When my daughter was in her first year of college one of her classmates who had just turned 18, went to Kolkata during the Diwali vacation and returned with sindoor in her maang. It took a while to convince everyone that she had really tied the knot with a complete stranger. They didn’t even have time for a honeymoon during the three-week break. She had to return to her classes. “But surely now you will have to move to a college in Calcutta? You can’t spend three years apart?” my wide-eyed daughter asked.
Together at last
“Why not? He’s a doctor. I’m settled here. I’ll stay with my parents. My life will not change,” her friend assured her. For the next three years, she met her husband twice a year, during the Diwali and summer vacations. And the relationship blossomed through letters (there were no e-mails then). After her final year exams, Ranjana stayed on in Mumbai to pursue her studies. By the time she got her MA degree, her father had retired and she returned to Kolkata with her parents. When we ran into her a couple of years later, she still lived with her parents. Only now, her husband had moved in with her. After five years of living apart, he must have realised that this was the only way they could be together. The incident set me thinking about long-distance marriages.
In the US, they’re called commuter marriages and have risen by almost 40 per cent in recent years. Despite their careers taking them to different cities, the divorce rates among such couples is as much, maybe less, than those who live 24x7 under the same roof.
The trend has caught on in our country too. One of my friends has been living alone in Mumbai for the last 20 years. Soon after their first child was born, her husband landed a highpaying job in Riyadh. My friend who’s a teacher refused to resign from her job, move to Saudi Arabia and spend her life in purdah. She preferred to be a single mother and brought up their three children. “It wasn’t easy,” Shamim recalls. “Shopping, banking, homework, accidents and illnesses— I had to cope with one crisis after another.
On some mornings, I would be scared to open my eyes, wondering which new problem awaited me.”
Her husband’s life revolved around his work. The loneliness was just as killing for him. At one point, it even pushed him into a casual affair. Shamim was distraught when she learnt that he had cheated on her. But then comprehension dawned. She had her kids..he had no one. She forgave him.. but the children didn’t. Over two decades later, when he finally returned home, old and grey, they were all grown-up and cold strangers.
Another friend’s husband was in the merchant navy. And they spent several years apart. He had not returned home for almost six months. Shamita was busy with her work. She’s an architect and works with one of the top firms in the city. It wasn’t always possible to join him at sea. Homecoming Tarun would return home after a long voyage to drop anchor for three to six months. The first week or two felt like a honeymoon. Then little things about him would start to rankle. Shamita reveals, “I hated the way he messed up the house with his dirty laundry and carelessly strewn shoes. I would return home after a hard day’s work and he’d expect me to cook a big meal because he wanted ghar ka khana.”
He wanted to party every night. Weekends were particularly hectic, despite the fact that she had to be up at 6 am on Monday. And she couldn’t wait to see him off.