Beyond pesky in-laws and other nuptial stereotypes (Review in The Sunday Guardian)

(Reproduced from the original.)

There's a bit in Nandini Krishnan's book Hitched, a series of tell-all essays on the arranged marriage circuit that sums up India's attitude to marriage perfectly. In a chapter where brides reveal what to expect at a wedding, a "Shreya Gopal" is quoted saying, "This is for the adults. Let them have their arguments, let them panic, let them sort it out. For you and your fiancé to be involved in any way except to sit there and look nice is a mistake." (Adults are presumably the people who have already gotten married; bride and groom, while over eighteen, will always be the "boy" and the "girl" in a wedding situation.)

In another chapter, called "Mark Your Territory," a woman named Shwetha is adamant on finishing her degree before she gets married. As soon as she does, she is emotionally bullied into a match (the "boy" will be snapped up if you wait!). Nevertheless, she retains the freedom to pursue her third degree at an IIM. Her husband, the product of a conservative family (who advise her on a "certain code of conduct" for when she has her period), ends up as a father substitute: he nags her to go study when she watches TV. The good thing about marriage according to Shwetha? Travelling with someone so your parents don't worry. The infantilisation of couples in the Indian marriage system is depressing but understandable. It deprives the two people most directly involved, the bride and the groom, of their right to make their own choice of a life partner. Instead of love, the choice is made for them based on a list of things. Their feelings don't count. Love is barely even mentioned; perhaps it is simply too modern.

The two most interesting chapters in the book are, unluckily for impatient readers, placed right at the end. One, titled "The Horror Stories", is about groom hunting and its pitfalls. This has pithy anecdotes about all the things that can go wrong – from short grooms to ones who ask how your eyebrows got that shape, to one who says, "Let's share the cock", in reference to a cold drink.Though subtitled "The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage", Krishnan's book is less about bucking tradition in the face of modernity and more about how to subdue your own instincts. The women interviewed speak about appeasement often — appeasing in-laws, appeasing nagging parents, even, in one case, appeasing children to go back to work — but a "modern" Indian woman who embraces a global outlook, for example, doesn't feature. To quote Peggy Lee: is that all there is? Are these the women carrying forward the next generation? Understandably, a book about arranged marriage will be about people who chose to embrace the traditional, but the women, unanimously, come across as wimps. I also wish there had been more analysis instead of just straight-up storytelling, but that is an argument about non-fiction writing in general: do you insert your thoughts into the narrative, or do you just let it speak for itself?

The other chapter gives a voice to the men involved—called "The Other Side: What Men Want", and asks the grooms, who so far have appeared mostly passive, about their thoughts. Some rejected women for being "too liberal" (a background in modeling), others warned women to get used to "belching and farting." The takeaway here is that the traditional Indian man has a laundry list of things he expects of his bride, and he doesn't think it's a bad thing to expect those either. While the woman bends, the man is the force around which she must do so.

Hitched is already dated, a retrospective book about a time that's fleeting. The big Indian wedding might be getting bigger and more expensive, but surely the Indian woman will evolve beyond this. Surely? Hopefully? Please?

 

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