When I turned 24, my parents decided that it was time they made ‘arranging their daughter’s marriage’ as their top goal in life.
As with any arranged marriage, entire families were enlisted to convince me that it should be my top priority as well. Although I was young, I knew that marriage would be a giant leap for me.
It has always been thus for women – from moving into a new house and adjusting to a different environment, to changing her last name and finding her place in a new family; the institution of marriage was something not to be entered into lightly. I was not ready.
Arranged marriage in the digital era
I managed to dodge and escape for a year and a half before I caved in. But I made it clear that I would not meet a gazillion boys in the dance of acceptance/rejection that plays out in the arranged marriage system in India.
No problem, my parents said, and created a profile for me on a matrimonial portal. I had complete freedom to screen and choose proposals based on my personal preferences.
At this point, I would like to clarify that arranged marriage was my choice — it was not forced on me. I had the liberty to explore and date men but I just didn’t find anyone. So, here I was, in the age of Tinder and whatnot, browsing through e-marriage proposals and profiles looking for ‘the one’.
After scrolling through multiple profiles, G was the first boy whose digital proposal I accepted, and after two to three months of ‘dating’, we decided to tie the knot.
It was actually the easiest part — finding love. We just knew that we were right for each other, and without overthinking it, we took the leap of faith.
Marriage and love are two different things
Although still sceptical of marriage, with both of us being based in India at the time of our engagement, we looked forward to the wedding, unaware of the change in dynamics that would occur in a few weeks.
G was offered a job in Singapore, an offer that was too good to refuse. This added to my dilemma. I had not considered the possibility of leaving my life behind after marriage.
After the wedding, I chose to stay behind in Delhi, ostensibly to take care of pending matters. I had been working as a TV presenter at Doordarshan for the past three years and was on the cusp of a promotion. My second book ‘Saturated Agitation’ had recently been launched, and I was busy with book readings.
I had just completed my Master’s degree in journalism and was waiting to collect my original mark sheet. I was teaching journalism as a part-time lecturer and was reluctant to abandon my students in the middle of the semester. One of my dogs had given birth to seven pups. The other one was sick.
Nine months after my wedding, I kept adding more excuses to the already long list of reasons for me to linger in Delhi.
Despite the distance, G was very considerate in not insisting that I move to Singapore. Was it because he was as tentative as me about our union? Things seemed fine on our occasional short meetings.
We often connected over various digital devices and channels. But we did not share a home; we had no history together.
Taking the leap of faith
It is now August, the month of my husband’s birthday. This is his first birthday as my husband, and I do not want us speaking over flat screens.
I feel compelled to be with him; I want to make this day special.
Is this love?
I make plans and buy gifts. I am flying to Singapore tomorrow morning to see him. This is not a surprise visit because I cannot afford the risk of him being elsewhere if I arrive unannounced.
I know that G has also made plans. We are both excited to see each other. It has been three months since our last rendezvous.
I pack my bags and lay out my favourite white Anarkali dress for the next morning. I wash my face, kiss my pups and dogs good night, apply night cream and sleep.
There is a mild sense of excitement when my alarm goes off at 4 in the morning. I have to leave home at 5:30am to reach the airport on time.
Clashes: Outside and inside
As I am getting ready, I sense a commotion outside our home, and the news on television confirms my misgivings. A reporter talks about fire, mobs and roadblocks.
People have turned violent to protest the rape conviction of Baba Ram Rahim (An Indian Godman) who had subsequently been jailed.
Oblivious to the implications of this news, I get ready to leave for the airport only to realise that I cannot step outside. People are storming the streets with swords and fire torches.
It is a communal riot-like situation. There are half burnt vehicles on the roads with mobs screaming “Baba bekasoor hai, Baba ko riha karo” (Baba is innocent, release him from prison.)
I have a long phone call with G; I don’t want to disappoint him. I argue with my father about the unfairness of his demand that I stay home.
Eventually, I have to accept defeat. There is no way I can safely make it to the airport in time for my flight.
“The important thing is that you are safe at home. It is alright; we can always plan for next month or the month after.” G is incredibly sweet and understanding.
As I sit with my head in my hands, my sick dog walks towards me, lifts his leg and pisses on my bag. Something finally snaps.
“Am I taking advantage of my husband’s understanding and supportive nature? Is this a punishment for being a terrible wife? ”
I see my father leaving for his clinic despite the unruly situation outside, knowing that there may be additional patients who need his help. I have grown up seeing him devote his entire life to the welfare of the people. His passion for his work and dedication towards helping others has been an inspiration for me.
Being the youngest in the family, I was naturally close to my father. What I hadn’t realised was how interdependent we have become in the past few years… I am so much like him.
His preoccupation with work had always kept him away from his family. Am I doing the same thing?
A woman’s life changes entirely after marriage, and so does her opinion of it. Before marriage, my focus was more on the “wedding” — clothes, jewellery, make-up, events, music and whatnot.
With the completion of the rituals of marriage, I had wondered what other literal and figurative changes lay in store but had not ventured to find out.
Today, thanks to Baba Ram Rahim and his followers, I can finally see that it is not my career nor my dogs, not my students nor my mark sheet holding me here. I got married and was “given away”.
Every ritual of my marriage confirmed my departure from my maiden home and guided me towards the road to becoming a wife. The only thing that was holding me back was myself.
I haven’t mustered the strength to leave my father, my home, and begin a life with my husband, to become a wife in its real sense.
I decided I had to let my marriage take shape, even though I had no idea how to create it. It was time to fly.
Destination of love: Singapore
In the next ten days, I resigned from work, completed my assignments as best as I could and started looking for work in Singapore.
When G came to Delhi to escort me to Singapore, my father waved a tearful goodbye. I knew then that my father was happy for me — he would not have asked his daughter to go away because he wanted me to take that step by myself. He would be fine, and so would I.
As the aircraft took off, I felt a gush of emotions that gave me the courage to start my married life.
Three years and counting, my marriage that was arranged through a matrimonial website in India, has found a loving home in Singapore and continues to grow with each passing day.
Sometimes it takes more than mere rituals for a daughter to accept the position of someone’s wife, but it is never too late to start, and there is nothing wrong in allowing yourself some extra time to graduate to the idea of being a Mrs.
After all, marriage is one small step for man and a giant leap for womankind. Also, marriage and love are two different things with one thing in common — they are both built on faith and trust.
This Valentine’s Day, lets take a leap of faith and celebrate love.
Note: This feature is an adaptation of my long-form essay that was published in Desi Modern Love- An Anthology by Story Artisan Press, Singapore.