|Nandini at the launch of Hitched at Back to the Desi Cafe in Salt Lake, Sector V, on September 20. (Anindya Shankar Ray)
When people keep asking young women, “So, when am I going to eat at your wedding?”, some rebel, others acquiesce. Nandini Krishnan wrote a book. The result? Hitched, The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, published by Random House India, Rs 299. Hitched is a non-fiction book that tells the stories of 16 women who had arranged marriages.
The 29-year-old “Madras” girl who’s worked as a radio jockey, journalist and stand-up comedian, recently launched Hitched in Calcutta. t2 “arranged” a chat.
Why Hitched? I was actually writing a novel about marriage pressure and how it is to be a girl in your 20s whom everyone just wants to get married off, and mentioned it to Meru Gokhale, the editorial director of Random House. She came up with the idea of a non-fiction book on arranged marriage.
The idea was to look at arranged marriage in the specific socio-economic class of the modern, educated, westernised urban woman, who isn’t seen as different from her brother in terms of privileges.
What was your biggest takeaway?
My big epiphany was when I spoke to friends of mine who’ve had love marriages. When they read the book, they said, ‘This is exactly what we go through in marriage as well.’
The other common thread was that everyone now wants to get married a little late, whether arranged or love. In the arranged marriage market, we thought we were safe once we crossed 25 or 27 but now there are people in their 30s who are having arranged marriages. People are becoming more receptive of the fact that women want to know what they want to do with their life before they get married.
Do urban women look upon arranged marriage as a fallback to dating?
Yes, I think most people do. When dating is not taboo anymore — well, as long as your parents think you’re not sleeping with your boyfriend — I don’t think you can escape it. All of us date in college, some start in school. There are those who marry their boyfriends and there are those who say, okay this didn’t work out, so let me try the arranged marriage route.
What about women and virginity... is that a factor in arranged marriage?
One of the women in my book spoke about a man she met who had said that he’d beat his wife and turn her out of the house if he found out she was not a virgin. And one guy I spoke to specifically said, ‘I only want a virgin wife’.
But the interesting and positive thing is that women now find it disgusting if a man is not okay with his wife not being a virgin. Now the question that is asked is, ‘Do you want to know about my past?’ Some people want to know, some don’t. But they marry irrespective of the past. Sometimes, people are more comfortable talking about past relationships a few months into an arranged marriage.
Many marriages are now arranged through matrimonial websites. But the rules are different. Are these portals more like dating services now?
I spoke to quite a number of people who’ve had their profiles on matrimonial sites and none of them got married to the first person they met. Yes, they’ve almost become dating websites in some sense. I know of people who’ve spoken to each other for one year having met through this and then they’ve called it off. That’s practically a relationship, right?
I’ve known people who’ve gone and made out with people they’ve met on Shaadi.com. Of course the parents don’t know all this. Everyone says we need six to eight months to get to know each other. And since divorce is becoming more common, I think people are more wary now. They’d rather that things got sorted out before marriage than after.
The rules are flexible. I know of one girl who met a guy through a site and was going around with him. She says, ‘We fought a lot and then we decided to get married.’ That doesn’t sound like arranged marriage at all!
But there’s one difference. You do need to be serious about marriage to register on these sites. It’s not a dating website by name. The expectations are there, you are there because you are looking to get married.
But are young urban Indians embarrassed to be on matrimonial websites?
Yes. No one said it in as many words but I don’t think anyone wants to be seen on those sites. It’s still seen as an indication that you couldn’t find a man by yourself. Sometimes people are embarrassed to admit they had an arranged marriage. Some concoct stories about how they met, others say things like ‘love-cum-arranged’ marriage. But it can’t be both, it has to be either love or arranged!
Has this book changed your views about arranged marriage?
Well, I always sort of knew arranged marriage was not for me, though when I was younger, I could be arm-twisted into speaking to ‘eligible boys’. Even that would happen... well, ‘between boyfriends’, shall we say. I thought of arranged marriage as a back-up option, and assumed other people did too. But that perception seemed very judgemental once I heard these personal accounts. Now I think the way people see it is not ‘I can’t get a guy,’ but just that they have not met the guy yet, and maybe this is not a bad place to look.
See, the book can’t tell you whether arranged marriage is for you or not. For me, the aim was to help people deal with the various stages of marriage and hoping they find reflections of themselves in the many people featured in the book.
Meet shahrukh, the author
Love, scandal and greed in the time of communal riots. That is the central plot of A Restless Wind by Shahrukh Husain (Picador India, Rs 499). Based in England herself, the author begins with the plight of immigrants from Gujarat seeking asylum in England to escape communal strife, and the hatred they face both in India and England.
Helping these victims is Zara, a 35-year-old lawyer. Zara is the “restless wind” who feels rudderless too, having been born in Pakistan, brought up by her aunt Hana in a qila in Trivikram, Gujarat, and then settling in England with an English husband. She is unable to overcome her sense of abandonment — she was deserted by her mother at age 10, then by her first boyfriend and finally was forced to give up on her dreams of working in India post-marriage.
Soon the immigration angle of the story gets weaker and almost hangs like a loose end. What takes over is Zara’s battle on the personal front as she tries to find answers and get to the bottom of family secrets and hidden treasures. The suicide of a young homeless immigrant and an ailing aunt bring Zara back to Trivikram.
The reader is taken on a tour of the lives of maharajas and their relationship with spiritual gurus in independent India as well as during the Raj. Aunt Hana’s family still lives in the qila where Zara was brought up. This is the only place with which she shares a sense of belonging. After Hana’s death, Zara finds herself getting involved in the politics of the qila and becoming dependant on Jay, the maharaja of Trivikram and her first boyfriend. And then she is tagged a spy.
Fairy-tale-ish at times and thrilling at others, the novel has echoes of both Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Shobhaa De. The end may be a tad too dramatic but on the whole the plot does not make the reader as “restless” as Zara!
Sidney Sheldon’s successor
British author Tilly Bagshawe has written a “Sidney Sheldon” novel. Whatever does that mean? It’s not like reviving Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot! Nevertheless, Bagshawe has been authorised by the writer’s estate and she wrote her first Sidney Sheldon book Mistress of the Game in 2009.
Her latest Sidney Sheldon novel The Tides of Memory (HarperCollins Publishers, Rs 299) is about ambition and deceit, double lives and double crosses. Set in the political high class of Britain, the novel follows Alexia De Vere, who rises from the position of a mere prisons minister to home secretary. But this rise has its negatives as Alexia’s past is catching up with her, a past that is tainted by murder. And more.
Sheldon, who remains a bestselling author, peopled his novels with characters with shadowy pasts and Bagshawe does not let him down as a majority of the characters in
The Tides of Memory have secrets and double lives. Bagshawe clearly knows how to spice up her prose and decorates the narrative with dead bodies, revelations and the occasional sex scene. The book ends with a twist, the surprise element bringing back fond memories of Sidney Sheldon classics.