“A good Indian girl cheats on her poor unsuspecting husband and he (gasp!) forgives her??? What kind of spineless, cowardly, weak man would tolerate something so unspeakably terrible? She SHOULD have been banished forever from the family home…the marriage SHOULD have ended straight away..there SHOULD have been no second chances….”
Should, should, should. We live in a world groaning under the weight of a million ‘shoulds’ that have been passed down generation after generation, almost as though it were a legacy to be revered.
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It was a mildly warm autumn afternoon and the air was thick with the fragrance of freshly baked pies and pastries. The coffee shop was crowded, and I could hear a multitude of accents buzzing around me. One of Sydney’s greatest strengths is how amazingly multi-cultural it is. I leaned forward, cupped my palms around the steaming hot mug of chai latte and locked eyes with the frowning young man glaring back at me. Everyone else at our table held their breath and waited for my response. I smiled. Bring it on! The debate had begun.
The topic being discussed was the love story depicted in my debut novel “Unravelling Anjali: Diary of an Immigrant Bride”. My protagonist, the very sweet, very well-brought up Anjali had actually had the nerve to fall in love with a man who wasn’t her husband. And okay, if that wasn’t bad enough, I had actually engineered the plot in such a way that Ravi, her ‘poor’, ‘unsuspecting’ husband had chosen to ‘remain with her’??? What on earth was I thinking of?
It wasn’t the first time I was having this debate. Over the past few months since releasing the novel I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve discussed ‘the meaning of love and marriage’ with a wide range of people. Some have agreed with the conclusion of the novel, and some have argued against it. Why couldn’t Anjali have gone off with Jake, her lover? Why couldn’t Anjali have given up both men and soldiered on alone? Yes, indeed, Anjali could have chosen any one of a handful of paths, as can we all when faced with major decisions in life. She chose the one she chose because of who she was. The product of her times and her upbringing. She was neither right nor wrong. She simply was! And I have been thoroughly entertained by the different view points I have heard. It’s always fun to see how different people have such unique perspectives on the same book.
Anyway, back to the debate about Anjali’s husband having done the unthinkable and absolutely unacceptable by forgiving her. I sipped the chai latte, gathered my thoughts and posed my question: “Let’s for a moment pretend that it wasn’t Anjali who cheated. That it was actually her husband who betrayed her by having an affair. What, then, would you have to say?”
My young friend, a bit red in the face, obviously from the strain of having to tolerate such a bizarre question, threw up his hands and rolled his eyes: ‘Now, that’s different” he said, his perplexed frown indicating I was obviously clueless about how the real world functioned.
Aha! So there it was. The miserable, bitter truth. Some of the saddest words spoken in the history of mankind’s infidelity are ‘Now, that’s different’.
I felt a nerve twitch at the corner of my eye. ‘Interesting!’ I murmured. ‘Please enlighten me. Why is it so very different if it’s the man who has cheated on his wife rather than the other way around?’
‘Well, he’s a man…’
‘Yes, of course. And so….?’ I asked, struggling to believe my ears.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. ‘Umm…like I said, he’s a man. It’s different for men. History has proven it time and again’
I decided to release him from his misery and make it easier. ‘Are you saying it’s okay for him to cheat because he’s a man. And that it’s unforgivable of her to cheat because she’s a woman?’
He nodded vehemently, simultaneously impatient and relieved that I had finally figured it out. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I mean!’
I stared at him for a few seconds, then shook my head and looked away.
Therein lies the essence of the argument. According to him it was wrong of my heroine to cheat because she was a woman.
And that is precisely where I beg to differ.
I don’t condone infidelity or adultery. But that’s my personal opinion. I chose to write about a young woman who made a choice…a regrettable one as she later believed. Another woman in the same situation might not have felt the same. She didn’t blame karma or destiny for all the pain and suffering that followed. She blamed the choices she made. We are all such complex beings. The divide between right and wrong is a mere line in the sand…the edges blurring with time and the complexity of human experience. Would he, for example, have more sympathy for my heroine had she chosen to slash her wrists to battle her loneliness, instead of falling in love with someone? Would that have been more acceptable?
However, that is not what troubled me. What troubled me was not that my young friend believed Anjali was wrong to have been unfaithful? At the very core, infidelity reflects the absence of respect for one’s partner and should, therefore, be avoided. We all have different moral compasses, though, and for every person who says ‘Infidelity is wrong’ there will be others who ask ‘Says who?’
What troubled me was that he honestly believed she was wrong to have committed adultery because she was a woman.
If adultery is wrong in your opinion, my friend, then it is wrong irrespective of you being a man or woman. If adultery is unforgivable, my friend, then it is unforgivable whether you’re a man or a woman. If infidelity is not to be accepted, then it should be unacceptable from a man or a woman.
Spare me the weak argument of ‘Now, that’s different’
It’s not different. And the day we realise that, we will be on the road towards new horizons.