When we look at online discussion forums and social media, arranged marriage evokes strong reactions from both its supporters and detractors. There is a growing belief that the concept of arranged marriages has run its course. However, in India, as it is the case with everything else, contradictions seem to nicely coexist everywhere. Look around. You will see a diverse population with different religious beliefs living together, you will see the rich and the poor sharing the same space and you will see modern and tradition all rolled up into one individual. These contradictions have a way of creating hilarious situations as we go about our lives.
Anita Jain has worked as a journalist and her work has appeared in New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Travel & Leisure. She graduated from Harvard University and grew up in northern California. In an article titled “Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craigslist?” she pokes fun at the many adventures she had meeting “eligible” boys chosen by her father through online matrimony sites.She is your quintessential second-generation Indian American that grew up in a western country but raised by parents that held on to Indian values. In other words, she probably is a member of the ABCD (American-Born Confused Desi) generation.
Here are some of her memorable encounters:
A girl can date anyone as long as he is not a Muslim!
I was working as a journalist in Singapore. Vikram, “in entertainment,” took me to the best restaurant in town, an Indonesian place with a view of the skyscrapers. Before long, though, I gathered that he was of a type: someone who prided himself on being modern and open-minded but who in fact had horribly crusty notions passed down from his Indian parents. I was taken aback when he told me about an Indian girl he’d liked. “I thought maybe she was the one, but then I found out she had a Muslim boyfriend in college,” he said. I lodged my protest against him and arranged marriage by getting ragingly intoxicated and blowing smoke rings in his face.
A cow is also a vegetarian and doesn’t smoke
One of the first setups I agreed to took place a year ago. The man—I’ll call him Vivek—worked in IT in New Jersey and had lived there all his life. He took the train into the city to meet me at a Starbucks. He was wearing pants that ended two inches before his ankles. We spoke briefly about his work before he asked, “What are you looking for in a husband?” Since this question always leaves me flummoxed—especially when it’s asked by somebody in high-waters within the first few minutes of conversation—I mumbled something along the lines of, “I don’t know, a connection, I guess. What are you looking for?” Vivek responded, “Just two things. Someone who’s vegetarian and doesn’t smoke. That shouldn’t be so hard to find, don’t you think?”
Auntie, I will speak to the boy only
It’s a common online-dating complaint that people are nothing like their profiles. I’ve found they can be nothing but them. And in their tone-deafness, some of these men resemble the parents spurring them on. One Sunday, I was woken by a call at 9 A.M. A woman with a heavy Indian accent asked for Anita. I have a raspy voice at the best of times, but after a night of “social” smoking, my register is on par with Clint Eastwood’s. So when I croaked, “This is she,” the perplexed lady responded, “She or he?” before asking, “What are your qualifications?” I said I had a B.A. “B.A. only?” she responded. “What are the boy’s qualifications?” I flung back in an androgynous voice. She smirked: “He is M.D. in Kentucky only.” Still bleary-eyed, but with enough presence of mind to use the deferential term for an elder, I grumbled, “Auntie, I will speak to the boy only.” Neither she, nor he, called back.
We are like this only
These days, I do have my limits. I’m left cold by e-mails with fresh-off-the-boat Indian English like “Hope email is finding you in pink of health” or “I am looking for life partner for share of joy of life and sorrowful time also.” For the most part, though, I go and meet the men my father has screened for me. And it is much the same as I imagine it must be for any active dater. I recall the Goldman Sachs banker who said, in the middle of dinner, which we were having steps away from Wall Street, “You know, my work will always come before my family.”
Brain surgeon that likes to dance
My father’s screening method is hardly foolproof. Once, he was particularly taken with a suitor who claimed to be a brain surgeon at Johns Hopkins and friends with a famous Bollywood actress, Madhuri Dixit. I was suspicious, but I agreed to speak to the fellow. Within seconds, his shaky command of English and yokel line of questioning—“You are liking dancing? I am too much liking dancing”—told me this man was as much a brain surgeon as I was Madhuri Dixit. I refused to talk to him again, even though my father persisted in thinking I was bullheaded. “Don’t you think we would make sure his story checked out before marrying you off?” he said.
Auntie, do you have a boy in mind?
On a recent trip to India, I was made to eat dinner at the children’s table—they sent out for Domino’s pizza and Pepsis, because as an unmarried woman, I didn’t quite fit in with the adults. As much as I resented my exile, I realized that maybe I didn’t want to be eating vegetable curry and drinking rum with the grown-ups. Maybe that would have meant they’d given up on me, that they’d stopped viewing me as a not-yet-married girl but as an unmarriageable woman who’d ruined her youth by being too choosy and strong-headed.
This way, the aunties can still swing by the kids’ table as I’m sucking on a Pepsi and chucking a young cousin on the chin, and ask me, “When are you getting married? What are your intentions?” And I can say, “Auntie, do you have a boy in mind?”
To make sure you don’t end up writing stories about the failures of your arranged marriage adventures, insist on viewing your potential partner’s Jodi Logik profile.