(Disclaimer : This is a general rant and might lack coherence, names are representative.)
Couldnt resist laughing out loud when I saw this cartoon on the Tam Brahm marriage market. Though it talks of a certain community, I believe it is true of most Indian families. Parental approval holds a vice grip in the lives of children. The most common ways in which this quasi modernism is thrown at children come up in the treatment of women and choice of marriage.
From personal experience I can say that most Indian parents want their girl child to be well educated, but this is just so that she is eligible for the marriage market. Oh but there are perils of being too well educated, then she wont find anyone you see. Also she will start having ideas about freedom and identity which will be dangerous. You see in the marriage market, they want a ‘homely’ (oh how I loathe that word) girl who also earns. So what is the typical requirement for a new age Indian bahu, the one that the IIT/IIM guy’s family wants? (note all these points are courtesy the I-am-looking-for-a-bride-for-my-son maami’s checklist)
1. She should ideally have a post graduate degree but should be ready to throw it all and work from home once she gets married.
2. She should be comfortable wearing western (strictly jeans and tees, maybe a long skirt occasionally) and traditional clothes (after all she has to look Indian when she meets the elders na?).
3. She should be able to converse in English fluently but not better than her husband, she certainly shouldnt be the kind who has independent thoughts and ideas. (a blogger? surely she must be too modern)
4. She should know how to drive, after all when the guy is busy earning the huge money, someone should chauffeur the parents to the temples and all na? (yes, someone I knew had this rationale)
And well the mamas who are looking for a good mappillai, well they have only the IIT/IIM requirement. Other jobs are not jobs you see. Also beyond a point the maamas know that the mapillai is doing him a favour by marrying his hapless daughter, something he acknowledges in the kashi yatra ritual in the wedding (a ritual in the wedding where the groom pretends to be going off to Kashi to live a celibate life but the girl’s father persuades him to stay on and marry his girl instead, yeah comical I know).
But the interesting part is that most Tam Brahm kids grow up with an illusion of freedom. While they are in school and college, they are given all the freedom to pursue the best of educational qualifications (of course studying the arts is out of the question, that is against the basic DNA of a Tam brahm, you can do that if you are a girl though). Tam Brahm parents take great pride in ‘encouraging’ their children to go out and study at the best institutes and actually dont mind even when the girls go to a different city to study or pursue a job. But that is where the freedom ends.
The poor Tam Brahm kid becomes aware of the invisible Laxman Rekha much later, probably the first time he or she returns home after a stay away from the nest and gives innocent accounts of the hostel life. Shiva, shiva, this foreign culture is destroying our children so much no? And God forbid in the illusion of freedom the child actually chooses a life partner for themselves. Then all hell breaks loose. And hey this happens even if the child chooses a fellow Tam Brahm, trust me on that. In such a case there might be some silly excuse like horoscopes or even the plain we just dont like this specific boy. You can marry who you want, but…..
Its very interesting to see how Tam Brahm parents expect their children to be an adult and fulfil all other responsibilities on their own. They are known to brag about how their child has never borrowed any money from them after moving out. They also brag about those oh-such-a-charade corporate awards the child gets in office (yes maami I know all about that silly looking gold medal your son gets every year just like everyone else in the company). They brag about how independent the child is in making career decisions. And yet when the child broaches the topic of marriage, he/she is suddenly told they are too young to think of it. God forbid, the child has a different time table for their conjugal life than what the parents deem as the right age (yes, yes, I have even got the which child tells their parent about their wish to marry?) Suddenly the child knows nothing, is being fooled by the girl/boyfriend. The child whose rational thinking in career choices was praised is suddenly reduced to a hormonal teenager. (You didn’t do it, did you, is the question many of us have faced the moment we indicated an interest in a member of the opposite sex or even are you thinking of marriage because something happened). If none of this works, the guilt tripping starts. The whole nine yard of ‘we let you stay on your own because we trusted you’, ‘you dont know the ways of the world’, ‘we have done so much for you and you cant do this much in return’, the list is endless.
The Indian definition of liberty is freedom within limits, which is actually no freedom at all. There is this constant fear of what the ‘duniya’, ‘log’ and that maami in a kancheevaram who gossips at every wedding will say. Most of these maamis are nowhere to be seen when one needs a word of encouragement or any kind of help and yet, lives are dictated by the fear of their wagging tongues. And oh, whatever version of evil she is, this maami will always get an invite to every function just because of nuisance value. We Indians I think are gluttons for punishment, the ones who say the vilest words are the ones invited everywhere.
And God forbid you made a wrong choice of life partner, you had a breakup or worse a divorce after a love marriage. Then you are done for. You will never hear the end of ‘I told you so’. On the other hand, dont even think of questioning the fact that the cousin Ambuja who had an arranged marriage also split up from her husband. That has got nothing to do with anything. The villian is not compatibility, the villian is love marriage. Ambuja’s parents might have made a mistake but look at Triveni, Ramya, Bala etc etc, all of them are so happy. (Never mind that these three arent as bright as you, havent studied as hard as you, oh hell, that is the problem isnt it, you studied too much, so this argument wont click).
The guys, well, the guys will always be told that the girl is after their money and status. And anyways, who marries a girl who is so ‘forward’ that she has a boyfriend? He will also be told these modern, city girls don’t make for good family girls. Don’t you want someone to be at home when you come tired after that board meeting? Don’t you want someone who makes that beautiful rangoli every morning, does one nice poojai and never raises her eyes in front of us, your parents? So what if she does not gel with the rest of your modern lifestyle, she can always learn to adapt, but these city girls, they never adapt.
And occasionally the girl will be shown this ideal Tam Brahm girl who is managing home and career and making so many compromises. Look she also studied in a different city, but she never had an affair (umm was she too boring or just scared of aunties like you back home?) Girls are supposed to be ‘well adjusted’, after all in our times (sigh) we also made so many ‘sacrifices’. But what makes you think what worked for you, will work for me too? Its not as if there were no broken marriages back in ‘our times’. What about Lakshmi maami and Velu maama who after years of pretense finally stopped talking to each other after the children married and settled abroad, each now stay with a different child?
What angers me is the pretense, the whole warped idea of modernity, clothes, luxuries, degrees, etc are considered to be indicators of modernity. What about the modernity of ideas? What about true education? What about an enlightened outlook? Baah, that is ‘too modern’ for us no? And well the ultimate lame excuse is of course, ‘Athu ellam Naarth Indian families pazhakkam, namma Tamizh culturekku otthu vaaraathu.’ (All of this modernity might be happening in the North Indian families, it wont work in our Tamil culture).
As I finish writing this piece the TV is playing that oh so funny Salman Khan song – Main karun toh saala character dheela hai 😛 Kinda apt, dear maami?