Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Father of the Bride: second post on the shaadi business

Most of our Indian weddings have a strange dynamic. By virtue of being the family of the groom, an entire set of people are given superior status over the bride's family, who is supposed to bow and scrape and generally kowtow to them. It is part of a set-up wherein the parents of a daughter are burdened from the time she is born. With all our liberal thinking, this is something that has not changed significantly over the years, barring a tiny minority which includes many of us on this forum.
A few decades ago, when we lived in Thailand, we were struck by a great contrast in the expressions of the airport staff at Bangkok airport and the Delhi airport. The Thai staff at both customs and immigration, were uniformly smiling and cheerful, while their Indian counterparts were generally grumpy and grouchy looking. We had also discovered that in Thailand a young man had to pay a bride price to the father of the girl he intended to marry, and would work and save towards that, and both youngsters would work and save towards the wedding expenses. It was essentially the people who were marrying who were working towards it. Whereas our poor Indian fathers were burdened with the cost of the girl's trousseau, if not actual dowry, and the need to provide acceptably lavish hospitality to the groom's family. No wonder the grouchy men at the airport. I agree that it's a very simplistic observation, but it has the ring of truth.
According to me, an ideal marriage would be one in which the bride and groom would be equal partners in the entire equation, with both sides sharing the expense of the ceremony and subsequent hospitality, proportionately according to the number of people each side has invited. The parents of both bride and groom would, instead of 'giving' their children away, would welcome the new member to be a part of their family, and then proceed with whatever form of ceremony they desire- civil or religious, hopefully in a language that is meaningful to the couple taking their vows.

The old mindsets can change only when the onus of choosing a partner is on the man and woman concerned. It is about being responsible for your own decisions and how you want to implement them. Some of our glorious traditions need to be broken- and the tradition of having any kind of marriage which leads to spoken and implicit demands, needs to be changed. Till date, some banks advertise loans for a son's education and a daughter's marriage.

The Rational Fool had this to say, as a comment on Usha's blog http://agelessbonding.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-many-more.html#5685165301382537508

"as parents, let's begin by washing our hands completely of our children's marriage. Let's restore to our children, especially our daughters, their inalienable right to select their mates. Completely, unequivocally. No if's and but's! The kanniga is not a property of her father to be given away as dhanam to a nincompoop who happens to have the planets and the stars in the right position at the right time.
p.s. I am out of the loop. My daughter is happily married to her college senior. Neither my wife, nor I, had anything to do with it - not even the expenses. With the pleasant exception of both of us walking the aisle with her".

I had read this several months ago and it has stayed with me.

In his own post, Girls Interrupted
he has this to say," many social ills in India pertaining to women, such as female infanticides, honor killings, forced abortions, and the dowry system, would be eradicated, if and when women reclaim their inalienable right to mate selection. Even casteism and communalism, the twin scourges of India, would cease to exist, if women selected their own mates instead of relegating that power to their parents".

It is a major change of mindset: from a historical system where the word of the patriarch was law, and where he was also responsible for the well being of each member of the family, to a system in which an adult is expected to be responsible for his own life and his own decisions. I recall a cousin's wife telling me how good the arranged marriage system was, because if things went wrong you could always blame your parents. I found this statement utterly appalling. We need to accept responsibility for our own actions. (If you are caught speeding, kindly pay the fine instead of invoking the names of the powerful people who can come to your rescue).

Even when youngsters do select their own partners, the 'boy's people' syndrome doesn't go away. So often you hear of women losing respect for their in-laws because of the way they threw their weight around at the time of the wedding, or in making arrangements to suit their family members rather than something mutually convenient to both parties. It is not a power equation. It is about the happiness of your children, and your own future happiness. If you have a friendly and loving relationship with your daughter-in-law and her natal family, everyone benefits from it.

Our Indian traditions are deep-rooted. Our first reaction to a child's love affair becoming known to us is usually disapproval. (Some atavistic urge seems to prevent both parents and children from recognising each other as sexual beings).
Which tends to create far more problems than it solves. Please give the youngsters time to see where their relationship is headed. Allow your children the freedom to bring friends of both sexes home. You will know their friends, and there would be far less need for hole-and-corner meetings. Disapproval may catalyse far more powerful attractions than a general willingness to approve of their friends.

