Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dancing With Shiva, Part 19

(One of many couples married at a mass wedding sponsored by the Rotary Club of Kumbakonam, India, in January 1995)

Nothing is quite so appalling to Western – particularly American - social sensibilities as the arranged marriage. And in India, the majority of marriages are arranged. Extraordinary matches are referred to as "love marriages."

I spent most nights in the homes of Rotarians, and all of my host couples had been wed by the arrangement of their parents. I talked with Madan and Monisha about theirs.
"Our parents arranged our marriage, perhaps when we were babies," Monisha said.
"You see, we are cousins," said Madan. "My mother and Monisha's mother are sisters."
No wonder they looked so much alike. "So you knew each other all your lives," I said.
"No, not at all," said Monisha. "We had never met. Our parents told us about the arrangement and we met, and we liked each other."

"We knew that we wanted to marry, but we were very young, and we wanted to wait awhile," Madan said. "I told my father, 'Yes, I will marry Monisha someday,' and he became very alarmed and said that we must marry right then. I said, 'we can't marry now, we're not old enough and we want to do some other things first,' and he said that was impossible, that all the arrangements for the wedding had been made and to wait would bring dishonor on the family."
"So, we had no choice," added Monisha. "We were just 20 years old and 19, too young, and we could not understand what all the rush was about. I asked my mother why, and she said, 'Why wait?' I was very upset, but now it's OK. Our marriage is good, and it has worked out. Still, I wish we could have waited.

In Hosur, I met Chitra, a tall, elegant and somewhat sullen 20-year-old. I asked her if her parents would arrange a marriage for her. "Yes, of course, thank God," she answered. I was a little shocked at her reasons. She said that it was stupid for young people to marry based solely on their sexual attraction to each other, that this was what animals do. She abhorred the idea of dating, all the trouble and hassle to remain attractive all the time, the anxiety and desperation of trying to find someone to love.
Chitra said it was so much easier for her to relax and enjoy her youth, leaving the work and worry of finding a husband to her parents. And she trusted her parents implicitly to find a good match, a sensible man who could provide for her and whom she could grow to love.

At this time, in 1995, I had a son in college and a daughter in high school. The more I heard about arranged marriages, the more I liked the idea. Somehow, though, I didn't think "Relax, Daughter, and let me find you a good husband" would go over to well at home.

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