What getting Hitched taught me about marriage
I never thought marriage would play such a crucial part in my life, until it became the subject of my first book. My tryst with the idea of marriage began a while ago, though. During my early twenties, when my family was panicking about my not “settling down”, great-aunts would often sigh, “If you were ugly or stupid, it wouldn’t matter so much. But you’re tall and fair, and the genes need to be passed on. And if you keep studying and collecting degrees, we’ll run out of grooms with higher qualifications.”
It made me wonder what the fate of a short, fat, dark, educated girl must be in the crystal ball Tam Brahm families are perpetually peering through. I began writing a satirical novel on marriage. In 2012, Meru Gokhale, Editorial Director of Vintage Books India, asked me if I would like to write a non-fiction book on arranged marriage and the modern Indian woman, and I was excited enough by the idea to promise to deliver the book in six months. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I would learn about marriage in the aftermath of the book:
Aspiring mothers-in-law will solicit you
No one told me that writing a book on marriage would be interpreted as a mating call. At the book launch in my hometown, Madras, my mother was accosted by several women who wanted to know whether I was married, and which caste we belonged to. I’ve been asked by most people whether I’m open to an arranged marriage myself. My staple reply, “That would require me to reveal my relationship status, which is personal”, tends to successfully put people off. However, there have been at least five resilient women, who believe I know everything about marriage and would therefore make an ideal daughter-in-law. The last lady who solicited me for her son suggested we become Facebook friends, “In case you change your mind.”
Anything you say – or your interviewee says – can and will be used against you
One of my interviewees said something which I loved enough to make the title of my first chapter: “You need to train your man, like a dog with potential”. In context, this is how her quote read: “See, I grew up with dogs. And the thing is, as long as they’re intelligent, you can train them. And because they’re intelligent, and so satisfied in their intelligence, they won’t realise they’re being trained. The key is to make them think they’re doing what you want them to out of their own accord. So, I decided that was how I needed to look at a man—like a dog with potential.” I didn’t bargain for reams of hate mail, which accused me of comparing men to dogs. A men’s rights organisation (those exist?) threatened to sue me for defamation. Another accused me of being a “b***h with penis envy” (asterisks not mine). Yet another asked, plaintively, whether I had no brothers.
Women can get away with sexism
The privileged position of women in the arranged marriage circuit was brought home to me by a comment on this extract published in Open Magazine. The reader pointed out that while men who wanted “tall, fair, beautiful, well-educated” women were considered chauvinist and superficial, women’s stories of encounters with unattractive men whose English left something to be desired were considered funny.
There isn’t much difference between a ‘love marriage’ and an ‘arranged marriage’
Since Hitched was released, several readers who have had ‘love marriages’ have got in touch with me, to say they, too, can relate to the stories in the book. Apparently, even living together can’t quite prepare you for marriage, and the acquisition of a new family of curious relatives. One of my interviewees spoke about how her husband and she had raging battles because he wanted her to squeeze out the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube (this is not a metaphor). A reader, who married her boyfriend of six years, told me they decided to have separate loos. Naturally, I resisted the temptation to ask for the details.
Your marriage is aired on social networks
I’ve been asked rather often about how people were willing to talk about their marriages. I honestly didn’t know – perhaps it was because many of my interviewees were friends or former colleagues who knew my journalistic ethics; perhaps my emails and conversations with strangers had convinced them I could be trusted not to sensationalise their stories. But, when someone told me she had been asked why she hadn’t posted too many pictures with her husband on Facebook and whether she was okay, it occurred to me that our generation is just as voyeuristic as our parents’, and this is largely acceptable.
I remember when a former colleague had a crush on a married man, and found out through some online stalking that he didn’t put up family pictures anywhere; she also discovered that he followed his wife on Twitter, but the wife didn’t follow him back. This apparently meant he was in an unhappy marriage. So, now, talking incessantly about your family isn’t enough to prove that you’re in a happy marriage. You need to post photographs and follow each other on Twitter.
Perhaps we should think about putting some space between ourselves and the world. It isn’t a great idea to let what other people think and say about your relationship influence you. To me, the only gauge of a healthy relationship is whether you can be in the same room without having to talk. If that involves having sex, all the healthier.
The easiest way to weaken a relationship is to check up on your partner
When you’re in a relationship, even marriage, you have no choice but to trust each other. I know a man whose wife had all his passwords and would regularly go through his phone. He used his office phone to speak to a colleague he was having an affair with, and opened a secret email account to chat with her. There’s no point trying to check up on each other. Honesty within limits (I would not tell my partner about a crush, and I’d rather not know about his crushes), and pretending you’re not possessive is a better idea.
About the Book
If you are an Indian woman and old enough to legally bear children, chances are that an overweight relative has asked you, while fondly stroking their pot belly, When am I going to eat at your wedding? The modern Indian woman’s attitude to marriage and especially to arranged marriage is a confused one.
As traditional matchmaking methods and Internet chat rooms come together to build matrimonial websites, our parameters have changed, but the time honoured practice of arranged marriage sticks.
Hitched explores in depth the considerations matrimony should involve and the issues that can crop up at different stages of an arranged marriage.
A cross section of women those who married young, married late, married the first man their parents parked before them or married out of caste in an arranged setup open up about experiences ranging from the frightening to the hilarious.
Witty, piercing, veracious and inquisitive, Hitched succeeds in being entertaining, educating and enlightening, all at once. – Ashwin Sanghi.
You can buy Hitched here: http://bit.ly/1aKgYa7