The pun in the book’s title sounds almost like a directive — a marriage is for keeps. More and more, it’s clearly not, and even when it is, fraught with muddled emotions — anger, spite, introspection, bewilderment, demoralisation, is-this-what-love-needs-demands, vengefulness, angst, regret, feelings of entrapment, entanglement, loss, doom. Many of the stories/essays in Knot for Keeps — an anthology on the modern marriage edited by Sathya Saran — reflect this reality.

A common thread running through the book is the question of why marriage enjoys undue importance. Why is it considered the ultimate goal for anyone, for a relationship, and, in so asking, also discusses the alternatives, as well as how it puts women at a disadvantage. In her essay on loneliness, Sharanya Manivannan mirrors the pulls between taking the easy way out by marrying and blending with the world and standing solitary, convinced there is no equality in marriage in a patriarchal society.

‘Heaven Forbid’, a tragicomic story by Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, is about a wife who punishes her husband for a transgression by forcing him to fund her flights of fancy into a dancing career rather late in life. It’s easy to leave a marriage, but payback is more fun, especially when the husband is an oncologist in the US. Do we root for the wife? Or sympathise with the husband? How do you assess the degree of wrongdoing? How would you feel if your spouse had indulged in it?

‘Marriage and Me’ by Deeksha Nagar delves into the question of why marriage holds such fascination, especially when one is surrounded by marriages that represent a loss of equilibrium. ‘The Cost of a Runaway’ Marriage by Neha Dixit is a wry look at the institution, the tyranny of rules governing various kinds of unions, and the impracticality of formalising a marriage while staying true to one’s ideologies. Best of luck if you’re not a believer!

Bulbul Sharma’s ‘Mixed Media Marriage’ is a humorous look at the suppressed scorn and contempt that play out between the families in an intercultural marriage, the sniping and the sniffing quickly lodging themselves in the bride and groom, never to leave them even thirty years later. Readers will agree it happens in conventional, arranged marriages too — turning up noses at the food, the clothes, the gifts exchanged, the traditions followed by They, Them and the Other which can never be like We, Us and Ours.

‘The Thin Red Line’ by Modhurima Sinha embodies the tug of war between standing on principle and adopting rituals that may, essentially, reiterate outdated, chauvinistic norms. Sinha talks of how her fascination for the sindoor ceremony in a Bengali wedding persisted, despite her seeing herself as a modern, rational, thinking individual. Never mind the 2,000 guests, the discussion about what to serve, the rituals to include, marriage, she declares, is about adjusting.

Packing a punch

There are many more powerful pieces of writing in the book. Milan Vohra’s ‘What I Hate Most’ is a spin on that tired question so familiar to connoisseurs of celebrity couple interviews — what do you hate the most about each other? It shows that marriage can be commitment, despite the lassitude and wear and tear of a long union, despite the resentment of each other’s foibles.

As the ending drives a knife into your heart, you realise such a marriage can also hold deep feeling, and that love, or an approximation of it, comes in several shades of gray. ‘An Imperfect Marriage’ by Harimohan Paruvu is a breezy, warming read about being unaffected by being a “mismatched” couple in the eyes of society, yet making small accommodations to assuage its puzzlement at the perceived incongruity. ‘A Life Sentence’ by Rita Mukherjee is an edifying tale of a husband who, with steely resolve, wrested an extra 10 years of life for his wife diagnosed with a degenerative disease.

Among the many questions you confront in this book: Is marriage just an arrangement to have sex sanctioned by society, or is it a valid cause to perpetuate civilization, order and security? Is it a practical arrangement to consolidate wealth and advantage or a shroud that camouflages various injustices, especially to women? Why should it be valid only for heterosexual couples? When is enough enough? And can the wrinkles left by the knot ever be smoothed?

Title: Knot for Keeps: Writing the Modern Marriage

Edited by: Sathya Saran

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Price: ₹299