JournalismPakistan.com June 17, 2017
Non-Indians are constantly perplexed by the fact that two people, a man and a woman, can be packed off together for the rest of their lives without ever having met each other.
Not just that, they can even make that marriage work - so much for love and Cupid and his pre-adolescent quiver of arrows. Modern Indian 'probables' generally feel they are above that traditional boy-meets-girl stuff and would rather check each other out for weeks and months and even years before saying okay, fine, let's do it, even the birds and bees do it.
Paradoxically, with the divorce rate going into orbit, even this generation goes into 'let's pretend' to make Mummy and Daddy and a biscuit assortment of aunts and uncles happy by saying they'll come along for the ride, what a lark this is, but don't expect me to fall for it. This is 2017. Who has an arranged marriage? Since love these days is sieved through several strainers including wealth, possessions, astral benevolence, security, gender equality and future prospects, holding on to it isn't easy. And young couples, starry-eyed in March, find that Cupid has lost his arrows by June and they are knocking on the lawyer's door.
Therefore, the risk of coming home to India to pick up 'pappadums, pickles and a wife' is still very much on the cards. And as classifieds in the newspapers get skinny, matrimonial columns burgeon with unreleased virtue and passion (well, one hopes so, anyway). Because it isn't considered fashionable it isn't talked about but hey, it's still happening, and how?
Arranging an arranged marriage is not a trivial pursuit, and unlike a love marriage, is played in deadly earnest. In love marriages, people either run away together, exchange promises they will not keep or, unrequited and prevented from being together, leap into wells, off cliffs and bridges etc., in what is a messy but precipitous end.
In arranged marriages, there is much plotting and planning. It is rather like a game of chess, only more complex. Assessing merits and demerits of the 'opposition' - relatives and friends are cordially invited to play and contribute their penny's worth. Everyone is commented upon and dissected and placed into categories and the pedigree of the family branches measured in full. It is like a bizarre game of blind man's bluff and kho kho because everyone is tagging everyone else and the young, not-yet-met-each-other couple is groping in the dark.
So it was that I found myself at a friend's home when he said, oh by the way, Manju's got a match and we are going to see the boy's family and you are not coming.
Why not, I said, I dangled her on my knee, surely I have the right?
You never dangled me on your knee, she said, you threw me in the swimming pool once but knees and dangling? Never. Come with us, said Manju, I need moral support, please, please. He can't, he's busy, said my pal from the past. No I am not, I said. You don't want to come, he said, it's not your scene. Dad's afraid you'll make off-color jokes and comment on their being rich, she said. I won't, I said, I promise. Are the very rich, like really, really rich? My friend sighed in defeat.
Next evening, we fetched up at the neutral matchmaker's home (mandatory third party without whom this would not take off) and I was apologetically introduced as a journalist friend from Dubai after which we squiggled around playing musical chairs so that the boy and the girl could sit next to each other.
We all berthed like a gaggle of yachts, grinning fatuously at one another and letting silence do the painful rest. Once everyone had said lovely weather for this time of the year at least once, and the boy had elaborated on his trip back from Atlanta, Georgia, with an in-depth rendition on the seven-hour delay at Heathrow to which everyone "aahed" knowledgeably, the party was really swinging. So, Manju whispered, sotto voce, score him.
Score him on 10.
Seven, I said.
Six, she said, he's a low average six and I don't like the way he keeps hitting his chest, could it be palsy? No, I said, he's going for his cigarettes, then realizing that he can't smoke because Mummy and Daddy ordered him not to. Somebody said Ashok's now into complex programing. We all looked impressed. Good for Ashok.
Manju said, I think computer science is fascinating. Ashok smiled. His parents smiled. Manju's parents smiled. Not wanting to be a party pooper, I smiled, too. I broke the ice, she said, I endorsed his work, that's a positive sign, that is why we are all grinning, it's a giant step for mankind.
So what'll they do next, I said. Food, she said, now they'll bring food. They did. Heaps. Well, go on, I said, why don't you build on that beginning, talk to him about computers? I know nothing about computers, she said. I thought they fascinated you, I said. Magic fascinates me, I know nothing about it. She said no, let's ignore him from now on.
How do you know so much about this, I said. Oh, she replied, this is the sixth one this month. That's the way the game is played. Three days later, which was yesterday, my friend, Manju's father, called. We're planning Manju's engagement for Saturday, it's on. With Ashok of the compucalibre? Yessir, they are on WhatsApp.
Don't knock it. It worked for my parents and it probably did for yours. They started at step one and together they climbed the stairs even when the lift was broken. The madly-in-love have nothing to discover. They can only wait for the elevator to take them down.
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and the paper’s former Editor. He has also been the Editor of Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
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