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Sunday
, June 16, 2002

Life Ties

Letting money take over your life
Taru Bahl

KRITI got married into a landed aristocratic family. Her father had belonged to the nobility but they had fallen on bad times. The outward faÁade of affluence was maintained by running up debts. Fortunately, Kriti and her younger sister, Radhika, were beautiful girls for whom marriage proposals started coming the moment they entered their teens. Throughout her growing years Kriti angled for physical comforts and items of ornamentation that were beyond her parentsí means. She cultivated a circle of rich friends as a good public image meant a great deal to her. She was keen to marry into a business family where money would not be in short supply.

Radhika, on the other hand, was a tomboy, and with her money was never an issue. She had very basic needs and as long as functional requirements were met she was satisfied. An outdoor person, she was fun- loving and easy to get along with. She had a special fascination for pilots. It was a dream to learn flying but the high cost of training made her reconcile to visions of being married to a pilot. In the meanwhile, she devoured books by Richard Bach. When Mayur, a Flight Lieutenant in the Indian Air Force, asked for her hand in marriage she did not hesitate. He was everything she wanted in a partner. Also the security of living with a salaried government employee was preferable to the erratic lifestyle of most business and farming families.

 


After much debate and waiting, Kriti got married into one of Amritsarís leading families. Inder wooed her in style. In the initial years of marriage, she did what she was expected to do Ė fit into the society her husband and in-laws moved in. She knew she had to further groom herself to avoid sticking out as a sore thumb as her family background seemed terribly inadequate in comparison. Besides, there was a feeling of gratitude at being accepted into a prominent family without preconditions and dowry. Her in-laws only wanted their bahu to be good-looking and pleasant in behaviour. Swept away by the initial euphoric haze, Kriti felt she would be able to meet expectations and also lead the kind of life she had only dreamt of.

But as time went by, she saw the seamier side of empty socialisation. Gossip, scandal and frivolous talk was all that transpired amongst the so-called elite of the city. Few men were hard working. Most lived off ancestral land and their parentsí money and goodwill. Women talked only of clothes, jewelry and family gossip. It was stressful wearing and saying the right things. Keeping the pretentiousness alive with the senseless chatterati was not half as bad as the increasing competition between the different daughters and sisters-in-law in her own family. It required all her perseverance, dignity and diplomatic skills to keep herself from making any untoward comment which could jeopardise her marital boat. To think she would have to continue with this tight rope walk through life intimidated her.

Things deteriorated after Inderís father passed away. The brothers insisted on splitting the family fortunes. Differences cropped up and the ancestral home was divided into separate quarters. Coping with the fractured familial situation at home and projecting a unified front to the outside world was something she could not do. It was not in her nature to be deceptive and hypocritical while her in-laws knew no other way of living. Her husband and brothers-in-law had been riding their fatherís success.

After his death and division of property nothing much was left in the kitty. Inder had never understood the concept of saving or living within his means. He continued with his opulent ways leaving Kriti to do the financial juggling. Managing domestic commitments like childrenís expensive boarding school fees, increasing demands for branded clothes, exotic vacations and other social engagements forced her to experiment with a side business. Much to the chagrin of the family she managed to generate an alternate source of income though debts were simultaneously piling up. Gradually, they began selling their agricultural land. Knowing Inderís track record, creditors including those from within the family, pressed her to square up their finances. She pawned her jewellery, on the one hand, and, on the other, devised a mechanism to keep the most pressing creditor at bay. She would borrow from one party and return to the other. Unwilling to work on the farms, her husband had given everything on contract and therefore the returns were low. The creditors would land up the day money from the crops reached them and staked their claim on it. There were times when there was acrimony, violence and threat to their safety.

Her children, having grown up in this disorganised and deceptive domestic environment, learnt to have their way by manipulating and arm- twisting. Disinterested in studies, they kept ominous company and indulged in substance abuse. They apparently had no intention of doing anything serious for a living. In a way, they were a step ahead of their father. Though Kriti wanted to extricate herself out of the mess and lead a simple and honest life, she didnít have the energy to do so. Her side- business, however, kept cash coming in.

Seeing the way her sister managed, Radhika often felt miserable. But when she saw the way Kriti went about marrying her children, she decided not to feel sorry or guilty for not helping her. She disagreed with her sisterís obsession of marrying her children into families which were way beyond her social status. What was worse was that she did not give them the real picture and let them be taken in with borrowed glory and riches. For Kriti, there was a sense of relief that the kids were finally going to be on their own and they could now hopefully minimise, if not square up, their financial losses. Only it was not to be.

Both her children refused to become completely independent. They kept reverting to her to bail them out of their difficulties, convinced she would have a solution. Ancestral land was sold off to clear debts and the family was soon reduced to a state of penury. The sad thing was that even after so much happened, they still had not learn their lessons. The cycle of debt continued with children defaulting on payments, losing out on relationships, goodwill and respect.

It was Radhika who came and bought the portion of the rambling badly maintained family home from them, not wanting to see it go down the drain. Even if she was not living in it, she wanted at least something from her parental property to be intact. Though sad to see Kriti in such dire straits, she knew there was nothing she could do to stem the rot. When the entire foundation of their existence was faulty, her intervention in select areas would not magically change things. She and her family had lived within their means, adding to their material possessions, but more than that they had invested in family bonding which was their greatest treasure and, hopefully, inheritance too.

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