(aka.. “How I really met your mother”)
“Are you happily married?”
That was the question one of Uma’s colleagues (in the US) asked her when they found out that her’s was an arranged marriage. We were both quite amused by the question. I wondered if they thought an arranged marriage was where Uma’s parents forced her to marry me in exchange for a few goats!! I could imagine the concept of an arranged marriage being so foreign to them! In India, back then more than 95% of the marriages were of the “arranged” kind. The rest were called “love marriages”.
Typically, in an arranged marriage – the parents do the initial screening based on their particular criteria in order to narrow down the choices to arrive at a shortlist. This is their own version of “29 points of compatibility” like eHarmony etc. The parents usually look for compatibility of: education, family history, social standing, caste etc.
During my grandparents’ generation, the parents just literally arranged it and the boy and girl would see each other for the first time at the ceremony! When I say boy and girl, I literally mean a boy and girl – as they used to get married quite young. Maybe 10 – 15 yrs old or even younger. These marriages were for forming relationships with other families and to get an extra pair of hands to help out on the farm or in the house. Also, that was a time when some older guys married very young girls, by paying a sort of dowry (known as Kanyasulkam) to the girl’s parents. My maternal grandmother’s marriage was one such case that I had covered in one of my earlier blogs Our Very Own Proof of Heaven?
By my parents’ time it got a little better. They typically got a chance to meet and have somewhat of a say in the selection. Well, most likely only the guy did. Unfortunately, the girl rarely got asked! My dad was a path-breaking pioneer – he rejected the suggested local , uneducated girls from the village (who were ideal from his parents’ point of view – as they would start helping with farm work and chores right away). My dad wanted to marry an equally qualified college educated woman. For this, he did his own groundwork via “matrimonial ads” in newspapers, and finally connected with my mom’s family in the neighboring zilla (county). This was quite revolutionary back then. He was asked by his folks, “What’s wrong with all the girls in our village that you had to go all the way to the next zilla (County)?”
As for me – I was working in Iowa and had gone home to India for vacation and to attend my brother’s wedding. My parents thought that since the elder son was getting settled, it was time for me to get hitched as well! So, they suggested Uma. Uma’s family was friends of ours. They used to live across the street from us when she was in pre-school.
While the families had known each other and have been friends, we haven’t ever talked to each other before. I liked the proposal and told my parents that I wanted to talk to Uma one on one (which apparently was considered an unusual request back then, and was promptly attributed to my exposure to western culture).
One evening, my dad and I stopped by at their place for tea. Of course, this was no ordinary casual visit. It was specifically for the explicit purpose of deciding if we would be a good match. NOT for dating, but for getting married! In a sense it is like those “coffee meetups”, except it was at the girl’s house when the entire family was right there hovering around. We were expected to give the go/no-go signal at the end of that one meeting!
This is like a job interview, and like any job interview, the fact that we were sitting down for the interview meant that we both had passed the initial screening. We were trying to see if the in-person interview confirmed what was promised in the resume.
“Hmm.. he looks quite different from the photo that was sent earlier? Was it photo-shopped?”
“She looks shorter than what they claimed?”
“Is he stuttering? Is he just nervous or is that a real problem?” etc…
Even before we get to such physical and superficial tests, aspects of behavior and personality were typically checked out through 3rd party references. For e.g, if someone you know was a student in the same college as the “candidate”, you ask, “Do you know if he is a good kid?”, “Does he have any bad habits?”. Remember this was before Internet, so there were no Facebook photos of you partying at spring break or video clips of your racist rant or even videos of you helping the blind lady cross the road! So, a lot of the background checking happens through the network of family and friends. By the time we are down for “the interview” – most of the decision would already have been made.
After the initial pleasantries, Uma and I got to go to the terrace of their house for the “interview” portion of the evening!
As can be imagined, this was extremely awkward for both of us!
I quickly got to the point and covered 3 items that I considered were important:
- Are you interested in getting married to me? You are not being forced by your parents, right?
- I am very happy in the US. I like it there and have no immediate plans of coming back to India. Are you OK with moving to the US?
- I explained that I was not into religious rituals and that I would respect her beliefs whatever they may be. I expected the same tolerance for my lack of beliefs.
Finally, I asked her if she had any questions for me?
She had none..
She did answer the 3 questions to my satisfaction..
That was the end of our roof-top interview session!
Next day I told my parents that I wanted to get married to Uma. My parents informed her parents and we were engaged. I returned to the US less than a week later. All my colleagues at work were shocked that you could go on a vacation and come back engaged, just like that! Yep.. that was their first exposure to how marriages got “arranged”!
Last year, our daughter got married to someone she met in college. A “love marriage”, if you will. So, in our immediate family we’ve had a variety of marriages – from traditional arranged marriages to a love marriage!
I am guessing that you all are now curious if I am happily married? The answer is a resounding and emphatic “YES”!!
She reads my blogs… Do you think I will give any other answer? 🙂
Feel free to write about your own experiences/vignettes with arranged/love marriages below in the comments section..