Monday, May 4, 2020

Neha Mehrotra: "I made peace with myself about my marital failure and still found strength to rise" (Interview)

I read Neha's book "How much is too much? : Divorce in India" during the lockdown phase and I was so moved about the subject of divorce and what women goes through during marriage and even during the process of divorce and post it that it made me ask her for an interview. She has given each and every answer as detailed as possible which shall help everyone going through this interview understand the complexity and seriousness of this topic. 

1.       Hi Neha, please do let us know how you landed up becoming a writer in the first place.
           My journey has been long and extremely difficult over last 2 decades. I realised I had so much to say and contribute, once I made peace with myself about my marital failure and still found strength to rise. I always wanted to tell my story, as I really felt it was a journey that tested every single semblance of my core being, so I started writing in 2016 but it was rather slow and painful. Also I was amazed to realise that marriage was supposed to just be a segment of one’s life but how impactful it really was in India. For the longest time, I felt my decision to leave and heal was highly stagnated due to the societal complications and had I not found the courage, I perhaps would not have survived this.

In 2018, I heard about demise of someone who was known to me, due to domestic violence & emotional trauma. She apparently committed suicide by jumping off her residence rooftop. Highly successful & independent, financially very well-off, extremely beautiful & a super strong woman - but she found jumping off a 4-storied building easier than taking a step towards separation or a divorce. Something about it shook me to reality that while I escaped a disastrous end, many might not. We women get to the edge and lose that belief that we can overcome bad marriages. We lose that hope that even if, things are not working out in our marriages/relationships, it is not the end of life. Often we don't know who to turn to for advice and for consolation that it would all be fine no matter how bad is the situation. We just need to look at this differently and find that courage to change our life’s course.
I decided to finish the book and touch some relevant topics, so even if I could save one life, it would serve its purpose. By stating my own experience, I am hoping to ease it out for those who fear the unexpected. I don't advocate divorces, I advocate choices that women can make and should.

2.       Please tell us something about your first book- “How much is too much? : Divorce in India”.
This book is a self-help guide to understand what to do when you feel stuck in a bad marriage or a relationship. This tells you about my personal experiences, mistakes made due to the inability to gauge my relationship and how I subsequently feared the consequences of initiating a separation/divorce once I realised that this wont bring me happiness ahead. The purpose of this book is to let women feel comforted by the thought that just incase they have similar situations but fear uncertainty, this was how my journey panned out. While it was painful and depressing initially, I did overcome it and it is possible to find happiness by everyone again. I would like all those women who feel hopelessness, despair and no reason to go on - to find solace  in the thought of re-starting their lives. The focus of the book is to highlight the social stigmas in our society, families influence & personal dilemmas and how it often becomes deterrent for seeking a step towards finding the lives we all deserve. Marital failure is a sheer regressive taboo and should not be given more importance than required. This book highly advocates the fact that a separation or a divorce is not a woman’s identity - it is just a mistake & life needs to continue!

3.       How easy or difficult was writing this book as it’s based on your own experiences?
It wasn't easy as there were lots of moments where I had to revisit and go back to relive the painful times. Most memories that were buried deep, had to be remembered and articulated rightly. Often I felt anger and deep pangs of pain which came from all that I had to revive in my head. Had to separate my own personal issues and be non-judgemental while explaining what was the purpose of this book with complete clarity. The story was largely mine but several other relationships were observed, so I could get a wider perspective on what a woman goes through in depth. I came to realise that despite varied reasons, the primary dilemma in most women’s head and subsequent societal stigma were largely similar. It was not a great feeling to realise that, having experienced it first-hand. But the satisfaction I feel now, knowing I survived it all and perhaps many others would also find their grounds, is amazing to say the least.

      4. How do you think will this book help the Indian women and girls?
Indian women & girls need to be vigilant about their own happiness more than ever before! They need to be a bit selfish and think about their own lives more practically now.  We need to talk about topics like these more often and educate our children about how to differentiate between bad and worse in relationships. Abuse, violence, trauma etc needs to be identified in time and our daughters should know that they should not loathing in self-pity & despair. Not make kids/family shame/financial instability an excuse instead not fear society by striving for self-esteem & respect.
The purpose of this book largely is to make countless young girls and women aware about my journey and few other of those observed around me. There are lots of mistakes I made, signs I ignored and learnings that I overlooked. Indian women need to understand that they are as important as the men in the relationship. There has to be undisputed equality on all matters for both the man & the woman. Our perspectives need to change now with changing times. These women need to know that should a reason arise, they have a choice that they can make and re-attempt getting their lives no matter the situation. There is NO reason to feel suffocated and live on like Indian women have been since centuries. Crudely put - no relationship or shame is worth your life & self-respect!

