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Divorce and Second Marriage among Indians and South Asians: For a life less lonely

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For a life less lonely

As the divorce rate in the country climbs steadily — seven per cent of all Indian marriages dissolve, according to the 2001 census, the maximum in the 25-39 age group — second marriages are becoming more common. And while marriages are imploding all around, the business of getting married again is growing.

At the Vasantham Marriage Service in Royapettah, Chennai, SKM Vasanth has seen hundreds of people remarry. Over the years, there has been a progressive increase in the number. “When I started 20 years ago, the stigma of a first marriage’s failure was so strong that very few people approached me. If at all they wanted to get married again, it was done very quietly through known persons. But now, I see an average of 250 people a month,” he said.

Whether the loss has been because of divorce or death, there is both a desire as well as determination to start over and find a partner. When that does not happen through love, bureaus like this one step in.

Some months ago, 84-year-old T Damodaran came to the bureau and said he wanted to get married. “The first thing I did was check up on his health and financial status. His health was good and, as a retired government employee, he had a pension.” In his books, Vasanth had a 63-year-old woman, M Subastri, widowed and living with various relatives.

“I arranged for a meeting to let them find out if they would be right for each other,” he said.

After a few meetings, Damodaran and Subastri took the plunge. The wedding was performed in a temple and then the marriage was registered. The couple decided to settle in Namakkal, where, they felt, Damodaran’s pension would go further than in Chennai.

“For people over the age of 60, it is mostly loneliness,” said Vasanth. “When they lose a partner of many years, the grief can be overwhelming. But as the years go by, with their children settled and leading their own lives, they yearn for a companion again.”

Finding the right partner is never easy. For people who have failed once and are wary of trying again, it is even more difficult. At Priya Sekar’s Secondmarriage.com office in Vadapalani, Chennai, files and folders are piled on counters and shelves. Each folder contains details of the men and women looking for a partner. When a new client approaches, after the background is taken down, Priya offers him/her a list of people she thinks will be suitable. But there are no guarantees.

“We only bring potential couples together. After that, it is up to them to decide,” she said. With Chennai seeing a 200 per cent rise in divorce cases in the last two decades (the figure is 350 per cent for Kerala) and the percentage of divorced women the second-highest in the country, there is no dearth of clients.

In the last few years, though, Priya has seen a rise in the number of what she calls, “IT couples” — young software professionals with high-pressure jobs at multinational companies. Increasingly, she sees these couples getting divorced in their twenties and then approaching her. “They now form the majority of 10 cases per day,” she said.

What makes a second marriage different from the first? “Here, the couples take their time over deciding to marry, are more picky about their partners, and more willing to put in what it takes to make the marriage work,” Vasanth said. “And since they look for compatibility, it is generally easier.”

In many cases, especially with younger couples, one or both partners have children from the previous marriage. Even with this, there has been a trend change over the last five years or so.

“About a decade ago, the men would insist on profiles of women with no children. But now, whether they have children or not, they are willing to accept a partner’s children,” said Vasanth. But it was much easier if the children were very young. With older children, the situation often turned difficult.

Take the case of N Sumathi, 46. Her first marriage had failed, leaving her with a teenage daughter to support. When D Sekar first approached the bureau, he was given her details. They met, and decided to marry. “But my daughter did not accept it. She first lived in a hostel during college and is now living and working separately,” said Sumathi. Her husband’s family, (except for his sister), is not even aware of his second marriage. Counselling has helped Sumathi come to terms with the situation but four years later, she still continues to hope that some day, she and her daughter will be reconciled. And while the couple is happy together, the pinpricks of societal and familial disapproval does continue to affect them

But are second marriages the expensive, extravagant bashes that first marriages are becoming? “Almost never,” said V Mohan. The founder of KM Matrimony Services, which has facilitated over 1,300 second marriages, Mohan said “Most couples prefer a quiet wedding in the temple with only family and a few friends in attendance.”

Astrology, however, does play a part. “Some families do not go in for horoscope matching after the first time, while others believe they might not have made as thorough a match as possible the previous time, and want to strengthen their efforts,” he added. Catering, wedding halls, lavish gifts and elaborately gilded cards are usually done away with though there is some private exchange of gifts, Mohan said.

