Thursday, June 22, 2006

Arranged Marriages.. Rants, Thoughts And Opinions

As the title suggests this is a general rant and at times my meandering thoughts about arranged marriage with a couple of personal experiences thrown it. It may not make sense but that’s me. Feel free to post your thoughts long and short, there ain’t no moderation here for the comments. :-)

I have been following for a while now the travails of a couple(1,2) of women blogging buddies. They are clearly super-sharp, funny, intelligent individuals in their own rights. They have their own dreams, hopes and aspirations like everyone else. They just happen to be Indian (ethnically) and happen to be at that age when their parents/family want them to get married. And there in begins that desi thing called “arranged marriage”. Their stories have touched me and brought forth all the reasons why I have been against arranged marraiges in general.

As most folks from the subcontinent probably know information about potential mates is achieved via family connections, contacts from the various relatives, family friends. Word may be dropped about a girl for whom a match is being sought or about the guy. Sometimes daughters may be encouraged to go along to social events such as marriages, engagements etc. It serves a purpose other than the whole “its nice to meet family, relatives and friends”. It sort of puts her out there in the public space of that community/caste as someone who is now of a marriageable age. Oh there are also marriage bureaus and newspaper ads (these are hilarious/sad/funny) and deserve their own spearate rant!

Why am I blogging about it? I am very comfortable about my roots and Indian culture that is an integral part of me. I have however always been critical about parts of it that have at times perplexed me and at others outraged me. One of those was this process or some might say spectacle of arranged marriage. It has worked (perfectly for some if you believe them) and for a lot of people it is just that fatalistic acceptance of things that seems such an integral part of Hinduism and may extend to Indian culture too (not sure about the latter though). Women accept this process despite misgivings after a while and I can see why. It drains you, it diminishes you as a person and you feel as if you are on display in a meat market. The pressure from family, peers can be suffocating making even the strong willed wilt.

In Marathi there is a term for this it is called “Kandya-Pohyacha program”. It is slang and it’s translates roughly to a snack made from puffed rice and onions (very delicious though) that is often served during the time when the groom and his family will make the trip to a potential bride’s place. This process can be a nerve racking affair, and if not done right it can be demeaning without the people participating in this cultural practice even realizing it. The woman will be analyzed for her walk, smile and every other attribute that might go into making her an “ideal” mate. Detailed questions will be asked about her, her background will be probed (past affairs, character issues), does she work, does she cook, will she be ok with not working after marrriage. These issues are also addressed for the potential groom as well, but traditionally the girl’s side is sort of the “weaker”side. The inquiries about the guys will be more subtle, discreet. Some of these questions/practices might have had a relevance at some other time. But today when women are independent financially and professionally this makes no sense. Not being a believer in caste, race and religious barriers it makes no sense to me why mature adult women and men can’t be trusted to make their own choice. Sure it may not work out but people should be left to decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives.

The arranged marriage process has morphed over period and depending upon the parties involved or the caste/culture it has acquired it’s own particular flavor. There is also something personal in this. I have seen my sister go thru this process. I wish I was more of a mature person at that point in my life and not rather the self involved guy getting a pass because he was a guy. Yes, I was rather selfish but one only grows with time and experience. Also me and sis were not close siblings. Today atleast we have a handle on that and can communicate which is a giant step I guess.

So dad was retired and she had to finish univ and there was the occasional and not always gentle reminder that she had to be married. She is amazing though, she persisted thru it all, got her degree, got a job. But that as we know is not a guarantee that you will be able to do your own thing when it comes to picking your mate is it? She did not, times were different and so are people. Arranged marriage was the way. She saw two guys. I know she hated it cos she said so, and I never spoke up strongly in support they way I do now. I don't like myself for that.

It was the “Chai Tray” (refreshments served along with tea, usually carried by the woman) scenario. The refreshments are often meant to display the girls culinary skills. I am sure there are a lot of comical or sad scenarios that happen during these. One was the guy was shorter than sis (she is tall), which was a big no-no, and what is it with the whole family and a couple of others showing up? Also I did not like the guy, no reason I guess I was just against the whole thing. Also there was no one on one meeting.

The next guy she saw was the one she said yes to and they have been married for almost 2 decades now. I won’t talk about it but suffice to say that it only made me even more wary about arranged marriage.

