arranged love marriage

IMG_5263, originally uploaded by seekingsol.

One of my students recently quipped, “…arranged marriages give me faith in marriage.”

And as quickly as I agreed with her, I wondered, “what a once-foreign idea with which I have so naturally nodded my head in agreement!”

It’s one of the subjects on India of which I find to be the fullest of misconceptions and unfounded, ethnocentric judgments. But I never wag a finger at a new student of India when he or she comments, “Can you just imagine?! Not marrying for love?!”

Because I know my students will soon enough be living with Indian families, surrounded by Indian brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. And that each of these family members will have his or her own story to tell which will illustrate that there’s a lot more hidden variables in marriage math. I have enormous faith that my students, too, will not just learn, but witness that Love, in the East or the West and regardless of method, is still just as likely to find itself on the other side of the equal sign in the wedded equation.

My first Hindi teacher is 24 years old and was married last year. Aside from a 1×1 inch passport photo, he did not see the face of his bride until after his marriage to her. My second Hindi teacher has been happily married for 41 years. He didn’t glimpse even a photo of his wife until hours after the wedding rituals were completed. What do these two men and generations have in common? A respected cultural tradition that accepts and pursues (with great faith) a committed and self-sacrificing investment in the lifetime partnership of parenthood.

I’ve visited and shared meals with both families. The young couple is no less caring, loving, and challenging-yet-functional, than any of my friends’ young married relationships. The older couple has not a single less story of compassion, sacrifice, tolerance, perseverance or tender love than that of our own Western parents.

What my student was saying is, “if people here can have perfectly successful and loving (arranged) marriages with someone they don’t even know, doesn’t that mean that opportunity exists for ANY two persons?”

(Whether we actually have an advantage in being able to choose our partner is then what becomes debatable!)

Let me provide two interesting linguistic examples that illustrate some of the differences on East and West perceptions in regards to their definitions of two of life’s most important social pillars; I’m going to start with “religion,” but stay with me as I’ll then return back to, “marriage.”

Hinduism in India is actually not as much a religion as it is a culture and way of life. Even the name, “Hinduism” was originally only a term created to characterize the, “people of the Indus Valley.” So essentially, it was a name invented by outsiders to categorize a group of people with a different “way of life” in order to differentiate it from their own.

If you you keep this definition in mind, it begins to make sense why there is no word in its scriptures or pressure within the “religion” to cultivate the spread of Hinduism. Nor can one, even of his or her own choice, really “convert” to being a Hindu. And finally, this would also perhaps provide logical reason for why there are no historical accounts of war or violence in the name of “saving” or “forcing” a group of non-Hindus to convert to practitioners of the “faith” of Hinduism.

For that would, plainly, be silly. It would be like Italians invading Montana and forcing them to make their pasta from scratch and drive scooters. Silly. And so if you translate religion to “culture” or, “way of life” then it makes perfect sense why on, more than one occasion, I have found different Indian persons challenging me with…

“What do you mean, you have no religion? Do you not have parents? Were you not born in a country?”

Because despite my soft claims that, “I chose to stop being, practicing and calling myself a Christian when I was 21,” this sentence is no more rational to an Indian than me saying, “I stopped being an American when I was 21.”

Let me interject my disclaimer now that this understanding is only my own; it’s a subtle and simple (and perhaps opinionated) observation that I’ve only hypothesized from the confused pauses before, after, and between sentences.

But what I was getting back to was the topic of marriage, and the link between the above example and the next, is only the similar confused pause at the end of the sentence…

“What do you mean you’re not sure you believe in marriage?”

For just as religion equates to culture. The term “marriage” is easily transferable with the words, “life” and “family.” And to challenge the existence or desire of marriage is quite equivalent to denying the existence of life or desire for love.

Now I can hear someone in the audience stirring in their seat and raising their hand with the following question: “But what about dowries (a type of early inheritance or investment paid to the groom’s family by the brides), and the fact that not only is the marriage arranged, but that the bride is little more than sold, for a price, to the most appropriate bidder?”

