Monday, January 28, 2008

Defending arranged marriage

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?

49 comments:

Preethi said...

Very lucid post HHG... I had an arranged marriage myself.. and I am a very independent person.. so my friends don't understand why I did that.. but then in my case. I guess I am just too practical for love!! :P .. and it has worked out beautifully. But then I think arranged marriages of this generation are very different from those of the previous generation. I knew M for almost a year before we finally said yes.. and then we went around for another 6 months before we got married.. So the only arranged part is that the initial short list was done by the parents!! :)

Shiv said...

awesome awesome read...so vividly put down in wrds. Kudos!!

Thinking aloud said...

very well tackled...hhg...i too had a marriage arranged by my parents...in the sense the initial shortlist was done by them and i had to approve/disappprove...i did say no to many too...:D

besides nowadays girls/boys are so much more exposed, they know verywell what they want...which is fair...

like preethi said, every generation does it in a differnt way...

that said,i hope my kids choose their own partners...

apu said...

nice post; I think when large families lived together, shared/ common backgrounds were very important, probably more than the individuals themselves, who could 'adjust' unless one person was downright cruel etc. Today ofcourse families are much smaller, and with exposure, even arranged marriages have changed..

Sango said...

Good read HHG.. My views on marriage n love have changed a great deal over the past few years..
To me, marriage means the bonding between two hearts.. Whether it is arranged by the parents or the individuals themselves, it should be something that brings about happiness to the entire family..
If an individual can find his/her own partner and make sure that he/she is able to keep up old traditions and values irrespective of caste n creed then i would say 'Just go for it'.. else accept the person chosen by their parents.. :-)

vEENs said...

Granma, I loved the analogy to the tree!
Smart thinking really.. really thoughtful.

I am not yet married :)
But I am not even hunting for a BF.. not because i don't want to.. but because I know it is just not practical for me. I value my family too much.. to not to cater to their wishes.

I am not against arranged marriage nor against Love marriages. At the end of the day.. it is 2 individuals who are to live together in mutual harmony and not their parents..

wonderful write up with a pinch of humor and loads of true facts..

Madhumita. said...

Believe it or not, I had a premonition that you would blog on this subject sometime soon :-). Your views have surprised me with their flexibility.

Marriage is indeed a state of being endorsed by society, but its difficult to negate its relevance. I am an elder sibling and I married a friend from a different community - for the sheer compatability we shared. We all expected my younger sister to do the same and she flummoxed us all by recently asking us to arrange a match! So right now I'm in a unique position to see both perspctives ... and you are right. The mode matters lesser than the end result.

Your post was really well written.

Tys on Ice said...

:) I loved this post...i have always believed that marraige, arranged or love, is still a 50-50 chance.

it may take a society to enforce a status to a relatioship but it will still take 2 individuals to make it work...

Hip Grandma said...

Hi all,
Thanks for your responses.i am indeed worried about the increasing divorce rates and wonder if in a few years we'd stop worrying about whether the parents or children should arrange for the marriage and start praying that the marriage shud last. Accountability towards a commitment is important and perhaps a return to the joint family system would ease out the pressure building up on the couple and would help them cope.Parents however are no longer the same.They have put away enough money to see them through old age and they too are not willing to compromise.Some middle path has to be worked out and tho' I make it sound light, this is no laughing matter.

Preethi said...

hi, coming here after a long time. Found the post really interesting! I have a 3 yr old and am thinking 'as long as she gets married to a GUY am ok. (to add to ur 'allowable' list!) ;)
If you get time, there is a healthy discussion on divorces and remarriages going on elsewhere in the blog world. here is the link, i think ur inputs will be valueble considering your age and ur attitude :) tata

http://gujjuben.blogspot.com/2008/01/single-no-more-ii.html

hillgrandmom said...

What you have written in your summing up para is really wonderful. Yes finally any relationship which prospers, is based on respect and your analogy was very evocative.

Just Like That said...

