It is not uncommon for young people in India to fall in love but end up getting married to someone their parents ‘arranged’ for them. Arranged marriage is incredibly common in India, but recently advertisers are telling us that arranged marriages can be ‘cool’ and ‘exciting’. Jewellery companies, matchmaking sites and menswear labels are trying to tell young people that you can find love in an arranged marriage and we’ll wrap the whole treasure hunt up in a neat little diamond ring for you.
I’ve written about arranged marriages before but the concept is still strange to me, probably because growing up most of the uncles and aunties around me had all met in college and fallen in love. Despite now knowing many arranged couples, I still find the concept baffling. Perhaps the Western world ranks arranged marriage on the same lines of absurdity as women wearing the burqa. In 2012 Unicef’s Human Right’s Council published a study on arranged marriage claiming that 90% of marriages in India are arranged and the overall divorce rate in India is 1.1% (compared to 50% in the US). Interesting though this statistic might be, it begs the question, how many people in India are living in unhappy marriages and not getting divorced because it is not culturally acceptable to do so? And what percentage of that 1.1% are divorces from arranged marriages? Needless to say, I’ve seen both arranged and love marriages end in divorce.
I can believe the 90% statistic though. Just look at Bharat Matrimony, one of the first internet matchmaking sites on the Indian market with a turnover between Rs.10 to 100 crores and the company’s owner estimates that 2 million people have been matched and married through his website. He met his own wife through the matchmaking service that he started. I’ve stolen the title of this post from their rival shaadi.com (translation: marriage.com)
I have not been raised with the concept of arranged marriage as the norm. On the other hand, everyone knows how difficult it is to find ‘the one’. So what’s wrong in being introduced to a few friends of the family. I am completely onboard with the introductions but I can’t understand the direct implication of marriage after the meeting. What if they turn out to be an unscrupulous person who you don’t respect and haven’t had time to vet. The only vetting process we have is some aunty’s word and the pundit’s horoscope matching. ‘It’s written in the stars’ is so much more romantic that then actual exercise of horoscope matching which is the antithesis of romance.
Young people (correction, people of any age) want to fall in love: our movies, books, recreational activities, social networking, fashion trends everything is telling us to go out and hunt for your mate, be sexy, be confident. But the reality is that for many this is accepted as a ‘college phase’ and eventually all those hunters are going to retire their riding boots for a more sensible but less exciting pair of bathroom slippers. This hilarious advert by Dish TV on variety of choice plays on the fact that in an arranged marriage, unlike satellite TV channels, you may not have a choice:
Platinum love bands has been using the rhetoric of ‘finding love in an arranged marriage’ to ease any fears one might have that an arranged marriage is essentially two strangers starting out an intimate life together. The silent hope is that eventually they get used to each other and in some cases even end up sharing a deep meaningful partnership. These adverts tell us that though you might be stuck in this marriage, fear not because one day you will fall in love with that person. I think it’s aimed at the younger generation who may be questioning arranged marriage but because it is so pervasive in our culture, they tend not to object.
Platinum Jewellers’ advert portrays the newly arranged marriage couple as estranged, people living in separate bubbles, who’ve been thrown together because their horoscopes matched, sitting at a train station with the woman looking pretty forlorn (and a bit nauseous in my view). The ad plays on the idea of feeling totally distant from the person sitting right next to you. However, when she loses her husband on the crowded platform she feels the void, feels abandoned, even thinks he might have boarded the train without her. When she sees that he too is looking for her, it all clicks. The tagline explains that you too will find your day of love. There’s an inherent acceptance that you weren’t in love with the person you agreed to be arranged to be married to. They have no adverts featuring older couples, just young ones. Watch below:
CaratLane.com has come up with another interesting take, which is that even though the person you are supposed to spend eternity with is someone who has been chosen for you by priests and parents, if you’re lucky you’ve had a few coffees with the guy/girl maybe. They say, that doesn’t mean you can’t bring the ‘love’ in to it. The love, the surprise, that you probably had with someone in college even though it’s not them you’ll be seeing behind the veil or under the bedcovers. Their take is, “Make her yours before the wedding”. According to co-founder and CEO of CaratLane, “Indian men should realise that an arranged marriage is no excuse for why they shouldn’t propose.”
The advert’s creative says, “It is a very private ritual for the couple and the true value of a proposal is known only after it has happened. It is very difficult to remember every bit of the wedding day but everyone remembers every second of their proposal.”
I completely agree with the above quote. There is something very private and personal about being proposed to. I remember every last detail of mine – being proposed to under a tamarind tree, with our two pairs of eyes also on the steaming hot beef biryani parcels in the back seat of the car waiting to be devoured by the side of the highway, under said tamarind tree. The tamarind tree is relevant because once long long ago, maybe 12 or 15 years ago I had mentioned that I wanted to get married under a tamarind tree…and he remembered. The proposal was followed by the best 4 day road trip. Maybe this whole proposal thing is a very Western concept, although I’m so glad he didn’t get down on one knee (a tradition whose roots lie in praying and kneeling, being knighted and bowing in full surrender). Just passed the Tamil Nadu border on the road to Chittoor, that was the best biryani of my life.
Which brings me to another phenomenon. Young couples in love, parents know that they are seeing each other and then it gets to the point where everyone starts getting uncomfortable that the big S.E.X may be in the room and it’s about time that all this cavorting happen officially. So the young couple in love, happily bumbling along, are told that it’s time to get married and the wedding and the marriage is arranged for them.The love part, they sorted out on their own and the parents got to do the part they like best, the wedding. The success of the marriage – well that’s up for grabs.
But I wonder if these couples ever had a private proposal, did he ask her to marry him or vice versa? Or was it an assumed function? If so the couple has been robbed of a very crucial part of embarking on marriage – being asked if you want to in the first place. Some of you might think that proposing and being proposed to is over-rated. What’s the big deal if you are already in love? I’m clearly not one of those as I believe it to be a magical, exhilarating experience that I will always remember. Even though you know it’s coming, your stomach is doing somersaults and you feel deeply wanted and desirable, not taken for granted. And I won’t forget how I stared at that ring on my finger for at least the next few days.
So to couples who’ve chosen someone they love my advice is, before your parents pop the question, make sure you do.