As parents we think we know what is best for our children. The best we can do is accept their adulthood. We may not be able to save them from heartbreak. But we can console them without saying 'I told you so'. We have to be there for them at all times, and yet not interfere in their lives- a fine balance indeed!

A friend was telling me about events in her family some fifty or more years ago. They were four sisters and a brother, all of 'marriageable' age. They came across some matrimonial correspondence between their father and a gentleman of their community for the eldest sister which upset them all- apparently, not only were stipulated amounts of cash and jewellery to be handed over at the time of the wedding, but also on the occasion of the birth of the first child and on various other ceremonial occasions. There were also suggestions that the brother take a hefty dowry to help meet the expenses of his sisters' weddings. The siblings decided then and there that any such kind of marriage was insulting and not required, and collectively absolved their parents of their responsibility to get them married. They were all well educated, enterprising people who wished to live life on their own terms. Four of them did find matches on their own terms, and the fifth never married, and yet is one of the happiest, most emotionally fulfilled people I've ever known.All have had fulfilling careers and satisfying lives. They could do this in the
nineteen-fifties. Why can't we do it now? People may not explicitly demand dowry these days, but even the assumption that the father of the bride foots all the bills is, to my mind, questionable.(Unless of course the groom's family refuses to participate at all, which is another matter).

At the very least, be willing to question the status quo. Be the change you want to see.

Edited to add: The Indian Homemaker's latest post is even more radical. Do take a look.


Nat said...

Trying to change the status quo will shake the foundations of certain families...i mean just talking about bringing your own choice home. The other things - dowry/unnecessary expenditure and all I did stand up for.
Or the parents themselves should be ready to face the flak and then that'll give the children enough confidence to pick the person right for them and be responsible about their choices.
In most cases it's the thought that it'll upset the parents and mar them with some negative name by society that makes people conform.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

Savani said...

absolutely. BigGeek and I saved and paid for our own wedding. It is amazing how many frills you will let go when paying for stuff like flowers for decoration. A lot of girls (and biys) still think its the parents duty to sponsor a lavish wedding. Heck even the parents think so. This change will be slow in coming but I am glad to see bloggers blog abt it!

Choxbox said...

did the same as dotmom and is one of the things i am happiest about. my folks needed a little convincing at first though.

Unknown said...


you are right.

things are changing today though, albeit slowly.

However, I have to say one thing (for which people might flame me)

the men usually don't care much about the "boys parents" syndrome. It is the women who propagate this more than the menfolk.

wonder what sociologists and psychologists might have to say about this!


Unknown said...

Warning - extra long comment

Dipali however much one rationalises and also given that one's children bring friends of both sexes home , there is always a first shock when one's daughter says "this is my boyfriend"- with me it was more of "Omigod I hope he doesnt hurt her in any way " and more than physical terms it was the apprehension of how a break up would affect her .
I wonder whether you remember the Kanpur (?) suicides where 3 girls killed themselves to save the father from having to give dowry ?

In terms of choosing partners in marriage , my parents did exactly that and they had a cross caste marriage- a Brahmin marrying a non Brahmin girl which raised a few purist eyebrows. I married my boyfriend and although we came from very dissimilar backgrounds ,both of us adapted ,adjusted and yes , compromised .

Dr. Ally Critter said...

K and I married on our own, however, while my mother was all joy,his family was less so.They were upset "he had chosen for himself"... that I was not from their part of the world. Never mind, that their son was happy. SO the unhappiness manifested in hostility to me, his mother was appropriately mournful throughout my special day, no celebration for him- no gifts, nothing- just a sense of "we let you marry whom you wanted..." as if he needs to be obligated for being alive. And a whole set of nastiness that became more manifest as the days went by...lies and nonsense being phoned to my mother... to the extent that I had to completely stop talking to them.
I have written some of it on my blog...

Mystic Margarita said...

I agree. I also feel, society is slowly changing and becoming more receptive. But it will probably take many more years before the changes actually take shape into something tangible.

dipali said...

