As I breathe and think and dream

Second Chances in the Land of Arranged Marriages

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These days a good friend of ours is going through a tough phase. On the surface, one would think that the guy has everything to be elated about – he is newly married with a pretty wife and they are very much in love. However all is not well. The guy is gutted as his marriage has created a rift between him and his family. When he had introduced his girlfriends to his parents, his family took exception to the fact that the girl was a divorcee. They told him in no uncertain terms that such a girl would never be accepted into the family. Despite that, he decided to honor the promises he had made to his girlfriend and married her in a simple civil ceremony. Ever since, his family has cut off all ties with him. All his overtures have received nothing but cold silence from the other end. Needless to say, he is pretty cut up about this. He is trying his best to lead a normal happy life with his wife in Melbourne but he cannot help but worry over the situation with his parents back in India.

You see love marriages are still a rarity in India. In a recent wedding survey conducted by the Taj Group of Hotels, it was found that 75% of people in India still prefer arranged marriages. There is no doubting that such marriages are convenient – especially in a culture were marriages involve whole families rather than individuals. Arranged marriages are fixed by the family who choose the best bride/groom based on caste, class, financial and family background. It is somewhat like a recruiting the best candidate for a vacant job position. The channels used are also similar – there are the matrimonial agencies just like recruitment agencies that have hundreds of CVs of prospective brides and grooms with them, then there are print media advertisements and matrimonial websites and last but not the least, there are the special referrals brought in by helpful extended family members, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances.


In the arranged marriage market, there are a number of things that determine the worth of an individual. Youth, good looks and a milk-white complexion make a girl very desirable. For a guy, looks do not matter much. It is more about the number of zeroes on his pay check and whether he owns a house and a car. So what happens if the bride is dusky or if is she is pushing thirty? Well, her chances of a ‘good alliance’ go down drastically. An investment banker can expect to get the prettiest maiden to have walked this earth in marriage while a ne’er-do-well is most probably destined to remain a bachelor. And yes, all matchmaking is usually done within the boundaries of one’s own community. For example, an alliance for the North Indian Punjabi groom will be sought within the North Indian Punjabi community. Likewise the Marwari community of businessmen will only marry their children within their own caste.


So what of the matters of the heart? Well, these days you do have lots of love marriages too. When I say lots, I mean in comparison to, say, the 70’s or 80’s, when alliances based on the bride and groom’s own choice were exceeding rare. In fact at that time when one far-removed third cousin married his lady love, the whole clan would talk about nothing else for years and that too in very scandalized tones. Nowadays a number of parents give in to the demands of their offspring when they want to wed the person of their choice. There are of course greater numbers of parents who forbid their children from marrying their beloved because they do not approve of them. Then in the rare minority (thankfully!) are those horrifically psychotic parents who have even been known to get their children and/or their partners killed for having married outside their own communities.

So I am sure it comes as no surprise to you that in such a societal setup, alliances with a person who has been divorced or widowed are an absolute no-no. The society does not forgive or forget. The best a divorcee can hope for is a balding widow with two grown children and heaps of debt. Seconds chances are seldom given. So now you can understand why our poor friend is so torn.  


Two years ago we had been in an almost identical situation. I was the divorcee with a past and my then boyfriend was the guy who had to break the news of our relationship to his ultra conservative Indian family. My boyfriend belonged to a family who lend a new meaning to the term ‘Boston Brahmins’. In fact they were the real deal: South-Indian Brahmins who had impeccable pedigree and wealth. Had I not had a past, even then I guess there were very slim chances of my being accepted as a daughter-in-law into such a family – I spoke the wrong language, came from the wrong region, belonged to the wrong caste. It did not help that my boyfriend was a good looking young man who was doing pretty well for himself in Australia. How could such a good family allow their beloved youngest son to marry a lowly divorcee? Surely he deserved much better! Though both of us were adults living far away from home, we were Indian enough to seek our family’s approval. Our genes dictated that my boyfriend would not be happy without his family’s support – nor would I be happy having been instrumental in taking him away from his family.

What happened thereafter seems unreal to me even to this day. His family accepted our relationship without any fuss. Of course there were lots of questions from different family members. But no-one was as horrified as I had imagined they would be and certainly no-one tried to dissuade my boyfriend from continuing with our relationship. We got married within months and all of his family was there at the wedding. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly and so far removed from the cold forbidding individuals I had imagined in my head that I almost felt ashamed!


So it seems that the ties of blood and love can actually transcend all the rules imposed by society. I suppose globalization, increased media exposure and education have all a large parts to play in this change that is gradually becoming apparent. Many times if you scan the the classified matrimonial advertisements in the Sunday newspapers these days, you will find advertisements that state  ‘Caste no barrier’ and there are a fair amount of second marriage alliances being sought in these newspapers. There is even a website for second marriages called (Shaadi is Hindi for marriage). These are small things no doubt but they are indicative of how India is changing – slowly but surely.  So when our friend talks of his sadness and feeling of helplessness, I tell him repeatedly that he need not worry. His parents should be coming around soon. 


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