  5. How difficult was getting this book published as it has a topic which is quite impactful
It was pretty difficult as earlier I tried hard to go the conventional way of finding a publishing house that would accept my draft. I did approach many leading ones however all turned it down citing some or the other reason. Few didn't do self-help genre and others wanted me to turn it into some masala fiction but I wanted the narrative to remain as is and decided to self-publish this. I am glad it is impactful as someone has to question these relevant topics. Women are not the quieter sex, they just are ones with more endurance however, when the line is breached, we need to take matters in our own hands and go against these regressive stigmas. For the longest time, women stayed in bad marriages due to varied reasons  to prove that we could make relationships last no matter the price we paid, but I see no reason why this should continue ahead.

   6. Do you think that Marriage as an Institution shall survive in India after a decade or so?
It might survive in the eyes of the society but it already is dying in the minds of many. Most marriages feel like total pity, which have eroded the essence of monogamy  & commitments altogether. Wives don't know what their husbands are doing or thinking and men are oblivious to the real needs of their own partners. However, both continue putting best pretentious faces for the sake of the society, family and kids. It is rare to find real relationships now where both want to really make each other happy. Abuse is rampant as frustrations grow and both feel trapped. What is the point of all of this? Why cant one focus on being happy than on remaining married? As mentioned in my book, maybe an annual contract or larger acceptance to live-ins would be the turning curve ahead. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of being married even now, but my point is it should work for you, else know it that you have a way out. There isn't any reason to end life or live a robotic life ahead.

  7. What is your view on Indian parents in terms of Marriage as many youngsters now doesn’t want to get married but get into the bond due to family pressure and later on, face consequences of the same?
There is an entire chapter dedicated to this unnecessary pressure in my book. Parents need to understand that this isn't the question of their upbringing, culture or how well they know their child. When one is cornered, even a saint would react, so why get into that forced situation? You have educated your child, bought him/her up with so much love & care, why push them into complications of a marriage which they have to drag life-long just because you want to see them ‘settled’? Let them be free to make their choices and mistakes. Be there for them but please don't live their lives for them. Guide them by all means but don't think you can decide if they can pull a relationship ahead all their lives.  If they can choose a wrong career, they can also make a mistake of choosing a wrong partner. If so, just support them but dont make such big deal about it that they fear their decisions. So, yes I am strongly against the idea.

  8. Tell us something about the work that you do as we found some great content on your Instagram page.
I am a destination wedding planner & stylist and run a company called Foreign Wedding Planners since last 12 years now. You can view my work on on Instagram. My passion-turned-profession is a symbol of my strength and perseverance and I absolutely love it. It was the biggest reason which helped me regain my financial stability when I had to move out. Ironically I create happy memories for all those who want to celebrate love. Initially I was worried about my own doomed marital life, considering I was a wedding planner myself, but later I realised that there is a huge difference in marriages and weddings! While, I take care of the latter, the former is highly personal and subjective. To each his own.

  9. Tell us something about your next book?
Haven't planned ahead yet but do want to explore the complications which is faced between a couple. There are so many shades of grey that need to be understood and talked about which stems from centuries of conditioning for either sexes apart from the genetic compounding which at most times doesn't help. Basically, I want to write about the difference between a man and woman as individuals and then as ones who want to co-exist in an harmonious relationship. As of now in my head, this seems like an oxymoron for majority. :)

10. In the end, what is your message for Indian husbands and wives?
Look around you!
‘During this lockdown, domestic abuse in India has doubled.’- Outlook  (7th April 2020).
There is a reason for this! Stifling, suffocating relationships where couples hid behind mundane everyday routines & professional commitments suddenly vanished. Having long lost the love and respect for each other, they now find it difficult to live under the same roof and co-exist. This is a blatant proof that there are many families like yours and mine, who might appear happy on surface but internally the women are suffering miserably. They think they are being brave by enduring abuse but someday they would crumble. Their entire lives would pass by and they would never know what they could have opted for instead.
Marriage or a relationship is not only a celebration of a strong passion, love and desire that you first feel for each other. That is just the initial & less-lasting part. It is more of the understanding of the differences you share, the habits you dislike and all the reasons which you eventually realise and know you would not ideally want in your partners. It is about the emotions you then have to contribute keeping in mind that let the reason be both your happiness rather than just your own. I have always advocated that the strength of a relationship isn't how you love each other but more of how you fight & makeup.
Both men and women should get into a commitment with an absolute clear understanding that equality in all aspects will be maintained at all times and both parties are entitled to mental, physical and emotional happiness. If not, end it gracefully rather than make it torturous and dragging the corpse. Mistakes happen but then either sort it out or move on - there is NO middle ground without repercussions and a possible vicious cycle.


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