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Summer 2003 –
All Hallows’ Eve

Volume 2 • Issue 4 
 

Write Between the Lines is an exploration and articulation of the obvious and the obscure. A cavalcade of creation and commentary designed to amuse and bemuse.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact:
WriteBetweentheLines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

Arranged Marriage or Love Match?
     
         
 


Interview with Modern

Gujarati Girls:

Tina Patel and Meeta Sunderwala

by

KE Monahan Huntley

 

 

 
     
 

In Monsoon Wedding a ". . . bacchanalian revelry of kebabs, whisky and Bollywood music that is a Punjabi wedding,"1 Mira Nair celebrates on film the conflicts and complications of an arranged marriage in contemporary India. In the Postcolonial Studies at Emory University, Santana Flanigan outlines Indian arranged marriages — their history, function, and practice:

Arranged marriages have been part of the Indian culture since the fourth century. Many consider the practice a central fabric of Indian society, reinforcing the social, economic, geographic, and the historic significance of India (Stein). Prakasa states that arranged marriages serve six functions in the Indian community: (1) helps maintain the social satisfaction system in the society; (2) gives parents control over family members; (3) enhances the chances to preserve and continue the ancestral lineage; (4) provides an opportunity to strengthen the kinship group; (5) allows the consolidation and extension of family property; (6) enables the elders to preserve the principle of endogamy (Prakasa 17).

The practice of arranged marriages began as a way of uniting and maintaining upper caste families. Eventually, the system spread to the lower caste where it also was used for the same purpose. The specifics of arranged marriages vary; depending on if one is Hindu or Muslim. "Marriage is treated as an alliance between two families rather than a union between two individuals" (Prakasa 15).

Ninety-five percent of all current Indian marriages are arranged, either through child marriages or family / friend arrangement.2

Married By America executive producer Ted Haims claims: “Sixty percent of marriages in the world today are still arranged.”3 In America’s reality television run amok, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? Joe Millionaire, The Bachelor /ette, et cetera, is the concept of an arranged marriage archaic or advantageous?

Write Between the Lines explores this question in an interview with Tina Patel and Meeta Sunderwala: vibrant, vivacious Gujarati Indians and first generation Americans.

Meeta’s parents hail from Surat, India, located in the western side of the country. She was born in Michigan and moved with her family to the Golden State at the age of twelve. A graduate of the Walter A. Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, Meeta currently holds the title of Finance Director of Mergers and Acquisitions at Hewlett Packard — fierce technologies; global in scope.

Tina is a born and bred Valley girl. Her mother is from Bombay and father from Boroda. She attended the University of California, Riverside, and received her MBA from Cal State Los Angeles. After executing the wildly successful Bratz Dolls campaign, Tina was wooed away from her position as Marketing Brand Manager for MGA Entertainment — to become Brand Manager for Mattel’s perennial single career gal — Barbie.

They are smart, savvy, and very much women of independent means. To the chagrin of their parents, they are also unmarried.

“Just because India has gone global should we embrace everything? What about our ancient cultures? Our traditions? Our values?” Delhi.com television program commentator exhorts the people of India in—Monsoon Wedding.4

LINES: Have you traveled to India? Minarets, mosques, the Taj Mahal?

Tina: Yes, I love India, although I was too young at the time to appreciate it. I can’t wait to go back.

Meeta: I was seven years old. I actually had a really good time. I learned to speak the language fluently. Even today, at dinner parties I have no problem understanding the breakneck banter of my mother and her friends. My parents visit India every few years and I am looking forward to traveling with them next trip out.

LINES: What aspects of the Indian culture do you uphold?

Meeta: It is a beautiful culture. First and foremost, Indian cuisine is a necessity for me. My mom is an amazing cook. Since my parents live close by, I pop by a few times a month to satisfy my cravings. My favorites are always prepared, and my mother typically sends me home with a week’s worth of treats! I also enjoy the music, classical and folk dance, the cinema.

LINES: I first heard the term “Bollywood” in the late 80s from an Indian roommate, Sanjeev. Now “Planet Bollywood”5 appears to be quite the trend. Have you seen Monsoon Wedding?

Meeta: Not yet. I know my parents have. My mother is a huge Bollywood fan. Every week she rents new releases from the local Indian store. When I was younger, I would watch movies with her, even though many were in Hindi and without subtitles. (I only speak Gujarati, but my mother speaks both languages.) My mother would be so excited we were spending time together, and that I was interested in the Indian culture, that she would stop the tape throughout the course of the entire movie to translate the words and actions. To make sure I understood.

Tina: I loved Monsoon Wedding. That’s Indian culture. Bollywood fascinates my mom as well; she subscribes to six Indian cable channels. Every time I walk into her house — that’s all that’s playing. Unless, of course, the Lakers game is on.

