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First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Love
By Sarosh Abrar

Marriage only brings a woman closer to man, and they become friends in a special sense, never to be parted either in this life or in the lives to come.” [1]

Some people are fortunate enough to have found their soul-mates while others have their soul-mates selected for them.  In South Asia and the Middle East, arranged marriages are preferred over love marriages, which is the predominant system in the West.  In today’s society, arranged marriages are looked down upon because, as many argue, not having the right to choose one’s partner is cruel.  People of the West reason that only the person who is to marry can decide whom s/he wishes to spend the rest of his/her life with, which leads to a successful marriage.  On the other hand, people of South Asia and the Middle East claim that the elders of the family have the final say over the marriage for they have seen the world and know that a successful marriage is not just a uniting of two people, but of two families.

          What is a marriage?  According to the Encarta dictionary a marriage is, 

....a legally recognized relationship, established by
a civil or religious ceremony, between two people who intend
to live together as sexual and domestic partners.”

Encarta’s definition of a marriage does not mention anything to do with how the partners found one another and who decided they should marry.  According to the definition, Western marriages are just as legal and proper as South Asian and Middle Eastern marriages are, for both types of marriages have either been recognized through a religious or civil service.  

What is an arranged marriage?  It is usually perceived as a marriage that one is being forced into but, in all truth, it is not.  It is a merging of not only two people, but of two families through the process of agreement.  Now, in today’s modern world, there are two types of arranged marriages:  arranged-love marriages and pure-arranged marriages.[3]  An arranged-love marriage is where the couple loves one another and wishes to marry, receiving the permission and advice of their respective parents and family elders.  Here, caste and dowry are not as important as status, both economic and social, and family reputation.

Sunita and Chila, two of the three protagonists of Life Isn’t All Haha Heehee, had arranged-love marriages with their boyfriends, Akash and Deepak.  Chila and Deepak had courted for quite some time before marriage, even though their parents were not aware of their relationship, and decided to marry.  They were both Indian Hindus which is why their parents agreed to the marriage.  Sunita and Akash met at law school and started dating with their parents’ knowledge.  Sunita and Akash were both Punjabi Hindus which is why their parents did not disapprove of the relationship.  This type of arranged-love marriage is becoming much more popular amongst South Asians who marry while living abroad, and even those who live abroad and go back to India to find a soul-mate.  Young adults, particularly females in South Asia, are becoming more educated, influenced by Western media, television shows and movies and are going through a sexual revolution similar to the one that the West had experienced in the 1950s.  Also, “dowry” [4] is ignored because of education and the understanding that a price cannot be put on a man or woman.  Bimla Atal, the mother of the protagonist of The End Play, wished to have an arranged-love marriage with her love Shafi Ahmed but was not able to since she did not have her father’s permission.  This was during the 1940s - a time when Hindus and Muslims did not trust one another much due to desire to have an independent Muslim state of Pakistan and an independent India - and, since Bimla was Hindu and Shafi was Muslim, her father could not go against the social norms and expectations of the times, regardless of the fact that he had great respect and love for Shafi.  Bimla did not argue with her father; she accepted his refusal.

In the Bollywood movies Ek Rishtaa (One Relationship) and Lagaan (Tax), the main characters all had arranged-love marriages, like Sunita and Akash.  They courted one another only with both their parents’ knowledge and permission, because they had been set up by their parents.  The couples who have an arranged-love marriage are much more frank and affectionate, in private and public, than those who have pure-arranged marriages since they know one another before marriage and develop a romantic relationship as well as a spiritual one. [5]   

Ganga, the protagonist of The End Play, approved of having an arranged-love marriage but disapproved of a pure-arranged marriage, which is the style of marriage her father and his family were trying to force her into.  Ganga, wanting to get away from the pressure of marriage, decided to lose her virginity to her boyfriend seeing it as a way to free herself from her family expectations and social norms.  After having had sex with her boyfriend, Ganga felt a pure sense of joy and felt as if she was ready to marry her long-time boyfriend, so long as she was able to continue working and would not be pressured to have children right away.  Although her father and the family elders did not agree to her arranged-love marriage, her mother did because she understood her daughter’s contemporary, feminist ideals. 

