Imagine being a 25-year-old girl in India, and not having a say in a lot of different things, let alone marriage. What if you had no choice but to marry the person your parents set you up with – a complete stranger? Welcome to my mom’s world.[]
Although I’ve lived in America since I was three years old, and had my parents treat me as much like all the “other American kids”, there are many Indian customs that I still hold true to myself and probably will never let go of. The main thing being religion, of course. Even growing up, as much as my parents let me have an easier time than my sister, I still wasn’t allowed to date, go to school dances, be out after 9 p.m., or do anything after 9 for that matter. When I was about 11 years old, though, I asked my mom a question that she refused to answer because she said I was too young to be talking about it. I asked my mom if I had to marry someone who was Indian, which got me wondering how the Indian marriages worked.
I would look at my parents and see how happy they are. They truly are in love and probably always will be. I asked my mom how she met my dad and she told me that she didn’t- until her wedding day- which again, got me wondering what the hell she meant. After telling me repeated times, “I dated your dad after we got married,” I had to know what Indian marriages were all about.
“It was arranged,” was all she said. Arranged? What the hell does that mean? Since I wouldn’t let go of the subject, we finally decided to talk about it when I was older and I came to realize that my parents didn’t get married after dating, like many of my friends’ parents had done. My mom had an arranged marriage, which basically means her parents found my dad for her and they got her married to him. Sounds a little unfair and wrong, right? I thought so, too.
However, sitting down while drinking coffee with my mom, it was the most emotional thing (both in a good and bad way) I think my mom has ever talked about with me. She broke down the entire process of how her and my dad came together. She told me how she was between 25 and 26 years of age, the age when most girls in India would already be married, or would be getting married. She had a bachelor’s degree and very badly wanted to get her master’s for teaching as well. Her parents had other plans for her though. Not really having a freedom of speech, she told me how her parents wanted to “dispose” of her and make sure she was taken care of. They put a personal ad in the paper saying that their daughter had a degree in teaching, wanted to settle down and that she was seeking an educated man to marry.
I guess my dad’s parents thought she was a prime catch, because the next thing my mom knew, her picture was being shown to my dad. He was impressed with what he saw and knew about her: this girl was educated, she wanted to further her education, have a family and settle down. Sounds pretty damn good! So then my mom told me how after meeting my dad at the engagement, she was very impressed with what she saw and got really nervous about whether or not he would truly love her. I suppose everything worked out okay for them, though, since they’ve been married almost 27 years and they couldn’t be happier.
[wedding]So since arranged marriages seemed like the norm for most Indian girls, I figured that I’d have to have one. My mom already told me that I don’t have to have one; that she wants me to find a guy that I love and loves me and make sure to bring him home to meet her and my dad. “Either way, the marriage will be arranged since your dad and I have to arrange for the ceremony,” she said. “But you’ll marry someone you love; a love marriage.”
A love marriage is the exact thing my cousin, Rajni Samavedam, did. She opened the door with the social change of tradition in our family by not only marrying someone she dated, but marrying an “All-American” named Barry Treadway. She told me how she wasn’t afraid to tell her parents about Barry. “There may have been concern from family in terms of marrying someone who is not of Indian ethnicity, but once my parents, at least, got to know Barry, they realized that he is a good person and makes me happy,” she said.
Rajni also told me that although of course she values her parents’ opinions, she’s a strong believer in that if you’re too scared to tell your actions to your parents, about such things as marriage, that you’re not ready to get married. However, she doesn’t think that arranged marriages are necessarily a bad thing. She said that having family involved can be rewarding and take away the pressure of trying to please everyone. “When you marry outside of your culture, you do give something up,” she said. “For example, my children will only learn Telegu [a language of south India] through me, not Barry, and they will learn about Hinduism through me as well.”
By having Barry respect and support her heritage and culture and how important it is to her, this reassured her that things would be okay. This is true because Rajni and Barry had a traditional Indian wedding, so both sides of the family could be a part of their joyous union.
The same goes for Indians who marry someone from a different region of India. Rajni explained to me that there is tension when a Telegu marries someone Gujarati [north-Indian], so regardless of who you marry, whether different race or culture, there are tensions, problems and concerns from families. “I really don’t know if any family member frowns upon the idea [of marrying someone outside of my culture and race],” she said. “No one has said anything negative to me and frankly I don’t care. At the end of the day, I’m the one who lives with my husband and not anyone else.”
So, in the end, I don’t have to have an arranged marriage. I don’t even have to have an Indian wedding if I don’t want to. My mom told me that although when I was younger, her and my dad always thought of arranged marriages for my sister and me, as we grew up in an American culture, they realized that these types of decisions are something that only her and I can make. But it all comes down to culture and family tradition. Although I don’t know who I’m going to marry, I know that I want an Indian marriage and be “given away” under my customs and my religious cultures. It’s just nice to know that no matter what, my parents will support me in whatever decision I make about marriage. “It’s your choice who you want to marry and nobody else’s. Your dad and I will always love you for whatever you decide to do. Just be happy, that’s all we want.” Thanks mom – I’ll definitely always keep that one in mind.

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