Walk The Talk – Marriage , Our National Obsession


Looking for a “suitable” prospective bride or groom for their children is an obsession with Indian parents. It doesn’t matter if they are conservative or liberal. Weddings, social gatherings are the breeding grounds for matchmaking. Keen eyes watch all your movements and scan you like an X-ray machine to see if you can fit into the role of a ‘good bahu or demand ‘for their family. There is an obsession to “marry off” the youngster as early as possible. The term itself puts me off.

No sooner is the child born, parents start dreaming of his/her marriage. In case of girls the scenario is worse. Even the most liberated parents spend most of their time planning the marriage of their children.  It is considered a moral duty to quickly fix a match and make sure that the child is ‘settled’.  I have seen many parents and grandparents pestering youngsters to get married. I have met frustrated parents fighting losing battles with kids when they decide either to not marry or they find a life partner of their choice hence shattering all dream castles of a grand wedding of “their” choice. It seems as if Matrimony is the most important event of human life.

The obsession begins from childbirth. It differs from one region to another but the entire nation suffers from it except maybe the North Eastern states. Money is put in various saving schemes specially tailored for this grand event, gold accumulated, children advised to choose their career with care so it’s easy to find a “good catch” in the “marriage market”. If one is parent of a girl then the responsibility to find her a “good home” and train her to become “a good wife and DIL” becomes the top most priority but that is another long story.

The moment kids finish high school the pressure starts building up on them. Everything revolves around one thing – marriage. Family, relatives, everyone suddenly becomes concerned to terminate their brahamachaya status and push them into grahasth status and it doesn’t end there. Then there is an urgency to have a grandchild and then the second grandchild so that they can be subjected to the same pressure. It’s a social let down if a friend’s daughter or son gets married and you are still fighting to coax yours to agree. It’s considered a stigma if your child crosses the “marriageable age”. The rants are endless and emotional drama worse than what the daily soaps on TV churn out. Torn between their desires, parental aspirations and societal pressures the youngsters don’t know where to head.

Satyamev Jayate ‘s episode on Love marriages had just finished and I was discussing it with my son when the bell rang.

“Hey, can you spare some time for me, I need to talk. Can we go out?” The young man at the door, a friend’s son, seemed disturbed.

“Sure thing my boy”, I said and we decided to walk to the local mall.

“What’s eating you?” I asked.

He threw up his hands in the air.

I told them to give me a break.  “I do not wish to marry and when or If I do I will find a girl for myself. They created a ruckus and I just walked out. There is a limit to everything. First they don’t like my choice of subjects, then they have problem with my career choice and now this”.

He was in a bad mood and I could see why. Barely in his twenties, he was subjected to the ‘career/ marriage and moral talk’ torture every day.

“I am sick of it. They push me just because they were married off early. It’s like “we couldn’t have our way so we won’t let you have it”. What crap is this”?

I completely agreed with him. Knowing the kind of family he belonged to.

“Now the latest is,” Do you have a girlfriend? What community? Will you marry her? Do her parents know? We won’t allow a “love marriage”. “Find someone from your own community. Don’t go for live in or fall for girl of other religion/ caste”. Why do you want to be an artist? Why not MBA?

I am done”.

I asked him if he can stand up against the pressure and pursue his dreams.

“Of course I won’t give in. It’s a matter of my life but think about all those who can’t. I mean, among my friends, everyone has the same story to tell about themselves or an older sibling. Girls get more harassed than boys. They are pressurized to follow a certain moral code. Boundaries are set. The moment they reach teens, their mothers get obsessed with their every move. Like watch dogs the parents monitor everything so the girl can later be ‘ shown off’ as a ‘ homely , demure’ person who can cook, clean, satisfy her husband , have babies and care for her elders. You won’t believe that even those girls who come from so-called ‘modern’ backgrounds have a certain code of conduct which they Have To follow. Why do you think they lie and make stories to slip out and breathe some fresh air? The continuous moral policing smothers them.

Why is it such a touchy thing with the parents? Why can’t they let us be? What if one doesn’t want to get married? What if one wants to marry late? Why being single is such an issue? Why is it looked upon as something abnormal? I do not even wish to go into the issue of sexual preferences. That is one thing parents will never understand”

“Well, know many parents don’t but I have no issues of any kind dear boy”, I said with genuine feelings for him.

“Yeah, how does it even matter, everyone isn’t like you, I feel it’s something to with their insecurities. ” he said thoughtfully chewing the gum.