HGMom, was it your B'day anytime recently? Saw a comment on Usha's blog...

A VERY VERY happy B'day to you, if it was...
Am late, but never mind,you are one of the people I am very fond of in the blogworld, couldn't let your special day pass without a greeting from me. May you have loads of blessings this year from God. :-)

Gauri said...

Very nice post HHG. I too had an arranged marriage and some of my friends just cannot understand the concept.

Aside of the divorce rates, another phenomenon that is cropping up over the recent years is that of "living together". It is definitely on the rise in Bombay. Some of the present generation don't really "need" to marry and in effect I guess the core value of the concept of a "family" is slowly getting diluted. And by "family" I dont just mean the couple and their children - I mean it in its entirety.

Loved your summation in teh last para.

Prats said...

You have written so thoughtfully on this topic. I have never been able to advocate either of the options only because, marraige finally culminates in the mind. If the partners are willing to adapt to each other, it shouldn't matter what type of marraige they had.

saying this, IMO divorce rates are on the rise, be it arranged or love, only because the compatibilty is not there amongst the couple, and they are not willing to give it a little more to make their marraige work.

Joy said...

A wonderful read, HHG. The analogy with the tree sums it up very well. And I totally agree with Tys. It depends only on the two individuals to work it out. Whatever be the circumstances, whether within the family or outside, if the two are willing, nothing in the world can stop them.

Hip Grandma said...

Hi all,
I must thank all of you for your responses.I wish more parents would understand that more than anything else the wishes of the couple concerned need to be respected.The affection one has for parents is not necessarily compromised when a ward opts for marriage by personal choice.If, as some have pointed out,practical considerations and strong family values makes one trust their parents decision - fine. Nothing wrong in it.But if they are not comfortable and prefer to have it the other way it need not be taken as a personal insult.They are still your children and deserve your affection as always.Not that I have to point out. I see it happening in most families.I only address the few who still correlate union by marriage to family and cultural values.Why not see this as a positive step towards understanding, accepting and appreciating cultures other than our own?

Hip Grandma said...

Just like that:Thanks.My b'day was on the 26th of Jan.visitra got mixed up and posted the comment in Usha's blog.Feels good to be mistaken for Usha.

Madhumita. said...

Forgot to mention that I did do the blessings tag. And a belated bu very happy birthday to you.

Best Wishes,

Madhu.

Anonymous said...

Marriage is a gamble that is endorsed by society
bang on target! Good thought provoking read.Thanks for wonderful post

parijata said...

I have been a lurker here for a long time. Being born of two teachers and having married into a family of teachers, and having done a bit of teaching myself (in private capacity, though), your posts interest me a lot. And I really should mention that both of us really want to teach when we retire. When that's gonna happen, we do not know.

In my case, my relatives made sure that I was told a lot about him for two-three years, enough to make me consider him a good match, even before I met him in person.

When I have to think about the marriages of my kids, I hope to be sensible and not thrust anything upon them, like I have seen some people do. But I would also like to have the sense to dissuade them from matches that are utterly imprudent, like your senior's.

Very thought-provoking post. Thanks!

Usha said...

I came and read the post when you posted it but waited to come back again and read the comments.
I am beginning to believe that it is indeed becoming tougher for the earlier kind of arranged marriage system ( like yours and mine) to work with present day boys and girls. We were under obligation to make the marriage work by all means as long as the husband did not beat you up or drink or did not give you money. Any other complaint would not even be considered a complaint and we would be promptly sent home right? But today's girls are not willing to put up even with a little bit of discrimination and rightly so. And forget about quirky moms in law and sisters in law. And in many cases a marriage does not involve getting a marumagal in the traditional sense - one who is going to take the mother in law's place in the family, a link to continue the tradition. The boys bring a wife into the house and the girls have the same attitude. They are willing to be nice to you as you are the parents of their husband - nothing more than that. Make any more demands and you are in for trouble.
So while the whole concept of marriage and relationships is changing, the traditional arranged marriage model does not work for their needs.
It is a huge gamble and more so now than before because earlier family acted as a support system if there were rifts and today they don't even have it. So the entire burden is on the young couple to make it work.
Comment is getting too long - perhaps i should do a post on it.

