While the seeping wave of the ‘global village’ has spread cultures, technology, the H1N1 virus, and Hindustani rap songs across the world, it would be rather premature to conclude that we have all become more or less the same. Of course, no one ever expected that we’d exchange all cultural heritages and have global equanimity, least of all on the subject of relationships. While it is not as frequent as it used to be, the bulk of Indian marital adventures arise from the age old practice of arranged marriage. Now a large chunk of you, who have perchance glanced through some of my earlier notes on the subject, may assume that I’m revving up the ol’ engine to use this post to blast the practice to smithereens, Nay, I say.
While I wouldn’t weep over the decline of the practice, I don’t think it is as bad as many people think. It’s not as callous and degrading as centuries ago, when, I imagine, the ablest of the land bartered four oxes and three roosters in exchange for his bride. There are legends that the first matchmaking of all time was an arranged one, where a certain man who shall remain nameless to protect his identity, bartered a rib and possibly a spine to get his beloved.
I hadn’t personally attended a ‘bride seeing’ ceremony during my childhood, but I’d seen enough of those in movies. The process wasn’t complex by any stretch of imagination. The bridegroom and his posse, which typically consists of his parents, uncles, a broker, and a brother if available, all dressed in white, march up with synchronized smiles, greets the waiting horde of the bride’s home team. Not to be outdone, the bride’s gang is similarly large, with an additional wisecracking kid thrown in for good measure, who runs in to the bride’s room and passes on some inconsequential comment about the groom and sets off a giggling contest. The bride’s team also has the home turf advantage. Inevitably, the groom’s posse gets seated and awaits the crowning event of the day.
It doesn’t take too long. The bride walks in with a tray of tea, her eyes fixed on the floor, as if she just dropped an earring. And in the middle of serving tea, she shoots a quick two second glance at the staring groom, and makes her flash decision. Meanwhile, the groom takes in a full three minutes to seal the deal, finalize the proceedings, shake hands with the father, and head off to the printing press to order two thousand copies of the wedding invitation.
Quite apparently, the primary concern of the discerning movie groom, as far as married life is concerned, is how his better half would fare in the fine art of serving tea. One might argue that tea serving takes up but a minuscule portion of any given day – even for chronic tea drinkers – and further argue whether this five minute display isn’t a grossly inadequate window to gauge marriage potential, but if one continues to argue on that vein, one is going to miss out the rest of the movie, which mainly consists of how the town villain humiliates the bride’s father, ruins the wedding, and how the girl rushes indoors and leaps upon her bed crying.
Entertaining as the debacle is, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of today’s ceremonies. More people recognize the need for the couple to understand each other better… The modern equivalent of arranged marriage isn’t too far off from having your friends fix you up with someone for a blind date, except that a) your friends are actually your parents, and b) your hair, and on occasion your entire head, will be on fire.
The trouble is… even adjusted to accommodate the more liberal view in today’s era, it still doesn’t create a natural atmosphere. It’s like going fly fishing in your dining room aquarium. There’s a limit to how natural you can make it feel.
By all accounts, the ordeal seems to be more frightful from the girl’s point of view. The supply of jerks seem to be unfairly higher on the guys’ side. One of my close friends – Let’s call her Dee – recently got swept into an arranged proposal. The specimen she was scheduled to meet had told his folks that he didn’t have many ‘demands’ as such – he just wanted his bride to look drop dead gorgeous. Period. A man of simple tastes. An altruist he was not.
This got Dee mulling over certain pivotal questions
- What kind of a guy would put in such a shallow demand?
- What is society doing letting someone like that out loose on the streets where he can go propose to any girl; a potential menace to all and sundry…
- Really. What kind of a guy?
- How do I say “Get lost, you pathetic loser, before I aim a brick at your forehead” using nothing but polite words and smiles?
- Why me, God? What did I do to you?
The prospect of chatting up with Captain Gorgeous felt so revolting that she got put off by the process altogether. The only way to be safe, she reasoned, is to pick some guy she can be comfortable with and bypass the arranged proposals altogether – let’s say, maybe Bob from her office. But she will have to hurry up before Bob’s parents pick out his mate from a catalog.
Things would have been easy if Dee was the aggressive sort; the kind of girl who’d pounce on Bob right then and there, brand “Property of Dee” on his right thigh, muzzle him up tight, get on the saddle and yell “hee-haw”. But she was quick to point out the fallacy in that premise – She was just not that kind of a girl. She’ll have to find a plan that’s a bit more subtle. Maybe throw in hints before dragging him to her parents and formalizing the ceremony dates. Hmm… Hey, maybe she can have him attacked by hired goons, and at the right time, pop out of a bush with packed karate chops that save the day. Bob would be so grateful that he… No, wait. That plan may not work with gender roles reversed.
She’ll have to come up with a different plan. And she’ll need to come up with something before Bob gets cornered into a marriage. Once that happens, she’ll have no choice but to hatch a plot to kidnap him. And she’s severely handicapped in the capacity of a kidnapper by the indisputable fact that she doesn’t have a mustache. Its absence is clear even to the untrained eye. It is vital… in fact, crucial that kidnappers of any reasonable repute have a moustache to twirl while laughing menacingly… It is one of the many factual data one can learn from watching old Bollywood movies. She may be able to pull off the m. laugh, given time to practice, but the mustache handicap is an unsurmountable challenge.
But then again, Bob could wait. At the moment, she needed to see how best to tackle Captain Gorgeous and his search for Sweeping Beauty. Maybe… Maybe she could simply dress up shabbily, tussle up her hair, and pray she looks ugly enough for the good Captain to lift anchor and sound the foghorn. Maybe she should conjure up fabricated events of her past designed to scare away jerks. Maybe she could ‘accidentally’ show a shelf full of booze and cigarette butts … perhaps even get a close friend to pose as a dead body in the closet. She was completely open to ideas, and I was happy to oblige with MY contribution.
As I see it, in case she ends up cornered into meeting him for a private tete-a-tete, there really IS only one thing to do… In the words of Dr. John Dorian – “Kick him in the crotch and run, dammit”