Does it really matter?

To ‘arrange’ a marriage…or ‘fall in love’ – does it really matter?

We fell in love and then our parents arranged the marriage. It was a fun-filled day – we had a Church wedding in the afternoon, a legal registration in the evening followed by the Hindu wedding at night! Of course, at the end of it all, we decided unanimously that we wouldn’t divorce – it would just be too much hassle getting the marriage nullified at each level! 🙂

For the Church wedding we visited St Patrick’s with my dad to inform the priest. We filled in a lengthy form, with all our details because it required the priest  to inform the wider congregation, over Sunday mass just in case someone had a problem with our union.

One question on the form was ‘is this a love marriage or arranged marriage?’ My  would be husband (who has a good sense of humour) politely turned to my dad (who is generally all prim and proper!) and asked, ‘what should I say?’ For once my dad, not be outdone by his son-in-law replied cheekily, ‘arranged.’ It was really funny then but now when I think about it, did it really matter?

There was so much I knew about my husband when we were dating but I came to know a lot more when I married him. Similarly for him, he must have thought he knew me well but was surprised by the new me after the wedding. On numerous occasions while arguing we’ve used the phrase ‘tumi ei rokom chile na’ (literally translated it means ‘you were not like this’). Did we really change after the wedding? Or were we still the same people but the marital circumstances was adding newer dimensions to our reactions?

While dating we did practically everything together – watching a movie for the first time, visiting a new restaurant, meeting friends, going for an outing. We were regularly in touch with each other, spoke for hours on the phone every night before going to bed, texted each other during the day. It was like we had to keep each other informed of our every move the entire day.

What changed after marriage? My in-laws expected me to visit relatives with them even if my husband wasn’t able to make it. Frequently, we met friends separately – he’d go out drinking with his buddies while I’d meet mine for lunch or a coffee. Frequent travels on work meant we visited new places separately. We talked about our day but it now also included issues I was facing as a daughter-in-law. He began to feel pulled apart between my complaints about his family and his parent’s expectations about me. Added to that were his own expectations of me, the relationship and family.

I grew up in a nuclear family and never had extended family to deal with. For me, only my parents’ views and opinions mattered. I couldn’t be bothered about  what others thought about any aspect of my life. His was a nuclear family too but one which was closely connected to relatives from both his parents’ sides. Here, almost everyone knew about what was happening in everyone else’s lives. My life was suddenly an open book.

I’m an introvert while my husband sits comfortably balanced at the cusp of introversion-extroversion. He can switch very easily depending on the situation and people. I’m not a great conversationalist and prefer to listen instead. This, of course meant that I hardly spoke at home or when with extended family. People assumed I was cold and reserved. Some also felt that since I was a Christian I didn’t have much in common with them.

I can speak, read and write Bengali but unfortunately I’m more comfortable with English. Same with my husband  – we thought in English, argued in English, expressed our concerns better in English! But with relatives it was different. I found it easier to converse in English, mostly making a mish-mash of English & Bengali when I spoke. That too perhaps didn’t go down too well with them.

One doesn’t think about such nuances before marriage. They’re the little things which seem inconsequential but do create an impact, however subtle. At times likes these, the debate about a love versus arranged marriage seems quite unnecessary!

The Art of Silence

Silence plays an important role in a successful wedding.

My tryst with silence began while preparing for the wedding. Our parents, extended family and friends, everyone offered advice on the never-ending list of things to do. Of course, I offered my opinion too, believing rightly it was my wedding after all! How wrong I was! Everyday at every discussion I realised how fragile egos were – on both sides. You couldn’t use logic at marriage preparations, everything was an emotional decision.

I was categorically informed that we had taken the decision to marry – no one objected to that. But as far as the wedding preparations were now concerned it had to be a joint family decision. It didn’t depend on what we thought – it was the family’s positioning in society that mattered. For my in-laws, their eldest son was getting  married (his brother was six years younger) so they couldn’t leave anything to chance. Also this was the first wedding in the family so it had to be perfect. For my parents, this was the only time they would have to make such elaborate preparations since my elder sister was already married. They had given her a lavish wedding so there was no way they wouldn’t do the same for me. So I was asked to shut up!

We wanted to share the day, our moment of togetherness with people who we cared about. Neither of us wanted elaborate arrangements, we wanted a simple family affair. But, of course, the crux of the issue was ‘family!’ So we decided, that we would write off 5 days from our lives (the pre-wedding / wedding / post-wedding days).

Did we really need to do that? Yes, we did! It meant a successful wedding where everyone was happy!

At the reception I was dressed like a Christmas tree! I was asked to wear ‘all’ the jewellery that was given to me by my parents, in-laws and extended family – I desperately tried to revolt. I reasoned that I liked to be dressed subtly. But no one listened! The make-up person had a good sense of design but didn’t know how to use it appropriately based on my facial features nor was he able to blend it in with what I was wearing. So now along with a decorated face, I was wearing necklaces on my head! Thank god I didn’t have too many ear holes and being ‘healthy’ my puffy hands meant that they couldn’t make me wear too many bangles and bracelets either!

Did I really need to do that? Yes! It meant that the elders could show off what they’d given me. It meant I was welcome in the family (in-laws) and their positioning in society was honoured well (including that of my parents).

Two days after the wedding at my in-laws, which was still full of immediate & extended family, I needed to speak to my husband. So I called out his name. Immediately my mother-in-law came rushing out saying don’t use his name. There were elders in the house and they would mind. Really? In 2002? What was I to call him then? She suggested ‘shuncho’ (listen in Bengali) or ‘ogo’ (a form of endearment in Bengali). I wanted to laugh out aloud and knew he would never respond. Sure enough, I cried out hoarse but he didn’t listen. I’d never called him anything apart from his name. He didn’t even realise I was asking for him.

Did I really need to do that? Yes, I did! It meant ‘respecting’ the sentiments of elders.

My mother-in-law asked me to wear sarees for a week after the wedding. It was painful not only because I seldom wore sarees and definitely never at home. It meant restricting my movements, managing the pallu so it wouldn’t fall off, covering my head when in front of elders, sitting demurely so my legs wouldn’t show. A week later most of the elders and extended family would have left and I could then wear Indian clothes – anything I was comfortable wearing. Of course no shorts and sleeveless T’s!

Did I really need to do it? Yes, I did! The extended family and relatives would all go back happy and satisfied that although I was a Christian I didn’t always wear western clothes. My in-laws were successful in making me abide by their traditions and customs. And their prejudices would rest in peace!

Truly now, did I really need to do all that? A part of me says I should have objected more strongly and asserted that it was ‘our’ wedding and we wanted it ‘our’ way. While a bigger part of me says, but it was only for a few days! Ten years later although people still happily talk about the wedding, it hardly matters to our everyday existence.