Joy said...

Belated Happy Birthday HHG!

Usha ji, your comments are thought provoking. Earlier, a girl would be married and assumed that she would learn everything from mom-in-law and continue tradition. But her opinion was not even asked. I can undestand that link is deteorating now. It is also because lifestyle has changed and many tradition are just rites and rituals for name sake, they no longer have practical sense. Nowadays, everyone lives life as they like but is it not fine? One can understand what one wants and what one actually values. This is not being selfish but understanding life in one's terms. So, if one chooses to carry on the tradition, she does so willingly not out of obligation and others try to figure the mystery of life.

Usha said...

Joy: I think every generation has to work out its own paradigm - what worked in my mom's generation did not work for me. That is precisely why I am saying that an arranged marriage may not be the suitable model for current generation's needs as expectations from marriage have changed, family relationships have changed, even family structure has changed - arranged marriages were great when families got into a new relationship through every marriage but today marriage is a very personal thing between the man and woman. Even parents come into the picture only as outsiders - 'we are informing not seeking your permission." "Thank you very much, please let us know the date and time and we will be there to bless you! or if you need us to do anything more please feel free to ask"

Hip Grandma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hip Grandma said...

parijatha:welcome here.Thanks for your input.

Hip Grandma said...

Just a little input from my side.I had in mind but failed to mention that while roots denotes a quest for cultural values and branches a search for new pastures it is the tree trunk that link both.In the same way it is the parents who link their children to their roots.I recently read the responses of young mothers in Prabhat Khabar and all but one felt that they would prefer having to adjust in a joint family to leaving their children in day cares and/or at the mercy of manipulative ayahs.I was glad that after a whole generation that wanted to break free we have a new group practically doing an about turn where one is able to trust the intentions of a MIL/SIL. In a similar manner there may come a time when for practical considerations the initial short listing may be left to parents among those who don't want a partner to be imposed on them.These days it is parents who wish to be left alone because they feel that looking after grandchildren while parents pursue their career is tiring in the first place and the the minor irritants in a joint family are best avoided by making one's self invisible except during family functions.Usha is right.A nagging MIL or ailing FIL is no longer the problem.Exhausted by their work pressure the couple would rather be left alone and a simple query 'why are you late? Missed the bus or what?' can be equated to nagging even if it is one's spouse who is asking.My advice to youngsters is to try and make their marriage work by adopting the 'give a little take a little' policy.

kurrodu said...

I find it really hard to defend arranged marriage. Although, my choice is arranged marriage.
Good post!

Hip Grandma said...

usha:why don't you do a post on this when you have time?

kurrodu:same here.My heart suports arranged marriages but my head gives its own logic as to why it is better to let the children make their choice.a very strange predicament to be in.

Na.Su.Krishnan said...

Grand ma,
Your post is a positive approach to the debate on Love marriage and arranged marriage. I remember having seen loads of debates in TV on this matter. As pointed by you and the commentors, going forward looks like hell...

Living in! Isn't it a symbol of being too much independent? In the name of modernity the current generation(includes me) is exposed to many ways of digging ones own grave.

dipali said...

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.

What you say here is so true, HHG.
All else seems irrelevant.

Sunshine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grafxgurl said...

..hehe.. my husband and i had an arranged marriage...he loves it!! and he is Caucasian!!!!

Archana Bahuguna said...

It is so beautifully written. I am with you totally on this one.

Lavs said...

I came here just to read other's comments on this wonderful post of yours, Gmom.Strangely, at this point in time I have no opinions about this topic...May be its those pregnancy hormones again:-)

Joy said...

HHG, you are tagged!

http://talloakroad.blogspot.com/2008/02/home-sweet-home.html

eve's lungs said...

