Saturday, February 25, 2006


The marriage season has started with a bang (no puns intended ;) ) A lot of people around me are getting married. A distant cousin who's incidentally younger to me got married last week. An uncle of mine, who's just 6 months elder to me - { a (sometimes) embarassing situation arising out of some forgiveable act of passion by my (then middle aged) great-grandparents, the statistical odds of occurence of which, were tremendously improved by the lack of awareness and availability of contraceptives in those days} is also in the market- his mother is apparently on a "bride hunt".

Another cousin of mine, this time, it's a lady, has apparently managed to enact with great success an elaborate charade of "arranging" her "love marriage". Of course the fact that she'd suitably found a match within the Iyengar community would have been the clincher. This idea seems quite appealing, and I'm considering using it as well. Apparently my parents used this strategy as well :)

Some how I find the term "marriage" quite disturbing. It reminds me of age and rage. Some times, I also think of Damage ($$). While any mention of "arranged marriage" which seems to create mental images of of some kind of organized atrocity. The term wedding - is a vast improvement, even though it still has "ding" in it.

Marriages in India, seem to be less about the couple involved and more about every one else. It's a matter of prestige to most. Not so long ago, and still, in some pockets, it's a matter of proclaiming to the public that this is my bride/groom, and if some one else has a conflicting claim, this is your chance to protest ( I'm not kidding - this apparently is the (possibly chief) purpose of the jaanwasaam - or the dulha riding the horse in public etc). Marriages present a window of opportunity for elders to socialize, to spot potential matches for eligible boys/girls, to gossip, to compare wordly success - grandeur of the wedding, guesstimates of amount spent, attire of close family, to compare - who's come to the wedding in a Ford Icon and who in a Maruti 800 and so on.

Marriages are also about horoscopes. Some horoscopes are bad - but there are usually solutions for most problems. Usually they involve spending money - some of which goes to the astrologer's kitty who then doubles up as a priest or brings a friend to perform corrective rites. Some problems are more severe- for e.g. a friend of mine knows a case where a groom's horoscope posed a severe threat to the first wife's life. To solve the problem, a Donkey's hand (paw?hoof?) was given in marriage to the groom following which the poor donkey was killed. (Hopefully the marriage was not consummated) Following this the original bride and the groom wedded and thus, the groom and his "second" wife could supposedly live happily ever after. I don't know about either the bride or the groom, but I'm sure the donkey had a bad horoscope.

A similar charade also exists in the case of "same gotra" marriages. Apparently being born in the Same Gotra renders two individuals siblings of some kind and hence sex between them would result in incest. Incest through marriage is normally not a concern when it occurs between uncle and neice or uncle's son and his cousin, but the gotra thing is a no-no. Hence, this problem is solved where the bride's father "gives away" his daughter to a friend/relative from another "gotra" who "adopts" the daughter as his, and then gives away the daughter in marriage to the same guy, from the (now different) gotra. Ingenious.

So much for destiny. I'm sure this could add an interesting twist to the free will Vs destiny debates, along with the other ingenious idea of having designer babies by cesarean to ensure astrologically optimal birth times.

Coming back to the subject of "arranged marriages" - I had a very interesting conversation with one of my clients - A Russian from Ukraine, now settled in the Bay Area (Side note- Some refer to the bay area as the Gay area). One day, he was particularly harried as his son refused to go to school and had to be taken forcibly - crying, spitting, scratching and biting. One topic led to another- when we moved from the pain of child rearing to the monotony of marriage - he told me- that one of his friends had told him that In India, most people's marriages were arranged by elders. He asked that friend if people entering into arranged marriages, were allowed "test drives" - and when his friend took it very seriously, apologized for the bad joke.

I laughed it off, and thought about it - and I remembered something else which I'd read online a firang asking a desi "How can you marry some one you don't like sleeping with". Interesting thoughts. I don't know if Indian society would reach that point 20-30-50 years from now. Probably it would. Is that right- I don't know. It probably is - as it would be a matter of personal choice.

To conclude, every society has traditions that are perplexing. My dad keeps saying, behind all rituals there is some logic. At some point of time, many rituals outlive their original causes - and hence today we think they are meaningless. A case in point - was not cutting nails after dark. It makes sense if you visualize a society without electricity and lights. But today most Tam grand-ma's would pitch a fit if they see you snipping your nails post sunset.

I'd tend to grudgingly agree with my dad. I like a lot of my traditions, I dislike a lot too - but I can live with them as that makes my family happy, and fighting against them is not something that gives me sufficient incentive to make them unhappy. So I look forward to my wedding, which is right now far off, but will most definitely be a traditional Tam Iyengar wedding with all the bells and whistles :) :) :)