V Dhakshinamurthy and Hema recently tied the knot. Theirs was an unusual courtship Dhakshinamurthy, who lost his first wife to a heart attack five years ago, had registered with Secondmarriage.com, and come across Hema’s profile. Hema, for whom this marriage is the first, had picked his profile from the three offered to her. They went out for two months (“There was hardly a day we did not see each other,” says Dhakshinamurthy), and then, decided to get married. “I was looking for love,” says Hema with a shy smile, “and I found it.”

(Some names have been changed)

— zubeda@expressbuzz.com


Love in Thailand

At a Menon family gathering in Kochi a few years ago, the elders held a quiz to see how much the youngsters knew about the family. Questions about various family members’ jobs, education, trivia and family lore were tossed out. While the youngsters struggled, a surprise winner emerged. Nucha, a Thai woman who had married (great uncle) Radhakrishnan Chirukandath some years earlier, knew the answer to every question. To know the family better, she had learnt every detail about it. That day, Nucha won more than the quiz. She won the family’s heart.

They had met in 1992 in Thailand when he was 64 and she was 37. Grieving the loss of his wife, Radhakrishnan, then president of the Thai Peroxide Company, was introduced to Nucha by a mutual friend. Nucha had left her cheating husband and was making a living through dressmaking. Then, according to Radhakrishnan, “We decided to live together in our apartment in the city.” She took care of the house; he taught her how to use the computer.

Radhakrishnan’s sons Jai and Ramesh have been frequent visitors and the couple has flown to Kerala to meet his family. A few years ago, Radhakrishnan took Nucha to Agra to show her the Taj Mahal. Eighteen years on, they’re still going strong

— ZH



Broken and beyond

Moving on from a broken marriage is hard for both the partners, believes 37-year-old Sreegopal of Hyderabad, who floated the 2ndVivah website after a failed first marriage. “Because of the difficulties we faced, we were motivated to provide a genuine support platform for people looking to settle down in life once again,” he says.

Also, it is important to get one’s child to accept it. “It was an extremely difficult decision and what with a young daughter, you're not sure how things will work out,” he says. Sreegopal’s daughter, two when he got married for the second time, still does not know her mother is actually her stepmother.

Facing society is no less daunting. It puts a lot of pressure on the separated couple. “We should not bother, the focus should more on making the second marriage work,” says Sreegopal.

The situation gets all the more complicated in the Indian scenario, he believes. “We tend to bother too much about how society will react,” he says. “From my experience with our portal, I have come across quite a few older people looking for a life companion. But they do not find a platform where they can express their difficulties.”

Letting go of the past is not easy. It takes a long time for the wounds to heal. “Unless someone experiences the same tragedy they will not understand what you are going through,” says Sreegopal.

"A broken marriage makes you feel terrible — there is no feeling worse than the failure to make another person happy. When you get another chance, there is nothing shameful about trying extra hard," said Ritu Sharma. A BPO employee, she has faced jibes from her friends about being ‘henpecked’ by her second husband, but she does not care. "I’ve had time to sort my priorities. What my husband and my two-year old daughter mean to me is infinitely more precious than ‘what people will say’. So I follow my instinct."

— Sarika Murty



For the children’s sake

On March 5, 1992, Dr Thomas Sebastian’s life was shattered. His wife Thresiamma, had died of breast cancer, leaving him with four teenage daughters. For the next three years, he ran the household himself. “The thought of remarriage never entered my mind,” he says. But in 1995, he received a proposal.

Mariamma Ambooken, 47, was a widow. Would Thomas be interested in marrying her? He pondered and broached the idea to his five brothers. “They all felt I should remarry,” says Thomas. He then told his daughters. The children accepted. Mariamma was widowed in 1989 after 22 years of marriage. She did not want to remarry. She had no children, and her mother warned her she would get lonely.

Thomas and Mariamma got married on January 2, 1995. “Initially, there were a few adjustments problems, but nothing serious,” says Thomas, 75. For Mariamma, 62, it was a bit more difficult. “Thomas was fixed in his ways and so was I,” she says. “But after a while, we developed an understanding.” Mariamma also had to learn to become a mother. “It took some time, but I was able to learn to deal with the girls in a responsible manner,” she smiles.

     — Shevlin Sebastian

Zubeda Hamid, Express News Service
First Published : 11 Sep 2010

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