It is mid-July, it’s very hot, our taxes are due shortly, road rage is killing innocents in Delhi, and we have no idea why some Presidential candidates wear their saris that way. No wonder, then, that the word on everybody’s lips these days is: infidelity.
No, actually, it’s just that the word infidelity is on everybody’s lips at almost all times, and has been so for the last several ice ages, which is as long as it has taken India to concede that if sexuality is incompatible with Indianness, then it is really very difficult to explain why there are a billion of us. And just when you thought it was safe to get into that water, along come the sharks.
Based on a number of spontaneously conducted conversations with quite a wide range of people over the last couple of months, I’ve concluded that close to one hundred percent of humanity is either quite interested in the idea of cheating on their partner, or quite interested in the idea of cheating on their partner again. (The tiny remaining percentage didn’t understand the question because they were daydreaming about a really good presidential candidate.)
I consider myself quite open-minded, but I confess to being quite surprised at just how many steamy currents simmer under the surface of so many seemingly staid marriages and relationships, and how strong those currents are. All I can say is that while I wasn’t raised by Irish nuns in a convent school, and despite being deemed a bit of a wild child in my misspent youth, I’m a little disappointed to find myself on the boring end of a vast and turbulent spectrum.
What I’m not surprised about is that while this spate of illicit activity occasionally has something to do with problems within people’s legitimate relationships, most often it does not: it’s just really a matter of lustful and/or emotional greed (where greed is defined not as excess, but as ‘intense and selfish desire’). If you still buy the popular image of urban India as prudish and reactionary, you’re out of the loop. If you thought that the scenario presented in the recent Bollywood movie Life in a Metro—in which people are cheating even on the people they’re cheating with—was overstating the case, which I did, then think again, or conduct your own secret ballot. And if you haven’t seen the movie: don’t, it’s a snorer.
For those people now yawning and thinking, “tell me something I don’t know,” you don’t fall into my preferred reader profile and should go away now. But for those of you who greet this news with their mouths in a little round o, I’ve got this to say: how would you describe the smell of that coffee?
As an experiment, I had someone I know go through her phone book and, without mentioning names, sum up the love life of each person in it. The results overwhelmingly show that they should either say the vow of fidelity much louder at weddings, because people are not hearing it, or just leave it out of the whole ceremony because it really cramps people’s style. They also show that infidelity is a wonderfully democratic thing, ranging over all kinds of type, sexuality, age, partnership agreement, and so forth.
All it really proves is what one might suspect anyway: that young(ish) urban Indians are as active in the extramarital/extrarelational department as any young people anywhere else, whether Murli Manohar Joshi likes it or not. It puts me in mind of something I recently read in which a father is quoted passing on the torch of human learning to his anguished offspring: “If you want monogamy,” he says unsympathetically, “go marry a swan.”