When Yash decided to marry me all those years ago, he was aware of the fact that he was going against a very strong tradition of the culture of his community. I am talking about arranged marriage. Arranged marriages were and still are very much the norm in eastern cultures. Things are slowly changing and nowadays, many of the marriages we attend are in fact ‘love marriages’ as they have come to be called. Well, as Yash sometimes says, in a lighthearted manner, ‘all marriages are love marriages in the beginning. Then they turn into hate marriages'. I just say ‘speak for yourself!’.
People in the modern world generally have a concept of marriage as having something to do with romantic love, but that is only a modern concept. Marriage is something which is practical and which needs a practical basis. As far as I can see, it is only in the last century or so that people have been having marriages which are based on the concept of romantic love. In Ireland, where I come from, the matchmaker was a very important person in society. This was the case, especially in rural areas, up to about half a century ago.
It’s fairly obvious that parents would like their daughters to marry someone of the same social class. And preferably someone with a good income. East or west, all parents have the same dreams for their children. As society has advanced, women and young people have gained more personal freedom. This is why people are finding their own partners as opposed to waiting for their parents to find someone for them. Many social barriers have also broken down, giving people the chance to meet and form relationships independent of parental involvement. This is the reason, in my opinion, why the west has practically discarded the concept of arranged marriages. Indeed, some people never marry at all, but prefer to live together. It’s all about personal choice and individual circumstances.
When Yash was young (he’s fifty now) there was little or no co-education. There were very few working girls too. So his opportunities to meet girls were severely limited. His parents actually found a girl from their community and decided to get Yash married to her. But just before they could finalise things, Yash announced that he was going to Europe for a two year period, for research regarding a concept on which he was working. He was a research scientist in those days. There was no time for them to organise the wedding and get the girl’s passport arranged so that she could accompany him. His parents pleaded with him to postpone his plans, but Yash explained that he could lose the sponsorship if he delayed. The girl’s family was very anxious to have Yash as their son in law as he is a highly qualified man with a good job. So they suggested a long engagement, meaning that the couple should get engaged and marry immediately on Yash’s return. Yash would have none of this. He did not want to go abroad with the responsibility of an unknown fiancée to add to his tensions. He felt that if he was going to have an arranged marriage, the engagement period should be as short as possible. How right he was, in retrospect!
So what did his parents do? They tried a little manipulation. On Yash’s journey to Delhi from our city in north India to catch his flight, his parents suggested that their farewell party drop in to the house of some friends in a town on the way for some refreshment. Yash didn’t know these friends and was a little puzzled at their insistence. But things soon became clear. The house was freshly painted. And decorated. And the daughter of these friends was lavishly dressed in a silk sari, dripping with gold jewellery …..and (skillfully) plastered with make up. Yash took in the whole scene and felt sick at heart. He wanted to just run away. Having seen his own sisters dressed up and displayed to prospective suitors from time to time, he understood the hurt and bewilderment that young girls feel when someone says no. How could he tell this girl that it was nothing personal, he thought she was lovely, but it just wasn’t the right time for him to make a marriage decision? Would it make her feel any better, or would it just add to the bitterness of rejection? And his parents! He was furious with them. In his opinion, he felt that they had just used the worst form of emotional blackmail. They knew how much Yash hates hurting anyone.
Well, Yash hardened his heart and said no. He let his parents deal with the embarrassing technicalities. It was their problem, let them deal with it. The trouble was, when he tried to tell them that it was nothing personal, not the right time, they kept saying ‘oh, don’t worry, the time will pass ‘. So shock treatment became necessary. ‘I don’t find the girl attractive enough! She’s too plain!’ He said. That did it! He was off the hook.
I don’t think Yash has ever really forgiven himself for this. In fact when we first became friends in Dublin all those years ago, and started discussing our personal matters with each other, this was one of the first things he discussed with me. He felt guilty about upsetting the girl, even more than he did about disappointing his parents.
The story does have a happy ending. The girl’s parents found her the perfect match even before Yash returned to India……..by then he was in love with me, but that’s another story! She remains happy, living near her parents and I believe she is now the mother of two grown up children.
We know about her fate because she is distantly related to the family of my mother in law. I only came to know this a few years later. One day, when Neil and Mel were small (the last two hadn’t yet made their appearance) and Yash was at work, we were visited by a distant relative. She was a nice looking woman about thirty three, the same age as me at that time, and had decided to visit our home as she was passing through our city. My in-laws welcomed her with great respect and warmth. Her name was Purnima, I remember. I was not looking my best that day. I was wearing my most disgusting jeans and sweatshirt ensemble. My hair was scraped back in a rubber band and I was running around like a dervish, chasing Neil and Mel, trying to grab them to have a bath.
I noticed her watching me, studying me, almost. But not unkindly. I saw her smile gently to herself. ‘So this is Yash’s wife!’ I heard her say, to no one in particular. I wondered who she was. I felt a bit self-conscious considering my dishevelled appearance and ‘frazzled mum’ mode. It was only after she left I came to know her identity. She was in fact the sister of the girl Yash had rejected as being ‘too plain’. Now this girl would come to know know, that Yash’s wife was hardly an improvement on plain. In fact, Yash’s wife, that day looked like a complete fright! Oh duh!!!!
But! If it made her feel better, I’m not sorry. She deserves some compensation for what she probably suffered that day. Needless to say, I never mentioned this to Yash!!!!
This post was written by Gaelikaa, a forty something Irish woman married to an Indian and living in India.
Photo credit: hiralhenna