This legal document breaks down into numbers and decimals a relationship that is based on the sacred
Anjali, my 29-year-old friend, is writing her prenup and wants my help. She thinks that because I am a writer, I can fake it as a lawyer. This bothers me on so many levels. Not the lawyer bit but the prenup bit. I am not sure that I believe in prenups.
Marriage is hard enough as it is. A prenup is like permission to bolt, I want to tell her. If I had had a prenup before my arranged marriage of 27 years, would I have exercised it instead of sticking it out? But if I say this, I am worried that I will seem old-fashioned, or even worse, actually be old-fashioned; out of touch with today’s reality.
Anjali comes from a “judgemental Maadu (Marwari) family.” “Agarwals are the worst,” she says. They judge her weight, her choices and her job in graphic design.
She says that for milliennials, the “default emotional setting is depression”, which doesn’t make sense given that she has a wicked sense of humour. When I say this, Anjali gets mad and says that I am trivialising her issues, so for the most part these days, I just shut up when I am around her.
For someone so strong and accomplished, Anjali says that she has low self-esteem, a gnawing sense of not being enough, of never being enough. Again, this is not something I can relate to. How can someone so smart and independent say that she has low self-esteem? Then what about the poor maids with real problems – alcoholic husbands and abusive in-laws? But again, I can never say this because that too would seem like I am judgmental, patronising, trivialising, unempathetic or all of the above. For a generation that says they hate judgmental stereotypes, these millennials use too many labels.
Truth be told, I am not sure why Anjali wants to hang around me. Perhaps it is because we both love watching Pushpavalli on TV. Anjali, like Pushpavalli, is juggling many balls.
Her boyfriend, a weed-smoking musician, makes her laugh, she says, which to me seems like a poor reason to consider marrying him. But then again, what do I know?
They are moving in together and will eventually get married. But for now, she is supporting him which is why she wants a prenup. This is the only thing that makes perfect sense to me. Anjali earns four times as much as her to-be husband. She needs to protect her assets from him should they break up. Currently, their financial strategy involves a never-ending tally of who paid how much for what. They calculate and divide everything, from toothpaste to car rentals.
For a generation that says they hate judgmental stereotypes, millennials use far too many labels
Anjali and Antony live in Bengaluru, away from their parents – hers in Delhi and his in Alleppey. Neither set of parents know that the two have been living together for five years. Antony’s Catholic family would disown him, he says theatrically, or re-baptise him (as if such a thing was possible). As for Anjali, when her parents come to visit, Antony moves out and they sanitise the place of male hair, underclothes and guitar chords.
Antony is cool with the prenup, he says. We meet at Koshy’s one morning to hammer out the details. I am there because both Anjali and Antony think I am “weird”, which in their lingo is just below being “cool.” They think foolishly that just because I am eccentric, I am one of them. That I will understand where they are coming from. That I will empathise and help. I feel like a traitor because I am there to do the opposite. I am there to talk them out of writing the prenup.
After a weekend of soul searching, I am finally able to articulate why. It isn’t because prenups predispose the couple to divorce. I have seen enough couples with multiple rituals and weddings go through nasty break-ups. My issue is with the language of the prenup. This legal document breaks down into numbers and decimals a relationship that is based on anything but. It attempts to put a signature on the sacred.
“This agreement is made between Antony Chacko and Anjali Agarwal who are contemplating marriage to each other. The parties recognise that unhappy differences may arise between them,” the document begins. It then proceeds to list out assets, debts, property, ancestral property, enurement (whatever that means) and termination. Instead, all that needs to be said is what Bangaloreans say to each other all the time: “Swalpa adjust maadi.” Please do adjust.
Help comes in the form of a clumsy waiter who spills soup all over the agreement. We take this as an omen.
“Instead of signing a prenup, why don’t you both wait until you are ready to adjust to the storms of a marriage,” I say gently.
To my shock, they don’t pounce on me. Instead Anjali blots out the soup on the table with the agreement paper. Antony helps her. Together, they toss the agreement into the dustbin and sail out into the sunshine – holding hands, if you please.
(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents and other unique facets of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)
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From HT Brunch, September 1, 2019
BRUNCH Updated: Sep 01, 2019 01:30 IST