Writer and poet Ruhani Kapoor met Saadhil Khosla through relatives. They happened to be in the same town at the same time, it was suggested they meet, and soon they were married and settled in New York. Both were in their early twenties, and each worked in completely different industries.
Ruhani had a day job in marketing, and moonlighted as an RJ and writer until she had published enough books to confidently quit her office job. She had always known her passion was in writing. Saadhil was in the software industry, and has stayed in it.
One of the most frightening things about being an artiste is the fits of depression most people with a creative bent are prone to. At these times, it’s easy to feel alone, and the slightest problem appears magnified. Often, they reach out to fellow-artistes, who not only understand, but empathize. Ideally, one would want to reach out to a partner. Did it worry Ruhani that things may not work out with someone who wasn’t from the same field, or from any creative field, for that matter?
‘I am always amazed when people marry from within the same field because that would have driven me nuts,’ she says. ‘I love the fact that my husband uses his left brain and I use the right side. And that we have no overlap in our work. No competition! Jokes aside, I like stability in my life. For a writer, self-awareness is a curse that never leaves you. Gosh, I cannot be with someone whose temperament is similar to mine. It would be chaotic and lethal!’
Referring to her artistic temperament as her ‘neuroses’, Ruhani says her life choices are driven mostly by emotions. On the other hand, her husband is pragmatic and level-headed-qualities she can’t comprehend fully but admires. And the difference in their personalities is a factor each respects.
There is so much mutual respect, apart from affection. But more importantly, we have never tried to manipulate the other person into becoming who we are. We allow each other room to flourish.’
But, however understanding and compatible one’s husband is, there are things in a writer’s-or any artiste’s-life that someone from another field cannot possibly understand. Take, for example, a writer’s block, or her little ‘OCDs’—like needing a specific notebook or pen to put something down. Surely this can lead to pangs of frustration ?
Ruhani’s answer is unequivocal. ‘Not at all. What are friends for? Not just for wine drinking and gossiping-you know!’
She recalls that Saadhil once said to her, ‘You fulfil all of my emotional needs. But I understand that you are an artiste and your emotional evolution is at a pace that I can’t always understand, even if I try. I feel happy that you have writer friends and support—people who understand the depth of what you deal with.’
A lot of her writing involves social issues, and Ruhani says that takes her to dark places, both physically and emotionally. ‘My husband is always there, making sure I don’t drown in those sorrows. Frankly, that’s what I need. I don’t need another dramatic person sobbing and savouring misery with me. Saadhil might not understand or relate to my ‘artistic moments’, as they were, but he tries, and lets me be.’
The ‘letting me be’ factor is something Ruhani treasures. There are times when she wants—needs—be alone. And we’re not talking about just solitary vacations. This could happen at a social gathering. It could happen even when they have houseguests. ‘Saadhil gets my need for this alone time, to allow my thoughts to percolate. When I disappear inside a bathroom with a notebook, he covers for me,’ she laughs. And she couldn’t bear to be in the sort of relationship where both partners are prone to emotional rollercoaster rides.
How did she know Saadhil was right for her?
With a grin, she answers, ‘Do not drink when you make this decision.’ But she doesn’t evade the question. ‘Problem is, people think too much or just don’t think. Just because someone is right—or compatible—with you today doesn’t mean that he will be best-suited for you five years from tomorrow. The reality is that we live m a very high-pressure world where tolerance is diminishing every day. And there are distractions surrounding us all. But if your relationship is strong, you can weather anything out.’
Ruhani feels it’s possible for any couple to grow apart over the space of a few years. People constantly evolve, and there’s only so much one can figure out about oneself and one’s partner at any given point. ‘Just when you think you’ve hit the jackpot, people change. There are no guarantees when it comes to love—the biggest myth and mystique.’
Ruhani and Saadhil have known each other for fifteen years, and she acknowledges that both of them have changed in this time. ‘It is very easy not to see eye to eye and allow distance to creep in. I have seen very close friends of ours get divorced inside three years of marriage. And also friends whose marriages lasted for ten years. The idea is to evolve, or at least try to, at a similar pace. Or make room for the differences.’
In this context, she believes it’s important to ‘manage your expectations’. People need to understand that their spouses will not be the answer to all their needs and requirements— and that’s okay. And, they need to remember that every new relationship will become old some day; and that any relationship will lack something.
