Marriage Aaj Kal*: An Ultra-Feminist Take on Arranged Marriages


From the Kamasutra

*Today and Yesterday 

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 3rd March 2011.

Chanakya of the Mauryan dynasty, and a prime minister of his time, is said to have remarked, “A good wife is one who serves her husband in the morning like a mother, loves him in the day like a sister and pleases him like a prostitute in the night.” It’s impossible to confirm whether he actually said this, but it isn’t too difficult to imagine based on the time period he hailed from. What I find strange is that after all these centuries Indian men still harbor a similar attitude. This attitude can be traced to the Kamasutra as well that he allegedly wrote (many historians assert that Vatsyayana, author of the book, and Chanakya are the one and the same). As mistakenly understood by many, the book is not just about the art of making love, but also about the male art of making love to women without committing sin. According to the ancient text, it is perfectly ok to sleep with another woman if there is an ulterior motive involved. For example, in an English translation by Deepak Chopra, a rule states that: “I love another woman, who is this woman’s best friend. If I sleep with this woman, I can get to the one I really want.” Another example, “By winning this woman over, I can kill her husband, whose riches I covet”. Note that these rules apply only to men, and deem it tolerable to objectify women in order to satisfy personal again.

But I don’t want to refer to ancient texts (or their translations) to give you the picture of unrealistic expectations of Indian men. Gayatri Gopinath, a queer theorist of diaspora, in her article “Nostalgia, Desire, Diaspora: South Asian Sexualities in Motion”, points out that patriarchal attitudes of men towards women not only exist in the homeland (India), but also in the diaspora. The female gender is viewed as “the symbolic center … [for] … “home” and “family””, and heteronormative female sexuality can only exist “within the familial and domestic space”. Thus, it is acceptable to be sexual if you are married and only with your husband, while homosexuality is either criminalized or ignored. Gopinath cites a real-life example, where the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA) was denied the right to march in the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) sponsored annual India Day Parade, in New York City, both in 1995 and 1996. Consequently, the FIA is run by a group of Indian immigrant businessmen.

All this only leads up to the question of ‘why’. Why would these men be so hind sighted to ignore that women nowadays are free, independent agencies, who are not confined to traditional gender roles whether in India, or outside of India? The only answer, in my opinion, is their false sense of entitlement. They appear to believe that they have this ancient right to have these equally ancient expectations. As the SALGA example would suggest, men outside the “homeland,” have been unable to evolve beyond their view of traditional gender roles, as applied to women back in the homeland. Maybe, it can also be attributed to parental and societal pressure that plants the seeds of such inane ideas into their heads at tender ages, so that they grow up having expectations that only become more traditional with time. For example, this summer, when I was in Calcutta, a neighbor subjected me to a volley of questions. She is currently on the prowl for a bride for her younger son (who never wants to leave India). Some of her questions were:

Do you know how to cook?
Don’t you want to settle in India?
Do you know how to wear a sari?

All her questions were addressed with a smile. It was as if she hoped I wouldn’t see through her façade of “innocent” questioning. Instead of being mortified, I was faintly amused. Really? Do I represent the ideal future daughter-in-law for your “modern” son, who also expects to have a very traditional wife at home (ironically, chosen by his mother. Really, you can’t get more traditional than this!)? I had some questions for her too: Does he know how to cook? Doesn’t he want to settle abroad? And, why on earth does he talk with that put on accent? It sounds neither British, nor American. Just an Indian trying very hard to sound “foreign”!

Source: Meera Sapra's blog at http://lifesacomicstrip.blogspot.com/

However, don’t castigate me yet. I don’t have a problem with arranged marriage. On the whole, I find the concept very gratifying. It’s really very similar to set up dating. You say ‘yes’, only if you feel you are compatible. Yet, with the unrealistic expectations of Indian males (and in this case, their mothers) all around, it’s difficult for us women to find someone to “live” with.

To assuage the attitude of men here in Canada, I had a discussion with some of my male friends on the topic of marriage and what kind of qualities do they want in their future wives.

“She must know how to cook!”
“She should keep the house nice and tidy.”
“She should be a virgin!”

I was faintly aghast at such pronouncements. These were Indo-Canadian men living here in Toronto for the past ten-twelve years. Were they actually hoping to find the “wife” described by Chanakya? The irony was that not all of them were virgins, and none of them had any experience with cooking or cleaning.

In the case of my parents, I believe they got lucky when they found each other. Their’s was a love marriage. And, even though, my father is not exactly the most liberal man alive, he definitely didn’t hope for the ideal Chanakyan wife. And, since my mom works hard at home, and at the office (she is my dad’s business partner and they work together), I can only imagine her staring scornfully at Chanakya, if he had made the mistake of making that comment in her presence.

