ISO Broad-Minded Groom
IN 2005, a few months after I'd moved to Delhi, my traditional-minded parents called to announce a long visit. They were coming from California for my cousin Aarti's wedding. They planned to stay with me for six weeks. During that time, they also expected to marry me off.
"Six weeks? Don't you think that's a bit long?" I hedged.
It wasn't that I questioned their purpose. My parents, who wed in an arranged marriage more than four decades ago, are still among the happiest couples I've ever known. They rarely fight and do everything together, teasing and laughing -- about my father's television addiction, my mother's nagging -- all day long. I'd spent my 20s remarkably independently, working as a financial journalist in far-flung
cities around the world and choosing whom to date in free-for-all, Western style. But now I was 33. I wanted what they had, and my own search wasn't quite working out.
"There's Aarti's wedding. Then at least a couple of weeks to find a boy, and then a few more to organize your wedding. It can't happen overnight, beta," my father said.
"Okay, whatever," I sighed. I'd given myself a year in Delhi; ample time, I thought, to wed in a marriage-minded society. But -- given that even otherwise cool Indian parents can be notoriously tone-deaf when it comes to finding mates for their children -- my parents' stay seemed both too short and excruciatingly long.
The first thing my father did upon arrival weeks later was to take out a large ad in the Times of India matrimonial pages: "U.S.-educated Jain girl, 33 years old, Harvard graduate and working for international newspaper looking for broad-minded groom." Then he sat back, waiting for a deluge of e-mails demanding to wed his beautiful, brilliant daughter, no matter that she was a decade beyond prime marriageable age.
Nothing arrived on Monday. Nor Tuesday. On Wednesday, he got one or two e-mails. It was the same the next week, and the next.
Desperate to get started, my father finally invited one fellow over to my flat. Lalit worked as a clerk at a shipping company, earning 8,000 rupees, less than $200, a month. He'd never been to my upscale neighborhood. He greeted my parents -- "Namaste, Auntie. Namaste, Uncle" -- then surveyed the place, clearly thrown by the style in which I lived. I was the last thing he noticed.
Even though I didn't view Lalit as a serious prospect, I was embarrassed by the novel situation of meeting him with my parents. I began to understand why Indian women usually don't say a word at these marital introductions: Mummy and Papa are taking care of it, like they would buying a home, a car or a piece of furniture. What need is there? (At a later date, I'd meet up with a chubby guy with ringlets, both of us with our parents. As my father spoke with his, the boy and I sat mute, like toddlers at a play date.)
We all heaved a sigh of relief after Lalit left.
I was looking for a modern Indian man, someone comfortable with a wife who went out with friends, drank, smoked and had had other boyfriends. Later that evening, we had an assignation with a far more promising candidate: Vinod, a corporate lawyer at one of India's top firms. After a few minutes of chitchat, my father -- a born feminist who'd always advised me to "clear up domestic chore issues early" -- leaned in and, in carefully chosen Hindi, asked: "If Anita is sick and cannot cook, who would cook dinner?"