@nat:What you say is true, except that Society, that much feared monster, consists of individual people like me and you, and individuals are generally more amenable to reason. One of my cousins was divorced, and a second cousin of hers proposed to her. He had also been a good friend to her for several years. She and her daughter were living with her parents, and she was paralysed by so many fears- firstly, I guess, of marriage per se, but mostly of what Society would say- that she'd divorced her husband because of this guy, etc.
My only response was that Society would not be there for her when her parents were no more, and she needed to do the best for herself and her child. They've been happily married for the last fourteen years.(I think her parents were able to die in peace, too.)

Parents need to have the confidence that they have have brought up their children to the best of their abilities, and learn to live without fear of wagging tongues.
@mumbaigirl: Thanks
@dotmom: If we get some people to think differently, some of the time, I guess it makes a primarily self-indulgent activity meaningful!
@choxbox: I'm proud to know you. People like you and dotmom will be the change you want to see.
@sundar narayanan: No flaming at all. Those may be the people you've observed/heard about. I've seen middle-aged men indulge in their 'honoured son-in-law of the family status ' to a pretty disgusting level. And both men and women complaining about inadequate facilities/ hospitality/gifts.
Some of our North Indian wedding songs mock these stereotypes.
@eve'slungs: Agreed. Even when girls attain menarche- though we know its inevitable and desirable, it marks the end of childhood.
One always fears a child being hurt, be it a son or a daughter.
But we still have to overcome that fear, and grant them the freedom to
spread their wings, especially in such a fundamental matter as choice of life partner. Your family has a wonderful history in this matter- I don't think you need to worry.
The greatest gift you can give your
child is the time to see where a relationship is headed, without judgement on your part.
Yes, I remember the Kanpur sisters. It was really shocking.
@alankrita: Welcome. I visited your blog yesterday and I like what you write. What you have gone through is still fairly common, unfortunately. I guess it's fear of the unknown 'X-factor', and the misguided belief that their child is a possession or a puppet that leads people to behave so unkindly.
I hope matters improve for you and your husband( the entire situation must be very painful for him as well).
@mystic margarita: Nice to hear from you again. I guess things should vastly improve by the time Popol grows up:)
Social change is always slow, and there will always be negative spin-offs of every positive change.

Mystic Margarita said...

Hey Dipali, I thought I had commented on how lovely your home is. Very aesthetic and serene...like you. Teal is a favorite color of mine, too. But with the kind of slow net connection I've been experiencing for the last few days, I guess it didn't post. Thankfully, connection is all ok now! :)

Asha said...

Very true.. Hopefully things will change, some day.

Itchingtowrite said...

it's really bad that the burden is on the bride's parents. I would want every one to do their bit. weddings in india is usually a gala afffair with functions running up to days- exchange of gifts, shaguns & all. it may no tbe really possible for the groom & bride to pay up for everything. So it's ok for both sets of parents to contribute & help in anywhich way within limits. one may hav to cut corners at many places. a wedding invite for instance may be really lavish or minimalistic. the mandap costs may range from say 5 K upwards.. these r not essential for the wedding to take place but embellishments, not necessary but needed. my perspective- i would want my child to have the best wedding in town. I would want to do my bit. why don't groom's parents think in that angle? why do they burden their expectations on bride's parents? my husband took a loan for our wedding. not a single gift to me or anybody else or any arrangment for the wedding was borne by the IL's. my father paid for the wedding & whatever over the top I needed- like my make up, my wedding gift for my husband etc etc I paid because they were according to me embellishments. so to sum up a collaborativ effort is welcome, depending upon the needs.

Anonymous said...

I agree! I do have a different view on the obsession with getting the children married off, though (and this is solely based on how my mom thinks about it).
There's no taking away from the fact that the obsession is an extreme one, but my mom's reasoning is that one (be it man or woman) needs company and that no one can stay single (which is very generically equated to lack of happiness) through life.
I don't agree with that for various reasons (I have single friends who are as happy as those in relationships), but I do see her point. I for one, would likely have been less happy and content had I not found my partner.
We have decided about our kids' marriages- they will have to work for it themselves. We certainly do have to be the change we want to see.

dipali said...

@mystic margarita: Thanks- you must come over whenever you are next in Kolkata.