Ok so I was still at university then not financially independent at all (almost broke might be the right term), and I was getting marriage proposals. There were just 2, till I told my parents that I did not want to deal with the arranged marriage thing and would probably find my own mate. And Voila! being a guy I had the freedom to do so (not to mention I can be stubborn too and get my way). Talk about double standards eh? One of the proposals made it’s way thru the myriad family and relatives network to my mom. I was like whoa who is she? She is in your class at univ and she told me her name. To say that I did a doubletake would be putting it mildly. I knew her enough to say hello, but nothing more. I was shocked too cos I had no job, I was not done with my studies and I seemed to hang out with a crazier crowd. And her folks thought I was marriage material? May be they saw future potential in me? They had more confidence in me then than I had in me that time and believe me I did not think beyond a month max, when it came to life.

And talking about parents, we had these relatives whose sole aim seemed to be marrying their two daughters off to US/Canada based guys. I mean WTF! Did they ask the girls what they thought? Weren’t there eligible guys in India? Maybe they figured marrying them off to Indians abroad automatically catapaulted their daughters to a better life and them by virtue of “Oh look their daughters are married and settled abroad”. I hardly knew the girls, all I know is their parents did not make it to our wedding cos cousin J (their daughter) was getting married to this guy Mr.X who had just come down to India. That was fast, I mean it literally. The whole thing happened in I think 2 weeks, she met the guy twice. I met the guy once at a wedding. I remember it was a warm, humid day and he was dressed in a turtleneck and jeans. Hmm a turtle neck in 34 deg centigrade humid weather? Also after being introduced it was hard to get a word out of the guy. It was like man get me outta here, I would rather be someplace else.
So when I came to the US, I was encouraged to talk to him by his mom-in-law. She said “Oh you should talk to him he is such a nice guy, you will find him a good resource in a foreign land”. So I call him and I could only get 1-2 syllable replies from him. That has been my only interaction with him todate. We also periodically heard concerns about problems in the marriage and how the parents were so worried about J. Well it all seems to have worked out ok (cars,family, house, kids). I mean it all looks right.. right?

There is the argument that arranged marriages have worked which is no reason to ignore the fact that they have left in their wake broken dreams, aspirations, hearts and more. Dadoji has said that they work if they are done right. What is right? Allowing the couple to meet more than a couple of times (outside of family) to figure out if they can spend the rest of their lives together? This works? What about guys putting on their best foot/face/mask on and perhaps the woman too? Is it easy to wade thru all that to get at the essence of a person? Isn’t it still a crapshoot?

I am not by any means suggesting that marriages born from the elaborate rituals of wooing, dating, falling in love (rinsed and repeated often at times) are by any means perfect. The point of this rant is that unlike arranged marriages, the parties involved are going in with a much better understanding of one another, of each other’s likes, dislikes, that they will grow as people with each other and presumably love the whole process. Not to forget that they are already in love, unlike in the arranged thing where you say yes, get engaged and married. If you are lucky you fall in love after the act, if not you are two relative strangers trying to make out barely knowing each other. I guess love comes after that? I for one was not willing to go this route. But the point is the freedom of choice which comes from the non-arranged route.

While I am in this minefield of a topic, I might as well mention that while marriage as an institution has survived for ages, it is under stress… yet it endures. Stress from the failings of human nature, pressures of modern life and if you were willing to believe the Neanderthals on the Christian right or any other fundamentalist stripe, the Gays!!!!!
I, as you may be aware believe that the gay threat to marriage is just good ole fashioned bigotry dressed up as something else.
I am not going to wade in to the whole issue of co-habitation without marriage, or the comforting numbness/feelings/glow of two married individuals being together for many years.

I have said it before that this can happen in any relationship, but then atleast it would be your own choice, as opposed to something foisted upon you by your parents/family with the all the attendant pressures under the guise of culture, tradition et al?

I was lucky enough to meet *A*, but then luck only is a small part of it. It took me some effort and courage to abandon an inherent shyness and a fear of rejection of it not working out.

So if you like someone go with it I say, and you will find within yourself the courage to buck traditions and break down walls that suffocate you. There is no reason to go with a custom that provides an illusion or a promise of comfort. Change is not easy but it begins with one person and no matter what you hear or are told, we have it in us to do whatever it takes.

