Conflict develops between couples along ego-lines when their professional egos begin to overshadow and overpower their emotional relationship. When the wife becomes more successful, more famous, earns more than her husband in the same profession does, the husband’s ego finds it difficult to cope with the reality that his wife is more successful.

This came across in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film Abhimaan. The husband, at the top of the ladder, failed to accept that his wife was definitely more talented than he was. He did not know this when he married her. But later, when she stepped into public life with her singing – egged on by the same husband, she became famous and began to earn more than him. He threw her out of the home, though she had given up taking singing contracts by then since she knew it was breaking the marriage.

Danseuse-actress Mamata Shankar, daughter of the late Pandit Uday Shankar, is fortunate to have found her match in Chandroday Ghosh, a qualified engineer who gave up his profession to take on the management of his wife’s dance troupe and dance schools spread in different parts of West Bengal. He also took professional lessons in classical Indian dance and choreography. With two grown sons, the Shankars are living happily ever after.

Kishore and Rita Bhimani are both linked to the media. While Kishore is a veteran journalist, wife Rita is a high-profile public relations person. With a nearly forty-year-old marriage behind them, the couple does not seem to suffer from ego problems. “Both are very successful in their respective careers. Maybe, the fact that they did not harbour ego problems is the reason for their success in professional and in personal life,” said a close friend of the Bhimanis.

One reason for the rise in divorce rates and separation between married couples in India is that some of these couples belong to the same profession. Ironically, the vocation might have brought them together in the first place. A given couple might create a bonding through marriage in the belief that being in the same line of work would lead to a better understanding within marriage. This applies more to occupations that are too demanding of time such as medicine, or, vocations that have odd hours of work or are offbeat and unconventional.

The schisms in such marriages are easily smoothened the minute the wife gives up her vocation, either on her own volition, or, by reason of the pressures placed on her, or, because her social conditioning has taught her to place marriage before work.

Neetu Singh and Sharmila Tagore gave up their careers at the peak in an effort to keep the marriage intact. Sharmila came back but only after her children grew up.

Medicine, theatre, films, modelling, public relations, politics and advertising are a few that create spaces between couples when they happen share the profession. It takes time for Indian men and women, conditioned by patriarchy over hundreds of years, to cope with the woman rising above her husband in the same occupation. This is relatively unknown as a factor that could work against a husband-wife relationship.

Between two academics, if the husband gets a research grant from a foreign university, family and colleagues give him a fond farewell. But if the wife gets the same grant, she often has to refuse it because then, ‘the family comes first.’ So, fewer married women academics apply for research grants to study abroad than do men because they have accepted that they ‘should not leave the family for two years to get a foreign degree and earn some foreign exchange.’

Pandit Ravi Shankar was married to his guru’s daughter Annapoorna Devi, reportedly more talented than Pandit Ravi Shankar. The marriage broke up, affecting their only son so badly that he died of the after-effects of drug addiction in the US. He was married and had a son. Annapoorna Devi retreated into a shell, never to step out again. She lived a reclusive life in Mumbai and stopped teaching music. She married a student of hers, Rooshi Kumar Pandya, who, till he passed away, surrendered completely to her demand for absolute privacy of space in their shared life.

Sweeping generalizations would be unfair to women who stick to their guns despite being married after having achieved success in their respective careers. One often finds that a married couple where each partner is extremely successful is his/her respective career, works well when either is into a different vocation. But if the couple happens to be in the same profession where each vies with the other for fame, success and power, , this could lead to heartbreak, separation, divorce and perhaps, a state of leading a lonely life when one is old, tired and is desperate for company.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s wife Subhalakshmi was a talented classical dancer. But she gave up dancing when she married Amjad because her husband’s music demanded a full-time wife rather than a wife who doubled up as a classical dancer. Lakshman Shrestha’s painter wife gave up painting after she married Shrestha. Shuvaprasanna, the artist, does not pick up his brush very often these days. But wife Shipra has become amazingly creative. Will this create a schism in the marriage? How and why? How much is it fair to all concerned – to a danseuse like Subhalakshmi who gave up her career? To her audience that has missed out on her performance? To the entire dance scenario in India? Why?