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Spouses (on paper), life-partners (if we’re lucky), soul mates (does such a thing exist?), lovers (best not open that can of worms)…so many ways to describe a bond that can be created only by fate.
Well, such is the belief of my people…Indian people. My mother-in-law’s daily words to my brother-in-law when searching for his wife “It is what is written, beta. She who comes into your life will be your destiny”
How is this bond created?
There are many ways to bring two people together; families organising for the fated couple to meet over tea and samosas, usually handed out by the girl herself to show off her tea-serving skills not to mention her capacity for doling out samosas and of course her ability to not break the “good” china.
Or Girl and Boy meet in a bar or coffee shop, strike up some awkward conversation to find out each other’s hobbies, whether or not the girl drinks alcohol and eats meat, both cardinal sins based on the views of the boy’s family; “Make sure she is a vegetarian, beta”. Or even the girl’s family, although non-vegetarian boys are slightly more acceptable than their female counterparts. If all goes well and they decide to marry, he can go out and eat meat socially, rather in the manner that recreational drug users meet to have themselves a good time. This scenario, of course, is highly frowned upon as a female non-vegetarian.
In the most stringent of circumstances, the boy’s parents meet the family to “check out” the girl. Of the utmost importance, in this situation, is to ensure the girl is sitting in sufficient degree of lighting to ascertain the quality of her complexion, is she ‘wheatish’, the much-desired fair of face or god-forbid, dark skinned? No mother wants her son bringing home a girl that some “by-stander” may describe as being dark-skinned (“chee, chee, chee!), what on earth would her grandchildren look like? And more importantly what would people say?
No need for mundane conversation, which just impedes the observation process and the tendency for “too much talking, unnecessarily” is also not a desirable quality.
I met my husband at university thereby managing to avoid all of the above scenarios. He lived two floors below me in halls of residence. There was no awkward conversation... in fact; conversation flowed daily, until the small hours of the morning. We floated in our own little bubble of happiness…not in the remotest degree constrained by societal pressures.
Unfortunately, as much as all around me have a pressing urgency to pass me off as of ”wheatish” complexion, I am more on the dark-skinned side. . How on earth this happened I have no idea; I was born on a Monday (“Monday’s child is fair of face”?). Oh dear, a fair-skinned girl would have been preferred, more chance of the grandchildren being of desirable colouring. And the wedding day would bring so much more pride to the hearts of my poor in-laws “Wah, such a fair-looking bride; so beautiful”. No such pleasantries would be shared on our wedding day. Shame.
Since announcing our “friendship” I had broken a substantial amount of my mother-in-law’s crockery, luckily she tends not to bring out the “good” stuff when I’m around. Even now.
I eat hideous quantities of meat. With relish.
I come from a different caste of the Indian community- completely. Our families don’t even speak the same language. I am a maharashtrian (no, it’s not the same as madrasi- we come from Mumbai); my husband is a gujerati, no need to ask what one of those is.
I speak far too much; the husband sometimes pretends he’s asleep so I’ll stop. Or maybe I’ve just bored him into a semi-coma.
But, and it’s a big one- two big ones, in fact, I don’t drink alcohol and I have very interesting hobbies. Yes, really.
Two redeeming qualities I feel. Shame, nobody else felt that way. I did grow on them though, “like a fungus” as my husband often jokes in his usual outrageously amusing fashion. Didn’t really leave them with a huge amount of choice to be quite honest. And being dark-skinned does rear it’s (tongue in cheek) ugly head from time to time.
Not wishing to “blow my own trumpet”, finding my own soul mate made life a lot easier for my parents. No tea and samosa afternoons for them and no waiting by the phone only to find out that the boy was seeking a “fair looking” girl. Or worse their daughter was “not quite what we’re looking for” i.e. too dark to even draw reference to the whole “shade of brown” issue.
My father took it upon himself to ensure his daughter’s reputation was honoured. He hounded my to-be-husband who to this day has not forgotten the fact that he was deprived of the opportunity to “pop the question”. I think he may have overlooked the fact that I robbed him of that opportunity when he asked me out and I told him I would only go out on a date with a boy who was willing to marry me.
My then-boyfriend, feeling himself hastened into a betrothal with his parents none the wiser, not-so-nonchalantly mentioned my parents’ plans to visit them at their home over the weekend to set a date for the engagement and most probably the wedding too. His parents were slightly nonplussed, my mother-in-law more so as until that point in time she was blissfully unaware that her second-born was remotely conscious of the existence of the female population.
Beating around the bush was not high on my father’s agenda the evening of “the meeting”. His goal was to discover what my soon-to-be fiancé’s plans were in regards to his daughter and find out he would. Fortunately for all involved, a wedding was on the cards and we married a year later.
Eight years on, two small children- one of each flavour (girl first-oh well; boy very quickly afterwards-thank God!) and a civilised three bedroom property in the north of London, recently refurbished… and not a great deal of conversation.
The trials and tribulations of a young (I’d like to think) Indian wife, mother, daughter and daughter-in-law, very closely tied to both her husband’s family and her own continue to colour my life and the lives of those around me.
Author: Keeya Mehta is a budding writer and online contributor to GaramChai.com