I have so many thoughts crowding my mind that I cannot decide which one to take up first. I think I'll talk of marriages that seem to break even before the couple care enough for each other to even give it a try. Why,why does it appear to happen more and more these days?
I think it was in early 2008 that I had tried to 'Defend Arranged Marriages' and ended up failing miserably since as usual I started seeing the other point of view and actually ended up endorsing (not quite, perhaps?) the right of younsters of Gen X to decide on who they want to spend their lives with. Before I am labeled a hypocrite let me clarify. I could not actually claim that marriages arranged by parents were always successful or that those arranged by the children concerned were disastrous. So I made a safe exit by mumbling something that was acceptable to all. That was just a light beginning to a rather serious issue. So let me get going.
I often think about why Indian parents want to have a say in their children's marriage. They seem liberal enough but when their children marry they prefer to stick to their own community/religion/social standing etc. etc. This is because they feel that their children would be able to adjust better. But is it really so? Take for instance the example of a couple I know or rather heard about.
S and P were neighbors and were happy when their children, both IT professionals decided to marry. 'Thank God they did not choose someone from a different state speaking a strange language' they thought. Their wives felt puffed up. 'Upbringing matters' they beamed at each other. 'It is the culture we've inculcated in them'.
Their joy was shortlived. The highly qualified professionals had not learnt the simple truth that marriage means much more than looking good on the wedding day. The first two years of marriage were okay. Trouble started when the husband wanted the wife to slow down and think of starting a family while the wife, who was on the verge of receiving a promotion and expected to be sent abroad to train a new batch of systems trainees, flatly refused. She felt children could wait. She accused her husband of being jealous of her success. Their relationship soured and even without consulting their parents, they filed for a divorce. Parents pitched in, they were asked to go for counseling. 'Upbringing' and 'culture' seemed to be words without any real meaning. All they could be happy about was that no children were involved in the mess that was called marriage.
B had been a good student and it was no surprise that he was accepted in an American University with full scholarship. His parents were elated and at the age of 18 he left India to study in America. He gradually took to the American way of living. His friends were Americans and he relished their company as well as their food. Weekends for him meant car racing and mountain hiking. Drinking beer after a hard days work was no sin. He got a job in a multinational company in California and his parents started hunting for a suitable girl for him. They were perhaps not too happy with his preference for beef and pork and felt that getting him married to a traditional Indian girl may help him to appreciate everything that was Indian and help him change his ways that were rather objectionable to them.
K was a girl from a traditional south Indian background. True she had done her Engineering and had a good GRE score and hoped to pursue her studies in USA. Her parents would not hear of sending her on her own to America. She could get married and do what she pleased. They found B a suitable choice and after a sound background check on B's family, the kulam - gothram stuff and horoscopes duly matched, the couple were married and K was happy to have a chance to study in America. She was 22 and B was 30, but Tambrahm parents do not bother too much about the age difference. So our Tambrhm bride with no exposure to life outside her immediate community let alone a foreign country was sent to America after the necessary formalities of passport/visa etc were completed. trouble started from day 1. She cooked a simple south Indian meal but B would not touch it. He took out some precooked stuff from the fridge and after heating it up in the microwave and settled down with a glass of beer and started watching some adventure sports on TV. K was shocked to say the least. He seemed to be eating some weird smelling non vegetarian stuff and she had never seen people consume alcohol except villains in movies. He spent his weekends with his friends and she refused to join him. Her idea of spending week ends was a visit to the Indian store, watching some Tamil movie at home enjoying some special south Indian delicacies. A visit to the temple was welcome and she longed for the company of Indians who she was told would also visit the Indian store and temples during weekends. He encouraged her to go out on her own but she was so much in awe of the malls and shopping centers in America that she dared not venture out on her own. He was not used to people dictating terms and here he was, stuck to a wife who was a not only a nag but also a highly opinionated woman who made no effort to understand him. In no time the couple realized that they could not continue to live together and a divorce was the best solution. They could have separated amicably but unfortunately it was not so. I'd rather not go into details because whatever I know is only through third and fourth persons and I may not be fair to them if I went into further details.
There are many more such cases where the blame cannot be accorded to one or the other partner. Parents think that they are doing the right thing by sticking to certain basic rules while choosing a partner for their wards. This may have made sense some 40 to 50 years ago when it was common for children to study and later take up a job in or around their home town. The children more or less followed family traditions and allowed parents to decide on a suitable partner and accepted their choice without a murmur. There are several children who willingly let their parents choose partners for them but there several others who make their own choice and are happily married. I cannot say which is the better arrangement but I do know that if your ambition permits you to let your son/daughter leave home at an impressionable age and have a high flying career, you should be prepared to deal with an adult son/daughter who has a mind of his own. Should you take it upon yourself to arrange their marriage it is imperative that you accomodate their interest in your choice. One cannot have it both ways. As in the case of B and K weren't parents at least partly responsible for the situation? Or in the earlier example were not parents hasty in declaring that it was their upbringing that made their children decide to marry each other? Marriage is a highly personal arrangement and for some reason compromises have become a thing of the past in many cases. Affiliation to the same community or religion is no more a priority and is certainly not a pre-requisite to compatbility.
S and T decided to marry though they belonged to different cutural and religious backgrounds.They were both atheists. P's parents understood and supported the marriage. S could not convince his parents who insisted on conversion. Three years have gone by but they do not understand that for a couple who don't believe in God conversion has no meaning at all. They keep insisting that with age their children would change their view on the existence of God they certainly could not have children who did not belong to any religion. Touch wood the couple are happily married and they have a daughter who adds joy to their lives. Let us hope that his parents see reason for as far as I can see if they miss watching their grand daughter grow the loss is theirs.
I hope I have dealt with the topic with the fairness that it deserves. I would really welcome my readers to come up with their opinion on why marriages fail and who exactly is responsible for the situation. I don't want to be harsh on parents since as one such parent myself I can understand their anxiety and firmly believe that they have their child's welfare in mind. I met a friend's daughter who had been brought up in USA. She was one who had an arranged marriage and her husband was working in the Middle East. The couple met once a year. My daughter was surprised and asked her how she felt about it. "What does one do if one's mother sheds tears and forces you to marry a person of her choice? I have no real feeling for my husband and this long distant arrangement suits me fine." Her honesty surprised me but it also set me thinking. I wondered if the couple would ever bond. I suppose they will. After all most in my generation had an arranged marriage and we did bond with the husband and his family but then ours was not a long distant marriage! Let me stop right here or else I may confuse you.