Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Some advice on Arranged Marriages
I was married eight years back. It was an arranged marriage; people think (especially abroad) that arranged marriages are very easy and that you do not have to make any effort. Let me narrate my experience and you can judge for yourself:
The very first problem I faced was managing my hair. I had it all nicely turned and everything so that I had the 50s samathu payyan (good boy) look. I spent atleast two hours before the mirror trying to adjust every individual strand of hair. I had no idea how my potential future wife would judge my looks. I knew vaguely that they did not like the Albert Einstein hairstyle.
Well, after this struggle, I got into the car and sat, stupidly, in the window seat. So my hair ended up looking, indeed, like Einstein. I hoped that the woman liked physics.
It is best, in my mind, to keep the affair as low-key as possible. I was sure that the girl would not like me. I would be lucky if she did not throw up on seeing me and hated every word that I spoke. So, I did not want one of the huge movie style episode in which a bunch of my relatives and a bunch of her relatives, plus all her neighbors show up to watch me getting rejected.
I actually wanted to meet her in a restaurant in a remote corner of the city so that only the waiters would know, but no one would leak the matter to the press. But when I asked for this specifically, I was accused by my parents of being an un-Indian brat. Her parents did not like the idea either - they thought I would kidnap their daughter. They wanted the full glory.
Thus, my ONE attempt at trying to influence the course of my own marriage and life failed. I stopped trying after that.
So, we ended up at her home. Luckily there were not too many people around. I got out of the car and ran in before the tabloids could take photographs.
I sat in a nice elevated chair and kept my head down. Her brother sat in a corner and kept looking at me with an impassive face. Let me tell you what he reminded me of: In American movies they show a secret CIA interrogation room where one inscrutable American sits silently in the corner while they try to get information from the terrorist. At the end he usually walked over and banged the terrorist's head on the table until he revealed the location of the bomb.
Her brother never took his eyes off me the whole time and never said anything. He rarely says anything to me even after 8 years of the marriage.
Her mother and sister buzzed about and we all tried to make conversation. I tried a few jokes. But I was waiting for my future wife to show up.
I had spent a lot of time (the previous day) in front of the mirror trying to see the angle in which I looked good. I was sure that there must be atleast one angle out of the 360 degrees where my face would show up handsome. So I tried each one of those angles until I found that there was one particular way, if I raised my head and bent my face to the left - I looked absolutely dashing. Turn a little bit to the right or left and the "effect" was gone. I could see myself only from a corner of my eye in the mirror, but I was sure I had hit upon the ideal way to present myself to my future wife.
Now, sitting in front of her whole family, I tried to find that angle again. I was almost there when the door opened and my future wife walked in. She did not look at me at all. She sat in a chair and studiously avoided looking at me.
So we both sat like statues while the rest of them had fun.
The one advice I would give you, the future arranged marriager, is to AVOID eating mixtures (this is a south-indian dish), while you are on a "girl-seeing" episode. It is a nasty trick played by the bride's family. They are trying to judge your mechanical competence. There is absolutely NO way to eat the mixture without a)looking uncool or b) spilling most of it on oneself. If they offer you the mixture, politely say no. If they insist, tell them you know their dirty trick.
Do not drink coffee either. They will offer a very full cup of coffee and figure out how scared you are when your hand shakes. Ask for half a cup; if they offer anymore, throw it on your brother-in-law. That will teach them.
There are several misconceptions about arranged marriages. Movies show the guy and the girl falling in love immediately; then pining for each other while the evil villain takes the girl to a mountain cave. The truth is that you don't really feel anything when you look at her. Your goal at that point is to get out of a really awkward situation. There is no place for love. It is a tough world out there.
After some time, they suggested that we talk to each other. This is the most liberal advancement in the institution of arranged marriages in the last two thousand years - they allow us people to talk.
So, me and her went to the terrace. It was evening time and the terrace was cool. It was very romantic except for the airport close by. There were flights zipping over us every five minutes.
I had prepared a long speech to her. It went something like this:
"I do not have much experience in this. I like your family. Let me say something about myself. But before that, I want you to be assured that you may say no to me without any reservations. You do not have to marry me out of compulsion. But that does not mean that your family compels you. I am just saying, if your family is of the type that comples daughters, then if they compel you to marry me, you can freely say no. This does not mean that I suspect your family of tyranny. No, no, on the other hand I like your family a lot. But it is all circumstances. Instead if you say yes to me because of compulsion, then our life may not be that happy. No, I am not saying that I will torture you. But I am just saying that if I do...."
I forgot most of the speech when I sat there. It sounded like a PhD dissertation.
Anyway, I started with "I don't have much experience in this"
My wife said, "It is not as if we are all sitting here with lots of experience."
That was it. We ended up chatting for an hour and by the end of it, I wanted to stay at their home.
PS: Apparently there is a rule as to the decent time when you can get back to the girl's family and let them know you like her. Say you see the girl on Monday evening at around 6 PM. Then the decent interval is to let their family know Tuesday afternoon at 3 PM. If you do it any sooner, they think you are too needy. If you do later, the girl may be married off to someone else. The optimum time interval is the above.
I did not know this. We got into the car and I started badgering my family about the marriage date.