@asha: welcome. Yes, change happens, but slowly

@itching to write: But of course it is always not possible for youngsters themselves to meet all expenses, sometimes the girl's parents themselves are very keen on a lavish wedding, sometimes people are really very wealthy and can generate a great deal of employment at their family weddings: there are so many variables. Sometimes, however, as a trickle-down effect of lavish weddings, the general expectations go through the roof, which is unfair to people with not-so-lavish resources. When I was young, all the brides I saw got married wearing sarees. In the last twenty odd years, I've seen that almost all the North Indian brides get married in very elaborate and expensive lehngas, which are very rarely, if ever, worn again. (I'm not referring to people from communities where the lehnga is a traditional dress).
As far as wanting to give your kids the best possible wedding, it sounds nice, but at the time, for whatever reason, supposing they want something else. Would you be willing to accept things the way they want them if it's different from what you want? If as parents we can welcome our children's spouses into our homes and hearts with joy and enthusiasm, kindness and a willingness to overlook minor differences, it would be the best kind of wedding gift we can give our kids.
Nice to know the kind of contribution you and your husband put into your wedding.

@chronic worrier: It would be wonderful if everyone found a good life partner and lived happily ever after! Perhaps the general human template is geared towards companionship. But there will always be exceptions, and we need to quit worrying about/sympathising with those who have no partner.
People can be terribly lonely even within a relationship, and completely fulfilled even without a
significant other. And as for companionship in old age, that is something which can never be guaranteed.

the mad momma said...

well you know my story.... and my parents.

but i do know a family where the boys people offered to split costs with the girl's...
and then promptly told everyone how generous they were being.. and bullied the girl's ppl and made them do everything the way they wanted... sigh.

dipali said...

@the mad momma: Yes, that's why I exempted cases where the groom's family wasn't participating.

I'm waiting for the day when both sides splitting the bill is nothing to crow about, nor reason for throwing one's weight about either- the example you gave shows that the boy's people still act superior about doing something that should be the norm.
One of my cousins had a very simple wedding with a baraat of maybe six people. The bride's extended family were wondering what was wrong with him. And his poor father, who had written a very sweet letter to all the relatives informing them of the wedding and asking them to just send their blessings to the newlyweds, he got a lot o flak from his own family.
It sure ain't easy:)

Anonymous said...

and i am taking a print out of all of this and couriering it to Mom!!!!! :D (latest: send a matrimonial layak nice pic please!)

dipali said...

@anshu: your mom is going to kill me for putting all wicked ideas into
kiddos head:)
Have you told her to just chill?
You're the one who planned to elope-with- parental-permission!

Anonymous said...

I have ranted about this before to no one in particular about the unfairness of it all. Krish Ashok has shown us what a regular man of today can do to change this mass-thinking by this funny article - http://krishashok.wordpress.com/2007/08/19/priestly-matters/
I think we need more men who think it is archaic to make the girl's dad pay thru his nose just for the privilege of taking his daughter off his hands.

Mama - Mia said...

how true everything you say is!

and easier said than done is such a cliche! things indeed can change! in our case both families spent on different ceremonies... the wedding and the reception! tho my in-laws did have "ladkewaalein" syndrome (being from up north isnt easy!hehe!)! us, being maharashtrains are far more simple. i tol my parents no extra kharcha, no booking hotel rooms or adding paneer to maharastrian thaali and increasing kharcha!

if they want they will stay in the hall like all of us or make their own arrangements!

today hubby and me look back fondly on simple n easy ceremonies and smile! i am free to spend my salary on my folks as i please (thats one helluva important thing!) and life is good! :)

when my SiL had a boy, she said "ab hum bhi ladke wale hai!" i just hope she was joking! :)

lovely post!



Roop Rai said...

Dear Dipali

Is it Alright if I post this on my blog that deals with the issues of discrimination against women in India primarily female foeticide?


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dipali said...

@desigirl:That was simply hilarious.
We need more good men like him around.
@mama_mia: Good to know that people are making some effort to get out of the syndrome.
@roop rai: Welcome here. Please go ahead- your blog is awesome!

dipali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Usha said...

