing a serpent. Unsuspecting, when I opened the lid the serpent awoke. But I am saved because of the good fortune of my husband). In one Kangri song the woman refers to her saas as a ball of fire and her sister-in-law as the flash of lightening. A Marathi song satirises her miserly in-laws who ask her to get half-a-paisa worth of oil. How can the newly wed make such a beggarly purchase when she is loaded with ornaments given by her parents? The song makes fun of the niggardly family who use the scanty oil for a good oil-bath; somehow the remaining oil gets spilled; it starts flowing, a camel coming that way is drowned in that oil-river and an elephant has to swim across it.

In the alien atmosphere of her new home, the only succour can be the husband. But if the husband is a dumb wit or mismatched, the girl’s life becomes miserable. Making fun of the situation a Giddha Boli runs thus:

Saas meri ne Kainta gadaya,

mainu kendi pa kude,

Ranzha mera loon ghotna,

pava keede chaa kude

In sum, the song satirises the mismatch when a beautiful girl married to an ungainly husband. The mother-in-law to placate her gets a fine piece of jewellery and ask her to wear it but the woman asks her friends as to what enthusiasm she has to decorate herself tied as she is to a pigmy. In a Marathi song the woman sings of her moron husband. She has no incentive to cook dainties because her husband cannot understand their worth.

To say that, women always take negative points to excite humour at the cost of their husband’s household or cash in on the deformity or defect of the people around them would be erroneous. Women show the ability to spot humour even in simple everyday incidents.

In Maharashtra, there is a popular folk version in which women have to take their husband’s name weaving it in a verse form rhyming at the end. These Ukhanas are always in a lighter vein and produce laughter by their ingenuity. They are simple but effectively knit into the verse form, with wit and humour.

Though not all, some of the songs represent women’s voice that makes it apparent how women’s oral traditions have helped them compose their own mythologies and be empowered. Women’s songs and tales may not carry the authoritative versions of the traditional male canonical writing; they consistently compose ironic and subversive commentaries on their life. These folk songs are some of the ways women have derived to mock convention and the dominant discourse of patriarchy. Their narrative potency lies in their ability to satirise the surroundings without hurting directly. Humour thus becomes an effective tool of resistance.


Pangs of growing up too soon
Kanchan Banerjee

The girl child in this century is destined to grow up faster and quicker
The girl child in this century is destined to grow up faster and quicker

"SHE’S still a child often tying her shoelaces in a knot, which I’ve to undo. And now she has to cope with sanitary pads and keep track of dates. My child has become an adult, biologically, and yet she’s only ten," says Suheita Gulati a mother and housewife. Does this make you wonder what it’s all about? Biological clock is ticking real fast for Indian girls, with many of them attaining puberty much before their teens. Suheita isn’t alone. On a hormonal fast-forward, the new Indian girl child is today found to attain puberty by the age of ten, some even start by 7 or 8.

Nina and Rishab,a couple based in Hyderabad rushed their 8-year-old daughter, Simi, to a paediatrician when she started growing pubic hair. She was referred to an endocrinologist who after a series of tests confirmed that nothing was wrong. A year later, Simi started developing breasts and had to wear appropriate inner wear. Her parents are very worried and confused but doctors assure that Simi is fine. Like many others of her generation, she’s attaining puberty faster. Even a decade ago, the age for menarche — first menstruation — was 12 to 14 years. Two decades back, doctors didn’t think even 16 years as too late. But not any more. An entire generation of pre-teen Indian girls is dealing with budding breasts, pubic hair and puberty that comes much too early when compared to erstwhile times.

These little girls aren’t biological flukes. Says Kamini Rao, president of the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society of India, "Indian girls are pubescent earlier than before." In her study of 5,000 school girls in Bangalore she found girls to be attaining puberty as early as 10 years. She adds, "Though not biologically disturbing, this poses a problem. The girls are becoming physically mature while being mentally a child." A child trapped in a woman’s body.

The little girls are being restricted by their parents in terms of dress code and how long to stay out after dark. But the reasons are unexplained. They are also becoming increasingly aware of their body much before time. At a time when we as kids romped on the sand pit with boys; today’s girls are being asked to mind their dress and not to jump about on "certain days of the month."

It’s not easy for the parents either. Imagine explaining to a seven- year-old about menstrual cycles and buying the right fit of inner wear. "My 10-year-old girl wears an inner wear. She hates it. She came from school crying one day because some of her friends teased her when the strap slipped out. I don’t know how to help her. Why is this happening so soon?" cries a helpless mother. The most oft-asked question by harried parents is: "Why so soon?"

