It indeed is the season of breakups. After the Farhan-Adhuna split and the Ranbir-Katrina breakup, we now have reports of Virat Kohli and Anhushka Sharma going their separate ways.
Twitter, that ultimate arbiter of public opinion today, went berserk speculating. Why had Virat unfollowed Anushka on Twitter and Instagram? Did he really delete a picture that was captioned “Heartbroken”? What was that story about him dancing at a club and shouting he is single? So on it went, as wide-eyed fans grudgingly acknowledged that one of our most dynamic and seemingly rock-solid partnerships had broken down.
The rumour mills worked overtime. Mumbai Mirror informed us that Virat had proposed marriage to Anushka which she declined, asking instead that both focus on their careers, and that this hastened the split. If this were true, the other snippet of news, according to which Virat was quoted as calling Anushka “controlling”, could not have been, but we lapped up everything eagerly nevertheless. Meanwhile, Anushka maintained a studied silence (she has not unfollowed Virat from social media accounts either). It would be only right to call her reaction dignified, especially in the face of the faux-breakdown that Virat is publicly having.
It’s playing to a pattern, this entire thing. One part of a celebrity couple is too eager to drop clues without saying anything explicit in the hope that his pained protestations will reach the beloved. The beloved, on the other hand, cannot believe the trainwreck she is witnessing and it only furthers her resolve to stay away.
Essentially, the Virat-Anushka story is a microcosm of love and longing in India today. While we can only speculate about the reasons for the split, the marriage question, once it is popped, is known to open all manner of fault lines. Even in the case of Ranbir and Katrina, it is speculated that she wanted them to tie the knot while he was cagey, and that this played some role in bringing the five-year-old romance to an end.
To be sure, there is a marked gender angle here. Ranbir’s star power is unlikely to diminish even after marriage while the same cannot be said for Anushka in a culture that looks upon the married woman as taken and therefore unworthy of fantasising. (I concede that this pertains to an erstwhile Bollywood where women did little more than satiate the male gaze, a decidedly untrue situation in today’s climate where Anushka, say, has done films like NH10. But the larger truth of my point stands.)
But even beyond the gender expectations, we notice that the societal shift occasioned by greater acceptance of love in all its inter-caste, inter-city, inter-faith permutations and of careerism has not bled into creating new arrangements that are as worthy of respect as marriage has been for centuries.
Ranbir and Katrina, for example, had been living together but that clearly was not enough. Similarly, the passion between Virat and Anushka, witnessed in all its sweet and raging intensity during India’s cricketing triumphs over the past few years, was not enough of its own accord. It had to lead somewhere, and in the Indian imagination, that somewhere continues to be the safe and respectable confines of marriage.
It is curious that this should be the state of affairs for our celebrities who are generally acknowledged to inhabit a stratosphere where such middleclass concerns do not present themselves. Not for them, we imagine, the rigmarole of this week’s case in Delhi where a woman was killed by her paramour and her burnt body dumped in his wardrobe because he was about to get hitched to another woman. There is such a cachet to marriage and its connotations of the right and proper in our society that people are willing to kill and get killed in order that they may get to the other, magical side of the mandap and earn brownie points in every conceivable sweepstakes. With this state of affairs, it might be impossible, even for our stars, to escape the charms of wedlock.
The question of living in is often discussed in our country in hushed tones, as if it were a deep moral crevice into which anyone who so much as glances is in danger of falling. What this has entailed is a vast gap between reality and the imagined morality of such alliances. In the metros, it is not uncommon to see couples living in together, yet we as a society continue to evade this topic ostrich-like. The law, thankfully, has increasingly taken cognisance of such alliances, but when has that changed anything on the ground?
As women enter the workforce and become equal partners in running the financial affairs of the household, the lazy correlation between respectability and marriage should ideally weaken. As gender roles shift outside the domestic sphere, they will break barriers within too, and this will require more than adjustments to who makes the morning tea and who looks after the baby.
Yet, marriage will continue to rule the roost. Love as we know it and as we would like it to be will remain opposite ends of a broken bridge, the distance between them always in sight yet also markedly unconquerable. It is a pity that even our most cherished and charged love stories must submit to its pedestrian waywardness.