From the Discomfort Zone: Digi-tech for social distress

Isn’t it ironic that we proudly say India is a secular democracy; we are Indians first and there’s unity in our diversity.

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Published: November 16, 2014 12:55:57 am

 

Stressful is his joint family life due to his brother’s love affair. My soft-hearted friend was trying his best to iron out the social wrinkles leading to his brother’s marriage, but the impediments are many.

The deep-in-love protagonist couple both work for a foreign company in the IT services industry. The barriers to tying the knot? They are from two different Indian states. They speak different languages; he is a Brahmin, she of a lower caste even though they both follow Hindu traditions. Despite being of Indian origin, I have never understood this man-made caste hierarchy. The Hindu way of life is so humane, without any dogma or any system to convert people like other religions have, yet caste puts a disgraceful black spot on it. To me, it seems a critical, chronic problem in today’s day and age. When the country is growing and trying to dominate the world stage, we are internally continuing to trample on one another for social supremacy.

My friend is the elder brother; he had himself followed the arranged marriage system — his parents and his in-laws’ family being compatible. That means they were all Brahmins, of similar social status. They were from the same state, thus spoke the same language and ate the same kind of food. His parents chose the girl to be his bride; he met her, there was instant chemistry between them. She is an executive in a company and they are very happily married. The arranged marriage has a few changed rules now. Before the economic reforms, a housewife was preferred but today a working woman has a better position in a joint family. In another instance, the parents of another friend of mine from Jodhpur met 43 families during 18 months to select his bride. He married the 44th one.

Now the brother’s inter-caste, inter-state love marriage was looking catastrophic, but my friend has stepped in to make his brother happy. When he discussed this with me, I appreciated his elder brotherly support. His wife too is wholeheartedly taking the young couple’s side to help make this marriage happen. This is the new, open-minded generation. My friend and his wife met his brother and girlfriend to assure them that they have their support. He is trying hard to convince all extended family members to accept this marriage. Their mother is the most difficult cookie, being heavily influenced by her own brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. This kind of social misbehaviour puts my friend off. His brother is frustrated because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone or break away from his joint family to start a nuclear home.

Finally, my friend and his wife managed to convince the mother; things settled down with the mother preparing for her younger son’s marriage.

Isn’t it ironic that we proudly say India is a secular democracy; we are Indians first and there’s unity in our diversity. But it is in practical life that our true colours show. Two working adults in love from adjacent states can face such distress because of socially created rules despite being Hindus. Both are working in jobs dealing with global clients and both have a similar working environment, personal friends and social circles.

For a few months I heard nothing and had been waiting for an invitation card, when suddenly a big problem erupted because of Facebook.
His mother’s family, still opposed to this marriage, now got evidence that the girl “drinks alcohol” — among the worst “crimes” imaginable in traditional Brahmin families. They saw a picture of hers on Facebook visiting UB City in Bangalore. The bride-to-be’s friend had posted their group picture on her Facebook page having dinner with some colleagues. UB City is among India’s most sophisticated shopping malls and houses luxury retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Armani, Rolex and Paul Smith. It has a posh terrace of world-cuisine restaurants. This opulent mall belongs to United Breweries, the beer and liquor company, and hence the conjecture that the girl was partying there with liquor. The problem is that traditional family folk associate such a premium place first with drinking alcohol. In actual fact, she’s a teetotaller!

My friend’s mother is very emotional, gullible and traditional. She was shown this picture of the innocent girl celebrating a colleague’s promotion. The family of my friend’s mother, who’d become unhappy since this girl was about to be accepted into the family, obviously kept tabs on her activities. This Facebook picture was the perfect ammunition to discredit the girl and say to the mother-in-law to be, “I told you so!”. The mother was so disturbed she would just cry continuously.

Each time my friend repairs the situation with his mother, somebody or the other tries to break the marriage: “lower caste”, “speaking a different language”, “belonging to a different state”. I’ve never understood what they can gain from bringing unhappiness. The young couple, aged 29 and 28, are getting frustrated. He is considering accepting a foreign assignment to get away from it all, she is under pressure from her family because according to Indian family tradition she has crossed the marriageable age.

If you look at today’s armchair virtual screen revolution, it is without a clear purpose and objective. Boasting of thousands of friends on a social networking site like Facebook amounts to useless virtual masturbation. Uploading personal pictures on Facebook of enjoying yourself with friends or on holiday serves to upload human privacy. In India, Facebook seems to have become an instrument of espionage for the older generation. When somebody says “I have 10,000 Facebook friends”, I’ve never understood what that means. It this the fibre of social distress? I have suggested a creative idea to my friend which I cannot disclose now. I promise you my readers, once the marriage happens, I’ll let you know.

Shombit Sengupta is a global consultant on unique customer centricity strategy to execution excellence for top management. Reach him at http://www.shiningconsulting.com

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