This business of marriage

Shortly before I got married, a few of my colleagues put a classified ad in the newspapers. The ad gave my address and family background under the title, “Wife wanted”. Over the next couple of weeks, I received a hundred letters. All of them said the same thing, “You can have my wife.”

I assure you that I did not poach anyone’s wife. I wooed mine fair and square.

I was born in Kerala, a tiny state at the southernmost tip of India. Kerala has an interesting statistic. For as long as I can remember, the women of Kerala outnumbered its men. So when it came to marriage, men had the delightful [I think!] option to pick and choose.

This posed major challenges to parents with daughters. The moment a daughter is born, the parents start investing for her wedding. The money does not go for the wedding itself but for the purchase of gold jewelry the bride will wear on her wedding day and the fortune she will take with her.

This imbalance in gender may be one cause for the rush to find a ‘suitable boy’ for their daughters.

Let me introduce my nephew to you. For the purpose of this story we will name him Arun. Six months ago, Arun called me and said he wanted to get married. On hearing this news, I gave him my first piece of advice. Do not take this extreme step, my boy. Man is incomplete until he is married. Then he is finished!

Arun was determined. And in every sense of the term, Arun was a ‘suitable boy’. At the time he was 26 years old and was working as a software engineer with Microsoft in Seattle for more than two years.

Much before Arun expressed his desire, the complex machinery of finding a ‘suitable boy’ was set in motion by a professional group of spotters. Spotters, usually aunts, frequent social events and carry with them dossiers of suitable boys that keep a lot of people busy throughout the wedding season. Arun was ‘spotted’ at a wedding before his trip to Seattle.

Once a ‘suitable boy’ is spotted, the matter is handed over to the verifiers who check out the family as far history permits. They may already have all the relevant information about the boy that puts NSA to shame.

In Arun’s case the spotters and verifiers had put together a sizeable dossier. And they had confirmed with my wife that Arun had a sizeable bank balance, and was of sound mental health with no known damaged body parts.

The boy’s parents have their own set of verifiers. After the filtering process, Arun’s parents were presented with the horoscopes of three girls with the finest pedigree. This is the third process in the business of marriage.

When a child is born in our community, the parents consult a ‘good astrologer’ and based on the time and date of birth, the astrologer charts the horoscope. The stars have to align for a perfect match.

Different astrologers are employed by the boys’ and girls’ families. It is time for the astrologers to play god and find a partnership made in heaven.

Two weeks later Arun called to inform me that the marriage was fixed. After giving the mundane details, he wanted to know what it would cost to get married. I told him, “I don’t know my boy; I am still paying for it.”

The astrologer gives three dates and a time frame on those days as the most auspicious time to get married. The wedding planner then takes over and books the wedding hall on one of those days. The planner organizes everything from the guest list, to the entertainment, the menu for the banquet and more.

The bride’s family now scrambles and heads for the great gold rush. Every bank deposit and investment is broken. Mattresses and other hiding places are taken apart. With wads of money stuffed in hand bags, the bride and her family head for the shops – mostly gold, clothes, and sometimes ‘other material things’ for the groom.

Arun had a memorable wedding. What’s even more memorable is the fact he saw his future wife for the first time on the wedding day!

All of you would have heard the expression Love is blind. In our community of mostly arranged marriages, we take it a bit further. Love is certainly blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.

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