Arranged Marriages in Kerala – Survival Tips

A junior from college called me up the other day.  During the hectic heydays of college, he and I had collaborated on a few competitions. In the same lackluster tone of voice in which he used to describe the latest mail from Dare2Compete.com, he announced that his parents were “looking”. “For what?” I asked. “They said they want a Nair girl. Menon girls apparently are quite headstrong” he continued, barely listening to me. “But I drew the line at Kerala Matrimony. I said I would post my own profile” . By then I had cottoned on to what was happening. “How long did they give you?” I asked, with a touch of college seniorly concern. After all, this poor chap had sponsored my Biriyani and chai after we won competitions.  “Within the year, they said”. “Hmm.” “Got any advice?” he asked, hopefully. I knew then why he had called me up. He had seen my earlier posts on navigating the big bad world of Mallu weddings.  Although I had covered attending others’ weddings (see The Quick and Dirty 5 Step Guide to attending Mallu weddings)  how to behave post your own wedding ( see The Quick and Dirty 5 Step guide to attending Mallu weddings for Married Couples ) and even a how to guide for females (see The Female Guide to attending Mallu weddings) I had never written anything on how to survive the process of arranged marriage. “I’ll let you know”, I said. And so I am.
Disclaimer – all the below rules assume you go through the traditional Mallu wedding festival . If you believe in love marriage and already have a boyfriend/girlfriend, stop reading further. Or maybe, read on. It might provide some laughs. And shame on you for belittling our culture. “Ithinaano ninne padikkan hostelil vittathu?” (“Did we send you off to hostel for this?”)
Rule No 1 – Create thine own profile
 
 
Short of finding your own life partner, this is the best favor you can do for yourself.  Parents, well-meaning though they might be, never quite get it right with profile creation on matrimony sites.  No one can blame them too. Which middle class father sits down at the brand new ASUS desktop with BSNL Internet connection (all bought for this purpose) and starts putting together a wedding profile meant to get a decently well behaved and reasonably intelligent guy with all male parts in working order for his Beenamol ?  More often than not, in a bid to conform to the unwritten rules of expectation management, he ends up posting stuff like this –
“Aristocratic, ancient and financially well off parents of a 25 year old well behaved white colored, tall, slim, homely Catholic girl (only child) of excellent character invite proposals from parents of 27 -30 year old handsome Catholic boys of clean character and excellent education. Boy must have a 6 figure salary and prospects of off site jobs”
It is quite possible that the hidden meaning of these seemingly innocuous words escaped you. Let me deconstruct:
Aristocratic, Ancient family– Our family roots date back to the year 52 AD when Saint Thomas brought Christianity to Kerala.  Along the way, some King remarked that one of our ancestors had a distant resemblance to his cousin.
Financially well off , only child – Beenamol will get everything after our death, including the white Maruti Alto parked in our frontyard and my 30 year Housing Loan from HDFC
White colored – Contrary to what you may have thought, this doesn’t mean that she suffers from the same affliction as Michael Jackson. This is just the Mallu way of saying that Beenamol is fair
Homely Catholic girl of excellent character – Beenamol believes in Jesus and Mary, does not have a current boyfriend, and is willing to stay at home and reproduce
Handsome Catholic boys of clean character and excellent education – Must be an engineer
6 figure salary and prospects of offsite jobs – Boy must be a software engineer who can take Beenamol to USA (and her mother as well, once Beenamol gives birth)
You can replace Catholic with Nair or Muslim, but the rest of the message will remain pretty much the same. Beenamol will be much better off writing down her requirements herself.
Rule No 2 – Meet thy choice thyself before thy relatives meet
Once you zero in on a few possible prospects, make sure you take the trouble to meet them by yourself first before the relatives do. Such an approach helps to avoid a lot of potential goofups
a) Photographic  Illusions – Anyone who has spent half an hour sprucing up a photo for Facebook profile picture knows about this. It is hard to conceal that double chin or that unwanted moustache when you meet up at Shenoy Junction CCD.
b) Over qualification Conundrum – All other factors being equal, it is not a bad thing to go for the guy/girl who has made it well in life. At least it shows they have drive, ambition and skills. But beware if your prospective choice cannot stop talking about his MBA degree from IIM Calcutta or her PhD thesis.  You don’t want to marry a degree.  Unless of course, the guy is working with Goldman Sachs as an advisor to fashion brands. Then the sacrifice makes sense.
c) Social Incompatibility– A friend recently told me a story about how a prospective groom kept asking her if she wanted a cock at a dinner date they had set up. After the first horrified refusal, she understood his benign intent, relented and allowed him to order the soft drink for her. They had a grand time at the date, and after a few months, said yes to each other. I’ll eat sadya at their wedding and take photos at the reception soon.  Moral of the story is, there will be some defects to the package you finally take on.  It is for you to decide if you want to live with them.  Or as in my friend’s case, decide to whack him on the head whenever he mispronounced the word.
Once the families get involved, you lose the chance to reject the choice if you don’t like it. Simple as that.
Rule No 3 – Thou shalt forgive and forget all faux pas the day the families meet for the first time
You have passed the first 2 gates successfully, and now have reached that all important date, when your parents and extended relatives meet for the first time. This is one of those four occasions (deaths in the family, marriage and will disclosure days being the other 3) when the extended families on both sides of a couple congregate at one point. Long lost relatives and forgotten cousins land up for this momentous occasion. Mob control is not a Malayali’s strong suit. Faced with a multitude of advice, admonishments and general aggravation, our default response is to go into denial. But into each life some sambhar must fall.
So, girls – ride this day out. Do not respond in kind to aunties who ask you gently when you will learn to wear the saree. Do not freak out when they ask you about your culinary skills. Do not go into brain freeze when they question you about family planning.
Guys – ride this day out. Do not ask Aunt Girija how her son is doing. Do not laugh nervously when random people ask you about your bank balance. Do not eat a lot. Do not burp.

 

Remember, the day will pass. The big thing to know at the end of all this exercise is if you two like each other well enough to suffer a life time of togetherness. And if the guy will finally get the memo and start pronouncing Coke correctly.