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Ok, so did you like my title? I wasn't inviting you over for dinner as I am not the best cook in the world by a long shot (something which my darling hubby will confirm to anyone who'll listen LOL), and nor was I offering to take you out to the local Indian restaurant. Sorry if I got you here under false pretences. I'm trying to be a bit more adventurous for my 50th review…
~*~ ANYWAY… ~*~
Me, I'm a British Indian. Born and bred in good ole London. London is my home and I can't imagine living anywhere else. No matter how many gripes I can come out with about the cost of living, council tax, income tax, ridiculously extortionate petrol prices, dreadful traffic congestion (what with all the bus lanes popping up everywhere - I don't recall my road tax going down even though I am able to use less and less of the public roads?), and not forgetting our lovely weather which is up and down more than a Madame's drawers… Enough said about my gripes. When all is said and done, I'm very proud to say I'm a Londoner, very proud to be British and also very proud to be of Indian origin.
I'm going to speak about arranged marriages (partly about 40 years ago in Calcutta and partly about current day in the UK) as this is something that many people have misconceptions about in relation to Indian (more specifically, in my case, the Bengali) culture.
~*~ BACK TO THE PAST ~*~
Both of my parents were born and brought up in West Bengal in India and lived in Calcutta (now officially known as Kolkata) in their adult lives before coming to the UK. My dad came to the UK in the late 50s when he left the navy and basically went back to India in 1966 to marry my mum and bring her back to London. Theirs was an arranged marriage and now 39 years later, they're still a (relatively) happily married couple. I say relatively as all couples have their ups and downs and if you tell me you know a couple who've been together that long and who've never exchanged a cross word, I'd be seriously doubtful about your honesty!
Arranged marriages, back in my parents' day, worked such that an eligible bachelor would be asked by his parents if he was ready to get married and more often that not, he would say yes. The hunt would then begin for a suitable bride. I'll try to keep this short as we're talking about 40 odd years ago. The boys family, usually parents, older brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, etc, would make enquiries to find a girl from a similar caste, well-educated and no deep dark secrets to marry off their "boy" to. Once a suitable match was found (at this stage the boy and girl haven't even met each other) an engagement date would be set and a wedding date would be set (usually within a few days of each other, can you believe that?) My mum and dad didn't meet each other before their wedding day, dad saw a picture of mum and liked her but mum didn't really have much say in the matter apart from saying "yes" of course, being the dutiful well brought-up young lady that she was. In those days, when your parents told you that your wedding had been arranged Indian women just agreed and got on with it all.
~*~ BACK TO THE FUTURE ~*~
My folks were married in India and came over to live in London and it's their home now too. They go to Calcutta pretty much every year (during November to January for at least 6 weeks) to visit family out there and basically for a holiday. I often ask mum just after she's returned from a trip out there if she ever wants to go and live there permanently and she always says "No, I enjoy being out there see the relatives but by the time I've been out there 6 weeks or so, I'm really looking forward to coming back home to my own house and doing my own thing in my own time!" I guess it's also partly because my brother and I live here and she knows we wouldn't ever consider living out there full-time
(I, for one, can't even handle our London summers these days, never mind the thought of living somewhere where winter temperatures are at 30+ degrees!)
What about arranged marriages these days? Well I can't talk about personal experience as I've not had one but I can talk about my countless cousins and many Bengali friends who've had an arranged marriage (or not as the case may be).
