Why do Indian women have bindi on their foreheads?

This article addresses one facet of our culture, a subject that affects each one of us at some stage of our life, the "arranged marriage". Read on for what are considered to be its practical aspects.

What every parent wants is the "best" for their child; there is nothing new in this. Indeed, it can be argued that what every child wants is the "best" for their parents, although this would take some persuasion. In an ideal Indian world a son or a daughter would define their criteria for a partner to their parents who, through the grapevine, would make some recommendations to the child, who subsequently would meet the prospective, select one for marriages have this fairy tale ending?

Let us examine the process outlined above more clearly. Firstly, defining the criteria. Merely asking your parents for someone "nice" or even "a five feet four inch accountant, please Daddy", is asking for trouble. You will end up seeing practically everyone in the market since in your parents view they are all "nice", or dare I say it, yes, they're all five feet four inch accountants. By the time you've, worked through them all you'll be a fossil. So one is well advised to be more definite in one's requirements. Thus having narrowed down one's criteria and communicated this to one's parents, the elders of the community take charge. At marriages and impromptu meetings, the mothers exchange their children's credentials while the fathers discuss cricket. Their job is made no easier by getting conflicting stories on a family they are researching, and in the end they just take an average. The research of course, is very thorough, from such vitally important considerations as home village in India and maiden names of grandmothers to the trivials such as occupation and education, even astrologers are consulted. Pretty soon the whole community, a giant 'Blind Date" outfit (or should I say "game for a laugh"), is trying to match make you. Alas, there is no Cilla Black to mediate, no three questions, nor is there a day trip to somewhere exotic to find out more about each other (so at least if it didn't work out they would both have had a great day out).

Instead, every Sunday afternoon hundreds of parents with reluctant sons and daughters frequent the nation's roads, in Datsun's loaded to capacity, to meet at mutual and neutral houses. Here the parents of the two parties exchange niceties,' punctuated by long bouts of silence whilst their offspring go somewhere quiet to discuss their future (each claiming it is their first such meeting). On their return a secret signal to their parents communicates their verdict, which more often than not is a thumbs down, and another Sunday passes then the "spinster syndrome" sets in. In time, however, two thumbs up verdicts returned and this clears the way for the next stage, the courting.

Courting is really where the 'Game for a Laugh' aspect comes into its own. The offspring are usually permitted one or two meets before they have to reach a conclusion. Sometimes, under the supervision of an elder brother, while more usually the daughter has to be back by eight, as long as she phones every five minutes. Nine times out of ten, under the constraints of vegetarianism and lack of imagination, this means a trip to Pizza Hut (the 'Indian Marriage Bureau) where the embarrassment of meeting relations has to be overcome by "Ah uncle, this is a friend of the family who just arrived from India, who's flying back tonight and wanted to try a pizza and a pan so I thought…." The Uncle gets wise to this story by the fourth time one uses it and may threaten to pre-empt marriage plans if not adequately compensated for his silence (with some Amber Nectar). However, a choice statement can work equally well, like "Ah auntie, I could have sworn you were blonde the last time I saw uncle here with you, or was it…" Better still, check the Datsun number plates before you go in.

So, in between the mouthfuls of Pizza and phoning home, she tries to ascertain if the person sitting opposite her is her prince charming, while he is regretting the extra chillies he ordered in order to look macho. She decides yes, he decides he needs a fire extinguisher, and so, in haste to down the flames, he also agrees.

Instantly, provided the moon and the stars give their consent, telegrams shoot across the country and a million and one relations have to be personally phoned with the news or they boycott the wedding. At this stage it is also advisable to purchase one sweetmeat, two sari shops and a jewellery store, since this works out cheaper than making individual purchases on an as and when required basis; indeed, it could even prove profitable if one had a whole lot of cousins in the same age group. In next to no time the couple are sitting in front of a camp fire in a school hall, she pensive, serene majestic and beautifully made up with hands and feet intricately decorated, wearing the finest bed-sheets money can buy, he not wanting to see another pizza ever again. All around them the home team and away judges with ringside seats value their outfits gifts and discuss whether or not to update their top ten wedding lists as well are breaking into incoherent chants in foreign dialects, not unlike the Liverpool kop.

As the couple gaze into the crowd, children can be seen pulling the furniture and the piano apart while an active marriage market is in progress at the rear of the hall, not dissimilar to the floor of the London Stock Exchange, lining up the next dozen weddings. Their concentration is interrupted by a five feet four inch referee who continuously murmurs under his breath and throws rice everywhere. Occasionally, he can be understood, "put £11.50 here, sonny", undoubtedly an accountant, they're everywhere. The ref usually insists on seven laps of honour during the course of the match, where inevitably one of the groom's shoes goes missing under the ref's very nose.

The post camp fire meal is not for the squeamish or the calorie counter, nor is it a textbook Cambridge diet. Vast quantities of sweet food are stuffed down the oral cavities of the couple, while they are being blinded by flashlight.

The end of the ceremony is marked by a Kleenex sponsored cry, to which the groom is not invited (he gets the chance during the course of the marriage), and concluded by the ceremonial destruction of the wheel balance of an expensive car by use of a coconut. The referee usually drives home in a Brinks Mat van and they too go home, she with a bag full of saris that shall never wear and he with a five figure overdraft and one shoe, but worse is to befall him; the realisation that he is now boss only at work.

So what can one conclude from this article apart from the fact that Datsun, Kleenex and Pizza Hut shares will continue to outperform the equity market, and that this article should never have been written.

The above article was written by a student at university and first appeared in the Diwali magazine of Gujarat Samachar in 1995. It is reproduced with the kind permission of Mr C B Patel the Editor.

Does the article remind you of your wedding or someone else's? Six year on some things may have changed but not many. We welcome your comments on the whole aspect of arranged marriages and all the fuss leading to the marriage ceremony and on the day of the marriage. Do you feel the need for changes and what do you propose.

 

YOU KNOW YOUR PARENTS ARE TYPICAL INDIANS WHEN...
They peel stamps off letters that the postal service missed to frank.
They buy 2-ply toilet paper and they tell you to use only 1 ply at a time to make it last.
When your mum comes home with napkins stuffed in her purse of the restaurant she last ate at.
When your mum goes shopping and pinches lots of carrier bags so she could use them as bin liners.
When your mum rings friends or family and asks them to buy goods, which are on special offer.
When you become part of the vicious clan who recycles wedding gifts.
Take Indian snacks anywhere it says "no food allowed".
Make kichdi on a beach wearing saris.
Wear punjabi dresses with trainers.
Try to use coupons that expired 5 months ago and argue when the store does not accept them, or simply tear off the expiry date.
Eat half of a pizza at a restaurant and then complain that it was not made right and ask for a refund.
The famous "Hamburger", no meat!, water, no ice, 3 cups and 18 ketchups please.

 

   
 
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Last modified:July 2001