Love marriage or arranged marriage?
It is as much about individual choice as societal setting. Some societies consider the right to choose as obvious while others see it as a punishable offence. In fact, in quite a few parts of India, it is not a romantic question at all, it is a matter of life and death. Mostly, death.
But there is a large role played by families. Families shape an individual’s outlook and have to live with the repercussions of the individual’s decision. So, I decided to look at role of families in marriages across three generations, taking as a case study the family I know best – my own.
My grandparent’s marriage: Year 1954
It’s hard to believe my grandparents got married within seven years of the British ruling this land. Most of us have no idea what those times were like, but it does remind us that it was not long that ago. Anyway, my grandparents didn’t have a chance to meet at the mall or exchange notes at the college. Their first meeting was arranged and so was their marriage.
My grandfather is the only son, the other sibling being a sister. His father was a strict disciplinarian and so fastidious that you find them mostly in movies. His morning routine was like a chemistry formula – mustard oil for massage, bucket of water for bath drawn from the well, the same breakfast of chuda and banana and curd. He wore the impeccably white kurta and dhoti everyday too, washed with whitener and iron to a crisp papad. If one of the things went wrong, there was a blast in lab. He will lock himself in, refuse food and water until the culprit could somehow placate him through endless apologies and assurances. So, you can understand that when my grandfather went looking for a bride, he wanted someone who could run a household and be a wonderful bahu.
My grandmother, on the other hand, was a part of a large family. She was from a high caste, Bhuyyan. She came recommended from a family elder. She was cooking, cleaning and running a household by the time she was a teenager, qualities that recommended her to my grandfather. One of his friends, who later went on to win a President’s award for his contribution to the field of education, thought that her forehead was too wide. As it turned out, that was not a deal breaker.
The marriage was not all about convenience. They remained married for close to fifty five years, until my grandma passed away a few years back. My grandpa was an acclaimed teacher, an intellectual and literally inclined. My grandma was a woman of the house and focused on running it well. She did not read, she did not write and she did not indulge in philosophy. She was religious, my grandpa was not. He went to temples with her as a part of his pati-dharma.
But they were not incompatible. They will spend every evening playing card games, which my grandpa was addicted to, they talked a lot, they took religious trips took together, they never fought, rarely argued and were lovely parents and grandparents. They bore eight children, my mother being the eldest, the only daughter.
My parent’s marriage: Year 1972
Almost twenty years had passed since my grandparents’ marriage. But not much had changed in the way of marriages…the romantic era in Bollywood didn’t have any effect on the way people got married…at least, not in my village – a remote one in Orissa. Till the late nineties, there were just two TV sets in the whole village, one adorned our house. It was a Weston, the model that came housed in a wooden cabinet and had wooden shutters in front of the screen. It was quite common then. But, may be not, if a Google image search throws up no results, the thing was never really relevant.
Anyway, coming to the topic of parent’s marriage, my father was the first one to have professional employment in our family. We were farmers, not the kind that you find in Punjab. The regular, poor, struggling sort of farmers. My grandfather hated hard work and enterprise. He lived of the land without investing anything back, dangerous path for a farmer.
So, my father grew up to be a man mature for his age. He was strong headed, driven, responsible and industrious. But he was also the one who had to take care of three younger siblings. Like a flightless bird tied to a plough, he tried to cover as much ground as he could.
By the time he got married, he was just 25. My mother was just 17. She was the only daughter among eight siblings. Needless to say, she was pampered like hell. She read books, finished libraries as she would say, debated philosophy with her father and had a diet of cream and sweets.
My father went with his father and a few elders for the first meeting. My grandfather found her too tall and thin, my father didn’t see a problem. My grandfather wanted a dowry, my father wanted none of it. My grandfather wanted to put her on hold, my father had made up his mind. My father had his way. He got a dowry of a Raleigh cycle and a Murphy radio, though.
My parent’s marriage is similar to the story of quite a few realistic movies from the eighties. Young idealistic couple, too many responsibilities, trying to make ends meet. Apart from solidity of character, my parents don’t have much in common. My father is impulsive, not much into books, he does not have any hobbies and generally restless and wants more out of life. My mother is more content, at ease with life and reads a lot. Both hate travelling.
