There has been a spate of articles in recent months making fun of arranged marriages. But the one which struck a false note with me was the one in Tehelka magazine written by a newbie author promoting her upcoming book which ridicules all the various misadventures of bumbling men during personal interviews in the girl seeing ceremony of arranged weddings. I hate making sweeping generalizations and prefer letting each talk for themselves but in this instance I would like to add a few nuggets of information from the other side of the fence- the male point of view.
The prime reason most Indian men trip over their own feet in such personal interviews is that as a rule Indian men are not used to talking to girls casually, especially to strange girls they are meeting for the first time ever and with the added pressure of doing it under the hawk like supervision of both sets of parents. Can you ever imagine dating under parental supervision? Especially a first date with its own set of chances for misunderstandings? And to extend it further – a situation where you are under the clock on that brief first date itself to decide whether you like the person enough to spend the rest of your life with them? And to watch out for nuances in meaning and insinuations in the most casual of sentences and to still be a charming conversationalist is a gift beyond the average Indian male.
Most men spend years picking up courage to talk causally even to their classmates and colleagues at work and to be challenged suddenly to do it in a arranged wedding setup simply freezes their vocal cords. Besides at girl seeing ceremonies the average Indian male prefers to ogle at his would-be-brides external charms and rarely worry about trying to impress them with his wit and charms. After all if he has been allowed in so far as to qualify for a personal interview then it goes without saying he has successfully jumped through the preliminary hoops and bounds placed by the girl’s family. And most of the really serious issues are negotiated by the two sets of parents beforehand without involving the groom and bride- the very raison d’être of an arranged wedding.
But sometimes despite all the best efforts of the parents the groom or the bride can end up damaging the most promising of arranged weddings and this happens usually during those brief girl-boy chats we are discussing here. Speaking personally whenever I go to see a girl I hope there is no opportunity to speak at all. For one, it minimizes the chances of any misunderstandings being blamed on me later on. But mainly it’s because I find that whenever I get to speak with a girl as part of an arranged marriage – the entire time our parents allow us to talk personally is monopolized by the girl bargaining hard as if we are at a fish market.
Although it’s easy to pass off my experiences as isolated instances still i have made an effort to find out if they are indeed one-off experiences or the general norm nowadays and so from my extensive talks with various other unmarried, sailing in the same boat, guys in my friends/acquaintances list (confessions wrangled out from unsuspecting persons) I find that girls nowadays spend all their times making up to-do lists and conditions to put to the groom during the personal interviews. These range from the most basic (and laughable rules) to absolutely idiotic conditions which no sane person would ever agree to. Casual every day stuff on life together which can be discussed informally later on after marriage (and preferably in bed) are elevated to make or break conditions which are negotiated with all the zeal of a multi-billion dollar contract. Much ado is made about little things. All the talk is about rights and nary a whisper about its other side- duties.
When one person keeps demanding and demanding – the other person is bound to start seeing things in a different light too, right? What should be a romantic discussion about a rosy future together is suddenly turned into an item by item checklist to be negotiated no-holds bared. It takes all the romance out of a wedding and just paves the way for continuous fights post-marriage. The very spirit of give and take in a marriage is given a go by when it is firmly established right in the beginning that you have to fight for everything. With such an auspicious start to marital life do you wonder at the skyrocketing divorce rates? If all that a girl is looking for is to just start a fight with a man, then she should join the World Wrestling Federation and give a bye to marriage. People marry to lead a normal peaceful life, not to indulge in competitive one-upmanship
Now, I can hear some women saying hold on, this is too one-sided and how will we ever get anything we want out of men if we don’t negotiate for it pre-wedding. Well, ladies have you heard of the magic word, please? It moves mountains especially when asked by the correct person and in the correct tone and time. Half the art of negotiation lies in knowing when to ask and not in bludgeoning men with take it or leave it conditions. Power, if you didn’t know it is not given but taken. Take it by yourself and your own that man. Ask for it, fight for it or negotiate for it and you have already lost the initiative.
Which brings me to my pet peeve- feminists – who have so inverted the male/female dynamics as to change it from a complementary relationship to an antagonistic relationship. Some of the position of neo-feminist is absolutely bizarre. Like ridiculing men for being shallow over the looks of the would-be wife. Remember, beauty is highly subjective and what’s good for the goose may not be etc. for example, when I was at college i used to go all drooling on short, cute girls wearing spectacles and looking bookish and nerdy so much so that when one of my friends saw any such one they would all start making fun of what they called “your type”. But as I grew older my tastes changed and now I don’t exclusively like short girls only. And if any woman takes umbrage at me for this preference based on looks only let me ask straight out whether the rule about not being shallow applies to men only?
For example I have seen so many instances of women outraging over matrimonial advertisements when a guy demands a fair/beautiful bride but how many women actually agree to marry a normal looking guy who just looks his age? Don’t all marriageable age women ask their parents for a rich, well settled and handsome guy? Someone with a six digit salary and six pack abs? Has any girl ever, ever told her parents that all she looks for in a guy is a good and loving heart? Have you ever seen any matrimonial ad from a girl which says dusky or short or geeky or bespectacled or bald boys preferred? Or even accepted? First time itself? Now don’t be hypocritical ladies and start lying that you did- you know in your hearts that you didn’t. Should there be different standards for different people? As human beings we all have our fantasies (politically correct or not) -and wishing for them to be fulfilled is not wrong as such. Preaching to others will not make a change till you show by example.
So my conclusion is -it takes two to fight. If you decide to ambush an unsuspecting guy with conditions and rules expect to face in turn some hard bargaining. If on the other hand you trust to love and affection to make everything right (somehow) in the end, providence (karma) will play its role and reward you with a happy marital life. What you give is what you get- cynicism breeds cynicism and trust breeds trust. So stop blaming men alone – we share only half of it. And before you start making fun of men for bumbling into arranged marriages reflect that you too are in the same boat because you are sitting on the other end of it. I rest my case.