ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Marriage, Language and Time

Toward an Ethnography of Nibhaana

If marriage is posited as a temporal rupture, what is the nature of its "before" and "after"? Focusing the ethnographic gaze on this temporal shift in the course of fieldwork in a Delhi neighbourhood, this paper argues that marriage becomes an ontological site for the doing of life itself. Further, the time of after marriage is marked by the work of nibhaana in a multiplicity of enactments that go beyond English equivalents such as the observance of or abiding by norms. The centrality of nibhaana also suggests that the ethicisation of any relationship of two people would still be based on a grammar of dutiful observance, sacrifice, categorisations of fidelity, labour and openness to a life of contingent events. Although linked with resignation and a generalised negativity, in its complex demands, nibhaana calls for new terms of engagement across feminist writings to envision non-essentialist recordings of what being married entails.

This paper is based on one of the chapters of my ongoing PhD thesis on “The Contemporary Meanings of Marriage”. I wish to thank Satish Deshpande for his extensive comments on the chapter from which the paper is drawn. I am also grateful to Mary E John and Kalpana Kannabiran for their comments and suggestions.

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