I have been thinking of the way the institution called marriage has changed over the years for quite sometime now. However, I am undecided about whether it has changed for the better or worse. Who is asking me anyway? But then I have a way of talking to myself and also of taking up for the underdog. In this case I personally feel that parents of eligible bachelors and spinsters, poor souls, are at the receiving end and deserve to be considered first. It is quite another thing that I am such a parent myself but I play the role of a moderator so I exempt myself.
When I was young love marriages were frowned upon. You could be in love with your first cousin (it was very common since our community allowed such marriages) or anyone within the permissible sub-sect of one’s community but had to hope that elders in the family would find the match appropriate and initiate negotiations. If not you just married someone chosen by your parents for whatever reason and adjusted. Parents too did not bother about the boy’s pay packet or the girl’s looks but rather the reputation of the family. The girl had to ‘manage’. Marrying outside the community was a strict No, no. I talk of the majority of cases. There were a few who broke the rule and I personally knew of a college senior who married a man from the muslim community, donned a burkha and lived as his third wife in a neighboring town. No one ever saw her after that and I felt that she had made a mistake by giving up her job in the Telephone Exchange. I would not know if she was happy with the arrangement but I did feel that she could have perhaps been a little more prudent in her choice.
If this was the case of defying the rules imposed by society and family there was another example of a happily married woman in our neighborhood. Happily married? At least I thought so. She had a government job, her husband was a very normal family man and the couple had 3 children all in their pre-teens. Her mother in law looked after the children, getting them ready for school and attending to them till their mother returned from work and everything seemed fine. Yet one day the woman left them all and eloped with a colleague of hers who held a position inferior to her in the office. Years later my mother met her purely by chance. My mother sensed a kind of yearning in her for a chance to see her children and permission to interact with them once in a while. But unfortunately she could not muster courage enough to do so.
With such stories doing the rounds it was no wonder that I grew up believing that opting for love marriages was indicative of a selfish mind where one placed self interest above all else. I wish I were in a position to say arranged marriages were mostly successful. Far from it I have known brilliant minds compromising in the name of marriage and any adjustment made was often one sided.
Years rolled on and I was too involved with my career and children to pay attention to subtle changes taking place in society. Suddenly I find the world around me a changed place. Children are comfortable choosing their life partners and their choice is based on what their head says rather than the dictates of the heart. There is a lot more maturity and a willingness to adapt. All aspects are considered before taking the final plunge and we seem to be back to arranged marriage. The only difference is that it is the couple who decide on the kind of arrangement they want. Try as I might to find fault with their choice, (believe me I still try to defend the role of parents to arrange for a suitable match) I have to agree that the present generation know their mind and are capable of dealing with their lives.
But wait, I was supposed to defend the generation of parents isn’t it? Parents first objected to love marriages. Then they allowed love marriages within their immediate community but objected to anything outside it. They further graduated to the level of allowing interstate marriages as long as the couple subscribed to the same religious belief. Finally they agreed that all was acceptable as long as they were both Indians. Now with the living in relationship becoming common parents have started hoping that their children would at least marry someone and settle down and suddenly the ‘living in’ arrangement doesn’t seem too bad as long as it happened in other people’s homes! But wasn’t it the same for love marriages sometime back? Poor parents. More and more children are leaving home and settling abroad and the rest are too busy to pay attention to the emotional requirements of their parents. They dare not alienate their children lest the occasional visits and weekly phone calls stop. They still arrange their children’s marriage although in a different way.
They talk to the florist and arrange for the best flowers to be delivered on the wedding day.
They shortlist catering services and arrange for the best desi and intercontinental delicacies to be served.
They arrange for a suitable holiday resort where their children may go for their honey moon.
And finally they decide on the kind of wedding rituals they want and make suitable arrangements for the same.
Yet they complain that they were not allowed to arrange their children’s marriage!
I have to add this on a more serious note. Marriage is a gamble that is endorsed by society. It is nothing more than a workable arrangement between two individuals. Whether one listens to the dictates of the head or heart hardly matters. Whether it is an arrangement made by parents or children is immaterial. What is important is that it has to be founded on mutual respect and a willingness to make room for a certain degree of freedom and independence. After all take a look at the soaring branches of a tree and how the same source of light is successfully utilized by each and every leaf of a tree and every tree in an environment. And the root system penetrating the soil uses the same water source without disturbing the roots of neighboring vegetation. Compare roots to cultural values and spreading branches to children looking for new avenues to spread their wings. Do they not play different roles important in their own way but each occupying its own special niche thus complimenting each other?