Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Globalization of cultures: Indians and arranged marriages

There are two things about Indians who travel, migrate and work across the world that fascinate westerners: vegetarianism and arranged marriages.
For the record, not all Indians are vegetarians. On the contrary, a majority, if given a choice –and if they could afford it – would love to eat chicken, fish or lamb. There again, a percentage of Indians, including self, continue to be vegetarians even when we globe-trot. I can’t speak for others but I guess I am a creature of habit, attributable to my childhood upbringing. Of course, I can begin to get more contemporary and say I am just trying to save the planet [Livestock rearing contributes an estimated 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, more than the transportation sector. - Meatless Monday: Retooling the American Diet]

Now, the topic of arranged marriages is more fascinating since the concept continues to be prevalent not just in India but in many South Aisan cultures. And the definition of “arranged” is also undergoing a transformation, at least among the younger tech savvy crowd that tries to seek their mates/soul-mates online or in campuses of software companies before taking the issue further the hierarchy. Case in point is the Indian software giant Wipro that successfully runs its in-house match-making portal.
While this move generated a lot of buzz in the media, more down-to-earth techniques like use of corporate bulletin boards to seek partners for self/matchmaking for friends or siblings is equally prevalent in other Indian software firms. And perhaps in a pseudo democratic fashion, while the young couple goes on with the courtship, online vetting etc, parents sometimes still hold the veto.
I have tried to explain the concept to my western colleagues, peers and friends over the years but I guess I am better off just pointing them to interesting articles online; like the interesting essay that appeared recently in the New York Times. Farahad Zama, succinctly tries to answer the eternal question common among westerners: How could you marry somebody you did not know? "The slow discovery of another person and the unraveling of layers of mystery are part of the fun of arranged marriage. This has to be true of all marriages — the husband of five years is not the caring bridegroom, and the mother of a cranky 2-year-old is not the ecstatic bride." Zama adds "Economics and social acceptability must be big factors in its galloping rate of marital breakdowns. But dashed expectations must play a large part, too. I think that in arranged marriages one starts with lower expectations and realizes the need for compromise that is essential in a successful bond, and that is probably its biggest benefit. . .What I am sure about is that our marriage, arranged with other considerations in mind, took us from acquaintance to love and kept us together until we realized that our differences are the yin and yang that make our relationship whole. Now we consider ourselves absolutely perfect for each other."
Zama summarises Somewhere in that is a lesson, I am sure. I couldn't agree more