Have you noticed Indian advertising is suddenly becoming the social chronicler to supersede all social chroniclers? Only a few months ago, it made all the right noises with Gauri Shinde’s oh-so-subtle TVC for Tanishq jewellery themed around the bride’s remarriage. Now Bombay Dyeing is enjoying its place in the sun with its “Change is Beautiful” advertisement. A father and daughter are shopping for bedsheets as Pop checks out a lady in the store. The daughter suggests dad buy a more colourful bedsheet. “You’ve only gotten divorced, not sainthood [sic],” she says.
Not so subtle, for sure. But it is time Indians redefined their approach to divorce. Or are they already doing it?
One of the most high-profile divorces lately is that of Hrithik Roshan and his wife of a decade and a half, Suzanne. Theirs was an ideal Bollywood-style romance: first love, glitzy wedding, two gorgeous kids and nothing that could ever go wrong. The news of their separation and divorce came as a bolt out of darkness. Actors don’t divorce, superstars certainly not. I remember reading an interview about a yesteryear hero who had walked out on his wife and daughters. When his girls did good, he tried to portray a happy-family picture once again. “At least I didn’t divorce her,” he stated. Nevermind that he abandoned his wife and kids and left them penniless, at least she had the dignity of still being his wife. I couldn’t see anything right about a man not giving a woman her legitimate freedom and financial maintenance.
The reason the Roshans’ annulment is so special is because it quite literally is a “conscious uncoupling”. Besides the two families and a tight inner circle of friends, no one knows what went wrong. The two separated and a few months later, had the Bandra Family Court open half hour early to sign their mutual consent terms. No one knows who gets what. It is no one’s business but the couple’s and they are bent on maintaining reciprocal respect and privacy.
With an increasing number of Indians divorcing each year (some statistics show they rise by up to 50 per cent every year), this is one relationship status update that is getting harder to ignore. Of course, the breakdown of a marriage is extremely painful, with longlasting emotional and financial ramifications for both. But the social ostracism that goes with being called a “divorcee” in India is actually worse.
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Moreover, a divorce battle is a long and complicated legal minefield in Indian courts. Allegations against each other are a must do, alimony amounts are often laughable. If one has ever hung about a family court, stories of anger, betrayal, harassment and even suicide abound.
The West has found a unique way to celebrate annulments. Either one of a couple celebrates with a “divorce party” where friends are invited to cheer the person on. Even if the separation was a bitter one, this sounds cold-hearted. It is almost as if one is glad to be rid of the other. But if the idea is how to get divorced and not curl up and die, it does deserve due credit.
When filmmaker Anurag Kashyap and Kalki Koechlin announced their separation a few months ago, the tabloids went yellower, insisting he was having an affair with one of his female actors. However, Koechlin put a quick lid on those rumours, smiling and posing with her at the next paparazzi-filled party.
To borrow from Salman Rushdie, marriages don’t fail, they simply run their course. Kashyap and Koechlin are still taking some time off from eachother and don’t seem in a hurry to make up yet.
A Mumbai tabloid reported recently that Dostana director Tarun Mansukhani had filed for divorce due to ugly spats between him and his wife. Mansukhani, among a new breed of mainstream envelope-pushers, responded with this message on his social media page: “Yes, my wife and I have parted ways. However, contrary to the journalist’s source, our fights have never been ugly. Far from it, in fact. She has been my closest and best friend for 23 years and continues to be so today… Thank you, Karuna, for having been and continuing to be such a wonderful part of my life.” Mansukhani concluded with a gorgeous picture of the two snuggling in happier times.
It may at first seem that modern India thinks marriage is fickle and divorce is easy. It may appear as if relationships can come off like an old pair of shoes when the feet want something shiny and new. But it is hard to ignore that almost all of us know at least one couple that’s headed to the courts. The only wondrous flipside to this is the grace both partners accord to each other.
It really is time to give divorce its due dignity. It is time to ensure that children, if any, come first. That finances are equally distributed. That pain and anger give way to reason and practicality. That divorce is not a bad word, but an option that is available if all else has failed.
Zakaria writes on fashion and luxury