As their child, I know a lot more about their marriage than my grandparents’. I know that happy marriages are not essentially frictionless. I also know that fulfillment in marriage is not just realised at lonely hilltops but also in daily routines. Like most children of my generation, I have never seen my parents hold hands. But the love was evident.
My father has a good appetite, touchwood, and generally, does not complain about food. While he doesn’t have much to say about food cooked by others or even in five start hotels, he goes ga ga about the simplest dishes that my mother cooks. His absolute bias irritates other chefs in my family, but these are also the only occasions when we heard our father sing Bollywood songs for our mother as odes to her cooking.
Most of their lives were spent in tending to the extended family’s responsibilities and rearing three children. But quite a few instances stand out. Mother was pregnant with my elder sister and was admitted in a hospital for delivery. She pleaded with my father to take her home, where she would be much more at ease. She could never stand hospitals, anyway. My father slipped her out of the hospital that very night, without a word to the doctor or the attendants, and rode on a motorcycle all the way to her parent’s house. It was extremely risky and very careless decision and not many will agree that it is an appropriate example of love. But it was enough for me.
My sisters’ and my own marriage: All between year 2000 -2010
Me and my two elder sisters had love marriages. Here the definition of love marriage being love happened before rather than after the marriage.
Just as my grandfather and my parent’s marriage were similar, so were mine and my sisters. My sisters met the love-of-their-lives in the classroom, or outside it, but within the premises of a college. That’s what they told us, it better be true. I met my wife by the bedside of an ailing friend. Given that we met through our classmates, there is a college link in our case too.
My eldest sister fell in love during her Masters. She had to wait seven years before they could get married. Long and troubling years during which our relatives tried to force my parents to get her married somewhere else, and my brother-in-law’s parents kept denying she existed. The couple waited for the resistance to wear down before getting married. So, in a way, it was love that led to a very properly arranged marriage. Now, eight years down the line, they are happy, both the families are at peace and there is a realization that it all happened for the good.
My elder sister had an inter-caste marriage. It took the same amount of waiting period and a little more trouble. The couple got legally married while my sister still lived with us and one year later they got the religious marriage done too. My brother-in-law’s family boycotted the marriage, but eventually came around. Now, they all live together, happily. My parents and the in-laws share health tips, Ramdev products and quality time with a grandson.
As per me, I went one step ahead. I had an inter-religious marriage. There were a few hiccups and heart attacks on both sides, but as far as Hindu-Muslim marriages go, ours was quite uneventful. Though my family has always been very religious, I have swayed between passive indifference to aggressive and vehement opposition. So, when the question of conversion popped up, I was happy with the bargain. My family was strangely cool to it too, having learnt from their three decades of efforts that this log has flowed far too down the river. So, we had a Muslim marriage here, a Hindu celebration back home a year later.
Are we happy?
Did my parents accept a bahu from another religion?
Yes, my mother thinks she is a gentle Hindu at heart. My Ramdev-following father let’s her read her namaz in the same house where he does his puja. When we visit them, along with the sweets I like, he stocks the fridge with her favorites too.
Did they build a shade for her, away from the main house?
No, she cooks, eats, watches TV, talks to her family and sleeps in the same house.
Did her family circumcise me?
No, they left me in one piece.
Have I tried to take her away from her family or take her religion away from her religion?
What’s wrong with you? We just celebrated Eid yesterday with her whole family. I love the kebabs and the sheer. I can’t get used to praying so many times in a day, but that’s no reason to ruin what we have.
Are my parents really so supercool?
Yes, they are. Or they have been amazing actors their whole lives. I will go with the former. They have stood by my sisters all through the long turbulent years, they have held off vicious relatives, they have been amazing parents to our life partners. So, yes, they supercool duperparents.
If you are waiting for some sort of conclusion after all this story telling, there are none. The cake of marriage is baked with far too many ingredients. We all have seen arranged marriages prosper and love marriages integrate. So, there are no formulae for happy marriages. But no matter what sort of marriage it is, love or arranged,you can’t take love for granted. Whether it happens before or after the marriage, it is the only thing that keeps a marriage alive.