Approximately ninety-five per cent of South Asians have pure-arranged marriages. [6]   In the Middle East and South Asia, pure-arranged marriages are the only type of marriages that are truly accepted by society.  It is a marriage where the bride and groom do not play a very significant part in the arrangements of the wedding, including choosing the person whose hand they shall put a ring on.  The reason for this is, in such societies as the Middle East and South Asia, young adults depend upon the elders of the family to choose a mate for them.  This is comparable to what the farmers of Canada did when they bought brides from Europe in the late nineteenth century. [7]  

Those who do have pure-arranged marriages have grown up in an environment where this manner of marriage is preached and performed.  They have been brought up being taught not to detest love but that love should only be felt and expressed between husband and wife after marriage; these young adults have seen and heard stories of their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who all have had pure-arranged marriages which is why their minds are set in such a way that they cannot accept entering into any marriage their families do not approve of and have not arranged.  Having grown up in such an environment, these young adults, usually, do not have any objection towards their elders arranging their marriage.  In the majority of cases today, both the man and woman are not forced into marriage as they would have been in the inflexible, cultural past.  Bimla, the mother of the protagonist of The End Play, had a pure-arranged marriage.  She had not even said a word to her husband before marriage and, without any hesitation, entered into the marriage her father had arranged for her.  Ali Hassan, a university junior in Pakistan, is having a pure-arranged marriage and has no hostility towards his parents for having found him a wife and finalized the relationship without so much as notifying him. [8]   Hassan stated that he could not go against culture, even though he lived in the twenty-first century,

         I am in the true sense a ‘90s kid.  I also believe

         in modernization and change.  However, I also

         believe in tradition and customs…I agreed with

         my parents for the sake of having ties with my

         people and my land, which I love dearly.” [9]

A pure-arranged marriage is followed by a specific, traditional procedure:  the man’s parents investigate the girl’s family history and caste before beginning any talks with her parents.  The man’s family checks to see if the girl’s family is of the same caste, has relatively the same social and economic status, is of a reputable family and has no physical or mental disabilities or deformities, [10] as was done in the movie Bulandi (Heights).  If the man’s parents, especially his mother, are satisfied, a third party is assigned to meet with the woman’s parents.  This arbitrator is usually a member of the girl’s family and talks to her parents to acquire insight into their expectations and interests.  This mediator then goes to the man’s home and informs his parents of the bride-to-be’s family’s wishes; if the man’s family has no objection, a meeting date is set.  This middle-person is like an associate who sets up his/her friends on a blind date.  The man, his parents and the elders of his family go to the woman’s house for bride-viewing.  But before the man’s family attends the bride-viewing session, they must be completely certain that the maybe-new member of their family will be able to adapt to the family norms and ideals. [11]   In Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s book Arranged Marriage, Sumita’s father bought her an incredibly expensive, yet beautiful, sari for her to wear for bride-viewing because he told her that this would be the second most important day of her life after her wedding day. [12]   In this meeting, both the parents and the possible groom must approve of the woman’s physical appearance. [13]   Tania, one of the three protagonists of Life Isn’t All Haha Heehee, had always passed in the department of looks when she was being viewed as a prospective bride.  Every man who came to see her was automatically attracted to her fair skin, thin, yet shapely, physique and beautiful face but that was the only area she passed.  Tania always ended up failing all the other aspects of the bride-viewing session because of her modern manners and ideas.  Instead of being shy, quiet and respectful to her potential in-laws and husband, she would start smoking and talking about how much she loved British culture.  Bimla, the mother of the protagonist of The End Play, had a very untraditional and awkward bride-viewing session.  Her soon to be husband, Espee Sahi, did not care to look at her and only attended the meeting to follow tradition.  He and his widowed sister-in-law were in love but could not marry for it would be said that she has a wandering heart and eyes because she did not honour her husband after his death, putting shame on the entire Sahi family.  Espee’s parents did not talk much with Bimla’s parents for they were aware of their son and daughter-in-law’s affair and wished to have their son married as soon as possible, caring not about family norms or dowry.  In India, if the man does not feel any physical attraction towards the woman, all the time spent in investigating the girl’s family and having a third party may go to waste because he will most likely not agree to the marriage.  Ganga, the protagonist of The End Play, would not agree to have a bride viewing session, believing that it was ridiculous to base a marriage on physical attraction.  Her father had set up a bride viewing session for her but she did not show up, later explaining that she would not participate in any such meeting where dowry and physical attraction were the hot topics of the table; she wanted to be able to discuss her needs and wants with the same degree of importance her elders discussed caste and economic status. 

In many orthodox families in the Middle East and South Asia, many men do not even pay any attention to the woman’s looks because they know that a strong, lasting relationship does not depend on beauty so, if the investigation as gotten this far, it will most likely continue. [14]   In this meeting, the topic of dowry may be discussed if families still believe that it is an important part of the communion.  In Indian culture, the woman’s family is supposed to give a dowry to the man while under Islamic law, the man is supposed to give a dowry to his wife – known as mahar - which cannot be ignored as it can be in Indian culture.  In Mary Hendry Frances’ novel, Chandra, the child bride Chandra and her husband never met one another before marriage because they trusted their parents’ decision, never objecting to the fact that they would not get a chance to know their spouse till the night of their marriage. [15]   Chandra’s situation is quite similar to the system of “mail order brides” that many desperate, hopeless people across the world enter into, not knowing whom they will end up marrying.  Ironically, this system of marriage is not criticized as much as arranged marriages are, even though those who enter into arranged marriages have fully investigated the person s/he is to marry.  After the bride-viewing session has gone flawlessly, the parents of the soon-to-be bride and groom arrange a date for the engagement celebration and wedding. [16]   If the family is Hindu, these dates will be set with the help and guidance of an astrologer who will match up the horoscopes of the bride and groom, as was done in the Hindi movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (I Have Given My Heart Away, My Love).  On the other hand, if the family is Muslim, the dates will be set by the parents of the bride and groom, as was done in the Urdu drama Kiran Kahani (The Story of Kiran).   

