Reading in a cafe, I feel a tug on my jacket. I look up. A little Indian girl with pigtails and a flowery dress stares at me. She waits for my reaction, bursts into laughter and runs away.
The Mum nearly faints with embarrassment and scolds her daughter. I’m fine, I tell her. I’ll recover. We start talking and she tells me her name is Fashiya.
During the conversation, she mentions her Muslim faith and I ask if she had an arranged marriage. Not quite she says, it was a ‘modern arranged marriage.’
It is an important distinction. Unlike agreements where girls can be sold off to the highest bidder, a modern arranged marriage gives the child a selection of people to date and the final say over whom they marry.
Fashiya told me she had no boyfriends as a teenager and would lie in her bedroom and daydream of the perfect romance. Then, in her early twenties her parents presented her with photos and files of men they thought were suitable. After studying them she chose a handsome man with a job in law.
They met for dinner and the chemistry between them was intense. She felt warm and tingly all over: it was surreal to be living the dream. It only took three dates to decide he was the one. Soon, they were standing hand-in-hand in the eye of an enormous marriage ceremony with hundreds of family and friends all with beaming smiles and enjoying a great feast.
He has proven to be a wonderful husband and fantastic with their two children.
This took place here in England. Fashiya feels sorry for her English friends whose romantic endeavors seem lifted from soap operas. Everything has been made so easy for her.
I had assumed arranged marriages to be barbaric and cruel affairs. They are practised by Muslim and Hindu minorities in Britain and have a famously low divorce rate, which I took as a sign of oppression. But the modern twist was new to me, and this coupled with Fashiya’s positive experience made me wonder if they contained any lessons for us.
What a contrast to the lifestyle of my generation. I remember parties when I was 15. Some girls would be drunk, combining bouts of vomiting with petting and fondling with different guys through the night. How can they be viewed afterwards other than tramps?
Getting drunk and fumbling in the dark is the start of many English relationships. This understandably confuses those from more functional cultures. Arranged marriage advocate Mrs. Rahman says, ‘You wouldn’t buy a car or house drunk, so why would you expect to find a life partner like that?’
For me and my friends, the innocence of young romance was quickly replaced by cynicism and distrust. It is shocking to hear the wholesome intentions of traditional Indian girls.
Here an Indian woman called Anjali Mansukhani describes her pre-marriage rituals;
“The wedding was preceded by six days of partying, each one centering on a small religious ceremony, plus a social gathering featuring fireworks, feasting, music, and Bollywood-style dancing. Each day required a different outfit, jewelry, hairdo, and makeup… I partook in a henna hand-painting ritual to beautify me for my future husband.
After the Henna ceremony, two of my cousins took me aside and gave me a talk on the birds and bees. Despite blushing profusely and begging them to stop, I completed the crash course, and we all laughed.”
Many young Indian girls in the west succumb to our hedonistic culture.
Anita Jain is an Indian woman who grew up in America and turned her back on the traditions of her parents. She writes, ‘after a decade of emotionally bankrupt boyfriends and short-lived affairs with married men and, oddly, the most painful of all, the guys who just never call, [an arranged marriage] no longer seems like the most outlandish possibility.’
I perceive her reaching her mid-thirties, single, with her body quickly degenerating. In the mirror she sees herself as an 80-year-old woman, spending the last years of her unfulfilled life alone.
She may now be changing her mind, but with her promiscuous past will anyone want her?
I am reminded of two friends of mine who were in a relationship for three years. Before they got together she had played around and he knew about it. Even though he loved her, it would eat away at him and he would sometimes insult her in public. It tore them apart.
He could never accept her slutty past, and I can sympathize; why should he work for something she had given away in the past for free?
As I mature, it seems reckless that many parents don’t guide their children. The men seem devoid of self-respect; they work all their lives providing for their family only to let their daughters become sluts! And if they don’t have any personal pride, don’t they feel protective?
The modern arranged marriage seems like an effective way to maintain the social fabric of society. It ensures young couples have a shared cultural and religious background, a shared understanding of gender roles and strong social disapproval against divorce. Most importantly, it offers constant support and involvement of two large and resourceful families, asAnjali Mansukhani found:
‘I firmly believe that our marriage works because it is blessed and supported by our families. The strength we get from their advice (solicited and unsolicited) helps us overcome difficult times. Had I found my own mate, I’m sure my parents would have come around, but I’d have to live knowing that they wouldn’t be truly emotionally invested in the success of the marriage.
At one percent, India has the lowest divorce rate in the world because of arranged marriages. In UK 42% of marriages end in divorce. In the US, it is 54%
I have come to the conclusion that a reason so many British marriages break up is because they play out in the context of an atomized society. Ideally, couples should love each other and procreate within the context of wider family and community networks to support them.