Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Changing Face of Indian Marriages

Some years ago, in the fifties, when I was ripe for sacrifice, there was the Suitable Boy and the supplicant parents syndrome. Like, I have this daughter: beautiful, brilliant at college, sings like a nightingale, cordon bleau cook and I will give her away to any odd-body that deigns to take her away. (Not me I am talking about, but the general trend.)We'll also give him a lot of money on occasion, and deck our daughter with gold. So long as he is the right caste, and of the same education and social levels.
   In those days I was merely irritated by this. Many Indian novelists writing in English became successful on the phenomenon of 'arranged' marriages, Seth included. Now things have changed (for the better) and I have to be astounded.
   When I got married in 1957 I had no expectations beyond a secure home and a husband who would let me be. A few rich saris and gold trinkets would come in handy too. Love did not enter the equation.
   My problem was that I couldn't let him be. I wanted him to have words like me, discuss the nature of religion, death, and the sun rising daily. Now I know this was unreasonable. But then, I felt cheated and wondered why my far-seeing father had lost his courage when it came to his daughter's spouse. I had married into a family that had got degrees, but never got educated. They deplored the strange fact that their new bride wanted to read books while still on honeymoon.
   The next generation did not fare too differently. The girls were still decorated and given away for nothing, on a plate. The bridegrooms sat back and took their pick - or their families did. For them it was effortless.
   Not so for the brides. They had to fast and pray on Saturdays so that they would get good husbands. And their mothers directed them to make themselves desirable with oil baths, and frequent the temples to plead with the Gods.
   If, in addition to being merely stroppy, you also had Saturn in your seventh house according to the astrologers - as I had - God help you. The prospects were gloomy.
   The only saving grace in those days was that most weddings took place in the home of the brides and took all of ten minutes. Now you are not married, now you are. Many people came for the vegetarian feast but the gold expected by the bridegrooms' families did not require a second mortgage and festivities did not go on for five days in five different places.
   Now of course the girls have wised up. They have flooded the higher end of the job markets and stride the world with confidence. If they don't like what they get they come home in six months and forget the husband.
   How easy it has become to 'unmarry?'  No stigma attached and no shame to the family.
   There are many reasons why the women these days get disillusioned with married life:
     No one has mentioned sex in passing, so there is trouble in that department sometimes.
     The concept that marriages are all about gold jewellery and fancy clothes takes a beating. There is cooking to do, mother-in-law to contend with and the husband is after all a stranger, whose character comes to focus slowly.
     Two families have got married too in the process and both have to be placated.
     Expectations, ratcheted up by cinema and television soaps are hard to meet.
   A few are lucky - allowed to make their own mistakes. That is for urban women. For the rural girls times lag behind.
   The sacrificial lamb however is still decked out and fortunes spent on getting rid of her. Families are impoverished in the process and grievances last a lifetime.
   If I could persuade these young girls to stand firm and reject husbands who demand dowries, if I could show them how they can get married simply and with grace and the outcomes would be no different... It would be a step too far if I suggested they live together with future spouses, test the domestic waters, but I live in hope.
   It is all just a question of time. Rock on girls, the future is with you.


  1. That definitely is the voice of today's women. Your suggestion to live together is what both men and women desire. However the parents and relatives are still stuck in the age old thoughts and traditions. It would be the next generation that would truly enjoy this freedom of choice. Great language and super read!!

  2. Get as far away from family as possible, if possible put an ocean between you... but make your own life.
    A lifetime with a spouse, who is not compatible is long-term misery. And the family may not be there to share or help.