I dont know - my parents were the most happily married couple I have ever seen- with a rare bonding that transcended every other aspect of marriage and haunted my mother for 19 years after his death and till she died. And they had a love marriage where they arranged everything .I too chose AG over the guy my mother had picked out for me - we waited 2 years till his parents came around. There is no case for either arranged marriages or love marriages ..its a question ultimately of how you suit each other and what you make of that marriage

Mahadevan said...

Marriage is essentially building up a relationship - two individuals, two families, two groups, or two clans come together through a marriage. As time advanced and rural folks started settling down in urban areas, gradually the building up of relatinship was confined to two individuals and two families and today it is merely two individuals who build up relations. Rest approve or frown from a distance. When parents decide, they look at the families too and when individuals decide, they look at themselves only and in the process, many of us have increased the chances of making mistakes.

Mahadevan said...

Marriage is essentially building up a relationship - two individuals, two families, two groups, or two clans come together through a marriage. As time advanced and rural folks started settling down in urban areas, gradually the building up of relatinship was confined to two individuals and two families and today it is merely two individuals who build up relations. Rest approve or frown from a distance. When parents decide, they look at the families too and when individuals decide, they look at themselves only and in the process, many of us have increased the chances of making mistakes.

Hip Grandma said...

Hi all,
Thanks for your responses.I am in Bangalore now following my Sister in law's critical heart condition.Please pray for her speedy recovery.

Serendipity said...

Hello HHG :) , came back here wondering why you had'nt posted in such a long time .. don't worry she'll be fine :) *HUG*

Archana Bahuguna said...

How is she now? Our prayers...

Indian Home Maker said...

I am new to blogging and was generally going through Indian blogs and came across yours. I enjoyed all the post that I read yet, but this one is the best. I like how you manged to be totally non judgmental and unprejudiced. I thought if it a grand mother's blog there will be a lot on 'our methods are the best methods.' But was pleasantly surprised :)

Indian Home Maker said...

I just read the last few comments, I hope your sister in law is better now. My best wishes and prayers are with you all.

Sohan said...

People today come in contact with the opposite sex in school, college, work, etc, well before marriage. They also come in contact with people who have married outside their social group(s), people who would have been ostractised in the old days. They no longer live in extended families and tight, mainly familial social circles.

Today, people are exposed online and offline to different cultures, religions, books, societies, languages, cuisines and lifestyles. The open-minded ones will develop individual traits and needs about which their families may not know or care. One can't just pair any two people by horoscopes and a limited parental assessment of character anymore.

suzanne said...

Hi. I'm a casting producer in Los Angeles. We are developing a new documentary series for the Lifetime Network on the subject of arranged marriage – specifically, arranged by your family and friends. We're looking for singles aged 25- 45 who are looking for "The One." If this applies to you, or you are interested in finding out more, we would love to talk to you.

The aim and goal of the show is to help the participants find love and happiness in a committed relationship, and we're committed to treating everyone with respect (this is not a game, dating, or elimination type of show). If this sounds like something that you would be interested in, we'd love to talk with you!

Please feel free to call or email me at your convenience, and I'd be happy to give you more details.

All the best,


Suzanne Wrubel
Magical Elves
Casting Producer
213.630.6530 x 329
Suzanne.wrubel@magicalelves.com
www.magicalelves.com

Anonymous said...

Dear HHG,

I'm teaching English at a French school near Paris. I'm very interested in this subject and I'd like to talk about it with my pupils who are aged 16-17.
I think that your post would be a great way to start thinking about arranged marriages.
Would you allow me to show your post to my pupils?
Thanks a lot for your answer.
I'd be very grateful to receive a positive answer from you.
Best regards,
Clarisse O.

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Happymom said...

I came through Indus Ladies to your blog.I was n't expecting much rather than a criticism of current generation.I was totally awed by your non judgemental open minded views.Your kids are so lucky and we are lucky to read your blog too!!Keep up the good work.

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