Those who enter into arranged marriages know they are not “jumping into a well with no water,” [17] as many opposing Westerners say.  Arranged marriages, whether arranged-love marriage or pure-arranged marriage, are based on principles of success.  The first few principles are fulfilled by the parents of the bride and groom before the wedding and the couple carries out the remaining principles during the marriage. Families look at compatibility.  As Standford student Subbarao Kambhampati says in his article about arranged marriages, “Compatibility is more important than romantic love in determining the success of a marriage.” [18]   When parents arrange the marriage of their children, they make sure that the families will be able to get along quite well, by making sure that the families have relatively the same expectations of the couple, so that neither husband nor wife feels burdened to please either set of parents.   Compatibility comprises of a few subcategories:  caste, economic status, social status, education, family reputation, interests and the man and woman’s expectations.  Families try to make sure that these subcategories are quite similar so that the couple does not have meaningless arguments.  For example, by ensuring that both man and woman are of the same caste and social status, it does not create any walls of economic inferiority between the couple.  Another example:  by making certain that they are of the same education level, especially amongst middle and upper-class families, it avoids any arguments of the man feeling dependent on the woman if she has a higher level of education.  In the Bollywood movie Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (Have the Wedding Wagon Ready), the husband and wife were parallel in the areas of education, social status, economic status and caste and had a relatively happy marriage.  Although compatibility can never be prejudged one hundred per cent, it is looked at rather thoroughly to ensure that the couple will get along with one another.

After the parents have fulfilled their duties to their children regarding marriage, the children must carry out the proceeding stages of a healthy, lifelong marriage.  The first, most important, aspect to a successful marriage that those who practice arranged marriages seem to understand more than those who practice love marriages is compromise.  These couples have grown up in an atmosphere where they have seen married adults continually compromising with their spouses to satisfy both of their needs and wants, without resorting to constant bickering.  In addition, they must treat one another with respect.  In most cases, South Asian and Middle Eastern husbands and wives do not call one another by their names to show respect to one another, aware of their presence and position of their spouse.  Sunita, one of the three protagonists of Life Isn’t All Haha Heehee, had never heard her parents ever call one another by their name.  When she asked her mother about this, she was answered that it showed respect for one another’s position in his/her spouse’s life and if they did call one another by their names, they might as well be strangers on the street. [19]   Furthermore, tolerance – which consists of patience and acceptance – for one another’s occasional tempers and personality changes as s/he grows old is another extremely significant factor to any successful marriage.  Without tolerance, one spouse can argue to the other that s/he was not like this during the early years of the marriage, meaning the spouses have not learned to adapt to changing social values and aging wisdom. 

We can now understand that arranged marriages are not as cruel as they are viewed.  The arranged system is one that both peacefully and lovingly unites not only two people but two families, showing that having one’s soul-mate selected for him/her is not all that bad.  Those who willingly go through an arranged marriage know the rules and expectations of such a union helps them in making their marriage last – a quality that is lacking in many Western marriages, since over fifty per cent of them end in divorce.  As Gandhi stated, a successful marriage is one that the couple will relive time and time again because “matches are made in Heaven.” [20]


[1] Mohandas K. Gandhi

[3] Mumbai Central (Message Board):

[4] Dowry is a large sum of money that the bride’s family gives to the groom’s family.  It is not a rule under the Bhavagad Gita (the Hindu holy book) but is a statute in Indian culture.  The amount to be given is usually decided at the bride-viewing session and must be given to the man’s family by the day of the marriage.  Traditionally, this money was a way of paying the man for marrying the woman and had evolved to the idea that the money was supposed to help pay off any family debts, used to pay for the dowry for any females in the man’s family, or add to the family status; these concepts still prevail in Indian villages where educated females are not accepted since males rarely get more than high school education.  In the twenty-first century, in the cities of India, the rule of dowry has become a part of a lock that seals the marriage, having nothing to do with family status, debts or relieving the woman’s family of their daughter; it has become a rule and expectation, like exchanging wedding rings.   

[5] Women, Family, and Child Care in India, p. 143.

[6] “First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Love,” The Trinidad Guardian.

[7] Mr. Teres, English Teacher, Monarch Park Collegiate

[12] Arranged Marriage, p. 19.

[14] "First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Love,” The Trinidad Guardian.

[15] Chandra, p. 27.

[19] Life Isn’t All Haha Heehee, p. 230.