These days arranged marriages have been revamped, updated and modernised. That's the only way I can describe it really. They work more like blind dates more than anything else in general. When a girl and boy (rather I should say man and woman) reach marriageable age in the eyes of their parents (which can be anything from 21 to 25 for a gal and 25 to 30 for a guy), the parents of both parties ask around anyone from neighbours, relatives to Indian matrimonial agencies to find a suitable partner for their dear ever-so-eligible offspring. A suitable match is sourced and believe it or not, many modern Indian parents just pass on the mobile numbers to their children and let them get in contact with each other to arrange a date. Dates are arranged, e.g. meeting up in a mutually accessible location such as a bar or café or restaurant or even a shopping trip and the couple gets to see how they get along with each other. I've heard some real horror stories about first meetings, a few of which I'll share with you. Like the girl who met up with a prospective groom in a Central London bar only to find he had brought along his long-term girlfriend as well. The prospective bride made a quick exit. Another girl was dating a guy for years and didn't want her parents to know till she was ready to tell them (as they would have insisted they get married straight away), anyway she used to go out on these "dates" set up by well meaning aunts. She had a Psychology degree and used to tell the prospective grooms that she intended to work in prisons with long term inmates such as murderers and rapists to see how their minds worked, funnily enough, this used to scare guys off and they'd run a mile rather than tell their mothers the daughter-in-law was a "bit funny in the head". Another pal used to dress up in very revealing clothes, mini-skirts no longer than a erm belt, very low cut tops and fake tattoos stuck on various parts of her body - every single guy she met nearly passed out in horror at the thought of introducing this scantily clad girl to their mother! Another pal was told the guy she was meeting was 5'8 (which was a nice height for her as she's 5'3) and when she met him in a café he didn't stand up to greet her which she thought was rather rude. Anyway she went along with it and made the effort to have a nice chat with him, he was quite evasive about many things, and eventually he had to get up to visit the little boys room and it was only then she discovered he wasn't even 4'10. She was rather annoyed about the fact that she had been lied to more than anything else. Ok not wanting to bore you with any more bizarre tales, I would add that most of the people I've mentioned above are now happily married to someone they met through the Indian "blind dating" - I mean arranged marriage system.
There are still some people who do it the old-fashioned way, i.e. meet up with the parents of the prospective bride or groom and make the decision on behalf of their children depending on how they like the prospective in-laws, but this doesn't tend to happen to people from my culture, and personally, I don't agree with it. Just because Tina's parents get on with Raj's mum and dad doesn't automatically mean that Tina is going to get along with Raj and vice versa.
The impression that many Indian parents have who try to "force" their offspring to go through the arranged marriage process is that arranged marriages don't end in divorce. This is absolutely untrue. I know many people who've got divorced after having an arranged marriage for one reason or another. People say that divorce is too easy, but Indian women tend not to put up with behaviour that was ignored a generation ago, such as mental or physical abuse, having affairs, etc. Not saying that it's only men who do these things, of course, women can abuse men and have affairs, but predominantly in Indian culture men were the ones who'd get away with having relationships with other women under their wives noses and or physically abuse them knowing that they'd be too scared to do anything about it as it would look bad for the woman if she left her husband. Often families would gossip about the woman saying she must have been in the wrong if the marriage broke down. I'm very glad that this scenario doesn't happen too often.
I don't know if it's coming across from what I've written so far that I'm not the biggest fan of arranged marriages. Even though my parents had one and they're even happier together now than they've ever been, I think it's a different generation now and times have moved on. I know many Indian couples who've got together by being introduced by mutual friends (which I suppose is like the modern arranged marriage introduction), meeting at college or university, through working together or even using matrimonial websites. And living in the UK there's always the worry that looking for a spouse from India could mean that the person only wants to get a passport into the UK. I've heard of people getting married for this purpose alone and suddenly when the "green card" or whatever it's called, comes through - they apply for a divorce!
~*~ ENOUGH ABOUT ARRANGED MARRIAGES NOW ~*~
I think I've babbled on about this for far too long now, I thought I'd share some other interesting (hopefully) facts, fun and not so fun aspects of Bengali culture.
Traditionally Bengalis are a cultured bunch. They tend to be very well educated well read and, more often than not, if you meet a Bengali person they'll have at least a Bachelors degree if not also a Masters and a PhD. Bengalis tend to be intellectual, passionate about politics, sports (erm those don't apply to me though), sensitive and romantic.
Bengali people are extremely hospitable by nature. Don't think you can pop into a Bengali person's house without being fed and watered by the lady of the house. This is a no-no. If you go to a Bengali person's house even unannounced you will be expected to stay for a meal, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner!
More often that not, if you go to a Bengali home you will be expected to leave your shoes in the hallway before entering the living room. This is very common practice in Bengali homes in the UK and in Calcutta this is done at everyone's home.
Bengali people will always ask what you do for a living or if you're a woman, they'll ask what your husband does for a living. It's not considered being rude or nosey, it's just how we are (but I tend not to do this for fear of someone snapping "Mind your own business" LOL). If you have kids over 18, they'll usually ask what university they are studying at or went to and what degree they're studying for or studied. You may not notice, but if you say your kids didn't go to university - there's a little mental "hmmm I see" going on there and a slight turning up of the nose! Don't take it the wrong way, it's just Bengali's wanting the best possible start to their kids' lives which make them think education is the most important founding for a successful future life and career.
