Test of Endurance

I did a google search for “test of endurance”. I found that the results related to physical rather than mental endurance.

I did this to test my theory that marriage is the highest test of mental endurance. Two persons with varying knowledge of each other are tied by a knot made by the society. The race is to live with, if not like, each other for rest of their lives or at least for the portion they have lived together. God has given up long back and now does not keep track. Nobody else knows the results of this race.

I remember reading a book about an island in Pacific ocean where the woman has the full liberty to chose and discard her mate. The choice takes place at a festival where this right is formally exercised by the woman. Discarding takes place by the simple and effective medium of the woman keeping the shoes and dress of the male partner outside the hut. Many women would be cheering if they could adopt such a practice effectively. The man comes home one evening and finds his hawai slipper outside the door (double door in Mumbai) along with his torn inner wear in a Big Bazar Shopping bag. The race or at least this race would end at this juncture. Perhaps both have to begin a new race.

This would seem to be an irreverent way of looking at a rather permanent relationship. But at heart the question still remains how the basic human instinct for seeking novelty and excitement is restrained by the mores and practices of the society all of us live in. To call most marriages a test of endurance may seem to be unacceptable on the face of it. But is there not a germ of truth in it?

Read the following vows we make during a Hindu marriage.

“With God as guide, let us take the first step to nourish each other,
The second step to grow together in strength,
The third step to preserve our wealth,
The fourth step to share our joys and sorrows,
The fifth step to care for our children,
The sixth step to be together forever,
The seventh step to remain lifelong friends, perfect halves to make perfect whole”

This is a loose translation of Saptapadi –seven steps taken together by the couple- at the time of Hindu marriage. There are several versions I have read. All of them indicate very poignant, simple and timeless vows which signify the beginning of a beautiful and long term relationship. Looked at in another way, it also means that we need to take a vow to observe this in letter and spirit. It does not evolve automatically in such a relationship. This was known and recognized several thousand years back.

How has this evolved over the years? Has education and awareness changed it? In other words, do a “IT” couple (husband and wife are IT professionals who have lived abroad for some length of time) have a significantly different expectation as compared to a home grown public sector couple or a single male member earning family? I am not sure. What little I have seen indicate that like the vows described above, the troubles are also timeless. The environment changes, human beings don’t change or change only under compulsion.

Why should it be a test or an endurance? It is a test because human relationship is dynamic. Men and women have different emotional and physical needs. The hopes and expectation at different times of life vary and it takes lots of time, sensitivity and a deep instinct to realize it. All this requires patience and at times ability to withstand great emotional strain. Every married couple would recall several such occasions.

What is the fruit at the end of this test? I recall a photograph appearing in Hindu newspaper of a really aged couple going for a morning walk holding their hands –with love and support. I felt it captured a beautiful moment. I found this photo beautifully cut and displayed in a prominent place in Mr. & Mrs. K’s house. My appreciation of this photo lighted up Mr.K’s face. Mrs. K did not find any beauty in the photo. She saw only two old people in it walking with difficulty. Mr and Mrs. K, a caring couple, were married at least for over thirty five years and still the same image conveyed different message to them.

To me, human relationships represent a fascinating aspect of life. Of these, the man-woman relationship is the most interesting.

Next time you see a teenaged boy and girl in the full bloom of romance, cooing and blushing, try to imagine them thirty or forty years hence holding hands and walking. If the image clicks in your brain, then there is something in that relationship, if not well…, there are other alternates.

Let me end this with the following quote for the teenaged boy and girl described above.

“Unite O Lord, this couple like a pair of lovebirds. May they be surrounded by children living both long and happy.”
Atharva Veda Samhita 14. 2.64.

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