Hi. Lovely post. Resonates my thoughts.I agree completely that the burden should be as much on the groom as the bride's side. When it begins to pinch them the demands will reduce too. In fact a lot of expense seem to be for show and have nothing to do with the spirit of the ceremony itself.
But it seems difficult to change some of these deeply entrenched practices as I am realising first hand now.
Society seems to have a strong hold on the thinking of individuals who seem averse to change certain bad practices as long as they can afford them. And this sets a bad example for people who can't afford but still have to spend on these because "everyone is doing it" and the boy's side want it.
Will do a post on my recent experiences sometime. Been thinking about it but it is tough to word it in a way that people do not feel hurt.

Hip Grandma said...

How right you are and I am sure there are several others who agree with you.But unfortunately there are several educated girl who demand that it is the duty of their parents to arrange for a hefty dowry and expect to be given costly gifts on each and every visit to their parents place.i 've seen parents dreading their visits on account of the expenses they are subjected to ,not by their son in law or his parents but their own selfish daughters.

dipali said...

@Usha: it is a very fine line one needs to tread, between one's own beliefs, and the sentiments of the others involved. But if young men take a stand on this at their own weddings (read Krish Ashok's hilarious post, desigirl has given the link in her comment here), much can be achieved.
@hipgrandma: I know. Some young women are incredibly demanding. They seem to be so totally conditioned by all the glitz and glamour of high-profile weddings.
And this mind-set of getting expensive gifts from their parents?
Is it a way of acquiring status in their in-laws' eyes ( how that happens I don't know, but some people seem to think so), or are they merely selfish?

Indian Home Maker said...

Totally agree with everything you have said here. Have linked this post to mine.

A Muser said...

My wedding cost a total of $200 -- straight from P's pocket and mine, even though my parents were present at the our nice civil ceremony. We didn't let them pay for a thing. I have a photograph of P loading our cooler with ice on the morning of the ceremony. That pretty much encapsulates our wedding!

dipali said...

@indian home maker: Thanks!
@a muser: It cheers me tremendously to hear about people like you and P.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dipali,

Just wandered over to your blog and I'm so glad I did! I know it's going to be fun going through your archives!

Agree a 100% with what you've written here. I had a slightly different experience for my own marriage though.

In our case, my in-laws were very keen to split the wedding expenses and my parents were just as keen to do it all themselves, I've no idea why. I was probably too young or immature to question or even think about why they insisted so much on this. (I'm also guilty of 'expecting' my parents to host a grand wedding for me, I must confess, not something I'm proud of today.)

Later, I got a few hints that my parents insistence on paying for everything was not taken too well by the in-laws - it was perceived as acting high-and-mighty or something! I want to talk about this with my parents sometime, understand their point-of-view but haven't had the courage yet. Strange how the reverse behavior on both sides can make everything go wrong too!

dipali said...

@Devaki: Hello and welcome. What we are dealing with here are mindsets that have been around for a very very long time, difficult to change.
As long as all concerned are able to deal with each other with mutual respect, things normally work out alright. Don't brood about what had happened- it's over and done with.
Sometimes parents screw up badly, despite having the best of intentions for their kids.

All the best to you, Devaki, Hope to see you around often.

Unknown said...

Hi Dipali..this post was very well written and I just wish so many people saw the world like you did. It is a change and it may be slow in coming but I do want to be around when it fully does!
Too many thoughts about this..guess will go and blog abt the same...

dipali said...

@random vignettes: Looking forward to your post!

Anonymous said...

its so awesomely traditional ..
there are some sites that appear to capture this effect like shaadi times and times of shaadi www.timesofshaadi.com How long would it take the rest of us to even equal traditional refinement as in Indian weddings I wonder?

Sejal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Bumpted onto this post from someone's blog.

I completely agree with you on the wedding expenses matters, and that's why I have been advocating simple civil/arya samaj marriage ceremony. Like you said in your last line 'be the change you wanna see in the world around you' - find more details of my marriage at http://pulzinponderland.wordpress.com/a-glimpse-into-my-marriage-rich-in-photos/

Apart from cutting out all the useless traditional expenses, we followed the different theme, that is to divert the wedding money to community development.

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