Making a choice – Romance and Love in modern Indian Context

First modified on : Aug 12, 2010

These following notes are not coherent and need five or six careful readings. The links given in this posts are worth reading and a lot of the arguments made here are influenced by these readings. 

Our most of the traditional ‘love stories’ have a tragic end. We do not have ‘happily ever after’ in our love stories. In addition, these love stories do not contain elaboration of ‘romance’ or ‘romanticism’. Those romantic gestures such as ‘first kiss’, ‘midnight kiss’, ‘dance’ etc. which are an integral part of western love stories are nil in Indian one. Details on ‘how both of them starts loving each other?’ are also very limited in our stories but the tragic part would be elaborated very well. This also helps making its reader (especially children/teenagers) aware of what are the worst that could happen if they follow that path. A typical Indian love story mainly emphasizes that if you chase your heart you will suffer a lot, most of the time as premature death. Perhaps that explains why Indian are so timid in choosing life partner by themselves. Mostly, they go for arranged marriages, a partner chosen by parents or guardians which have a social approval. However, there is a very steep increase in number of love marriages in urbane India in last decade.

In our stories, the love between the duo is always ‘pure’ or ‘perfect’. Even in our movies – which ‘educate’ almost all of our teenagers – we are still to see  a genre in which male or female protagonist suffer from the ‘infidelity’ caused by the partner. The challenges which our ‘lovers’ in our Movies face mostly are the handiworks of society or some ‘villains’ or ‘family protecting their so called honors‘. These resistance to love marriages are still there, but the urbane India has shown a decline in these matters.  

The most ubiquitous is the teenage love in modern India. Teenagers of India are not studied by sociologist as the way our tribal are studied. Somehow they have shown a tremendous indifference toward them. They go to the far away lands to study the tribal but have failed to produce good social studies on teenagers. Nonetheless, in post face-book time, when you can virtually traceback the life of an individual (with little practice and certain safeguards against bias), the time is ripe for one more M. N. Srinivas.

Vijay Nagaswamy, a regular contributor to an estimable newspaper "The Hindu" has something to say,

The new Indian though, seems to be more entrepreneurial when it comes to choosing a mate. Young people are falling in love in far larger numbers than ever before and ‘the love marriage’ is no longer a few-and-far-between sort of phenomenon. More interesting than the fact that the incidence of love marriages is on the rise, is the fact that such events provoke less hysteria, panic and rage than they used to. Elopement is no longer de rigueurfor the protagonists; today there is a higher probability of parental permission and elders’ blessings being obtained. In order to facilitate this, many youngsters are resorting to what one of my clients described as a ‘love-cum-arranged’ marriage. What is meant by this is that young people fall in love with someone who, in their assessment, has a high likelihood of being accepted by their parents. Having done this, they persuade their respective parents to go through all the ‘traditional procedures’ involved in firming up the alliance and organising the wedding. And all is well.

So arranged marriages are now being replaced by arranged love in which you are free to love a person your family have no problems with. Someone tempted to simplify this problem and wrote in ‘Times of India’ (at best a tabloid in disguise of a national newspaper) that our teenagers ‘are caught in between soul-mate hunting and having casual relationship‘. This argument will make sense to a person who grows up watching M. Tv. and reading Chetan Bhagat. While our traditional values does not allow us to go for no-string love affairs, our work culture does not go very well with arranged affairs where mobility and compatibility issues make them unattractive.   


In almost all of the species, mating has the ultimate goal of reproduction. Humans do not like to talk about relationships in those terms since our evolved sense of ethics makes it taboo to talk about emotions in these plain ways. Language, if we consider it as a tool built for the purposes to influence other people thoughts/ideas, is the first victim of morality. You are NOT suppose to utter certain words e.g. penis  or vagina in public, however some mild terms or euphemism are allowed. Indirectly you can say the same thing which is banned to be said directly. So I can say that ‘I married her because I loved her‘ rather than saying ‘I married her because she was the optimal choice I had for mating‘. Saying something that way might get you divorce in record time.

So do we invest in other gender just for offspring? And of course, in Human and some other mammals, there is fun factor also. Then the question arises why only few species has let themselves evolved in such way that enables them to do sex  just for fun. Doing sex is very energy extensive. Brainwork also take a lot of energy. In a lot of species, brain is as much evolves as much they needed without wasting any energy. Humans, after gaining access to energy (via hunting and agriculture), had a lot of energy to be spared for a well developed brain. Is it that we have so much energy at our disposal, we do sex for fun. We assume that if every time sex does not produce a offspring, it is for fun (or orgasm). This certainly fails to explain why animals do homosexual act even if their heterosexual deeds are not for fun (Do they fail to figure out whether it is a female?).

Among humans, language is a new phenomena and its implications are being studied. Communication through words (language) enables people to understand other people in better ways. More the access to people, better as the chances. A gender, which generally has more at stakes while choosing a partner (e.g. woman) tends to vie for information about them. That can explain why ladies are so interested in gossips. Gossips provides them with valuable information about possible relations. Once it become a habit, it looses it main purposes. Surely, I’d love to argue that woman are more interested in gossiping because they have evolved in an environment in which the only way they could gather information about potential partners was communicating with other women. It has been said that a woman love by her ears while a man love by his eyes. Even in those days, young boy will go for pics in a girl facebook profile. What about girls, do they read the info first? Can I say that man liked big boobs because they thought that she will be able to feed their offspring well before it became a habit in them. In modern times, a boys liking towards female breast may not be dependent on this. The influence of media, and well connected information flow have their impact on young mind. Big breast means better nourishment for babies may be universal in olden days,  and that is why all the man across the globe have liking for them. While some local preferences which are
being evolved under media influence, like skinny legs, fair skin, cleavage showing dresses may not be liked universally. Which way this will evolves, one (especially girls) should worry for future generation. We, the boys, generally get what we want in some way or other.

