The Indian mentality towards marriage

July 30, 2009

My mom was doing her grocery shopping and ran into an old acquaintance who normally wouldn’t talk more than a “kem chho” (how are you) but this time was very excited to share the good news of her daughter’s marriage to a “NRI chokro” (Non resident Indian bridegroom). After my mom congratulated her, she started questioning my mom about me. When my mom told her about my single status, she expressed shock and anguish almost as if she heard that I was diagnosed with swine flu or something much worse. My mom, by now a pro at this, told her that she doesn’t view it as a problem and that marriage will happen if and when it has to. But you see; to most Indian mothers, getting their daughters married off is like a B-school placement – so if you don’t get placed in slot 0 or slot 1, there has to be something terribly wrong with you. My only problem with this thinking is while you can get companies to come on campus according to slots, you don’t necessarily meet the right men early on; i.e. slot 0 or slot 1.

If one believes in the “six degrees of separation” theory, then the right person for each one should not be more than 6 degrees away – i.e. your friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend could be the right one for you. But in reality meeting that right person may take ages. And what if you marry the person you think is right and then meet the right person – ouch, absolute disaster! In most parts of the world, you marry IF and WHEN you want to marry and if things don’t work out, you go your separate ways. But in India, you are almost pressurized to marry because your parents or extended family wants you to marry. If you are among the lucky ones like me, wherein your parents have left it to you when you want to marry, it still doesn’t signal the end of problems – because there is an entire army of people there right from that old family friend to the relative of your neighbor to the sister in law of your aunt who have all taken it up on themselves to find you the right person!

Things can get so irritating that after a point one may stop attending marriages of cousins, social functions to avoid the inevitable question – “beta, lagan kyare karavane che?”(When will you get married?) A simpler solution would probably be to smile and say “time che” (there is still time for that) but then you run the risk of being viewed as too western, too modern, too rebellious, etc, etc. While I get away with all this not even being present at most such occasions, it’s my mom who charmingly fields all this questions – so sweet of her.

While it is still understandable to expect the older generation to think in a certain way, what surprises me is that some of my girl friends after getting married started assuming some kind of superiority over me because of their marital status. While one is tempted to laugh at such idiocy, a single friend recently captured this very well when she said “all my friends who are in relationships or marriage have problems while I get to enjoy my life on my own terms, in fact I feel they are jealous of my single status” – well, the grass is always greener on the other side. My only contention here is it’s unfair to judge people based on their marital status and to believe that it’s customary to be married by a certain age or else it’s an aberration. Its time we let people be!

So while we send the Chandrayaan to the moon, make the maximum number of movies in the world, excel in software; I still wait for the day when we are able to break free of the stereotypes of marriage and age to get married at!!


July 29, 2009

(written in honour of Katpadi Katsa’s upcoming nuptials)

Kitty Aunty has always enjoyed weddings. But in the past few years they have been incredibly important to her. Now that her children have left the house and she no longer teaches junior school, being the centre of all weddings is how she occupies herself. Kitty Aunty has heard of the notion that a wedding is the bride’s special day, but thinks that this is a lie spread by Hollywood movies and American sitcoms. She knows that a wedding is a beast with a life of its own, which will devour the bride and groom if they’re not careful, and that only she can tame it.

And so it is Kitty Aunty who runs the weddings of her extended family behind the scenes. She knows how to negotiate a discount on the bride’s designer lehnga, and where to get equally good dresses at less obscene prices for the mothers and sisters. She knows the caterer who provides the best paneer tikkas. And the ladies who have evening tea at the Gymkhana Club still speak in awed tones of the time Kitty Aunty bargained over the groom’s juttis with a group of young and ruthless saalis, and convinced them to settle for a chaat party.

But the money and the catering and the dresses are just side businesses for Kitty Aunty. The really important job for her is information gathering and networking. For the past many years, she is the one who goes and meets the in-laws and their extended families, discusses how the wedding should be held, and finds out everything about them. The in-laws are always slightly perplexed that they are meeting Kitty Aunty rather than parents. They are also perplexed about whether she is a tai or a masi or a bua or a chachi or just a plain auntyji but they adjust.

And all this meeting in-laws and gupshup over chai leads to the whole point of the wedding. At the reception, if Gungun Mausi wants to know who that boy in the cream sherwani or the girl in the green choli is, only Kitty Aunty will be able to tell her. She will be the only person who will be able to tell Gungun Mausi their names, what they’re doing, any scandals centred around them or their families, and if they’re single and looking to get married. Kitty Aunty never does anything as crude as matchmake. But without her, matchmakers would never be able to operate. She knows this, and takes her function very seriously.

But she is not enjoying tonight’s wedding. The boy and girl have had a love marriage, which is fine by her. And the boy is not Punjabi but that is fine by her too. After all she is liberal and these days it’s better if children do things on their own. But the guest list is driving her crazy.