Oops that was one heck of a long read. Thanks to those of you who managed to finish reading it.


Teri said...

That was a realy interesting post. I have a whole bunch of reactions to it - when I sort through how many are cultural things and how many are somethings else, I'll leave a, ummm, deeper response.

karmic_jay said...

@ Teri.. Thanks. Would love to hear your thoughts.

starry nights said...

Just stopped to say hello. nice post.In the end of it all the two have to live together and I really cant say that arranged marriages are good or bad.because there are failures in both , arranged and love. I think the family should introduce the two and then leave it up to them to decide,it may be love at first sight or it may grow.As you said arranged marriages are going through a lot of stress.

freespirit said...

That sure was one loooong rant! I went thru this phase where my mum made it her life's mission to put up my profile on every available desi matrimonial site which was visited by some terribly strange men! (An account available on my blog in Nov 2005 archives!)

The irony is some arranged marriages do work in these day and times! A 22 yr old cousin of mine actually chose to go with arranged marriage, not due to lack of offers from the boys (quite the contrary actually), or parental opposition for that matter. She simply decided arranged marriage is what she wants and is today happily married and settled in Tokyo!

Aditi said...

Well my views on this are already well documented... =)

Keshi said...

**. I won’t talk about it but suffice to say that it only made me even more wary about arranged marriage.

so sounds like it was not such a great marriage.

Arranged marriages too could be just like a love-marriage if the couple see each other for a while and get to know each other. When is happens after falling in love and not just cos parents suggested it was a good match for ya.

But Im with you...if something goes wrong in ur marriage, it sure wud feel less regretful if it was ur choice of partner, rather than ur parents'. I personally dun like arranged marriages..thats why my mum loses it with me all the time :)


Shitrint said...

that was an amazing post jay!
a bit long tho, but thats ok!
well, i see my cousins and all going thru the same ritual and i hav staunchly told my parents im not going the same way. and theyre pretty okay with it.
its really balderdash-the arranged marriage thing-society has two sets of norms, different for the boy and different for the girl and that sucks!
i completely agree with u on this one!

oh btw, did u get a reply to the letter you wrote to ur parents? they must hav been overwhelmed!

Manic Street Preacher said...

i'd like to say 98 million things in here.
but lemme bring it down to this...i HOPED i'd read somethin like this. well done...!! its DUMB to "come around", circumscribe and pretend it all ok. i know all about the "display in the meat market". ive seen ppl. my cousins, ya know.
awesome post.
ps:best wishes for A and u...:)

Alter Abhishek said...

I started to comment.. but ended up blogging about the same..

"The Suitable Mate"
:) check it out...

karmic_jay said...

@Starry nights, thanks for stopping by. I guess you are suggesting family apporoved dating of sorts? :)
I think they are adults and should do fine on their own.

@Freespirit, thansk for stopping by. I will certainly read your archived post. I agree some arranged ones do work.

@Aditi. :-)

@Keshi. Ye they have had problesm. But things seem ok now. I hope you can change your mom's mind and do your thing too. :)

@shitrint. Thanks. I aven't heard. My dad dis see he was gonna send us a letter that was directed to us, but ended at their address. So we shall see if he writes. It's just hard to communicate with them at times. Will keep ya posted. :)

@Manic. Thanks

karmic_jay said...

Alter.. will do. thanks :)

Dadoji said...

KJ: That's a very good post.
I am quite busy today but I am also pondering over whether to comment here or post on my blog. Will be back once I have made up my mind. That I have to and will comment/blog is a given.

Mr. J said...

Ahh dude, was a pleasure reading this post..

Lol, I got a couple of marriage proposals too, just cos I work abroad. Damn, more than parents, it's the nosy relatives who try to screw things up by getting hasty.

As you said, being a guy, it's easy to get away. Sad.. but that's how it is.

karmic_jay said...

@Dadoji. Thanks. Feel free to comment, if you write up a post. I will update my post to reflect that.

@Me. Thanks. I know what you mean. And I hate that people thought that way. Atleast you are wrokign now. Man when I got those proposals I was a broke student. I never had more than 20 in my pocket. And people thought I was marraige material for their daughter? FEH!

~River~ said...