Well. I certainly do not doubt the likely correlation between the social construct of dowries and the social norm of preferential sex selection and even female feticide. But as is often the case when I investigate a stereotype or preconceived idea and begin to explore the more intimate details of the (Indian) relationships near me, I hear quite interesting stories.

Like that of my best friend here in India who, even as a Brahmin (the highest caste and often demanding of the highest dowry), accepted only a single symbolic rupee (equivalent to about 2 US cents) in dowry for his arranged marriage to his wife. And of his and his wife’s relationship, I can say that I would truly be tried to find a more accepting, self-sacrificing, committed and loving relationship than theirs on any continent. (Would you know by witnessing the tenderness in the above photo that there’s a 3-year old screaming for a toy in one corner and a 1-year old trying to eat Vaseline in the other?)

I’m not out to prove anything. I only want it down for the record that, from my experiences here in India, I have gathered absolutely NO evidence that would lead me to believe that a “love marriage” has any greater chances for “success” (which would take an essay of its own to define) than that of an arranged marriage. And if you have any doubt or questions, I challenge you to find any Indian couple who’s been married for a few dozen years, and sit down and have chai with them and hear out their stories; of anxiety, of fear, of desire, of bliss, of routine, of duties, of immaturity, of overwhelm, of challenges, of loss, of self-sacrifice, of commitment, of pride, of trust, and of the continuum and construction of love. And I challenge you to see if that story is really any different from those of the elders of the country where you were born. And if you come to any interesting conclusions, I’d like to have tea with you too.

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  1. Akshay May 12, 2008 at 7:55 am

    In the end the one thing I’ve realized is that you can love almost anybody.

  2. tanuj April 12, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    and yeah I sent you a mail to get your views about tourist v/s traveler. would like you to get some time out to reply to that.

  3. tanuj April 12, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Though I might not have reached the point in life where I might have to think about matrimony and also I don’t have experiences from my peers. Also I have not much of an idea about the life in west, but of what I have observed here from my relatives whom I have observed before and after marriage and having seen the incredible Indian weddings from the center of action I think that I might contribute something here. The very basic concept behind the marriage in India is different from that of west. Marriage is not for love but for completeness. In India both the sexes are taught different aspects of life. By the time they are young there are certain things that a man should know and others that a women should know. Marriage is a way of life. Of the four stages of life that the Indian Vedas define ‘grahasta’ is the part where a person is supposed be responsible, grow a family and be part of society and experience the life. Before this we acquire worldly knowledge that they use in this stage (All the learning are fruitless unless they are not testified through actions) .And after this stage we are to dedicate our life to pass on their knowledge to the next generation. Though most of us are clueless about the mighty vedas but this is the wisdom that carries on through the ages. So as we grow up it is not a question of whether we love someone or not. It is a question of whether there is someone to marry or not. Deep in the Indian philosophy lies the idea that love is the accepting someone as they are. In love marriage (as I have seen in India) the acceptance is made without even understanding the other person (and often even without understanding self). It is just that there is a revelation in love marriages and there is anticipation in arranged marriages.
    Having observed the process of reproduction as a divine intervention and progency as the need for survival, the concept of having heir to carry on the family was given importance. Roles were defined for both men and women in the functioning of the household and thus both were of importance (of course that was the time when there was not much thought given to the economy and it hadn’t become a mans world. No doubt that the values were logical when they were formulated but the mistake was made when they were considered eternal, but way of life changed and adapting them to the new way of life was not considered necessary). Life is a sacred ritual and has to be lead following the rules set for the society (though today the society is chaotic enough to be given a damn). Thus it is not possible for a person alone to carry on the life and thus an elaborate marriage ceremony is conducted to allow the divine to bless them and prepare them to become each others strength through the life. Cosmic profiles (kundlee) are considered as the signal from the divine that help predict if they will be able to support each other through the various stages of life. This is a point of distiction between west and east wherein west gives importance to the permission of the two persons and other people around them (I say from the marriage procedure that they show in hollywood movies or american soaps) and the east gives importance to the permission of the divine. West believes in what it sees and thus it is human that is of importance whereas the creators of indian philosophy didn’t find much sense in their own existance and believed that the divine that has created this world and thus we must try and recognize its signals and accordingly spend our life. Your thoughts on religion are interesting. Actually is it a paradox that we associate the mindsets with the society and not the religions and yet we have a mixture of so many religions in our own society. But interestingly the same applies to our scenario too. Though the people are from diffrent religions the basic values that are given to any indian child are the same. And yeah this I speak out of experience. It does make sense as an american christian would be different from a european one in the way he thinks,analyses and acts. Similarly an indian who grew up in america would be distinctly different from one in india. Infact the society that we are part of adds a new dimension to our personality. Essentially no two humans are same and are defined from what they experience.