The bride and groom had gone to college together, and most of the guests are their batchmates and juniors and seniors. Not only do they outnumber the relatives, but very few relatives beyond immediate family have even been invited. Almost three fourths of the guests are the couple’s friends. Worse, they are all each others’ friends. Nobody is asking Kitty Aunty who anybody else is, because everyone knows already. She feels useless and exasperated. She had grown accustomed to being at the centre of all information. Now she is at the periphery. She has to ask guests who other guests are.

It’s fine if a girl and boy who get married don’t have the same caste or background, she reflects. But she draws the line at them having the same friends.

Busna Ae Haseeno!

July 29, 2009

A bus ride in Shanghai.
It was late in the evening and the bus was amazingly crowded, but I got in nevertheless. There was hardly any space and it was difficult not to step onto each other’s toes. While standing there, trying to balance myself in the midst of a lot of local Chinese; it struck me how I would never be able to travel in as crowded a bus in India with such ease. Earlier in the evening, I had read about the stripping incident in Patna in broad daylight. A 2006 report by the National Crime Records Bureau said in India a woman is raped every half hour and is killed every 75 minutes. And considering that only one in 10 rape cases get reported, the actual statistics would be mind numbing. Also, almost every woman in India would have experienced some form of leching, eve teasing, etc. When I pointed out to a friend that Chinese men don’t even look, forget staring, leching, eve teasing, bottom pinching, etc; he said it may be because they are careful when dealing with foreigners. This led me to discuss this with a few of my local Chinese female friends who also confirmed that they have never felt a man stare at them or try to misbehave while walking on the road or using public transport. This is in fact one of the cities wherein a woman feels safe unescorted even at 3 am. Another friend jokingly speculated on the testosterone levels of the Chinese males. I dismissed this logic immediately as to me the reason for the Chinese men being so well behaved and decent is largely attributed to the fact that there is more respect for women; percentage of working women much higher compared to India and the society here is more open in terms of acceptance of women as equals.There is an equal amount of pride in culture , civilization & ways of the past. However there are no taboos on sex, sleaze & porn. There is also a certain degree of openness about sex and u wont find too many people gawping when couples snuggle in the open. Nor will you find too many self proclaimed guardians of moral values of society who abhor ‘promiscuity’ of any kind and are a law unto themselves.
And this brings me back to the experience of my firang friends in India; most non-Indian women friends of mine have shared with me how they feel unsafe to walk on the road in one of the supposedly safest cities of India, Bombay. In fact, in India tourists are often soft targets. So while I enjoy the bus rides here, I wait for a day when I can board a bus anywhere in India without hesitation!

China calling

July 27, 2009

While growing up in India, particularly during my graduation course, we were constantly talking about the only other economy in the world that was growing faster than India – China. China had always fascinated me and I wanted more than anything else to get a first hand experience of working and living in China. So when given the opportunity, I was more than happy to come here with an open mind and soak in the different culture and experience.

I have been here for more than a year now and this country doesn’t cease to fascinate and amaze me. I have traveled to more than fifteen cities in China and have loved the scenic beauty, different cultures region wise, and most importantly the people – they are so nice, helpful, welcoming that I feel at home here. Traveling; both intra city and inter city is very convenient with excellent infrastructure in place. The public transport system in Shanghai is very efficient and I use the subway and buses frequently.

Work wise, it has been a great learning curve – the work environment here is extremely positive and buzzing with energy. Also it’s a very multicultural environment with a lot of respect for each other. I am learning the language and have fallen in love with it – though my Chinese is not very good – wo de zhongwen bu tai hao; wo hai zai xuexi. But whatever little of the language I can manage helps create a good bonding with the locals; specially the shopkeepers, taxi drivers, etc. Another difference for me was experiencing four different seasons and I must say I quite enjoyed it.

I have become an unofficial ambassador of China in India and vice versa. Most people in India are surprised and some even shocked to know I work in China and have a barrage of questions. Its amazing how in spite of being neighbors we know so little about each other. It was also a bit surprising for me initially to see how there are more than 30 Indian restaurants in Shanghai (I didn’t expect so many Indian restaurants here) and one can also get all Indian groceries here. But as I got to know Shanghai more, I realized how international and cosmopolitan the city is – It’s a true melting pot of different cultures.

Having said all these; the question which most people ask me is if I would like to stay longer in China – and my answer is “of course – wo hen xihuan zhongguo”!!

Introducing Samtaben

July 25, 2009

It looks like my run of no posts will continue for a while. So for the next few weeks, there will be a guest blogger at Givvup Only Are There. Please welcome Samtaben.

Samtaben is currently in China. Since the government there has blocked and; I offered her a guestblogging stint rather than having to deal with anonymizers or Chinese blogging platforms. She will be writing about traveling in China, learning Mandarin, and living like an expat. She is also more Goregaon-types than Gujew, so please don’t make fun of her.