Traditional Bengali dress - well ladies tend to wear a sari or saree (can be spelt either way). It consists of basically a very long piece of rectangular material (anything from silk to chiffon and costing anything from £10 to £500 or more in some cases) which is wrapped around the
Pictures of Member Advice on Foreign Cultures
Durga - goddess symbolising motherhood and strength
body and tucked in at the waist with pleats and then draped over the left shoulder. At the ripe old age of 37 I still have to get my mum to help me wear one when I go to Indian weddings or functions and keep it together with an abundance of safety pins. How sad am I! Bengali men in the UK pretty much wear what every other man here wears, trousers, shirts, suits, etc, but some do wear the traditional "dhoti" at Indian weddings, which is amazingly complicated to wear. I was at my cousin's wedding in India last year and he was really uncomfortable wearing his "dhoti" and found it very difficult to walk wearing it - bless him!
~*~ A FEW FAMOUS BENGALI PEOPLE YOU MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF ~*~
Rabindranath Tagore - Nobel Prize winner, a poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist and literary critic Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose - freedom fighter (Calcutta airport named after him) Satyajit Ray - writer, film director & producer Ravi Shankar - sitar player, composer, music teacher & writer Uday Shankar - dancer, choreographyer Sharmila Tagore - actress Aparna Sen - actress, director Saurav Ganguly - cricketer Rani Mukerjee - model, actress Victor Banejree - actor Sushmita Sen - ex Miss Universe (India's first), model, actress Nora Jones - (half Bengali) singer, daughter of Ravi Shankar Anoushka Shankar - musician, daughter of Ravi Shankar Mithun Chakraborty - actor Jaya Bachchan (nee Bhaduri) - actress, wife of Amitabh Bachchan Bipasha Basu - model, Bollywood actress Manna Dey - singer Rahul Dev Burman (aka R D Burman) - music composer & director Shantanu Mukherjee (aka Shaan) - singer George Orwell - writer (part-Bengali) Connie Huq - Blue Peter/TV presenter Amar Bose - founder of Bose Corporation (who hasn't heard of Bose speakers?)
I think I've held your attention for quite long enough now (if you got thus far that is).
I hope this review has given you a bit more of an insight into Bengalis and the culture. Please do ask me for clarification on anything I've said above via the comments section or in my guestbook and I'll try to answer your question, if I can't I'll just ask my parents.
*** UPDATE ***
I thought I'd keep this updated as and when questions arise in comments or guestbook.
About marrying outside of the Bengali culture - well personally I'm not married to a Bengali guy and none of my family or family friends treat him any differently to one of their own. I know many Bengalis who've married non-Bengalis and have successful marriages just as I know many who've married Bengalis and had the same success. People do get divorced, but I don't put this down to culture, race or colour, it's down to the individuals and if a marriage isn't working, I don't believe in staying together and making each other (and the kids) so miserable that you want to die when you could be happier with someone else.
If anyone gets the impression from my review that I am against arranged marriages, please be assured that this is not the case. I believe it is a case of individual choice. In fact, I know many guys (and girls) who've said they were grateful to their parents for choosing a spouse for them as they were too shy themselves to go out and find one themselves (and some of them were even too lazy and left the hard work to mum and dad!). When a person is too shy to go and "date" someone, the fear in their own minds is that they will be "left on the shelf", so if their parents can find a suitable match for them, then it takes the pressure off somewhat and if both parties agree to the marriage then everyone's happy aren't they?
Some people have asked about the caste system. Well some people still do follow the caste system and search for a spouse from the same caste. This, in itself, is not a problem, but it can be an issue, if a boy and girl are dating, and are of the same religion and of different castes, if one or both sets of parents are very traditional. Depending on how modern and understanding the parents are, the relevance of this issue diminishes.
Excellent piece, and very informative.
Having just returned from a tour around India, I would like to say that the caste system is alive and still hurting many a poor soul down in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Recently in the local daily papers, there were a number of incidents and even a journalist went undercover to film what was being reported to bring it to attention. Dalits as lower caste/untouchables used to be called are banned from entering many village Hindu Temples. They had to have their own, and also had to remove their footwear before approaching tea stands and had to drink from a seperate beaker to everyone else. How sad.
India was amazing, with a billion beautiful people. Hospitable, gentle and friendly. Shame on religion that always has to put people down and segregate society.
rosehall 22.05.2007 16:59
Fab review. Thanks for R&R my review. I adore India and usually go out there to visit friends I made at least once a year.xx