Our columnist overhears two diagonally opposite views on the country's newly-approved divorce laws.
A: Did you read that Nazi comment that some guy left in that article about the divorce law?
B: No, what did it say?
A: “Feminism is an evil, sexist, violent, tyrannical movement similar to Nazism.”
B: A man’s man, clearly.
A: Indian men, what would we do for entertainment without them?
B: Maybe he’s this psycho because he’s just been divorced and has had to pay up some mad alimony.
A: Dude, if this is his attitude, I’m not surprised his marriage didn’t last.
B: Maybe he’s got this attitude because he’s survived extortionist wives.
A: Are you actually sticking up for this freak?
B: No. He’s psycho, obviously. He thinks Nazism and feminism are the same. I’m just saying, if you’re looking to leave someone, you’ve got to have a plan that’s more than depending upon your ex to pay for you after the marriage is over.
A: Dude. Seriously. What the *&^% are you saying?
B: What? You don’t think a woman should think of herself as independent? Or are you saying independence is her living off her ex-husband’s earnings?
A: I’m saying a woman has a right to living her life in comfort should her marriage break up and that the husband has a responsibility whether or not he’s married to her because chances are, he’s responsible for the marriage breaking down.
B: Huge assumption but chal, I’ll go with it. He’s the bad guy. Fine. I just don’t understand how that makes it OK for her to live off him after they’ve separated.
A: Dude, have you forgotten how expensive Mumbai is? Remember the rents we pay?
B: So get a job. Move to a cheaper neighbourhood or city. But if he’s going to pay for your life, shouldn’t you be living with him? In any case, it’s not like this is a law for Mumbai wives. It’s a national thing.
A: So basically you’re saying that if a woman in Mumbai can’t afford to pay something like Rs50,000 in rent, then she should just suck it up and stay in an unhappy marriage.
B: No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying, get out of that marriage and live on your own and don’t depend on your cheating husband for your expenses. Maybe look for places in Andheri instead of Bandra. Live within your means.
A: News flash, dude: Indian men aren’t precisely supportive of wives having careers. That has an impact on what your means are. Generally, I mean. That’s why most women can’t afford the lifestyle they have as married women once they separate. When the husband hasn’t let her grow, then he should pay for it.
B: Look, there are tons of bastards like that I’m sure, but in our circle? Think of the people we know whose marriages have broken up. It’s not because the men were evil but because they were unlucky, not compatible, whatever. What’s the difference between the wives and husbands? The husbands knew they had to get jobs and they made decisions accordingly. The wives did bizarre stuff like Philosophy and Reiki and pranic healing courses because they never thought they needed a career. You can’t blame your husband, no matter how much of an a**hole he might be, for you not having a career or an investment banker’s salary if you’ve made stupid, impractical choices.
A: You’re insane. Next you’re going to say Narendra Modi’s our best option for prime minister.
B: Look, my point is that our laws assume a woman can’t make a decent living, that she has to be dependent upon someone, and that just encourages women to not stand on their own feet. If we told women that they need to think of salaries, instead of brainwashing them into believing either daddy or hubby or some other dude will foot their bills, the world would be a better place. For women in particular.
I was sitting in a coffee shop, trying to write a column about the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill 2010, which introduced changes like recognising a wife’s claim upon property acquired by her husband after marriage and irretrievable breakdown being a valid ground for the dissolution of marriage. Instead, I ended up eavesdropping on the above conversation. I’d come with my laptop intending to write that the amendments were necessary and welcome steps, even if some of them were uneven. But all I could think of as I sat there, pretending to type and surf, was the animosity in B’s voice at the thought of an ex-husband providing for his ex-wife. Incidentally, B is a woman. She looked like she was in her late 20s. She had a laptop bag and expensive-looking sunglasses were perched on her head. Sometime later, A left and B was sitting alone when her phone rang. She took the call and got up to leave. As she was walking out, I heard her say into the phone that house hunting was exhausting and she hadn’t found anything so far. “I can’t afford anything,” she said. “The rents are insane.” She sighed. “I should have gone into finance or something.” And then she was out of earshot. Sitting there, reading my frantically-typed notes of two strangers’ conversation, I wondered whether B had studied Philosophy and done pranic healing courses, and I crossed my fingers that she would find a nice place with affordable rent soon.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently a consulting copy editor at Elle magazine.