Sunday, November 27, 2005

Arranged Marriage

To me, the concept of an "arranged marriage", so rife in this neck of the woods, has to be one of the most ludicrous propositions I have ever come across. Can you think of anything stupider? Here, let's just throw this guy and that girl together and hope that they live happily ever after.

Apparently, parents take it upon themselves as a quasi-religious duty to marry off their offspring before they make for their heavenly abode. It normally all starts when the child approaches what is deemed as a "marriable" age - around 25 if it's a boy, and a few years younger if it's a girl. The parents will start hunting around for prospective spouses - although it is quite likely that they will already have a few names in mind, which they had made a mental note of as their child was growing up. Visits from friends and family provide an excellent time to gather information about potential life partners for their child. Unbelievably, the only things that matter at times like these are the religion, community, caste, family name, social status and other related qualities of the spouse. Also, if they're looking for a guy, then educational qualifications and income matter; for a girl it's her looks and physical appearance.

Ok, so while I agree that money and looks do count for a bit, and to an extent [a very small one, though] religion might as well, I don't see how these can be the most important criteria in selecting a spouse! If these are the things you are looking for, why not just auction off your daughter on E-Bay? Even more importantly than what the parents are looking for in a spouse, is the question of why they are doing the looking in the first place. Maybe I'm mistaken here, but isn't it the children who are going to get married? Aren't they the ones going to be spending the rest of their lives together? So why don't they get to choose whom they would rather spend it with?

Now, the irony of the whole situation is that if you look at society in general [at least in this country], the divorce rate in arranged marriages is noticeably less than that in other marriages [what I like to call 'normal' marriages]! Why should this be so? What possible reason could there be for this? Is it, as is the most common explanation, because there is less expectation from one's partner in an arranged marriage? Makes sense, doesn't it? You were thrown into something without being given much of a choice, and so you just decide to make the best of it. Kunal once suggested that it might be because the people whose marriages are arranged tend to be the quieter type, with less of a pre-marital social life. Thus, they would be less likely to screw up a marriage by fooling around, and also less likely to try and get out of one if things aren't going great. I think it's a combination of both these reasons, mixed with a few other factors too.

I do suspect, though, that the amount of domestic abuse involved in arranged marriages is more. Dowry deaths, harrassment [both mental and physical] and other such forms of abuse are more likely to get covered up in an arranged marriage. For one thing, the wife having been subjected to playing the passive role in her own marriage is less likely to up and leave if her husband should turn violent. Her parents having married her off, are less likely to welcome her back and she has little else to turn to having been completely dependent on her husband. A woman who gets into a marriage on her own, normally has something outside the marriage that she can rely on if she needs to get out.

Personally, an arranged marriage isn't something that I would even stop to consider, and what's more heartening to know, neither would my parents. The downside[?] is that I'll probably remain a bachelor for life!

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Art of Gifting

One the hardest tasks, in my opinion, is selecting a present for someone. I think most people will agree with me. We've all been there - someone's birthday is coming up, and you can't figure out what to buy them. You rack and rack your brain, but it's of little avail. What do I get her?

If only there was some sort of standard formula or algorithm that we could use to come up with a great gift everytime. Some sort of fantastic machine into which you feed in all the characteristics of the person you want to gift, and out pops the name of the perfect present. Voila!

Nowadays, people have more or less given up. Noone evens make an effort any more. You just go down to the nearest book store and buy them a gift voucher. Simple as that. Jerry Seinfeld, in one of his routines, claimed that the least thoughtful gift in the world is a paperweight. I beg to differ. The least thoughtful gift in the world is a gift voucher! I mean, what exactly are you trying to convey by gifting someone a voucher on their birthday? That you care so little about actually trying to come up with a good present for them, that you don't even want to try. You might as well just give them some money instead. That way at least they can choose their own store to spend it in. "Here's a hundred bucks. Just go buy yourself whatever you want. I don't care."

The funny thing, though, is that gift vouchers are, in a sense, pretty sensible gifts. Because 99% of time, when you do end up buying something for someone, you end up making the wrong choice. And then what follows is whole sham of fake appreciation.

"Oh my God! I love this hat you gave me!" [But I wouldn't be caught dead in it!]
"This rug is just the thing I've always wanted!" [To throw into the corner of my attic and forget about for the rest of eternity!]
"Wow, this really is a nice painting!" [Did someone throw up on that?]

At least with the voucher you're jumping into a larger blanket! There's less of a chance of you going wrong. Okay, so maybe it's as impersonal as hell; but at least I don't have to trouble my brain and you don't have to put on a phoney show of appreciation!

What is it with men and their driving skills? There is nought a man is more insecure about than his driving skills. It's almost [but not quite] as bad as a woman and her weight. If you should ever be bored and in need of some quick entertainment, just walk up to the closest male and tell him he can't drive. Throw in a holier-than-thou look, and add a slight shake of the head. Then stand back, cover yourself and watch the fun!

There's one time though, that you should never open your mouth about this topic. And that's when you're in a car with a guy at the wheel. Well, that is unless you want to commit suicide; but even then I can think of many more pleasureable and less painful ways to go! I tried it once - it was long ago, and I was much less wise then. "Dad," I said, trying to spice up a long, boring drive down to Goa, one summer. "You're not a very good driver. Even Mom drives better than you!"

I doubt I'll ever forget the look of his that I caught in the rear-view mirror. Surely, treachery of this sort from his own son was more than he was willing to put up with. I could tell he was contemplating whether he should leave me to hitch hike my way to Goa or demonstrate his driving prowess by stepping on the gas and slaloming the car across the lanes. Now while the former seemed like quite an adventure indeed, and I was certainly game for it, I feared his testosterone infused male brain might decide to settle for the second option instead. I had to do something if I wanted to avoid the following day's newpapers screaming - "Family of four killed in car crash yesterday. Driver's final words were 'Okay, okay. So maybe Mom isn't that bad a driver.'"

"Ummm, Dad," I quickly interjected. "I wasn't speaking about driving cars. I was talking about golf." That calmed him down a little bit. [Thankfully, he isn't as insecure about his golf game.] We then had to contend with a good half hour of listening to him spew forth a multitude of reasons why driving is a male task and men are always better at it than women. Mom, grateful just to have been spared an untimely death, just kept mum. So long as he didn't think she was overweight, well, she didn't really care!