Synchronicity has been very active in my life since last Sunday when I had to visit a friend, who belongs to the same linguistic, religious and caste background as mine. His wife, meeting me for the first time, started the ball rolling. She explained that her own marriage was an arranged one, despite my friend’s siblings, six of them, all elder to him getting married to spouses that they choose and not one of them chose from within our community. My friend, being the youngest left the matter to his parents, which is more common than you would think, and duly got married to a girl chosen by them and the wife married the man chosen for her by her parents.
From all appearances, the marriage is a highly successful one with two delightful teen age children to add to the family and both husband and wife in successful careers. Many such arranged marriages do succeed but I was stumped when the lady wanted to know about my marriage and how I came to meet my late wife etc. She explained that she was too shy to ask her in laws about their so called love marriages but felt more comfortable with me considering the fact that I was her husband’s fellow alumnus. She was just curious as to how someone from our community could gather the gumption necessary to approach a girl in the first place. Her idea of typical men from her community was someone like her husband and it was only after she married him that she came to know about the very colourful background of his siblings.
For my Western readers, this may sound bizarre, but I assure you that even today, despite all exposure to modern media and Western norms, India in many ways is still traditional and people like me who break the traditions appear to be rather strange and interesting. Even highly educated women, like my friend’s wife is, do not easily mix with the opposite sex and rarely give some one any indication for any intimacy. Work place and School/College encounters are kept to the bare minimum and only to facilitate the task at hand, either the work or the education. The following instance may also seem bizarre, but I assure you that millions of Indian girls go through such experiences regularly till they are married.
That meeting was closely followed by another young lady from our community who came to discuss her problem. Her parents too had arranged for a match from a town in Tamil Nadu about 1300 Kms from here. This young man rang her up and wanted to tell her about himself and his expectations and would not let the lady have a word in edgewise till the end when he asked if she could cook our type of food and whether she had any experience looking after elderly people as his parents were both ill and he was expecting his wife to be to help in looking after them. The lady played for time and said that she would call him back after giving some thought and came directly to me to take advise from me as to how to handle the situation. She told me that it was obvious that he did not want a wife in the romantic sense of the relationship and was looking for more of a servant type of a relationship and I agreed. She was petrified that her parents may insist on the marriage going through and I advised her as to how to handle it so that she can get out of the situation without hurting anyone.
Another story of an arranged marriage before I come to the thrust of this post. My god daughter in Bangalore to had a peculiar problem. Her husband was chosen for her by her parents and his family are from a part of South India which is very orthodox and also quite old fashioned in many ways. Her husband was chosen because he had studied to become an Engineer and had got himself a job in Bangalore where my gd was also employed. My gd had been born and brought up in Bangalore and her circle of friends were compared to her husband, more urbane and modern. The problem, as crazy as it may sound to my Western readers was that the husband would come home from work and be bare bodied from waist up which is the way rural Tamil men are in their habitat. Gd was embarrassed as her neighbours and friends were teasing her about this phenomenon. She had tried to tell him to wear a t-shirt but he would not. She finally told him that she too will go topless at home if he would not change. She got beaten black and blue for the effort. It became a messy affair over all and that marriage ended up in a messy divorce after which the girl moved to Chennai to get as far away from her ex as possible. Clearly a mismatch between rural and urban expectations which with some forethought could have prevented both from going through that messy experience.
The 1,200 to 1,500 items that appear every week end across 3 or 4 pages of the biggest Indian newspapers, like The Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Dainik Jagran, are categorized by caste, religion. language and profession and lately by the quality of being “cosmopolitan.” The newspapers charge by the space used (say, 3,200 rupees for 25 words). All smaller newspapers in English and Regional languages also have such classified ads every week end and parents spend a great deal of time going through these and corresponding with prospective in laws and often alliances are made to everyone’s satisfaction.
Here is a picture of a typical page of such ads. You can click on the image to enlarge.
On the other hand, the other model of boy meets girl and they get married also is on the rise, particularly in our major cities where opportunities for that to happen exist.
Apart from the newspaper classified ads, the internet provides many matrimonial portals and apparently they too seem to produce good results in arranging marriages. You can get an idea of how popular and how many they are here.
To be continued tomorrow.