Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Great Indian marriage dilemma

‘The only thing constant in life is change’ goes the popular saying. Indeed, life always presents us with situations where we have to make decisions. These decisions have the potential to change our life either inconsequentially or in a big way. Marriage is one of them. Indeed, given the potential marriage can be a life altering change; a change which will either take you to new heights or plunge you into unknown depths of despair.

A few years back, I was working as a technical lead for a project belonging to a reputed Australian Banking account in a multinational IT company. One day it so happened that a delegation from the client side paid us a visit. After the perfunctory meetings and presentations, lunch was arranged. Being a senior resource and having considerable experience in the project, I was one of the lucky few among-st the senior management chosen to host the delegation for lunch. So we all went to this classy restaurant where a huge table was arranged for us. Seated just opposite to me was a high level director from the Bank and next to me was a colleague, also a senior member of the project. We were nervous and hesitant to begin with, seated in close proximity to such a big-shot. But to his credit, our visitor was very genial and put us at ease right from the start. We soon started conversing about various topics. During the course of our conversation my colleague revealed that his marriage was fixed and wedding bells were due the coming month. 

Our visitor was all smiles and congratulated him. “Hearty Congrats Mate!”, he said happily. “So wedding bells ringing for you next month eh?? Who’s the lucky girl, if you don’t mind me asking?”

My Colleague replied, “Oh not at all! She is working as an engineer in a software company in Bangalore.”

“That’s great!”, the Client said and continued “So it must be a great feeling, marrying your sweetheart.”

My Colleague, a bit traditional and orthodox in nature blushed a bit and replied, “It’s actually an arranged marriage.”

“Hmm …. of course a marriage has to be ‘arranged’ doesn’t it? Can’t just wake up one day and marry someone on the spur of the moment can you?” our visitor said jovially, in between spoonfuls of tomato soup.

“Oh no, it’s not like that.”, my colleague replied, blushing even deeper now. “My parents have met her parents and they approved the alliance.”

“If your parents like the girl, that’s even better. To think what a tough time I had convincing my prospective father in law when I wanted to marry my girlfriend! ”, our visitor said. He was not getting the picture at all.

Hitherto a mute witness to the conversation, I decided to pitch in. “What he means to say is that this marriage is fixed by his parents and not initiated by him.”, I said.

At first our visitor looked at me with a puzzled expression and then the truth dawned upon him. He almost dropped the soup-spoon in the bowl. “Really mate?”, he exclaimed wide eyed with surprise. “You’re telling me that you’re marrying this girl whom you haven’t met before?”, he asked my colleague incredulously.

My Colleague nodded his head sheepishly.

Seeing the bewildered expression on our visitors’ face, I proceeded to explain to him the entire mechanics of the Indian Marriage Machinery, right from start to finish. It went something like this:
  • Boy / girl both come of ‘suitable’ age
  • Boy is ‘settled’ in career and draws a good salary.
  • Girl has completed education and preferably is also working.
  • Parents take a call and decide to search for an alliance for their child
  • Boy / girl’s profile is set up in various matrimonial sites.
  • Word is spread in the market and among friends and relatives to search for a suitable match
  • Parents start searching for profiles and evaluate proposals received by them (Search criterias are a bit dicey for example 'A blend of traditional and modern values'  - but I will cover that later).
  • After ‘n’ number of screenings and rejections, parents zoom across a suitable profile (There are a lot of ifs and buts to judge suitability, but I will cover that later) and contact the persons mentioned in it for taking the matter forward
  • Boy / Girl throw a spanner in the works by revealing about an affair which they have kept secret till now.
  • Flustered parents either bend to their children’s will or oppose it.
  • If the latter holds true then boy/girl elope and marry secretly.
  • If the above three points are not true then the search continues.
  • Broad minded parents will show the profiles of the people selected to their sons / daughters for their approval before proceeding further, the others don’t.
  • Then phone calls take place. Parents speak to the boy / girl’s parents and speak to the boy / girl themselves in some cases and proceed further if satisfied.
  • Then come the meetings. Parents arrange for a meeting between the boy and the girl with themselves in close proximity. Boys’ parents have a chance to see the girl and vice-versa.
  • Girl’s father eyes the boy sternly and evaluates his career prospects and gauges the boy’s confidence in general.
  • Boy’s parents evaluate the girl for her homeliness and nature.
  • Broad minded and considerate parents arrange for the boy and girl to chat in private. The others don’t.
  • Like SRK’s seventy minutes in ‘Chak De’, the boy / girl have a similar period of time or lesser to chat and evaluate whether he/she is the perfect soul-mate.
  • A lot of questions are asked in that limited window of time and most of the time the boy / girl cannot reach a conclusion. A few extra meetings are arranged.
  • If the answer is negative from any / both parties then like a programming go-to loop, the search starts all over again.
  • If the answer is in the positive from both parties (usually the yes/no comes from their parents) then parents consult the family astrologer, compare horoscopes and find a suitable date for marriage.
  • Invitations are printed and sent across to all and sundry.
  • Preparations start in earnest and wedding shopping starts.
  • Some parties hold a small engagement ceremony while others don’t.
  • Girl’s father searches for suitable venues.
  • Date of marriage happens to be a very auspicious date and nearly all marriage halls are booked.
  • After a lot of running around, the girl’s father finally happens to find a venue and books it.
  • Marriage date approaches and the relatives start pouring in.
  • Finally D-day arrives and the marriage takes place a midst great pomp and ceremony.
And so I concluded. Our client was a good listener and drank in all that I said.

“Aaah!”, he said after I had finished, his face showing comprehension. But it was a very deep and guttural ‘Aaah’. I guessed his mind must have been in a kind of a tizzy digesting this piece of information.

“And the girl? I guess, she should be fine with it too.”, he asked my colleague after recovering a bit.

“Oh yes, of course!", my colleague replied. "Her parents have approved and so she is fine.”

Again our visitor replied with an ‘Aaah’, this one deeper than the last. I guessed he must have felt some sort of pity for the girl.

“That’s cool.”, he replied at length and I thought he wouldn’t discuss this topic further. But I guess his curiosity got the better of him and he couldn't resist asking my colleague another question.

“Err …. So have you spoken to her then? You know … about compatibility issues and all that.”

“We have shown our Jaatakams to the astrologer. It is a good match. There are nineteen points matching for both of us.”, my colleague replied confidently.

My client looked at me with an expression akin to a man who was drowning in the sea and begging me to throw a line. I couldn’t blame him.

“He means the girls’ and his horoscopes match perfectly.”, I explained.

This time he said another ‘Aaah’. If the previous ‘Aaah’s were anything to go by, this one would have been the mother of them all.
“So that’s how it works here.”, he said after I concluded. His countenance showed some relief as the air of mystery was cleared somewhat.

“You must find all this a bit strange.”, I said.

“Oh not at all! Each country has its own traditions.”, the client covered up, being a thorough gentleman.

“So how’s it down under?”, I asked, wanting to change the topic.

“Well down under it’s a bit different.”, he replied. “Kids usually become independent in their teens and start looking out for jobs to self-finance their education and their careers. They move out and become independent. They eventually find their soul mates on their own and settle down in life.”

It was my turn to say ‘Aaah’.

We did not discuss much on this topic for the rest of our meal, much to my relief. Our visitor probably felt that he had ventured too much into unknown territory. Whatever the reason, this conversation left a deep impact on my mind.

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