Women is...

On resurrections, Indian families with the children of grown man age practice an ancient ritual. They wake before dawn and uneasily wait favourable arrival paper on Sunday. As soon as it is delivered, they report a short suppliant before they will clean papers for the desirable Matrimonial section.

While arranging marriages is an obsession as old as the Kamasutra, it has taken on a few modern avatars: matrimonial newspaper ads and websites being the parental arsenal of choice for securing eternal happiness for their unwed children.

One lazy Sunday as my friends and I were lounging over chai and cigarettes, we decided that we needed to find a suitable girl for the eligible bachelor in our midst. As I was combing through the matrimonial section full of ‘fair, slim, professionally qualified, homely girls and innocent-divorcees’ I spied an ad for Muslim brides and found one that sounded eerily like me. When I read it to my father over the phone amid fits of laughter, there was silence at his end. He had indeed listed my profile on the Matrimonial pages.

This was not the first time that my parents had brought up the issue of marriage. The pressure to get married started when I was very young. Twelve months old to be exact. When my father, who was away at the time of my birth, learnt that he had a daughter he wasted no time in promising my tiny hand in marriage to his friends’ son.

When I grew older, my parents would haul me off to dinner parties and weddings where I would be introduced to a different assortment of eligible bachelors. Later they began preparing my resume and passing it on to anyone and everyone who was connected to a potential partner. I discovered the existence of my resume, drafted by none other than my father, only because I started getting strange calls from my relations, and sometimes random strangers, asking me about my qualifications, complexion, and cooking skills.

After graduation, while my parents began looking for a suitor in earnest, I went on to pursue a masters in Bombay and began to work there as well. My decision to leave home was fraught with tension and guilt. There was a lot emotional blackmail, tears and threats, but in the end we struck a bargain; I could do as I pleased as long as I met the men they lined up.

I met a dizzying array of men. One quizzed me on my religious knowledge, another spoke in painful detail about his academic accomplishments; another magnanimously proclaimed ”I will allow my wife to work”; an America returnee who couldn’t stop talking about his BMW and ”Game room”. When I in turn asked them about Amitav Ghosh, David Lynch or Green Day I only drew blank stares.

I also had to deal with a volley of questions from the prospective in-laws. I was looked up and down, all my proportions sized up, and then interrogated on my language skills (English, Hindi, Urdu), culinary dexterity (Maggi instant noodles) and deference to elders (non-existent).

After one too many of such meetings, when my parents showed me yet another picture of a prospective candidate, I told them that this was the last time I was going to do this. No exceptions. However, when I read his resume, my interest was piqued. He had a degree from IIT (India’s top engineering school) and a PhD from an Ivy League University.

When we met his family they welcomed us with such warmth, I soon forgot why I was there. They had a bookshelf full of my favorite authors (always a good sign) and soon we were talking about everything from politics to the latest Bollywood blockbuster. Later when they asked me what I was looking for in a husband, I actually was puzzled why they were asking me that! I mumbled something I deemed suitable and soon phone numbers were exchanged and he was to call me.

Our first phone conversation lasted two hours. That progressed to emails and more phone calls. We talked about our work, about films, books, living abroad, college, elections, news, anything and everything. We never once mentioned the ‘M’ word.

So was there a moment when I realized that he was the One? Not really, but to his credit, not only did he know who Amitav Ghosh was, he even knew someone related to him!

We met each other soon after and decided to get married. When I told my friends however, most of them were mystified. They couldn’t understand why I wanted to get married this way. Some felt this was some ”betrayal of the sisterhood”. Others wanted to know if I had caved in to parental pressure. Maybe, but I had been on the arranged marriage circuit a while, and this was the first time I had actually contemplated getting married. My first thought was, “Why did they find him? Why couldn’t I?” But they did and I would have been a fool to say no just to prove a point.

So does arranged marriage work? It’s been nearly two years since we have been married and we are, dare I say it, happy. We share doing the dishes and the laundry, I don’t make perfectly round rotis and sometimes a meal is just Maggi, but the most important thing is that we see each other as equals. So in the end arranged marriage did work out for me.

My parents saw each other for fifteen minutes before they got married, my husband and I talked for nearly six months before we did. My parents faced more parental and family pressures than I did. I had the freedom to say no, my parents did not have the luxury of choice.

Nowadays, arranged marriages are no longer just decided by the parents, both young men and women play an active role in the process of looking for their life partner. In these ”semi-arranged” or ”arranged-love marriages”, the only thing you have to be sure of is that you do want to get married. So all I can say, is keep an open mind, you never know if you’ll get lucky. I know I did.