But people considering arranged marriage are often apprehensive of exactly who they are marrying. A man-or woman-may not really be what they seem to be. We know we’re under scrutiny, and our instinct is to put our best foot forward. Even when the couple has a long engagement, the relationship is in fast-forward mode, possibly because there is a sense of certainty about its outcome. Our partners m arranged marriages don’t know what makes us cry, what makes us angry and whether we’re prone to fits of madness—things that are bound to come out in a relationship. What if you find out the man you married is not the man you thought you were marrying?
‘You’ll feel betrayed but you’ll get over it. Such is life,’ Ruhani answers. ‘Because it’s not just the guy—you will change too. And it’s not just the woman, the guy feels the jitters too. There is no guarantee, irrespective of how you meet your partner, that they will remain the same always. Even while dating, you spend a few hours every day with the guy. It’s easy to put the ‘best foot’ forward. Living with someone under the same roof is a whole different ball game. Instead of focusing on the jitteriness of “how we met”, the question should be “How can we be together in a healthy way where we build a good life despite our idiosyncrasies and nuances?”‘
Ruhani doesn’t rule out the possibility of falling in love with someone else after marriage. However, she points out that this can happen in both love and arranged marriages. As people change, their needs change too, and their partners don’t always have the time to notice or listen. ‘With both men and women working and leading stressful lives, there will be vulnerable moments. If a situation of the sort arises, first try to identify the problem in your existing relationship. Maybe, just maybe, what you’re seeking outside is what’s lacking in your real life, your marriage. Do not fear introspection or keeping the lines of communication open with your spouse.’
As an artiste, given our soaring passion and raging hormones, the probability of finding love multiple times is even higher. Do I recommend extramarital affairs? No. But I will also say that we all have one life to live and neither party should feel stifled, ever. As human beings, don’t two people owe happiness and respect to each other and themselves? By pretending to be this “happy couple” for the society, we do a disservice to everyone. Imagine walking around your own house on eggshells. Imagine coming back to an unhappy spouse. Imagine drinking tears along with your morning cup of tea or coffee.’
It may be the case that two people are simply not meant for each other, that they married for the wrong reasons. But, Ruhani points out, sometimes a relationship wilts because no one has worked at pulling it out of the rut. On the other hand, ‘Sometimes there is no anger or resentment. People just grow apart. It sucks, but it’s that way. Sometimes two people don’t evolve emotionally at the same pace—it’s no one’s fault—we all mature at different times. People change and that’s a fact of life. All break-ups don’t stem from hatred or infidelity or sexual abuse.’
While the older generation is bound to say one must ‘adjust’ in a marriage, and that marriage is all about compromise, that doesn’t cut ice with the modern woman. However, there are two ways to deal with the problems that crop up in a marriage-one may put everything on the table, which can prevent misunderstanding, but which may lead to the partner
thinking one is nitpicking; or, one may choose what to brush under the carpet, especially if one is given to overanalysis. ‘My honesty is my biggest curse,’ says Ruhani, with a smile.
‘I cannot pretend, so I will share the smallest things that irk me. In my humble opinion, dishonesty catches up with couples and becomes one of the key reasons for any relationship’s downfall. Having said that, each couple should figure out their dynamics—not everybody can deal with the truth all the time.’
For an educated, intelligent, working woman who is considering an arranged marriage, Ruhani has one big tip: ‘Don’t judge yourself. Be kinder. As in, don’t doubt your drive or ambition and desire to want it all. If you aren’t self-apologetic, life will be easier.’
According to her, our society trains women to send mixed signals and get entangled in a web of expectations that is often of our own manufacture. She points out that not every man wants to be ‘served’ and treated like a king. ‘Many seek equals, you know, and desire for their wives to be more than arm candy. Everyone has their own criteria but my two cents—be with someone who loves you for who you are, not who they want you to be.’
One of the mistakes Indian parents make, she feels, is that they never tell us how much hard work goes into relationships. ‘I would also blame Yash Chopra movies for this because life, according to him, is spent romancing in the hills of Switzerland in chiffon saris.’ Turning serious, she says, ‘It’s not easy to constantly think of another person all the time. And to put his needs ahead of yours if you’ve been an independent woman. Marriage is work. Marriage requires as much attention as a full-time job. Equal, if not more, nurturing. All that took me by surprise.’
However, one can never take things for granted, and it is this realization that ensured that Ruhani and Saadhil have stayed together for so long. ‘We both cherish each other’s presence and feel grateful for it every day. But neither of us gets complacent or takes our lives or togetherness as a given. I never wake up thinking I will take my husband for granted because he will be around forever. No. Never. Being complacent can lead to a slippery slope.’