Arranged marriages : now and then
I finally managed to embark on the task of getting down to writing the post on arranged marriages as I had promised earlier. All I can say is that my mind was previously preoccupied with other tasks and I felt I would not be able to do full justice to the post so I refrained from writing it earlier. It turned out quite long so do bear with me!!!
In arranged marriages ritual of seeing the girl is of vital importance because this is the time when the girl and the boy’s family actually meet for the first time same for the girl and the boy. Maharashtrians call it the “kanda-pohe” ritual literally because traditionally kanda pohe is served in these functions!!! We bengalis don’t necessarily have the jargon but we do have the ritual. This first-time-ritual is forever embedded in the memory of both the girl and guy all their life. These make for interesting stories I have recounted some of them from the memories of my mother, sister and myself.
I and hubby were at a certain place in Pune, when we met this man, his wife and kids. The man was familiar to hubs so they got talking. I found this man very familiar but could not place him in my memory. An older couple soon joined the family, on seeing the older man and Woman……. Bingo!!! I remembered who they were!!!
Flash back: Some years back before my marriage, my family was approached with this alliance for me from this guy whose parents, when they came to meet me/Kanda pohe, (sans the guy, which is why I was not able to remember him and which irritated me) the mother and father of the boy kept asking me about my job particularly how much I earned and how much I saved and my bank balance. I dumped the family point blank refusing to even meet the guy who was more interested in my job!!!
I came home and told Ma and my sisters whom I met and we got talking on marriages!!! Before I give you the whole recount, I have to start the story from a little before independence of India: Before Ma’s birth!!!
Did you know that eons ago in India small girls were sold in marriage and the boy had to actually buy the girl? Those were times when the ratio of boys’ vs. girls was very less. My grandmother and my mother’s pishi of whom I had mentioned in one of my previous post were bought by their husbands. No dowry was paid by the girl’s family. Girls were married off at a very young age. They were brought up alongside their husbands but were denied school education. They were schooled at home like both my grandmothers.
My parents came to Kolkatta after partition. Ma was very small then but Ma’s sister was a little older so she was married off in haste. In the crossover they were looted, plundered and the women folk were gang-raped. I have both my grandfathers saying on record that during the crossover they were stripped to their skin and every naya paisa was taken from them. The women in the family were smuggled by the Muslim neighbors/friends and put in the crossover train when it was safe. When they finally reached Kolkatta they did not have a paisa to their name. Initially my grandparents set up home in the refugee camp and after a very long time made a home and haven for themselves and their children.
The reason I gave you the background is to understand the socio-economic condition of the people at that time also the socio-economic condition of my Ma’s family.
My grandfather started looking for a suitable groom for Ma since she was in the ninth standard. My Ma’s cousin (paternal sister) was of the same age and lived next door, so the proposals that would come would first round up her house and then come to see ma, (the word I will use here is Window shopping) which was fine by my grandfather. Ma claims that sometimes she would give two to three “sittings” in a day, sometimes five a week!!!
The girls were judged on how beautiful they were – color of the skin features etc. The other benchmarks included their education, family conditions, creativity, of course music etc. These sittings would have the boy’s family – full family, sometimes even extended family, and friends, (sans the intended boy) come and ask the girl – questions (read physical examinations). She was asked to show her hair – to check for split ends and length, made to walk, to see whether she limped and to check her feet….. apparently some feet are supposed to be bad luck….. Don’t ask me which ones…… I haven’t yet got to that yet…… still researching on that, her palm was read, in some cases she was asked to produce horoscopes, which my grandparents never bothered to make so never mattered!!! OK this is the bombshell: in some cases the girl was asked to show her teeth……. Yes her teeth were checked!!! and all this time ignorant me thought only horses were checked for their teeth!!!
The oral questions (read viva voce) that were put to them were usually stuff about running the house, budgeting, cooking, creativity in embroideries, music etc etc!!!
In one such sitting Ma was grilled for hours by an old man and prospective groom and family who had come to interview. They had already grilled her through the education, music, embroideries and recite a poem segments. He asked ma:
Old man: “How much salt will be required for cooking a lamb (patha) for so many numbers of people?”
Ma had had it until then!!! She was really fed up and she confesses that she did not want to get married at that point of time (she was in college then) and she did not like the guy…….. so she asked the old man
Ma: “Patha ta kar moton – apnar na apnar cheler moton???” (How is the lamb like you or your son!!!)
