An Arranged Marriage
There is a strained quietness about the house. Mummy is terribly upset! Rita abandoned her Graduate Program at the University of Delhi after one semester and has returned to Bangalore. Too homesick! However, at Ravi’s encouragement, she has been applying to Canadian Universities. Her rationale is Ravi and Amita will be there, so I won’t be homesick. And Mummy, who can never ever, a real serious never ever, be upset at Ravi, is upset at Daddy. One may ask, why? Well, Daddy happens to agree with Ravi. And Mummy just cannot fathom how Daddy can agree to send off his pretty little girl, so naive, not to mention so very inexperienced, all by herself into the vast unknown perils of Canada.
However, things appear to be coming together in the strangest of ways! As they say, when the stars are aligned … And at such break-neck speed, it is all one huge blur. Am I in a runaway train as scenes and faces rush by?
Take a deep breath, for here comes the low-down.
Ravi has completed his post-graduate engineering degree from Halifax and is working in Toronto. His new wife, Amita, is preparing to join him in a matter of days.
Vikram immigrated to Canada from the US a year and a half ago. After struggling and doing odd jobs in Ottawa for about a year or so, Vikram lands a good engineering job in Burlington. However, he has come across a better career opportunity in Toronto. He applies for the job and is invited to Toronto for an interview. He has never been to Toronto or knows anybody there.
Through a friend of a friend, Vikram makes contact with Ravi. Ravi, very generously, invites him to stay with him, instead of staying in a hotel. Vikram is reluctant to accept. The day before the scheduled interview, Vikram takes the long trip from Burlington to Toronto on a very cold, snowy day. As he is checking into the hotel, Ravi shows up, and they go to Ravi’s home.
Later that evening, Vikram and Ravi are relaxing over dinner. Ravi mentions his recent trip to India. After four long years in Canada, he was finally able to make a trip home. Vikram nods understandingly. And confides he has not been back home for over four long years as well. And even though he tragically lost his brother ten months after leaving India, it was a family decision that he not return for the funeral but to stay put and concentrate on his studies.
A few days later, Vikram is offered the job. He negotiates to start in about seven weeks or so. He needs to visit family for a couple of weeks. He shares his plans with Ravi. Ravi mentions Rita to Vikram and her interest in coming to Canada. He also mentions Mummy’s reluctance for Rita to come to Canada single. Vikram knows there is not a chance his mother and his family would let him return to Canada without a wife. His sister, living in the US, also decides to take the trip to India at the same time, along with her son. There is no way she is going to miss the wedding for her only living brother, if it happens. The pressure is building up!
Ravi, of course, is all too familiar with this scenario. Mummy had made sure he could not return to Canada without a wife in tow. The stars were forced to align!
This may well be a bit confusing, but I think I haven’t muddled it too much!
Details of Vikram’s family have already been sent to me, and I have made contact with Vikram’s sister-in-law, Janak. Since her husband’s death, she has established a successful business in ready-made clothing and also has a small team for custom clothing, hand-knitted sweaters, etc.. She is quite forthright and explains there are already half a dozen prospective brides lined up for Vikram to meet. Vikram’s stay in India is a short couple of weeks, barely enough time to choose a bride and get married as well! But Janak promises to get back to me as soon as possible.
A few days after Vikram’s arrival in Delhi, Janak calls me and suggests Rita and Vikram meet. I guess the other prospects did not pass the Canada litmus test! Mummy is thrilled to hear this. Ravi’s recommendation cannot ever go wrong! Mummy packs Rita’s trousseau, and puts her on the next flight to Delhi.
And what seems like almost the next moment, Rita is standing shyly, very pretty in a long slim maxi skirt and a delicate frilly blouse. She is greeting Janak, Rani, Ritu (Vikram’s niece), and Vikram’s mother with folded hands and bowed head as they arrive. A picture-perfect moment – a blending of East and West – the essence of Indian culture in modern-day garb! The conversation is cordial, along with tea and delicious desserts. Rita and Vikram have a good discussion on Rita’s plans for Canada. Rita already has fall admission to Carleton University for higher studies in Economics.
They leave to apprise Vikram’s Dad of the match and seek his blessings which are given wholeheartedly. Later that afternoon, Janak calls me to convey an important message. Vikram is comfortable – Rita is the right girl for him. I dither a little – Mummy and Daddy have to give their blessings first – Mummy makes sure of this. I asked Rita what she thinks of Vikram – “cute,” she says. A midnight call to Canada ensues to update Ravi and obtain his blessings. It is all moving too fast.
Vikram comes over early the next day to pick up Rita and begin their whirlwind courtship. Visiting old haunts and non-stop talking are on the agenda. Mummy and Daddy arrive the next day. At the airport, Rita and Vikram walk up to them arm-in-arm. Smiling happily, Rita does the formalities. “Mummy, Daddy, meet Vikram”. Broad smiles and happy laughter all around.
