|Over 25 years ago when I used to teach at a college, had a two door hatchback, and was living in a small apartment in a low income housing complex in downtown Atlanta, our life was just wonderful and our needs few.|
We went places, even long vacations, with my three teenage children and wife in the hatchback. No one complained, except my wife occasionally, that the car was too small for five people. The apartment had two bedrooms and only one bath, which boasted a sink and a tub with shower, for five adults. The mornings could be difficult at times and an exercise in continence. We didn’t then know what a half-bath was.
All my children wenr to school using the district’s free bus service. My wife finished college, got a job, and bought a brand new big expensive four-door car, as her job was too far away — nearly 200 yards from home.
One American dream realized, I left academia and began selling insurance, using the same hatchback without a radio and air-conditioning. I was tempted to use my wife’s new car for my business, but could not succeed in getting it. Next the apartment seemed too small for my wife and she drove all over town in search of a house. But it would take another nine years to realize the second dream. I was so attached to my cheap home, that I did not want to move out or shell out more money, which I did not have.
So my wife rented another apartment in the same cheap complex and started living on her own with more space. I stayed at the old place with the three children. My wife ran back and forth to cook at, and take care of, both homes. We eventually advised our son to move in with my wife while I stayed at the old place with the two daughters.
My brother’s family came from England for a visit and wondered why we had two separate apartments and not a bigger one. We explained that larger apartments were not available in the low-income housing complex, and we, especially I, did not want to move. Then a friend’s family from Virginia came to spend a weekend and asked to meet my wife and son. I took them over to the second apartment. My wife was mad, saying I should have called and asked her to come to the old place and stay there, as she usually did during weekends. My friends thought we were separating, as my wife suspected that they would, which is why she wanted to spend time together at one place.
But my friends asked me anyway, “Apka Love Marriage Tha Kya,” (was yours a love marriage?). Seeing us at two separate places they suspected that our marriage was dissolving.
Since a traditional arranged marriage does not devolve into separation, living separately or divorce, hence their question on “love marriage,” which is not expected to last very long anyways. Most marriages in India are still arranged with the help of parents and seniors. Divorce is still a taboo and an exception.
No one walks out of wedlock as the marriage decision involves numerous people from both families and the society/village at large. It works something like the U.S. Congress, where you can dissent, but once the votes are counted the majority prevails and the “family-whips” control the entire affair and the matrimony, thus, cannot be dissolved without parliamentary consent. The process may not be pleasant for the estranged couple, but most of the time they cave in to the pressures and the marriage is salvaged.
Sometimes it may prop up an unhappy marriage, held together for the benefit of the children, the convenience of the extended families, and perhaps also to save oneself the inconvenience of going through the whole process again to remarry. All this made eminent sense to me, so I tried to arrange — unsuccessfully — the marriages of all my three children. My two younger brothers in England and India both had “love-marriages,” as did my three children.
In my own case in remote Bihar, after finishing college, when I once came home for summer vacation in the 1960s, my father said to me, “You better get a hair cut as we will take you to get married this weekend in a different town.”
I was 19 at the time and had finished my masters in science earlier than most students in my age group. I was considered bright and had lived for several years in the city, where I had been teaching college for two months. But I did not have the courage to ask any questions of my father or any other elder, so I was wed to a 16-year-old girl from a distant place, selected by my father, in an arranged marriage.
People ask me, when did you first see your wife? My answer: four days after marriage. At the podium the bride was shrouded under a veil. After the wedding we were separated and allowed to be with each other, four days later on an auspicious day. We are still together now after 45 years despite plenty of turmoil, dissension and heartache. We did not separate despite numerous problems, as ours was not a “love marriage.”