Very good post. Of course, it helps that I agree totally with you. I have always been against the arranged marriage thing. I cannot imagine how one can plan to meet, dress up, go through elaborate religious rituals in order to end up having sex with a complete stranger and then stay with him/her for ever!!!

Dadoji said...

Back again. I think I will comment as I do not want to change the top post on my blog for this.

Okay, there isn't much to disagree on. Let me just expand on what I mean by the right way.

Let me start by saying that mine is a love marriage and so is my sisters'. Both happy marriages. Despite that I see merit in arranged marriage though I prefer love marriage. In fact, what I am about to say applies equally to both.

1. People continue to discover each other even after years of togetherness so how much time to know right/wrong is an entirely personal and subjective matter.

2. For people who don't/won't go about finding their own partners, arranged marriage offers an option and so not to be dismissed.

3. The debate needs to be over how it is handled and not whether it is a viable option. Especially since love marriages also crumble and there are also arranged marriages going strong. By strong I do not mean "looks-right-must-be-right" type strong.

4. When I started thinking of what I meant by right, I thought in terms of my parents. Theirs was an arranged marriage though almost all my aunts found their mates. I thought of what my parents would have done for me and my sis. They would have treated us both equally in this matter as they did in most other matters. The bias - if any - used to be in her favour and against me.

5. What my parents would have done would have been the right way. They regarded both their children as mature and capable adults from quite an early age (I made all my decisions since the age of 10). So, they would have helped us by bringing in/sending out proposals, shortlisting candidates on some very basic parameters that we would have agreed on up-front, talked to us, listened to us, facilitated the meeting (with the family and also alone), encouraged us to have more meetings if we liked the person, offered their opinion when asked (unless they felt very strongly negative about someone for specific reasons). They would have been totally supportive if we decided to wait though they would very gently and genuinely mention their concern once in a while (once a month maybe?). They would be okay if we had decided not to marry as long as we arrived at that conclusion.

6. I don't know what my children will do but I intend standing by them in a similar manner as long as they are able to articulate what they want/don't want. As long as the children are clear the parents should take a back-seat. Sometimes it is when the children do not appear to be clear that parents get the impetus to take the matter in their own hands lock, stock and barrel though often it is because of how a particular family/generation has always been.

7. Lastly, I must talk about this feeling of being a commodity wrt marriage bureaus, websites etc. Look, they are all in the business but it is upto us to find the right bureau/website and put up our profile properly. I mean, if one wants to get married and one is not confident of finding one's mate then why not seek help from those who have made it their business. Ultimately the choice rests with you and not with the bureau/website. So, if one is smart enough in sifting through the proposals, where does this commodity business come in?

8. Lastly, I see women give too much importance to what idiots (read men) say or ask - and then feel hurt. Why take the idiots seriously? Sorry but this is about being a true feminist as opposed to claiming to be a feminist. Now go on and tell me I don't know what I am talking about because I am not a woman and I wouldn't ever be one.

Aditi said...

hats off to dadoji as well

M (tread softly upon) said...

Wsa going to comment here but it started getting long and boring. Therefore took it to my blog. You can read it here
This one was worth the wait.

opinionatedinjerzee said...

wow! what are you a novelist now!! took me forever to read that!! lol!! but i agree and have posted a few months ago about arranged marriages.. i think they are crazy, and if someone says they are happy then i have to second guess that!!!

karmic_jay said...

@River thanks.

@Dadoji. I still prefer that people find their own mates.

If people don't want to go thru it thats their thing.

If you mean by proper handling is parents and community get them together and enough time and space is given for the couple to decide?
Then that is sort of like dating take the parents out of the equation. Also your parents might treat you well, but what about the whole process where prospective folks look at you? They don't offer you the guarantee that it will be "right".
Dont attach oo much importance to what some men say? Words can hurt and one has to think about what they do. So women have to ignore everything that some men, often in a position of power in a societal heirarchy say?
Commodity. i refer to this as in what happesn when prospective grooms come to look at potential brides.

@M, I will get to your post soon :)

@opin, Sorry pal :) I remember your post now that you mention it.

karmic_jay said...

Dadoji.. Also look at the commodity business here. Tread softly upon offers a real life example.
Cos not everyone does things smart or right.

karmic_jay said...

Also women have been asked by prospective grooms or their families of they are virgins. Isn't that commodification of sorts?
Isn't the implication here that by preferring a bride who is a virgin the people are looking at some thing "new". Don't tell me that this is not objectifying a woman?