LINES: Interview featured an article “Hollywood? Bollywood? Galli-wood?” touting designer John Galliano as the “Raja of the Runway”6 for this season’s Indian inspired fashions.

Meeta: I have dressed in a sari and other types of Indian attire when I've attended Indian functions, such as a wedding. For women of my generation and younger, a sari is no longer considered hip. There are more modern types of “party wear” such as short decorative blouses and matching long skirts. And like the rest of the world, the styles are continually changing. Also, the clothing is only one piece of the fashion equation. My mom has an extensive selection of matching jewelry (necklace, earrings, and bracelets) for any outfit.

Tina: I’ve never worn a sari, but I do have outfits from India — tulle tops and flowing pants.

LINES: Red vermilion dot?

The 'red dot' on the forehead is not always only red and nor is it always a dot. The dot is called 'Kumkum' or 'Bindi', and when worn by men it is called 'Tilak' (mark). . . . Like all Hindu symbols, ‘red dot' has multiple meanings which are all valid at the same time.7

Meeta: The red dot used to represent that you were married, but now it’s an ornate decoration, a fashion statement. My mother has bindis in all colors and shapes — again, she’s equipped for any ensemble.

Tina: It used to mean you were taken. Now, it’s an accessory. Girls wear different colors; sometimes they use sequins, beads, glitter . . . gemstones glued on the forehead match the shade of the sari.

LINES: Fashion and female power:

The Upanishads, that are a collection of ancient Indian philosophical texts, discuss the concept of a Universal Self that is within each one of us, the Self which is the spiritual center of existence. Some believe that the woman is superior to man in her ability to discern her inner Self. The red dot symbolizes the third eye that women possess, the mind's eye, through which the Self becomes infinitely clear.

The Hindu Trinity (just like the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost [in Christianity]) is Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector) and Shiva (the Destroyer). Shiva is a calm and passive God who is content with doing penance on Mount Kailash, his earthly abode in the Himalayas. He has a third eye on his forehead that is always closed. When opened it has the unique ability to reduce whatever it sees to ashes. The red dot on the woman's forehead signifies that eye of destruction. The Indian woman, like Shiva, is calm and patient. And the red dot is a warning to men not to try her patience, for someday she might be pushed over the limit, open her third eye, and reduce them to ashes.8

LINES: Religious upbringing?

Meeta: My parents are Hindu and both very religious. Growing up, however, they did not push their beliefs on their children. We were not exposed that much to Hinduism with the exception of religious occasions like weddings and certain prayer events.

Tina: I was raised Hindu. My dad was not very strict; he was acclimated to the American culture. He had come to the United States to study for his Masters degree in Engineering at the University of Minnesota. My mom’s strong in her spiritual beliefs — but she’s still pretty liberal. We honor significant holidays like the annual prayer event Diwali. The “festival of lights” pays tribute to several gods and is celebrated during November over a period of five days. Firecrackers, oil lamps, sweets.

"Diwali is awesome. And there's food and there's going to be dancing and, oh, I have the raddest outfit."Kelly imparts Indian culture in The Office: Diwali9

Meeta: I’ve converted to Christianity which makes it difficult to maintain a large part of my Indian heritage, because religion is at its base. What I pass on to my own children will be India’s cultural arts. My parents don’t take issue to my conversion. My dad, in particular, is very familiar with Christianity and other religions, and he believes that there is only one universal God across all the religions. They are actually happy that I have developed a strong sense of faith and spirituality.

“I know it’s a risk but what marriage isn’t a risk? Whether our parents introduce or we meet in a club what differences does it make?” Hemant asks Aditi—Monsoon Wedding10

LINES: Were your parents’ marriages arranged?

Meeta: Yes, but it was a bit unconventional. My mom’s family is wealthy and my dad’s family is not, although they both are from the same caste. They came from different economic levels; however, my mom preferred to marry an educated and intelligent man, which he was. She chose him — she was allowed some say in the matter. My parents do have some friends who had what they call a “love marriage,” which simply means they fell in love without any arrangement. Although it’s more common in India these days, a “love marriage” was not the norm in my parents’ day.

Tina: They were both previously married and neither marriage worked out — which was considered scandalous. My dad was dating American women while he was here (more scandal!), and his father mandated he marry an Indian girl: “You cannot disgrace the family!” So he told his father to find someone for him in India — while he kept his options open in the U.S. My mom’s brother-in-law knew my dad’s family and he set them up. My dad went to visit her in India. They met briefly — my mom at first was not interested, but my dad definitely was and he pursued her. He returned to the United States and wrote her love letters. That’s when she fell in love with him and applied for a visa.

LINES: What do you think about arranged marriages?

