13 March 2012

Shobha De's Spouse and Surviving Men

 Shobhaa De's latest 'Spouse - the truth about marriage' is a surprisingly tame book on the evergreen subject of Indian family politics. Many years ago she wrote the controversial hot-seller, 'Surviving Men'(1997), an entertaining book with brazen titled chapters like 'How To Hook A Man' , 'How To Dump A Man', 'Is It Possible to Love a Man', 'Men And Their Uses', 'How To Train Men' to others like 'Men at Work', 'Men at Home', 'Men in Bed', 'Men and Their Mothers', 'Men as Buddies' and 'Do Men Have Morals'.
All of these contained De's satiric take on gender-politics. Much of the book is pure fun and meant to shock. There are plenty of dos and don'ts she offers in a careless, flagrant manner, but some things she says do stick.
 "Women desperately want to believe in love, even though it's in an abstract sort of way. Without love,  life loses its meaning and motivation. They want to believe in it so desperately, they'll love anyone or anything - even the world's worst creep, a habitual wife-beater, a Scrooge or an abusive sob. They don't want to stand out in a world teeming with love-sick ladies. They want to conform and be one of the girls. They want a man to hang on to. Men realise this soon enough. And use it to their advantage. They learn to manipulate their women without even trying....It works both ways. Women manipulate men too. As long as this tug-of-war remains at a manageable level, the marriage endures."

To survive men and marriage means to make well-timed, crafty moves in De's world.  

 Within a decade since 'Surviving Men,  the once-divorced De is a changed person.  In 'Spouse -the truth about marriage' the popular columnist-writer is cheerfully married second time, and admittedly has found the marital union to be highly beneficial.  The joys of a large, bustling family with a caring husband and her children give her a wonderful sense of belonging. Which is why, her views have also altered beyond recognition.  Now, 'Spouse' and 'Surviving Men' barely look like books written by the same person. De is the same modern career-woman, but as the years have progressed, she has come to see marriage as a workable, even likable institution. 'No one has come up with anything better anyway," she remarks.

The sense of togetherness that she shares with her spouse is what she enjoys most. A measure of her attraction for her husband is that she finds little meaning in dressing up if he's not around. She mentions an incident when she wore a salvaar-kameez for a function, and Mr De remarked what an unflattering garment it was. "It does nothing for you," he said dismissingly. De immediately rushed to change into a sari, and has not wore a salvaar-kameez since then.
"My friends find this strange...that someone like me should conform to a man's image of how a wife should be. Frankly, their 'surprise' surprises me. I think it is the most natural thing to do. And there's absolutely no shame in it. Reserve your ego battles for something far more important," she writes

When hubby gets back home at 4 pm, De, no matter how occupied, rushes to fix him toast and snacks. Every single day.  Her affection, she feels, is perfectly natural in a marriage which remains her number one comfort zone.
 The book is sincere, and offers sober advice. There is the occasional wit De throws in. 'Carats over carrots" she advises women on domestic wars. Her views and tone on tackling in-laws have also dramatically altered since 'Surviving Men'.  This could well be because De is conscious of turning mother-in-law herself one of these days. She's unusually sympathetic to the senior woman's position here, whereas she had mercilessly lampooned the mom-in-law and mamma's boys in 'Surviving Men' . ( 'Men love their mothers, Men only love their mothers, Men love their mothers only.)

The restrained voice also makes 'Spouse' less interesting. It has little to offer in terms of research and originality, and De could not have spent more than a week writing it. She talks about her own journey of marriage, and uses a few examples of other people she knows.   De is sincere and means what she says, but it's just that the book offers nothing new. In that respect, De is turning into a conventional, practical woman, having understood the joys of joys and benefits of marriage.

It helps that the view comes from someone like her, a celebrity-writer who has always believed in setting trends rather than following them.  She makes an accurate final assessment of the reasons to marry.  "Do not marry because you feel you must, you have to, it's the done thing. Do not marry because you want children but not necessarily marriage. Do not marry for the sake of some imaginary 'security', for none exists. Marry because you want to marry. Because you believe in it. Because you want to share your life with someone you care about. Only then will your marriage survive and thrive."