The wedding rituals are set for less than a week later. Relatives and friends are called upon to help with the wedding arrangements and to make phone calls inviting family and friends. Someone suggests formal printed invitations and is awarded a whack. As luck would have it, the National Sports Club of India is available to host an outdoor wedding and dinner the following Tuesday. Our cousin, Madhu, had been married there a few weeks earlier, and they had all the requirements, including setting up a lovely mandap (canopy) for the ceremony. Vikram’s family also reserves a banquet hall to host a post-wedding reception on Wednesday. All very snug, a heel-to-toe fit, so Vikram can fly back to Toronto on time, a married man.
Daddy takes a hands-off approach letting everyone else worry about the arrangements. Anyway, he is all too busy writing checks. Mummy is a bundle of nerves – ecstatic one moment and down in the dumps the next. Daddy advises Mummy – cutting it this close, there is no time for nervousness. Don’t waste your energy, especially when everything appears to be falling in place. Mummy whispers her thanks to the Gods – the stars are aligned.
There is a pre-wedding ceremony where the two families meet and get to know each other – kind of an ice-breaker. It is a fun event. Although a mere fuzzy blur now, photos have captured a beaming Mummy, and a smiling Daddy talking to Vikram’s Dad. The favorite topic of discussion, as always, is exploring ancestral backgrounds and discovering shared distant relatives. Daddy’s sister, our Aunt Jawala, also partakes in the rituals. She has recently married off the youngest of her daughters – our cousin, Madhu – and is now happily enjoying her niece’s wedding rituals.
The wedding day arrives, and the bride’s family and friends all trickle into the lovely garden setting of the club all festooned with festive twinkling lights and swags of fresh fragrant flowers – a fairy-land setting by any measure. The groom arrives on traditional horseback, in procession, along with a host of family and friends dancing jubilantly, exuberantly to the latest pop tunes. Rani is quietly watching from the sidelines until a cousin coaxes her, and they do a little jig together.
Time for the Milini (welcome rituals) amidst the chanting of Sanskrit shlokas by the priest, our Panditji. Vikram takes one look at Panditji and bends down to touch his feet for his blessings. It’s a lovely surprise for everyone – Vikram has just recognized Panditji as his Primary School Principal from way back when!
The two Fathers meet, exchange garlands, and hug each other; the brothers of bride and groom meet with stand-ins for each. Janak’s young son, Sanjay, is lifted up in the air by our cousin, Nalin, in a huge bear hug, amidst loud laughter, clapping and whistling. I spot Janak, who embraces me warmly – “the two suspects,” someone whispers. And finally, the bride and groom exchange jai-malas (gottcha) garlands.
Half the rituals are over, the rest will be post-dinner. Refreshments are served along with a sumptuous dinner, and the wedding rituals pick up and proceed into the starlit night. It is an abbreviated version carried out under the fragrant, flower-decorated mandap – the seven pheras (walking around the sacred fire) are a must to comply with seven vows and blessings, as is the sacramental Kanyadaan (giving away of the bride). Around midnight, it’s time for the final ritual, the bidai – a tearful farewell. Except there is no sad music to sadden us, so no tears are shed. Mummy and Daddy happily hug Rita and symbolically entrust her to her new family. And in a beautifully wreathed car, the bride and groom depart to their new life together.
We see them again the next evening at the reception hosted by Vikram’s family. Rita and Vikram make a charming couple and look so happy together. Vikram’s sister, Rani, pulls me aside to share a little tidbit regarding her five-year-old son, Vipal. It is too precious! And I feel compelled to share it here. He asks his mom for a private conversation and seats her in a chair after shutting the door. He faces her with a serious look, and asks, “how are we going to tell Dad you danced with another man?” The kid has been born and raised in the US, but Indian sentiments are firmly grounded. Rani has a hard time keeping a straight face.
The following day, the newlyweds visit the Canadian High Commission to take care of visa status for the new bride. Folks at the Canadian High Commission have a good congratulatory laugh at Rita’s change in visa from Student to Student/Wife and approve it right away! They are used to Indian ways by now.
A day later, both families are at the airport, hugging, kissing, and waving goodbyes to the freshly-married Vikram, who has to start his new life in Toronto. He is going to be busy acquiring a new car, arranging an apartment in Toronto, packing and moving , and starting his new job three days later.
As the plane speeds off on the runway, Mummy looks at Daddy with an impish grin and says, “I told you I was not going to send Rita off to Canada by herself. Now Vikram will be there to receive her. Don’t you feel good about it?” Daddy smiles and shakes his head. He points to the winking lights of the aloft plane and says, “our Civil Engineer is off to report on his new job”!
Vikram’s new boss and most friends are surprised to learn Vikram is a married man! Rita’s friends in India also, likely not that much.
A small footnote:
This happened almost fifty years ago! Times have changed, but not by much. Although young people are choosing their life partners themselves without much help from their elders, the ancient process is still very much prevalent. It has become more streamlined and sophisticated. Today there are professional matchmakers who travel the world to seek appropriate matches for their clients (as shown on Netflix).