A revisit to an earlier post!
This particular discussion has been on my list (yes, I have a list of bloggable items on my phone!) to blog about for a while now, but a conversation with Lil Man prompted me to write this today.
I have to admit that I’m a sucker for Bollywood films, and some of the Indian serials that come on the Asian channels – cringe, I know, but hey, I’m Indian, what can I do?! And the kids like to join me in watching them some times. Today there was an engagement on one of these shows, and the couple in question hadn’t been seen together before yesterday. Lil Man hadn’t seen yesterday’s episode, and he was quite confused. I could see his mind working, the cogs whirring inside…
” But mummy, how is there a wedding? We haven’t even seen these people before!” So I tried to explain, simply how sometimes people meet themselves, and fall in love and then you have marriages where people have their life partners chosen for them by their family.
He was gobsmacked! “That’s not fair!” Why I asked why it wasn’t fair, he couldn’t get his words out clearly. And almost gave up, but I could hear what he wanted to say! How can you be made to marry someone you don’t even know? In his short life on this earth, all those adults closest to him, his parents, and uncles have all married people of their own choice, love marriages. An arranged marriage is a total alien concept to him!
And in many ways, nowadays a traditional arranged marriage is pretty alien to most of us westernised Asians. The concept has changed now to how it used to be.
In days of old, marriages were arranged when children were just that. Children. I know, in our Punjabi culture, going back a a few generations, girls as young as 6-7 were promised to a boy. And the marriage ceremony took place too. But don’t worry, they weren’t sent to start marital duties straight away! They then went back home, after the ceremony, and on hitting puberty, and becoming a woman, they then joined their husbands.
There are certain ceremonies that stem from those days that we still carry on using now. One is that when we take the 4 rounds around our holy book, The Guru Granth Sahib,the bride is led by her maternal uncles and brothers. Originally, the uncle, Mamji, would actually carry the girl in his arms, because she was so young. Another is that after the marriage ceremony, the bride goes back home for a few days, or couple of weeks, then returns to her in laws, her Muklava. This is reminiscent of then the child bride stayed at home until she was ready to take on marital duties.
Slowly the age bracket for getting married changed, and a bride was no longer a child bride, but still she had not much say in who she married. Some marriages were such that the couple met on the wedding day, as it had been arranged by two families many years previous. There were even cases, when the sons of the families were sent abroad to find their fortunes,and due to visa requirements, they couldn’t return, so weddings were even conducted between girls and a turban… Seriously! She would take the sacred laps holing a turban, and a photo of her intended!
This then morphed into introductions. Two adults were introduced, two like minded individuals, and similar families, matched by a match maker, a bacholan, and they were expected to make a decision based on this one meeting, as to whether they were happy to spend the rest of their lives with that person.
And now, it still happens, but the introductions take longer, there is almost a dating feel to it all except you didn’t meet in a club, or the pub, or at work, and the guy/girl,you are dating already has the approval of your parents. However, go above 3-4 meetings then it’s pretty much assumed you will be getting hitched!
Then there is the addition of the matrimonial websites too! Your online matchmaker! There has been a lot of success in them too. Even though some of the younger generations use it as more of a dating/link up/Tinder style system!
Love marriages, in contrast, are just that, based on love that you find before committing to one another. Hubby Dearest and I met at university, and the feelings we had for each other were so strong, we knew we wanted to spend forever together. We fell in love. We were just lucky that we hailed from the same backgrounds, so that wasn’t an obstacle we had to overcome.
In other similar situations, you get that old chestnut, you can’t help who you fall in love with, and it’s true. Your heart doesn’t ask lots of probing questions before giving itself to someone. I’ve had it in my own family. We have mixed caste/race marriages, and luckily, they are all going strong. True some had rocky starts, because of others perceptions of the ‘wrong’ partner, but love held strong.
Love is key to being together, but you have to have other aspects of your life, and thinking in sync too, for marriage to be a success. The divorce rates for love marriages are so much higher than those for arranged marriages. Granted, there were, and are many women stuck in arranged marriages, from the older generations, who in this day and age would have been able to walk away from it, but it wasn’t the done thing. They came from that generation, ‘if something’s broke we try to fix it, not like today, when you chuck it away and get another’. But with many love marriages, couples have got carried away with the emotions, and once married, especially within Indian families, the responsibilities of being a bride within a family, not just in a couple, can put immense pressure on a relationship.
Nowadays most couples do meet themselves, partners are chosen, and they are older, girls are more independant, career women, who don’t expect the ‘daughter-in-law’ tag, alongside the wife one, to carry such importance. But, you know what, it does. In an Indian family, a daughter-in-law has many responsibilities, and they can be taken care of, living within an extended family, or with the couple living apart, as long as everyone’s expectations are laid out in the open from the beginning.
I’ve heard it countless times, young newly wed brides, commenting on living with their in-laws, and how they can’t wait to get their own place and space. This is because we have grown up within a Western environment, and our expectations are somewhat confused. East/West mix. We want the best of both worlds. And you can do it. But it takes time.
My own parents had an arranged marriage, as did my in laws, and most Indians in their generation too. They have so much love in their marriage, a love that developed after marriage, not before. My mum and pops kind of knew of each other before marriage. They lived in the same area in Kenya, and it was agreed that their families should link up via their marriage. It wasn’t easy by any means. My mums family was pretty educated, my pops was educated but not many of the girls in the family were. But mum still mixed in with them, and did what was necessary, to create a happy home. They are alone now, at home, I’m married in my own home, and my brother is married and settled in Finland, but they are happy.
They always said that for my brother and I, it was our choice. If we wanted an arranged marriage, then fine, but if it was to be love, then fine too. After all we were choosing our life partner. It’s only right that we choose the right person to spend the rest of our lives with. And we’ve done it too. Chosen love over anything else, but we knew there were family expectations, which we have tried hard to fulfil. We’ve lived with the family, provided the heirs, and now are in our own home, but still we keep our link with the family. It’s important.
So you know, I don’t know which is better, to be honest. I’ve seen success and failure in both. But the key, I think is respect for each other. And each other’s families. Compromise is important, especially with Indian marriages. But for those girls out there, never lose yourself. Sometimes we have to change a little, to make things work. It seems to be expected, in our culture. But don’t change so much that you can’t recognise the woman you once were.
Going back to Lil Man, I said to Hubby Dearest, I think that he will definitely be one who needs a girlfriend first, arranged marriages are soooo not it for him!!