Okay so this is somewhat facetious. So take it with a pinch of salt and hear me out.
I just read this book Hitched, about women in India and arranged marriages. It’s a topic I’ve been intrigued by, because till quite recently no one in my immediate family or friends circle had had one to my knowledge.* The whole idea of meeting someone briefly and getting married based on barebone facts made me very curious, and okay, uneasy. I wondered how it worked, and why educated, modern women continue to (sometimes) choose this route. As my friends and I hit our mid-20s, I saw more people in my immediate circle flirt with the arranged system but no one I knew went the whole hog, so I only got the most superficial glimpse.
The book is a series of interviews with women about their arranged marriage, mostly the whys and wherefores. I enjoyed it because I enjoy listening to jab we met stories. As expected, even though all were arranged marriages, each one was different. And yet, there were some commonalities:
- It seems that 23 is the golden age at which the hunt begins, possibly so that the “girl” will be married by 25?
- Many met in person only a couple of times before the engagement, and only after that did they meet more often, and were married within a year. In between, there were conversations on the phone or on chat/email.
- They usually moved to the husband’s place, if not his parent’s home, when married. Though there were refreshing exceptions, I’m speaking in generalities here.
- They selected their spouse based on instinct, a general sense of how he felt right.
When I was telling V about the book, and mentioned point 1, he said, “oh that’s like you.” And that got me thinking.
I met V when I was 23 and was married when I was 25. That’s a longer courtship than the typical arranged marriage, but a major part of it was spent separated because V had to move for his job. So we essentially spent one intense month in the same place. Then, like arranged marriage couples, we did a lot of telephone calls.
Okay admittedly, we visited each other once a month, and then I moved to Hyderabad so we could be nearer and we’d see each other every week, but then he moved to Hong Kong so it was long distance for a good 10 months again.
The point is, we knew each other for a couple of months before we decided to get married. And when we decided to get married, I was happy to get married the next week or the next month or whatever. And I decided to get married based on very little information and not a long association.
When V asked me to marry him, I said yes immediately based on a gut feeling that I had never had about anyone else. The same feeling a number of arranged marriage couples spoke about, about feeling right about the person. This is not a love at first sight feeling. I did not love V or even think he was perfect at first sight. But on third sight, I figured he was a solid bet. And he came closest to my ideal type.**
However, like some arranged marriage couples, I still felt the need to ask V if he could afford a house. Because at 23, working as a journalist, I sure as hell couldn’t. When I told a friend that I had agreed to marry V, she said, “What? What do you know about him? What does he do exactly? How much does he earn?” Urged by her, I asked V his salary. It was embarrassing, but although I was 23, I knew I couldn’t marry on love and fresh air. If I had dated someone from our neck of the woods, we’d be able to peg him somewhere. But V was from a different social milieu, my friends had barely met him, and so it became necessary to ask things one might not have someone from our neck of the woods.
It was understood that I’d move to Bangalore after we got married, mainly because V loathed Bombay, and I agreed partly because I realised I could not afford the lifestyle I’d like in Bombay. After we were married, I lived in my in-law’s place. Only for four or five days, after which V went back to Hong Kong and went to Hyderabad, but I’m trying to stretch an analogy here okay?
Now, obviously V and I did not have an arranged marriage. We met in a nightclub, our families did not know jack about each other until we presented them with a done deal and even then they didn’t know much because we are from different communities, we spent only over a month together in the same place, but we spent practically every moment we were not at work with each other even though I worked a night shift.
But the fact that V was a complete and total stranger when I met him, and I agreed to marry him at the age of 23 after knowing him for little over a month made me think that what we did had some similarities to an arranged arrangement, even if we did arrange it ourselves.
*Possibly the odd aunt or uncle, but even they were introduced and then sort of dated which is more liberal than some arranged marriages today sound like, even though they got hitched more than 50 years ago.
** An interesting thing someone in the book said: In your 20s, you seek out someone who is a replica of you – who shares your taste, your interests, etc. And when you’re older, you look for someone who is different from you but complements you. I’d like to think I was unusually mature in this respect, because even in my 20s, I never dated anyone who was similar to me which is where there is a dire absence of men who read in my life. V was different from me in positive ways, he was organised, sorted, calm under stress, good with numbers.