Doctors say that better nutrition and obesity are behind early puberty. It’s suspected that early breast development may be encourages by a protein called leptin produced by the body’s fat cells and necessary for puberty. Says Dr R. Naik, consultant endocrinologist at Bombay Hospital, "Increased socio-economic and better dietary patterns have girls attaining more body mass, which in turn triggers hormones essential for puberty. World over, the lowest puberty ages are in countries where diets are the heaviest." In a well-fed US, puberty among girls is very early. A survey of 17,000 girls by Professor Marcia Herman-Giddens at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health stated one out of every 7 Caucasian American girl attains puberty by the age of eight.

Another reason cited by doctors is sedentary lifestyle. Says Dr Anand of Mumbai’s Jaslok hospital, "Athletes have delayed menstruation. Our children, study, play computer games and watch TV. They indulge in very little outdoor games." His prescription to worrying parents is to increase physical activity.

Doctors and experts worldwide have numerous reasons for why this is happening. But the real issue is in proper handling of these little girls and not stunting their childhood. Many request endocrinologists to delay menarche by administering the drug Lupride but the doctors are usually against meddling with natural bodily functions. One often hears and reads about student counsellors at schools, but maybe the need of the hour is counselling session for parents so that they are able to handle their pubescent daughter and themselves better. For what you feel about it is what you convey to her. If, as parents, you’re overtly worried and hassled, then the poor kid has little hope in understanding and accepting the new change. Counsellors and therapist are all of the opinion that parents shouldn’t presume that the school would handle all aspects of knowing. "Parents should discuss sex questions. More importantly not look embarrassed. They should be the first person to begin a dialogue and make the girl feel comfortable."Your girl child in this century is destined to grow up quicker; she would be much better off with you in confidence than without.


What infidelity entails...

He seemed to have loved me then how did this happen? Why did he do this to me?

MOST women believe that if you love your partner, you wouldn't even be interested in an affair. But I know many men who love their spouses and yet never turn down an opportunity for extra-marital sex. I was stunned to hear one man tell me that when he left his affair partner and came home, he found himself desiring his wife more than he had in a long time.

Do we force our partners into an affair?

Not really, but we can create a pattern in the marriage that is not enhancing and the partner instead of dealing with the dissatisfaction and trying to work on the relationship, escapes it and goes some place else.

Is my marriage really bad for my spouse to go elsewhere?

Some times one person thinks that the marriage is fine and the other doesn't think so. That may be because the more dissatisfied person hasn't communicated their dissatisfaction or the other person has discounted it. But after the affair, people often try to justify it by saying "you never really loved me". That is just a way to make themselves feel that they didn't do such a terrible thing.

I know some people who are unhappy in their marriages and yet do not indulge in affairs? Why?

The first reason for having an affair is opportunity. The reason number two is values. Some people cannot justify an affair for any reason. There is always a moral compromise involved for them and some people just cannot do that.

What did she/he see in her/him to get so attracted?

Either we choose some body very different from our partner or we choose some body like our partner used to be, but a younger version.

He is having an affair, hurting me all the time then why doesn't he walk out from this marriage?

It is not so simple. The marital partner provides security and a sense of family and the affair partner excitement and passion. He gets in a dilemma, as he wants to keep both.

Do affairs really turn in to marriage?

Only 10 per cent of people who leave their marriage for affairs end up with the affair partner.

Why are marriages breaking or fraught with tension? What are the danger areas in today's marriages?

The biggest one I see today is the child-centered marriages. I tell couples if you really love your kids, the best gift you can give them is your own happy marriage. Your children need to see you closing the bed room door or going out together without them. That gives a sense of security greater than what they get by just being loved.

I keep behaving irrationally. I have become unpredictable ever since I discovered my husband’s affair?

Your behaviour is normal. All betrayed parties react like this. They are very emotional. They cry easily. Their emotions flip flop. They are hyper vigilant. They have flashbacks. In the car they hear a song and start crying or accusing. They are obsessed about the details of the affair. Their behavior is very upsetting and erratic to them and their family. How much compassion the partner has for that is one hallmark. Also they have to work on the weaknesses of the marriage, but not justify the affair.

How can one successfully rebuild trust?

Through honesty. First, it comes about by stopping all contact with the affair partner and sharing your whereabouts. The issue is not what can the betrayed spouse do to make the partner happy. It is what can the unfaithful spouse do to make that partner happy and if they can invest more time, more attention, more compliments in the marriage,they will feel more close to each other. Popular notion is that the person who has the affair wasn't getting enough at home. The reality is that he wasn't giving enough at home. One of the goals is not to turn the betrayed spouse in to the affair partner but to free the unfaithful spouse to express all those aspects of his self that he was able to experience and express in the affair.