A girl I know traveled to the city to meet the groom her dad had chosen for her. Dressed up and nervous, she sat in front of what could be her future family and was subjected to scrutinizing eyes. She comes from a small town and has been home-schooled for most of her life. She has been bred to believe her life is not hers after marriage. As if to say, Agni Dev is the prime witness and with every “phera” of the havan kund, her very identity is diminished. Her role is now of a caretaker and an heir giver. Period!
As per the Hindu religion, she had been raised by the book! Marriage was and continues to be a sacrament. Religiously, marriage isn’t for self-indulgence but to procreate – better known as “carry the family name forward” – and in due course to fulfill duties almost in a fiduciary manner for the sake of your children and society.
I was saddened and stunned. She wouldn’t raise her eyes to see the one she would be vowing to spend the rest of her life with. All she expected was for her basic needs to be met. She had resigned to fate in a way that was excruciating for me to watch as a bystander. I asked her later if she liked the guy, and in an almost disarming way, she replied, “Whatever Papa thinks best.”
I said no more. They will probably get married this fall after the dowry amount is bargained to the last Rupee. I remain a helpless onlooker.
I’m not in the least judging the girl. In fact, I empathize with her situation. If it isn’t enough that she has to leave her all and move, accept and fit in to the new family she gets married into, her freedom of choice has been curbed by her own parents. Yes, I blame the parents for not making her independent enough to stand by herself in the society. I blame them for giving birth to four daughters only for want of a son to carry forward their lineage. Yet the girl’s reason to smile was the sense of relief she saw on her dad’s face when everything went well. His daughter understood very well what it would take for her dad to be at peace, and she wanted to give him that even if it were at her expense.
You would ask, What’s wrong with it? After all, most of our parents got married like that and are living mostly happy and stable lives. Aren’t the divorce rates higher now despite the urban woman taking control to find a groom that matches her sensibilities? Well, the answer partly lies in the question. With changing times, expectations are getting redefined. Women (and men alike) are looking for more in their partners – a mutual companionship, an emotional investment, and refusal to settle for just mutual endurance, and the lack of dissonance. Couple that with financial freedom that empowers urban women to lead independent lives, and you have your answer. The main reason for putting up an act of togetherness, in the past, was the vague sense of security that couldn’t be bartered for fear of the unknown.
Here’s a girl who has no say, and another who would choose more wisely and demand more assertively. They exist in the two parallel worlds that thrive in our realities. Both, however, are bound by societal boundaries. The society’s system of taking upon itself to decide when a person should marry, what kind of partner is ideal, and negotiations that follow, is fundamentally questionable. The criteria are defined by the roles people presumably adopt. The guy, being the protector and provider, should have a stable job with a good income and a house of his own. The girl, on the other hand, should have the qualities of a nurturer. To know cooking, be demure and look pretty.
Mind you, these aren’t tales of just the rural world or of bygone eras. There are many instances when two educated people still get married without knowing much about each other. To be precise – at times, they’ve known each other for just a few weeks. These marriages of convenience are born out of family pressures, age galloping by, need for a caretaker of sorts, fulfilling a responsibility, and so on. To each their own, but personally, at the brink of an age that is considered ideal to tie the knot, I’m still apprehensive of taking such risks.
I worry primarily because I’m inherently (however oxymoronic this sounds) a modern traditionalist. I say this because marriage is more final to me than death. At the same time, I don’t believe that knowing a person’s likes, his income, and his interests is enough to make a life decision. Marriage is about compromises, and I recognize that. But there are some compromises that you’re unwilling to make. To have to deal with that after you’ve said “I do” makes me anxious. My skepticism for marriage is born out of this vulnerability and uncertainty that one is unwittingly subjected to.
Though as parents become more aware of their daughter’s wishes, there’s a fairly recent trend of introducing her to a prospective groom and giving them ample time to figure out if they are comfortable with the idea of sharing their lives. It’s a nuanced way of “arranging” for your daughter to hopefully find a compatible companion. I think it’s a promising step towards greater ownership in wedlock.
Don’t misconstrue me. I’m not for one instance saying that marriages out of love are always the fairytale endings of “happily ever after.” People fall out of love, have insurmountable differences and bitter separations. At least, they are responsible for the choices they make. In love, if you’ve spent ample time together and want to take the next logical step as adults, you know broadly what to expect.
By virtue of having had the chance to be with the other with all the guards down, you’re also aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Relatively, you’re at a better place than me. I’m tapping at the completely unknown, weighing the pros and cons from the little that I know of a guy introduced to me by my parents. How honest would I be with him about myself, knowing that I’m being judged? It becomes more of a contract. I would promise to be honest to my side of the bargain, hoping that in due course of life, we would be perfect for each other.
That then brings me to my final and rather controversial question: Do we all need to get married? Is it to put a stamp of permanence to relationships? Or are we crazy and selfish enough to think that life’s too short to be lived for the sake of another, unless that someone is living for the sake of yours just as much?
The writer has the mind of a maverick and fancies challenging the limits of her thoughts.