Anyway, people are very much connected these days and the sense of morality and ethics are evolving in a way which is making society more homogeneous. An English speaking Indian surely does not find many western things taboo as they did 100 years ago. We here concentrate over people who are self sufficient to be able to make more independent decisions about their mating partners.

Steven Pinker, writing in his essay "The literary animal" in "Philosophy and Literature" has discussed sexual selection (I am not going to cite references, see this paper here). Some  snippets,

  "Like the other contributors, Gottschall interprets the resonance of these sex differences in terms of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection as elaboratedby Robert Trivers.6 The sex with the greater minimal investment in off-spring is selected to be more choosy; the sex with the lesser investment is selected to be more promiscuous and competitive. In the human species, our mammalian physiology  makes women the greater-investing sex, though the fact that our  males also invest in their offspring blunts the asymmetry, and makes both sexes compete and choose, though using different criteria: fertility for men choosing women, ability and willingness to invest for women choosing men. Gottschall was surprised to find that an emphasis on finding a suitable marriage partner, unlike the other traits, was associated with male and female characters in equal proportions, but I was not surprised. David Buss’s surveys on sex dif-ferences in mating (which several of the contributors cite) shows that men and women report an equally strong desire to get married. This isn’t, of course, incompatible with the finding that men have a greater desire for casual sex partners before marriage and after, and is partly explained by the way that marriage can assuage male sexual jealousy (itself presumably an adaptation against the  evolutionary disaster of cuckoldry). Marriage is a double-edged bargain: you can’t sleep around with other partners (or at least you  shouldn’t get caught), but then neither can your spouse."

About a woman’s mate preference, he continues

"When it comes to short-term affairs, women should prefer fit, dominant men, who can provide any offspring with good genes; when it comes to long-term relationships, they should prefer nurturing, well-heeled men, who can provide their offspring with care and resources (the two ideals are sometimes called cads and dads. The psychologists Daniel Kruger and Maryanne Fisher, together with the literature scholar Ian Jobling, propose that the kinds of men are the archetypes for the two kinds of hero long recognized in British romantic fiction: the “proper hero” (a sensitive, decent mensch) and the “dark hero” (a dominant, dashing outlaw). The women in their study, as they had predicted, reported that they would prefer to hook up sexually with the dark heroes, but that they liked the proper heroes more, and would prefer them as long-term partners, husbands, and sons-in-law."

So that partly explains why our most of  otherwise successful IIT classmates are still single. Given the fact that IIT graduates are one of the most successful categories of Indians. Most of them go for arrange marriages (they always get a better deal this way). A beautiful girl form rich family and a large sum of dowry which is like a feather in their crown. Number of generic successful A success which is admired by the masses e.g. JEE rank 01 is more generic than gold medal in Mathematical Olympiad since a lot more people are able to appreciate success in JEE or Gold medal in Institute is more generically successful than someone who has done a path-breaking Ph.D. in an obscure field – bachelors are limited in India and beauty and money can be found in very nooks and cranny of society. So the deal goes like this, in lieu of a generic successful son-in-law which they can boast in public, you get the beauty and the money. Everyone is happy this way. That can explain sexual selection of grown-ups living under the influence of societies ( We still have not touched the underlying choice theory).

What about college graduates living in campus where influence of the society is minimum (at least for non-lethal short term relationships) or people living in small villages?

Well, for villages or small community, people do make choice which goes well with the predefined community structure. If going by the rules of my village, I can not marry even a film star if she does belongs to a cast inferior to me (unless she agrees to buy every opinion in my village, If you have money, you can always educate people!). On college campuses, esp students, are cases worth noticing since in this life people do make choice with minimum social pressure on their head.

When people are just individuals, choice theory become more relevant. Though it assumes that if a large number of choices are given, people will make an informed choice which is better for them. But some time earlier, a study was done by Sheena Iyengar (you tube video) which is worth noticing is making shock waves in economics and social circles.

Here is about this study by Aditya Chakarbarty who writes in Guardian Newspaper, CIF

Take dating, for example. Iyengar asked men and women to put down what they were looking for in a soulmate – the usual criteria of being kind or sporty; possessor of driving ambition or just GSOH. Given profiles of 10 potential partners, they chose according to type: twinkly-eyed bookish types found someone to swap paperbacks with, while sporty Neanderthals presumably landed their ideal tennis partners.

Presented with 20 profiles, however, people chose their partners on looks alone. All those carefully thought out conditions about the person they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with were gone, buried under the number of the options available.

Perhaps you are jaundiced enough to believe that romance is always just a euphemism for earthier appetites. In which case, shame on you – but you might be more worried by this finding, recounted by Iyengar in her book The Art of Choosing. When Sweden privatised its social security programme in 2000, it encouraged workers to choose how to invest their pension contributions, rather than leave it in a default fund. Two-thirds did so and, overwhelmed by choice, they usually chose disastrously. Workers put their retirement money in whatever stocks were fashionable at the time, or their own employers’ shares. Their choices underperformed the default fund by 10% over three years, and 15% after seven. Such pronounced divergences can mean the difference between a comfortable retirement and a miserable old age.

Is it to say if are given a lot of choices, we will simply choose the best option which is considered best for us by others (Hey, His babe is hot man!) without being able to judge which is better for us? Well here in IIT, We know the answers well before they came up with this studies. Come to see IIT counseling, every years our top rankers follows the same pattern, UG’s or PG’s. Girls or boys (save some freaks, of course. Mostly doing different things to assert their individuality – I like them.). And amazing we are the people who seem to understand that "W
e are what we choose" (at least to put on Facebook or tweeter). Funny!  

[1] On honor killing in India,  and

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top