Meeta: I’m opposed to the way it was done for my parents. Although they did meet before the wedding, there was no time for them to really get to know one another. I completely disagree with the idea of falling in love after you’re wedlocked. I don’t mind the concept of being set up; however, I will definitely be madly in love with the man I marry — before I marry him!

Tina: I don’t believe in it all. My parents are still happy, and my boyfriend Paresh’s parents, whose marriage was arranged at birth, have grown to love each other — but for me — my values are worlds apart. I’m independent. In India the women are subservient — it’s the women taking care of the house.

Meeta: The process a relative of mine is going through right now is an example of a modern approach. He is dating women — but first the match needs to be approved by both families. It’s really no different in that respect from a set-up.

“Do you get all your life’s direction from Cosmopolitan? For all your talk of passion, how about marrying for love?” Cousin Ria asks Aditi—Monsoon Wedding11

LINES: What are your parents’ expectations as far as your marriage?

Meeta: My mom would be thrilled if I married an Indian man, and she would be more than delighted to help me find him! Now that she has discovered the Internet — watch out! She prints out profiles of Indian men. The network online and connections throughout her Indian community — well, apparently the marriage possibilities are endless. Unfortunately for my mother, I am rarely interested in the men she chooses.

Tina: My parents say: “Marry whomever you wish, as long as you’re happy.” Unconsciously, though, I’ve always gravitated towards Indian men. I mean, I didn’t have a serious boyfriend until college — and he was Indian. Paresh is Gujarati.

LINES: What if you don’t marry an Indian?

Meeta: Like I said, my mom would love it if I married an Indian man, but she really doesn’t expect it. It wouldn’t be devastating because my older sister married a Caucasian and my mother adores him, and I’ve dated many men of different nationalities. As a matter of fact, I’ve never dated an Indian man. My mother's concern is the fact that I’m not married, period. When I broke up with my last boyfriend I thought she would be thrilled because he wasn’t Indian. She wasn’t. She told me: “I know he made you happy, and I was happy for you.” This was such a surprise because he is African American — which is still practically unheard of in the Indian community. My mother coming to terms with the racial issues, to accept him the way she did, especially knowing how that would make her look in the Indian community — that was a moment of her personal evolution that deeply touched me.

LINES: What will your wedding be like?

Tina: Monsoon Wedding, although instead of Punjabi, I’ll follow the Gujarati marriage customs.

"Gujarati marriages elevates the woman to become her husbands sadharmacharini and is always seen as a partner to him in life’s pursuits."11

Meeta: Simple elegance. Exquisite. A traditional white wedding gown — a walk down the church aisle. The reception will be extravagant — an affair to remember. My sister had two separate religious wedding celebrations, Christian and Hindu, and although an Indian ceremony will be more for my parents — I am open to it. It also depends on whom I marry.

LINES: What expectations do you hold for your future children?

Tina: I won’t impose certain aspects of the culture on my children, however, they will be raised Hindu. That’s vital for both families.

Meeta: One thing is for sure — there will be no talk of arrangements. Whomever they fall in love with is fine. I would also like to share aspects of the culture with them — the food, the language, the arts. As time flies by, my heritage and family have become even more important to me.

Tina has recently purchased a dream house with her intended, childhood sweetheart Paresh Varu, on the same street as her childhood home. Marrying the boy next door who is a handsome doctor to boot — now that sounds like a mother’s reverie that crosses all cultural boundaries.

After Meeta’s intended Prince Charming turned into a dreadful toad before her very eyes, she began taking joy in rediscovering herself and playing the field. Word on the street is this sexy and sophisticated Gujarati girl won’t be footloose and fancy-free for long—stayed tuned for the happy ever after to her fairytale.


Girls Night Out at the Blue Room
From left to right: Pam, Tina Patel, Meeta Sunderwala, and Yolanda

Footnotes

1www.filmfour.com/monsoonwedding/

2Flanigan, Santana. "Arranged Marriages in India." (Fall. 2000): n. pag. Online. Postcolonial Studies at Emory Pages. Internet. September 28, 2001.

3Ross, Dalton. "What to Watch." Entertainment Weekly 7 March 2003: 64.

4Dhawan, Sabrina (Writer) and Nair, Mira (Director). Monsoon Wedding. (Transcribed from film).

5

6“Hollywood? Bollywood? Galli-wood?” Interview May 2003: 83-87.

7Ask the Swami About India. Internet. 2003. http://www.cs.uic.edu/~asampath/swami.html

8http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/web.html

9The Office: Diwali

10Dhawan, Sabrina (Writer) and Nair, Mira (Director). Monsoon Wedding. (Transcribed from film).

11 Ibid

12 Gujararti Marriage Customs (2001): Online. Reetirivaz: Customs, Traditions & Rituals in India. Internet. 2001. http://www.reetirivaz.com/marr6.asp