Wherever you go: A new world of relocating husbands

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 14 Feb 2018 12:06:03

Gargi Banerjee was doing her post-graduation in English and Satyaki Bhattacharya was working as an engineer when they met in Kolkata. In 2008, Banerjee completed her MA (Master of Arts) and moved to Delhi to work in publishing, while her boyfriend stayed back. Later, he managed to take study leave from his company, enrolled in a PhD programme in Delhi and moved in with her. The course didn’t work out for him and his organisation could offer no suitable vacancy in Delhi, so they decided to take a transfer to Chennai where the couple thought they would find more suitable work and moved there after getting married in 2011.

But Banerjee didn’t like it there.“She had better career prospects in Delhi. Moreover, she’d taken a lower position in Chennai and wasn’t happy,” recalls 37-year-old Bhattacharya. So she moved back to Delhi, while he left to do an MBA in Manila. They were back in a long-distance relationship. After his management studies, Bhattacharya moved back to Delhi and started looking for a job. This time too, luck didn’t favour him – he was jobless for about six months. “We were living off Gargi’s savings. There was a lot of frustration and anger on both sides,” Bhattacharya recalls. But eventually, the struggle paid off. Today Bhattacharya works as an energy adviser in a leading multilateral agency, while Banerjee is a coveted editor.

He is the India and Pacific head of a multi-billion dollar lingerie firm. She is the CEO of an agro-product conglomerate. Both are high achievers. When they married four years ago, it was understood that both their jobs were important and neither would stand in the way of the other to realise their career goals. But when Sheila (name changed) was made CEO of her firm and asked to work out of Singapore (instead of Mumbai where they lived), neither had seen it coming. The dilemma was three fold: one, to move to an entirely new city. Second, how to keep her marriage going in the face of this transfer, provided they came to an agreement that she’d take up this job and third, even if she did take it what would happen to Sailesh Mohan’s (name changed) job? There was no possiblility of his office moving headquarters to Singapore. Moreover, he loved his job and his wife. The dilemma continued for over two months of discussions, debates and arguments, until they both decided it would be best for Sheila to take this step up, while he’d somehow find a way to adjust.

Delhi-based journalist and author, Prayaag Akbar too moved to Mumbai to be with his girlfriend, an advertising professional whose career required her to live in the maximum city. But it wasn’t easy. “Even though I thought I was enlightened, I realised I was bothered about how people would react. What if it didn’t work out and I had to move back to Delhi,” says Akbar. He feels it’s a matter of the male ego and gender conditioning in a society where a woman’s work is considered less important and a man is deemed the main breadwinner.

Akbar says it was easier for him to move as he was editing the arts section of a newspaper, which had an office in Mumbai. “Also, at that point, I was planning to begin working on my novel and realised I could do it anywhere.”
Thankfully, it turned out well for Akbar; he’s been living in Mumbai ever since and will celebrate his fourth wedding anniversary next month.

As heartening they may be, decisions such as Akbar’s, Bhattacharya’s and Mohan’s are often “contingent on things like how favourable a city is, the woman’s income and related pragmatics” finds Ujithra Ponniah, assistant professor, School of Gender Studies, Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS). The data, she points out, indicates a contrary trend – participation of women, especially among the middle and upper classes, has declined in India.
Her colleague Sowjanya Tamalapakula at TISS, echoes a similar sentiment. “Lots of women relocate to be with their husbands after marriage; some leave their jobs and stay back at home, while others struggle to find another job. We see women in lower classes go out and work, but there still exists a notion among the middle class that if the husband’s earning enough, the wife shouldn’t go out to work.”While that may be true, these men’s stories are indicative of green shoots of gender parity among couples – albeit among well-educated, urban couples – who realise that it’s not about who moves for whom, but rather making an informed, joint decision about what works best for both.
When Bhattacharya was asked whether he ever thought that his wife should have been the one relocating, he says that he’d figured out long ago that her career and happiness lay in Delhi.

Banerjee is happy her husband relocated, but finds it amusing because nobody would have commented if she had been the one moving cities. “Why are men credited for it?” she asks. That’s double standards, of course, but in a patriarchal society like ours where the norm expects the wife to move with her husband and make career adjustments, Bhattacharya’s decision seems brave and rare.

“I never thought of it being man vs woman. Of course, when I tell people the reason I shifted to Delhi, they are surprised. But it never bothered me,” says 36-year-old Ruhil Amin who moved to Delhi to be with his wife a year ago. “We got married in 2014 and she moved to Mumbai initially, but she didn’t like it here, whereas I was very attached to the city. So after about six months, we decided that she’ll go back to Delhi, and we’ll give ourselves time to decide whether she’ll move back or I’ll move to Delhi,” says Amin, a journalist. As it happened, his wife wasn’t keen on moving back to Mumbai, so after a year Amin took a transfer to Delhi. “It took me some time to get accustomed to the city, but I have settled comfortably largely because my organisation and job profile haven’t changed,” he says. Modern-day couples are not geographically tied together, he adds. “The concept of marriage is now more of a bond that’s emotional rather than geographical. Couples are evolving…I never thought my move will dilute my gender at any level,” he adds.

The experience is not always without teething problems, however ‘evolved’ the couple may be. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” admits Sailesh, who finally wound up operations and moved to Singapore six months after his wife. He’s now heading a small IT firm in Singapore – a step up for her, a step down for him. Or at least so it would appear to a conventional family setup. “People often ask us how and why we arrived at this solution, and I tell them, we pared it down to what was more important: our careers or our lives together. The latter won.”

Some may call them emotional decisions, others feel they are foolhardy and unconventional. After all the woman is supposed to be the nurturer and the man the hunter-gatherer. But “the world has moved on since the Neanderthal era, and with women’s multi-tasking abilities, their capacity for a strong EQ to carry a strong team, and gender roles with lines blurring, this was a trend waiting to happen. And it’s here,” reports Kainaz Gandhi, an HR personnel who has seen a fledgling move in this direction.
“It took a lot for Sailesh to do this,” says his wife, who cannot underline her appreciation and admiration for her husband enough. “It takes a certain amount of confidence, belief in oneself and in the institution of marriage to do that.” This is true especially given the fact that for eons, a man has been defined by the work he does.

The fact that men are now open to moving cities and countries to be with their wives, does not so much affect the gender politics, but what happens when, in the new place, the wife is several notches higher in the corporate hierarchy than the husband? What does that do to the family equilibrium? Some admit that initially, there’s a bit of resentment. “His family and friends were aghast at our decision,” remembers Sheila, sharing that it “added to our problems. We even ended up trying online counselling, which by the way didn’t do anything for us. When matters got bad, we had to remind ourselves that this was a decision that BOTH of us took.”

Sheila recalls that even in Singapore, the role reversal was seen as something quite extraordinary. “People kept asking me how I felt about it,” says Sailesh, “But in time, they have come to accept their decision joyfully. “When I see how much Sheila has achieved, I am filled with a sense of pride. This sense of pride comes from knowing what it takes to achieve so much, having been there and done that,” says Sailesh.

Of course, he is hopeful that something big will come his way soon, but till then, as he says, “I’m learning to enjoy the idea of starting all over again, and maybe who knows, this startup will be the next big thing.”
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