“They want to prove to themselves, to relatives and society that they can be qualified as “good parents” because they fulfilled their duties, that their children “obey them”, that their children are “normal and straight”, that they can have kids  …God damn it. Sometimes I feel they all have OCD.  Why is so hard for them to let Us decide for ourselves, when and even, whether, we should get married.  ”

I felt sorry for him but was glad that at least he is raising questions and speaking up. The situation gets sticky when young people run out of arguments against this great Indian marriage obsession and give in. Ill prepared and forced into  institution of marriage these youngsters end up being disillusioned and unhappy.

Sometime the pressure is so much that they decide to do something even worse. They decide to marry the first person they fall in love with, without giving any thought and later either end up in early divorces or suffer the consequences of their decision.

Do we see our grown up children as “adults” and even individuals?

Do we care about their dreams, aspirations?

Do we realize that they are not extensions of ourselves and should not be subjected to perform as we want them to?

Do we realize that by making the children feel guilty about not “fulfilling” our dreams and desires and by running them down and accusing them all the time for ‘stepping out of family customs, values’ we are actually smothering them?

Do we ever think that what we as  parents, grandparents do in the name of  “love and betterment of youngsters” is actually smothering their individuality, their decision-making ability, their intelligence and most of all their dignity as a person?

Why do we always have to show our superiority and “expect” the younger generation to abide by our wishes? Why can’t we rejoice in their blossoming?

It is really sad the way we bully the children emotionally and mentally on almost every aspect of life from the time they are born, sometimes knowingly and most of the time unconsciously as a habit. We chart their paths, force them to take the road We choose and in a way make them end up being our own clones. No wonder they try to do the same with their children. Marriage is just one of the many issues which we hang like a sword of Damocles over their heads. The “We know what’s best for you” attitude continues all through their lives and is translated into their dealings with people younger than them.

It scars their lives for good.

In many families where a boy or a girl opts for ‘love marriage’ (usually against the wishes of parents), there is a complete breakdown of relationships. It is unacceptable to parents that their child can go against their wishes and marry just ‘anybody’. Nothing hurts their social ego as this one step. Most of the time the new couple face opposition and in extreme cases have to pay the price with their lives. In other cases, sometimes the families cut off all ties with the “rebel” youngsters and the worse hit are those who are accepted in the fold of family to either keep the social image or in fear that they will “lose” their son , their Budhape ka sahara.

If, under pressure, a girl is ‘accepted’ into the boy’s family, especially an orthodox, traditional one, she is expected to mould herself completely to their customs etc as in any other marriage and  if there is no support from her spouse, romance of love marriage leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

In many cases the boy succumbs to the emotional blackmail by the parents and begins to perform exactly as they want him to, forgetting that he is now responsible to uphold the dignity of his decision and that of his wife’s honour too. The guilt trip is so strong that he gives in with no second thought, hoping that everything will be fine one day. Unfortunately that day never comes in many lives.

Very few are able to create a healthy balance. Most of them are usually in the middle of a tug of war and the boy’s parents; especially the mother makes sure not to leave any chance of proving who the boss is. Interference from in-laws makes it very difficult to lead a happy life with the partner of her choice. Most of the time there is no support from her maternal family too and that makes the situation worse.

Are we responsible enough to protect the dignity of love? Do we really understand what it means in the true sense of the word? Be it love for our children or for each other.

Why is it that Indian parents have such an obsession with marriage of their children? Why is it that there is so much resistance to the child choosing his/her own life partner? Why are young adults continuously pressurized to get married and start a family? (That is another pressure that comes along  … to have kids as quickly as possible and be done with it).

We had a long conversation about this and the more we discussed the subject became murkier and complex.

“I think this obsession about marriage is the root cause of all evils. I think most of the crimes against females would end if This changes.  If the older generations do not push themselves and us to follow blindly the customs and norms set centuries ago. If they opened the windows of their minds just a wee bit.” He said thoughtfully. These urges to fit in and please the society, the regular taglines – what will people say, that’s the way our society and traditions are – are meaningless if we give it a thought.  What is society after all? It is made up of individuals and if individual thinking is changed society too will change. Won’t it? “

There was sadness on his face, a concern for the society slipping into dark ages.

“Absolutely, I am sure if the younger generation decides to break away from the clutches that hold them down, things will get better. I will try to reason it out with your parents”, I assured him though I wondered if the older generations were ready to move forward with conviction.

One can always try.

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