    Sorry this comment became as long as your post and also with the summer coming up I think buttermilk or lasee is more tempting than chai.

  4. Claytanic-at-gmail-dot-com April 9, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    I’m in Europe from September. If I can hitch safely to India, we’re on! 😛

    Your mother is wise.

    What’s more desirable? Going into a situation knowing that you know nothing or starting out thinking you’ve learned all there is to know?

  5. sol April 9, 2008 at 6:43 am

    Intelligent insights Claytanic; the chai will be on me.

    Just wanted to share my mom’s response:

    “Regarding your blog on arranged marriages: I would bet that sensible adults arrange
    pretty thoughtful pairs for marriage, and when they
    meet, not knowing each other, they are at the point
    most couples wake up to after 2 or 7 years or maybe
    longer. Every couple has an existential moment where
    they see the partner as they are, and choose to be
    committed in a functioning relationship, to carry out
    the social contract. Starting out with romantic love
    up front just postpones the reality hit. And prolongs
    the idea that the purpose of marriage is a romance of
    two, instead of the plan of survival instincts to
    survive physically and biologically. DNA has the
    strongest survival mode of anything living!!!”

  6. Claytanic-at-gmail-dot-com April 9, 2008 at 1:28 am

    A lifetime of words could be nowhere near the mark and one word might be too much. I, in my own life, as of late, have had to reconcile my own apostasy(as it were) in the face of culture and tradition with my recognition of and desire for love and understanding. I, as with any other, could spend endless days with your or any other working out the inner details and nuances of the ethos of my being, but it may be simpler to say less and, in turn, more.

    You’ve truly reached the crux of my personal feelings toward the religious and marital traditions of my own, western, forbears. Invariably, we are products of our surroundings, yet I feel as if I have shed many of the cultural inculcations of my direct antecedents and am at odds as to how this has happened. Perhaps a disconnect in the family order or other sociologically defined phenomena of “post-modern” culture, but I truly do not fear this collapse. In lieu of fear, I have forseen my rebellious notions and preferences as an opportunity to define my own future and tradition. I really appreciate your connection with religion and culture as ways of life/being and undeniable at that. The notion of not being able to deny religion or disbelieve in marriage anymore than one can have no family or history is somethings I’ve recently understood and I’ve had to endure a period of emotional duress to share my ideals with others and, notably, my own love. How does one explain their embrace of co-existence, love, companionship, etc., but their disregard or lack of feeling for, most existing ritual and tradition?

    Perhaps I will further this discourse in future. It is refreshing and heartening to realise others pose these questions.

    I won’t challenge the success of Indian vs. North American/western marriages and the development of love, care and compassion. India seems to be steeped in tradition and “we” seem to caught in a race away from it’s ghost. Our own near past is not too different. Arranged marriages have permeated the originating cultures of the “major” North American groups previously. The new world, for many, was all about abandoning the tradition of the old. I look forward to sharing with you that Chai. Forgive that I like to add a pinch of cinnamon.

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