Cacophoenix said...

The system is not foolproof and the people take advantage of it and abuse it. I am not against either type of marriages. Arranged marriages are not what they used to be. uh... Gosh my thoughts are running ahead of my fingers. I will jsut put up a post on it. Nic ediscussion though.

Teri said...

Okay, I've sorted out my thoughts. I was trying to decide if my reactions to arranged marriage were some sort of cultural imperialism (It's wrong because we don't do it), or something deeper. Then I thought about things like debutante balls, which are basically the same thing - parading young women in front of potential mates: look at how well she carries herself, etc., etc...

So, I'm back to my gut reaction. It's just wrong - it treats women as a commodity. All humans should have the right to self-determination.

Id it is said...

Interesting, but surprising that women can allow themselves to be paraded thus. Arranged marriages would be ok if they were not partial to the one side.

karmic_jay said...

@cacophoenix.. thanks for your comments.

@Teri..I agree it should be about choice.

@id. Women may not always be able to have the pwer to say no in these situations. All the cultural, societal, family pressures are not easy to throw off.

Enyur said...

Great post! Something that a lot of desi's can relate with. I know I can. Turning 26 this month, has added to my parents worries! The interesting thing is that they are not the type of parents that would put me through the ordeal of catering tea and samosas to the guy's side. They want me to be happy, so they respect my decision, when a potential suitor does come over, I get to talk to him and see if we can take it a step further. Unfortunately, most of the guys that I have met have been total jerks and time-wasters. So I know that this whole arrange marriage process is not working out for me but at the same time, I'm looking around myself as well and well, I am keeping options open. If I meet someone someone on my own, then that's great, and if I find someone through my parents, then that's fine with me. I think what matters the most is that there be 'compatibility' between both. Nobody should have to be forced in the relationship.

And I agree with you about the process being demeaning. The whole idea about observing how the girl walks, stirs the tea etc is just downright wrong!

Dadoji said...

I have clearly said that I, too, prefer people finding their own mates. I said without any ambiguity that I was arguing favour of AM as an option.

Yes, it would be sorta like dating except that there would be help available. I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Nobody offers you the guarantee that it will be "right" - only you can yourself and that too not always.

Not only ignore - either you fight it or you ignore it. Don't wail about it is what I am saying. Needless to say, there are levels to which ignorance works e.g. if a person whistles at me I will choose to ignore it but if the same person starts getting too close for comfort I cannot ignore it. Subjective unfortunately but there you go.

Why do woman accepts this "position of power in a societal heirarchy" in the first place? That is precisely what I meant by not being a true feminist. It's all about "dum". Instead of arguing against AM, we need to make efforts so that successive generations of women have that degree of self-confidence.

My point about commodity is very simple - you cannot prevent others from thinking of you as a commodity but you can certainly believe that you are not and that the other person is wrong. If you do that, you realise what the other person is doing but it wouldn't hurt you. It's like what Feynmann said - what do you care what others think.

When I was young I would not tolerate the concept of arranged marriage and found my soulmate at a very early age. Now, even after being in a happy marriage I can see that AM can be made to work in and under certain conditions. I will, therefore, not discard that option.

Bottomline: I will go with enyur's

If I meet someone someone on my own, then that's great, and if I find someone through my parents, then that's fine with me. I think what matters the most is that there be 'compatibility' between both. Nobody should have to be forced in the relationship.

instead of saying AM sucks. And for the record, yes I have seen such cases that worked.

karmic_jay said...

@Enyur..Thanks. I respect your folks for giving you that option. I hope things work out for you.

@dadoji. Cool. You are entitled to yuor opinion and I am to mine. If people find a better way to do things, which may be a mix, thats good.

As for women accepting their situation. I would say don't ignore the conditions that cause that acceptance. The weight of culture, tradition, customs, peer and familial pressure i shard to overcome.
Assume a woman "accepts", how easy do you think change is for her offspring? She is has to have an open minded husband, who has to also agree to buck all of what I mentioned before. All I am saying is change is hard, and why not call for it regardless of the fact that it "works".
Enyur can do it cos she has also has supportiv parents, what if she did not? Anyways enjoy the weekend.

Dadoji said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dadoji said...

With compliments