Guess the attitude was present in my genes….. so when decades later when my parents were looking for a groom for me. (Yes!!! I was incapable of finding one for myself) I was confronted with a similar situation when the guy’s uncle and aunt who had come to meet me kept asking me questions about my career and hobbies etc etc for their nephew who was a “Engineer from Jadhavpur” and they expected a Probashi like me who was born and brought up in Pune and whose second language was Marathi (first being English) to know where Jadhavpur is and its importance in the national history of the country and its contribution to the economic growth of the country and world at large. I always thought that MIT and Harvard were the best and the Indian institutes of IIM and IIT were good and after that it was the REC’s and NIT’s.
Anyway the uncle and the aunt looked disapprovingly at me and kept saying that their nephew liked long hair……. I had had it till that time with them raving and ranting about the nephew and making me sound inferior so frustrated I said:
ME: “Is your nephew bald?” both were stunned and angered.
Then looking at their confused faced I clarified:
ME: “I thought that he wanted the girl to have long hair so as to enable him to make a wig with her hair”
Well they rejected me!!! Thank God!!! Else I would’ve been bald and the Jadhavpur guy in question would be sporting my hair!!!
Ma’s cousin who lived just a few blocks from her was dark. Eventually when she got married, her father had to pay a lot of dowry to the family of the groom. She was weighed in gold and the gold was given to the groom’s family. After the wedding she was harassed time and again for her color. She took in the abuse for a very long time. Then one day when she had a lot and could not take more of it on one fine sunny and glorious day she said:
Ma’s Cousin: “Even if I am black/dark, my father’s money/gold is not”
Ma recollects that once a family of nine brothers had come to see her and her cousin and they spent a week at their house with their full extended family and friends…… The guy in question was deaf by one ear (he was struck by lightning). They rejected both sisters and finally it was heard that the guy married some colleague of his with whom he was working – love marriage.
My Ma claims that my grandfather would say that the amount of money he spent in kanda pohes/sittings feeding the people who would come, he could’ve financed one whole wedding reception.
My sister’s mother-in-law was the sixth wife of her husband – all other wives were very beautiful but died without issues!!! She was chosen because unlike her predecessors she was dark and not good looking. She bore her husband lots of kids but her husband died young……. paradox!!! She and her kids outlived him.
My aunt’s wedding is more fun!!! In her wedding her uncles who were Sanskrit pundits had made a claim that to get married to their niece; the prospective groom would have to win in a Sanskrit debate with them!!! and no I am not talking about the times of shakuntalas and swayamvars!!! Just some time ago!!! My uncle was lucky he had amongst his family some Sanskrit exponents and they were married!!!
In contrary to stories of yore, arranged marriages today are much better where a neutral place like a restaurant or hotel lobby is selected for the meeting/Kanda pohe ritual and the boy and girl are given an opportunity to interact. Matrimonial sites organize swayamvars and camps where all the families can meet and interact and decide. The total kandha pohe ritual is done with and the Waiter serves the tea and kandha pohe to one and all!!!
I kind of like it when all the details are in black and white and the families can be very practical and actually ARRANGE an alliance between two families!!! The details being filled out in forms and the prospective bride and grooms look through them and decide on the available alternatives. These days like classic cases of E-love the arranged marriages through matrimonial portals too are good wherein the guy and the girl can chat with each other decide on the amiability before they actually meet.
Whatever the options I am glad I am through with it. I absolutely hated it!!!
Made in heaven
Marriages are said to be made in heaven
To be suffered on earth
Although of boys and girls, there is no dearth
The combinations made by heaven don’t seem quite even!!!
Arranged by parents for convenience’s sake
Couples come together in the oddest sizes and makes.
The man who slogs for his family,
Gets a grumbling wife.
The man who lives for himself,
Gets a doting wife and enjoys life.
The innocent girl gets a wicked male
Her story, a continuous pathetic tale.
The man timid and meek,
Is paired with a malacious, howling shriek.
The mod chick lands up with a country lad
And the country lad with a fashion fad.
The female wrestler gets a bag of bones
And the weakling, a Slyvester Stallone
The list is unending
Don’t you think the Gods need training???
Shouldn’t marriages be made on earth
So that their makers may prove their worth???
Or do you think marriage is a gamble
Through which one has to ramble
Whether planned in heaven or on earth???