My wife and I were invited to a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary and of course I had to ask them how they lasted so long in a relationship.
Then I realised it is not the type of question you ask someone who is happily married and that I had flubbed, and quickly added, “I mean we fight all the time, so just trying to find the secret of your success.”
Once upon a time Indians never married for love, and if you said your union was the result of a “love marriage” you were looked down upon condescendingly as if you had announced you are a secular liberal in your political leanings, or you were thought of as a Bollywood movie junkie who is unaware of the hurdles in real life society.
Choosing a soul mate on your own was just not done as it was not respectable, and it would lead to ‘badnami’ in Hindi, which meant “disrepute” or “loss of face” for the family.
It was the parents’ job to be the marriage broker, the partner finder, and especially the job of cajoling a huge amount of dowry from the girl’s family. When people in other parts of the world asked, “But what about love?” the answer always was, “First you get married, love will come later.” “Look at your society,” Indians would tell people from the Western world. “There is no love among couples and marriages are breaking up.”
That has changed over the years as Indians have become ‘Westernised’ and women and men are choosing their own life partners, much to the chagrin of their parents. There are now also apps for finding a life partner.
For those who have not married even after reaching a certain age, life is made hell on earth by mothers and landlords.
While social media such as Facebook has helped bring together people who normally would not have found each other in the real world, many marriages have also ended acrimoniously because the better half continued to search for a partner on Facebook, even after marriage.
For those who have not married even after reaching a certain age, life is made hell on earth by mothers and landlords. In an article titled No Country for Single Women, a BBC article quotes a young woman on how difficult it is to get an apartment for rent in the major cosmopolitan cities in India.
“Landlords believe I will behave immorally,” said one woman. Neighbours and relatives will keep needling the mothers of single women that educating their daughters and making them independent was a very bad idea.
Matrimonial adverts focus on the “homely” woman who is “not that much into career”. It’s not just women but men also suffer if they delay marriage, as their “value” in the marriage market would go down, according to parents.
While single Indian women face tremendous pressures to get married, women elsewhere in the world find that they just cannot find decent single men.
I remember editing an article in Gulf News from our correspondent in Abu Dhabi some years ago that single expat women are leading lonely lives because of a lack of a partner, despite the fact that there were more men than women in the city. One woman said she had taken a gym membership hoping to find someone like-minded, or she hangs around malls and eats out more. Another woman said she has realised that this is a transitional place for many and she feels like a commuter at a train station watching people come and go.
When I said we fight a lot, the man celebrating his wedding anniversary turned to me and said that fighting couples will never break up.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.