‘Ultimately my efforts are meaningless if the stars are not aligned.’ Read Vasudha Rungta’s vicarious account of an Indian arranged marriage set up.
Amritanshu’s biodata. Tuesday 13th June 2015, 4:00pm.
“He looks handsome didi!” A squeal of excitement from my brother’s wife as she looked at the bio data that had just arrived. The photo was of a potbellied man-child with beady eyes looking frightening and dead on into camera. Height: 5’7. Skin colour: Wheatish. Hobbies: Reading, Foodie, Family oriented.
Getting ready. Sunday 18TH June 2015, 12:30 pm.
The house is in a flurry of activity. The excitement is palpable. Ever since we got Amritanshu’s bio data, my mother has been a whirl of joy and her voice has been at 150k Hz (which is the frequency range of a dolphin’s hearing). “Sushma, are you ready? It’s getting late and they are waiting.” My elderly grandmother also here today, (who is actually my grandmother’s cousin sister) is looking at me sternly. “Beta, unko wait nahi karate” (Child, we don’t make them wait) referring to the boy’s family, that was scheduled to meet us at Shamiana lounge at the Taj at 1 pm. Amongst their colourful sarees we could definitely occupy a float at a Pride Parade. The thought of Pride got me thinking about sexuality and I was interrupted by my aunt as she surveyed my choice of outfit, “Wouldn’t you prefer wearing another dress?” (A slight nudge into the direction of docility). “I’m fine Chachi.” “Beta, comb your hair though,” a soft-spoken voice negotiated some subservience. A military stack of Marwaris, guns loaded were ushering me to the car and into the lion’s den.
Shamiana lounge, Sea facing table for ten. Sunday 18TH June 2015, 1:00pm.
The sunlight falls in patches through the mini squared windows of the lounge onto mini decadent teacakes and macarons, on an ornate flower-like trolley. The doilies are crisp and white and blank without judgment. A welcome feeling really, when surrounded by heavily dressed ladies in their salwaar kameez finery with pearls dropping from their chests. “Would you like some more tea? Even we were thinking the same. The traffic was heavy today, took us 30 minutes to reach…What do I tell you Auntie.” Chatter pervaded the air as if to make up for my stone cold silence. Staying true to the spirit of the docile daughter-in-law, my eyes fell toward the ground and looked up only when served with a question. “Toh beta kaunse university main padhte ho?” (Which university have you studied in?) “Purdue aunty,” I smile weakly. “Acha PAR dooo” she repeated, with the swelling confidence of a man beating his donkey to go forward. “Our son, Amritanshu has also studied abroad.” Beams of smiles exchanged. A waiter dipped himself forward, pouring a colourless ginger tea into their cups with a basil leaf and honey mixed in for humour. Insert mandatory lame comment about exposure. “Auntie, today all the kids are studying abroad only I tell you.” Loud unnecessary laughter. This banter continued for a while till the elderly ladies of the family decided it was time they left Amritanshu and me alone. “Let these two speak now.” I am now face to face with Amritanshu.
The Photograph. Sunday 18th June 2015, 1: 45 pm.
The family has collected around us like sheep in the Kangra valley who have lost their way for a moment. Little dangling purses made of cloth with small jewels on them, swung from their wrists. (These were the new trending purses). “These two look so good together, they make such a good pair!” Glances and nervous laughter followed. “Nandini, ek photo le lo beta saath main.” (Nandini, take a photo with him) As the two of us were clicked together, the flash of the camera merged into the sunlight that lit us both from the window with the blue Arabian sea outside and several triangular boats. “Take off your shoes and stand beside Amritanshu.” Mortified, my yellow heels were removed and I felt 3 feet tall instead of 5 feet 2, as I stood next to the cowering Amritanshu. A match made in heaven.
Tick-tock. Tuesday 20th June 2015, 6 :30 pm.
It has been exactly two days since my meeting with Amritanshu. “Beta, what do you think of Amritanshu?” asked my mum as if treading on thin ice. Seeing my unconvinced expression, two voices pipe in. “See, every guy cannot be 100% flawless. There will always be something missing in everyone. Also, time is running out na. The more you wait, the lesser options you get. You aren’t young also na beta, you have to think about children..” “I haven’t decided Cha.” I finally manage to say. “Yes, yes nothing like that, no such urgent rush. Take your time. Meet him 2-3 more times, then you will feel more comfortable….”
The Decision. Saturday 24th June 2015, 11:45 am.
They almost had me for a bit, with why I should not be alone. How it is against the law of nature to stay single and how I should not be ‘picky’. “Post 30 beta things only get tougher and you’ll only get ‘divorcees’.” They always stress on the word ‘divorcees’ and then tsk tsk after, like it leaves a bad taste in their mouths.
The well known matchmaker ‘Sima Taparia from Mumbai’ too, tells us tales about flexibility and compromise being essentials to a happy future. The answer to Indian arranged marriage set ups seems to be adjustments. A little bit of give and take, (mostly entailing the wife putting up with the husband’s oddities and quirks, right up to his homosexuality and domestic abuses in extreme cases). Suffering and conformity in marriage is a given. Even in an unhappy or unhealthy marriage, when stacked against divorce, the former is advisable as divorce would bring mounds of shame to the girl’s family. Our broad minds really seem to be buttered with cream layers of narrow mindedness.
Apart from putting up with nonsense and clichéd ideas of the perfectly curated kewpie doll like daughter-in-law, there are also other dated ideas of what preserves a married life and a complete sacrifice of any individuality, ambition or self care. I doubt my filmmaking aspirations would be deemed a suitable career choice once married to an Amritanshu. I would be hopelessly adjusting the gas knob and praying that the mixed vegetable dish was not overcooked. If the kitchen wore me down, there would always be – stitching bridal lehengas, jewelry design, flower arrangements or setting up a home-based cupcake factory. Either way, this limited cesspool of choices batters my self-esteem to the ground, is totally humiliating and does not seem like it is worth any adjustment. Self-respect sucker punches lonely spinster. Rishta (proposal) politely declined.
RPR – Relief Post Rishta. Monday 26th June 2015, 3:00 pm.
Marriages aren’t tailor made and we aren’t tailors. Unfortunately, some Indian women today are still sent to finishing school, to learn which spoon is a soup spoon and where it is placed on the dining table amongst the rest of the silver, sparkling cutlery. How to sit, to speak and how to keep your husbands happy 101. For those of us who have grown up headstrong and liberal, this rulebook is tossed out the window. By the time we get married, we have shaped our personalities to a large extent. So once married, we can’t make ‘adjustments’ without being untrue to who we really are, can we?
Living a dual existence will slowly crush our spirits and mental health and cause abundant suffering. Oh mon Dieu! The anxiety! I’d rather wait for the butterflies in my stomach and take a gamble on that match. Hopefully they fly me to a place far, far away from the Indian arranged marriage landscape. Post the refusal, I am fixing myself a Malbec and I can feel the relief set in as I swirl the wine in the glass.