In my case, I too have the image of an ideal man in my head. He may not be THE ideal man, but ideal enough for me. He would be someone: who looks decent (this might appear a little vain on my part, but if I had to choose between the frog and the prince, the frog would probably end up dead face down in a pond somewhere); can clean, if not cook; and has a tolerant nature, since I tend to get impatient and lazy at times. He need not be a virgin. Most people I know of my age, are not. He need not be super intelligent. However, I wouldn’t tolerate a super idiot. And definitely, he must not have too many unrealistic expectations of my abilities. I cannot speak for other women, but my girlfriends also harbor similar “attainable” attributes within their future spouses. Yes, I do believe that we are the more rational gender, but that’s my personal bias.

So, I ask you, where do we women expect to find our men? And, where and when exactly do these men of today expect to find their women? With distorted realities clashing into each other, the answers may be “in our imaginations” and “never”.

I think I have come to terms with that reality. The question is: have you?

14 Comments

Filed under article, Thinking Aloud

14 responses to “Marriage Aaj Kal*: An Ultra-Feminist Take on Arranged Marriages

  1. Kashyap

    I find this article more women centric. To be honest, same of the points about men are true, however if you look today, the expectations of today’s Indian girl are very unrealistic. They don’t concentrate more on looks, its more on money, they want their spouse’s to have own big houses, high paying jobs which can maintain lavish lifestyles n many more. Today none of these girls would like marry or date a man who wants to create a niche for himself without his family’s support, someone who wants establish himself on his own and obviously in his struggling days he won’t have that kind of money to fulfill today’s girl’s expectations, he can just provide basic amenities n love. Trust me no girl would like to be with this kind of person, since he cannot provide the so called luxurious life which today’s women Desire the most.

  2. Raghav

    Mature,i must say…though don’t worry…we indian men are changing…slowly but surely

  3. Rishi

    One of my favourite articles. I still can’t stomach some of the negative some men have over women.

  4. Shweta

    There are many people who want such ridiculous criteria (in arranged marriages) but there are people who don’t, either. I am one of the arranged marriage lot. Funny, how the term is inappropriate, we didn’t fall in love at first sight and it was a lot about what we had in common and wanted, and deciding that we wanted to share our lives together, so isn’t that ultimately what marriage is about? Can’t the so-called ‘love marriages’ be built on equally superficial claims too? One of them being looks, for instance?

    • Shweta,

      I suppose love marriages can also be built on “superficial” claims, except I am not sure how that would work. For example, it is easy to get attracted to someone based on looks, but I doubt “love” will happen beyond that stage without there being nothing else about the person to fall in love with. If X falls in love with Y and gets married to Y based solely on looks, then the meaning of love would be contested in that context. I, for one, do not believe in “love” at first sight. Lust, maybe.

      S.

  5. Pingback: Some thoughts on Arranged Marriage: To Choose or to be Chosen? « frederiqueroyb

  6. I think some Indian men (I will explain later) do live in a fantasy world oggling women on screen but don’t know how to react/ interact with real women. I say this as a Brit of South Asian origin. I live and work in London and Delhi (am here just now) and find that the increasingly sexualised images of women in newspapers (just look at the Times of India any day of the week) at the movies etc is happening at a much faster rate than society’s attitudes and acceptance of sexually active women.
    Item numbers in movies are absolutely pathetic and signify to me a deeply immature relationship between men and women.
    Great post/blog hope to read more!

    Bubbly Chatterji

  7. Manjunath Krishna

    Very interesting article. Nice writing. I wish you luck to find your Mr.Right. I don think its impossible. Its a complicated topic and everyone have their list of expectations. I am not sure if we can find ideal partners but no harm in trying for one.

    • Hi M,
      I wrote this article a while back. So, many of the views in it are of an idealistic Sanchari (who is changing ever so slowly, but changing nevertheless). I know it’s next to impossible to find the “perfect” man. And, believe me, I am not even trying anymore. I would be glad if I can find someone who actually gets me. I think that would definitely seal the deal.

      • Kashyap

        I find this article more women centric. To be honest, same of the points about men are true, however if you look today, the expectations of today’s Indian girl are very unrealistic. They don’t concentrate more on looks, its more on money, they want their spouse’s to have own big houses, high paying jobs which can maintain lavish lifestyles n many more. Today none of these girls would like marry or date a man who wants to create a niche for himself without his family’s support, someone who wants establish himself on his own and obviously in his struggling days he won’t have that kind of money to fulfill today’s girl’s expectations, he can just provide basic amenities n love. Trust me no girl would like to be with this kind of person, since he cannot provide the so called luxurious life which today’s women Desire the most.

      • I find it problematic how you seem to generalize all women. At the same time, there is nothing wrong in desiring “the good life” even if it might come across as selfish to desire this life at the account of a well-off partner. Again, not all women are the same, and as I acknowledge in my article, not all men are the same either.

        Also, it would be great (for you) to keep in mind that this is something I wrote a long time ago. My own views have evolved since then.

  8. Arun

    haha that comic strip is priceless :)

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