On completing my twentieth birthday, I burdened my family (including the ones whose existence I was so far unaware of) with a new anxiety – that of my marriage. My views on marriage or atleast the Indian format of the same don’t go down too well with most of them. When I told my folks that arranged marriages are little more than convenient financial transactions and that the whole system was based on reducing a living, thinking being to a commodity, they gave each other grim looks and clicked their tongues.
Grandma’s decision, usually unquestionable, was that I needed a stern, strict husband to cure the wild, violent streak in me. The worldly wise uncle guffawed loudly and said, “We all think that way in college. A few years down the line, when the desire to change the world has subsided, you’ll want to settle down”. I need not add that in contemporary jargon ‘settling down’ has come to be synonymous with marriage. Though why to ‘settle down’ one must clean dirty nappies and tolerate tantrums of a moronic spouse is beyond me. When I said as much to my wisely chuckling uncle, he did exactly what I had expected him to do – chuckle a bit more.
By the end of it, I am still unheard, perhaps even ignored. Am I, then, incorrect in saying that in most arranged marriages across the country, the bride-to-be is largely incidental? Her fate lies at mercy of men and women determined to set the clock back to the nineteenth century. Her questions, uncertainties, dissents are suppressed with a firm ‘We know better’. A trivial sacrifice of a high flying career here, a minor adjustment to a new city there along with a bunch of bitchy in-laws and we have a ready formula for a super successful marriage!
The question that I have been trying to figure out is simple. What is the compulsion that drives most Indian parents to force their children, even against their wishes, into matrimony? You would say it is concern. But are the parents across the globe also not concerned about their children? Yet nowhere in the world, save a few Third world countries, do we have the system of ‘arranging’ a marriage for a woman, robbing her in the process of the minimum agency of choosing the person she desires to share her life with.
No matter how hard we assert our independence, it remains unthinkable for us in India to imitate the lifestyles of our American counterparts. Financial independence here fails to guarantee liberty from suffocating social norms. We might idolize Rachel, Monica and Phoebe but living their lives is a distant dream for most of us caught in a nightmare of regressive traditions. The reasons for this are not our incapacity to make or finance our own decisions, but our mothers’ choice to make us Tulsis and Parvatis instead. In case you have failed to grasp the allusions – parents in India would rather be owners of domesticated sheep than parents of free-thinking, independent individuals.