Section C:
An Indian Arranged Marriage
We sat around the dining table, my family and I, full to bursting from yet another home-cooked South Indian dinner. It was my younger brother who asked the question.
“Shoba, why don't you stay back here in India for a few months? So we can try to get you married.”
Three pairs of eyes stared at me across the width of the table. I sighed. Here I was, at the tail end of my vacation after graduate school. I had an airplane ticket to New York from India in 10 days. I had accepted a job at an artist's colony in the U.S. My car and most of my possessions were with friends in America.
“It's not that simple,” I said. “What about my car…?”
“We could find you someone in America,” my dad replied. “You could go back to the States.”
They had thought it all out. This was a plot. I frowned at my parents angrily.
Oh, another part of me rationalized, why not give this arranged-marriage thing a shot? It wasn't as if I had a lot to go back to in the States. Besides, I could always get a divorce.
Stupid and dangerous as it seems looking back, I went into my marriage at the age of 25 without being in love. Three years later, I find myself enjoying my relationship with this brilliant man who talks about the yield curve and other financial statistics, who prays when I drive, and who tries bravely to remember the names of the modern artists I adore.
My enthusiasm for arranged marriages is that of a recent convert. True, I grew up in India, where arranged marriages are common. My parents' marriage was arranged, as were those of my aunts, cousins and friends. But I always thought I was different. I flourished as a foreign student at an American university, where individualism was expected and women's rights encouraged. As I experimented with being an American, I bought into the American value system.
I was determined to fall in love and marry someone who was not Indian. Yet, somehow, I could never manage to. Oh, falling in love was easy. Sustaining it was the hard part.
Arranged marriages in India begin with matching the horoscopes (星座) of the man and the woman. Those who prepare the horoscopes look for balance so that the woman's strengths balance the man's weaknesses and man's strengths balance the woman's weaknesses. Once the horoscopes match, the two families meet and decide whether they are compatible. It is assumed that they are of the same religion and social level.
While this eliminates risk and helps to insure that the man and woman will be similar in background and outlook, the theory is that the personalities of the couple provide enough differences to make the relationship interesting. Whether or not this is true, the high success rate of arranged marriages in different cultures — 90 percent in Iran, 95 percent in India, and a similar high percentage among Hasidic Jews (哈西德派犹太教徒) in New York and among Turkish and Afghan Muslims (阿富汗穆斯林教徒) — gives one pause.
Although our families met through a mutual friend, many Indian families meet through advertisements placed in national newspapers.
My parents made a formal visit to my future husband's house to see whether Ram's family would treat me well. My mother insists that “you can tell a lot about the family just from the way they serve coffee”. The house had a lovely flower garden. The family liked gardening. Good.
Ram's mother had worked for the United Nations on women's-rights issues. She also wrote funny columns for Indian magazines. She would be supportive. She served strong South Indian coffee in the traditional steel cups instead of china; she would be a balancing influence on my youthful radicalism.
Ram's father had supported his wife's career even though he belonged to a generation of Indian men who expected their wives to stay at home. Ram had a good role model. His sister was a doctor in the United States. Perhaps that meant he was used to strong, achieving women.
Nov. 20, 1992. Someone shouted, “They're here!” My cousin gently nudged me out of the bedroom into the living room.
“Why don't you sit down?” a voice said.
I looked up and saw a square face and smiling eyes anxious to put me at ease. He pointed me to a chair. Somehow I liked that. The guy was sensitive and self-confident.
He looked all right. Could stand to lose a few pounds. I liked the way his lips curved to meet his eyes. Thick hair, commanding voice, strong laugh. To my surprise, the conversation flowed easily. We had a great deal in common, but his profession was very different from mine. I learned that he had an MBA (工商管理硕士学位) from an American university and had worked on Wall Street before joining a financial consulting firm.
Two hours later, Ram said: “I'd like to get to know you better. Unfortunately, I have to be back at my job in the United States, but I could call you every other day. No strings attached, and both of us can decide where this goes, if anywhere.”
I didn't dislike him.
He called 10 days later. About a month later he asked me to marry him, and I accepted. I am convinced that our successful relationship has to do with two words: tolerance and trust.