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:
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).
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).
of all current Indian marriages are arranged, either through
child marriages or family / friend arrangement.2
By America executive producer Ted Haims claims:
Sixty percent of marriages in the world today are
still arranged.3 In Americas 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?
Between the Lines explores this question in an
interview with Tina Patel and Meeta Sunderwala: vibrant,
vivacious Gujarati Indians and first generation Americans.
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 Mattels
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.
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 inMonsoon
Have you traveled to India? Minarets, mosques, the
Yes, I love India, although I was too young at the time
to appreciate it. I cant wait to go back.
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.
What aspects of the Indian culture do you uphold?
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 weeks worth
of treats! I also enjoy the music, classical and folk dance,
I first heard the term Bollywood in the late
80s from an Indian roommate, Sanjeev. Now Planet Bollywood5
appears to be quite the trend. Have you seen Monsoon
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
I loved Monsoon
Thats Indian culture. Bollywood fascinates my mom
as well; she subscribes to six Indian cable channels. Every
time I walk into her house thats all thats
playing. Unless, of course, the Lakers
game is on.
featured an article Hollywood? Bollywood? Galli-wood?
touting designer John Galliano as the Raja of the
Runway6 for this seasons Indian inspired fashions.
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.
Ive never worn a sari, but I do have outfits from
India tulle tops and flowing pants.
Red vermilion dot?
'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
The red dot used to represent that you were married, but
now its an ornate decoration, a fashion statement.
My mother has bindis in all colors and shapes again,
shes equipped for any ensemble.
It used to mean you were taken. Now, its an accessory.
Girls wear different colors; sometimes they use sequins,
beads, glitter . . . gemstones glued on the forehead match
the shade of the sari.
Fashion and female power:
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.
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
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
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 moms strong in her spiritual beliefs
but shes 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.
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
Ive 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 Indias cultural arts. My parents dont
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 its
a risk but what marriage isnt a risk? Whether our
parents introduce or we meet in a club what differences
does it make? Hemant asks AditiMonsoon
Were your parents marriages arranged?
Yes, but it was a bit unconventional. My moms family
is wealthy and my dads 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 its more common in India these days, a love
marriage was not the norm in my parents day.
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 moms brother-in-law knew my dads
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. Thats
when she fell in love with him and applied for a visa.
What do you think about arranged marriages?
Im 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 youre
wedlocked. I dont mind the concept of being set up;
however, I will definitely be madly in love with the man
I marry before I marry him!
I dont believe in it all. My parents are still happy,
and my boyfriend Pareshs parents, whose marriage was
arranged at birth, have grown to love each other
but for me my values are worlds apart. Im independent.
In India the women are subservient its the
women taking care of the house.
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.
Its really no different in that respect from a set-up.
Do you get
all your lifes direction from Cosmopolitan? For all
your talk of passion, how about marrying for love?
Cousin Ria asks AditiMonsoon
What are your parents expectations as far as your
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.
My parents say: Marry whomever you wish, as long as
youre happy. Unconsciously, though, Ive
always gravitated towards Indian men. I mean, I didnt
have a serious boyfriend until college and he was
Indian. Paresh is Gujarati.
What if you dont marry an Indian?
Like I said, my mom would love it if I married an Indian
man, but she really doesnt expect it. It wouldnt
be devastating because my older sister married a Caucasian
and my mother adores him, and Ive dated many men of
different nationalities. As a matter of fact, Ive
never dated an Indian man. My mother's concern is the fact
that Im not married, period. When I broke up with
my last boyfriend I thought she would be thrilled because
he wasnt Indian. She wasnt. 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.
What will your wedding be like?
although instead of Punjabi, Ill follow the Gujarati
marriages elevates the woman to become her husbands sadharmacharini
and is always seen as a partner to him in lifes pursuits."11
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.
What expectations do you hold for your future children?
I wont impose certain aspects of the culture on my
children, however, they will be raised Hindu. Thats
vital for both families.
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 mothers reverie that crosses
all cultural boundaries.
Meetas 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 wont be footloose
and fancy-free for longstayed tuned for the happy
ever after to her fairytale.
Girls Night Out at the Blue
From left to right: Pam, Tina Patel, Meeta Sunderwala, and
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).
6Hollywood? Bollywood? Galli-wood? Interview
May 2003: 83-87.
7Ask the Swami About India. Internet. 2003. http://www.cs.uic.edu/~asampath/swami.html
9The Office: Diwali
10Dhawan, Sabrina (Writer) and Nair, Mira (Director). Monsoon
Wedding. (Transcribed from film).
12 Gujararti Marriage Customs (2001): Online. Reetirivaz:
Customs, Traditions & Rituals in India. Internet. 2001.