The sun over the west shines just the same
The moon and the stars too
But something about the west
Beckons quite a few…
“Our decision is final”, said Colonel Kapoor firmly, “if you wish to do a PhD in the US, we will find a suitable boy living there. Get married and the you can go.” Shruti, their elder daughter was aghast. She could not believe that in this day and age, her parents, whom she had always considered liberal, would turn out to be so conservative. It was her dream to enroll for a doctorate degree in one of the top American universities. Besides, her excellent M.Sc results ensured that she stood a good chance of getting a scholarship. Surprisingly, her parents, who had always been so supportive of her ambitions and aspirations, now seemed adamant and unrelenting. She was perhaps too young and naïve to understand the fears they had about sending their beloved child all alone to a strange, advanced and unknown land, where she would have no one to call her own.
“My dream”, sighed Radha, “is to marry an NRI (non resident Indian). Radha, a 24-year old chartered accountant, had always been in awe of the west. Europe and the US were her ultimate destinations, not just to visit as a tourist, but to live and feel that she belonged to those nations more than her own country.
Neha Aggarwal, a college graduate pursuing a secretarial course, stood on the threshold of marriage. In her family, an NRI was the ultimate catch, and he stood head and shoulders above any bachelor working in India.
These three young ladies, smart, accomplished and intelligent, had one more thing in common. Marrying an NRI seemed inevitably the only route towards the fulfillment of their dreams. The Indian mindset is such that people are convinced that the brightest and the smartest men always head towards western countries, where their intellect is appreciated and rewarded. Material comfort, economic security when added to the brand value linked to living overseas, becomes the dream of every parent for his daughter.
But is it as simple as marrying in India, and life abroad a cakewalk? Not really, as the contrast between lifestyles in India and other countries is too much to be taken lightly. Girls aspiring to marry abroad need to make a conscious effort and change their present lifestyle according to the requirements of the future.
NRIs or Non Resident Indians are those fellow countrymen who have stepped beyond Indian soil in pursuit of a job, build a career, or start a business. Whatever the assignment, working abroad certainly means more money, greater recognition of talent and dignity of labor, an excellent work environment along with immense job satisfaction, success coming much quicker than it would anywhere in India. That a dollar or euro salary helps afford good lifestyles, is also a consideration. Large villas, plush apartments, latest cars, seaside holidays, all come within a short period of time. It is the best option for a generation that likes to work hard and play hard. Back in India, they command a new kind of respect, doors open for them, and heads turn with a look of awe and admiration from all around.
This may seem like a bed of roses, but it comes with its fair share of thorns. The flip side to marrying abroad, can turn out to be a traumatic experience for young ladies oblivious to the harsh realities that stare at them once they leave India.
The first step is to meet an eligible bachelor working abroad, and liking him enough to say yes to the long-term commitment called marriage. Men living overseas have spent many years alone, establishing careers without any family support or comfort. They succumb to familial pressures for matrimony, but have definite ideas about what they would like in a life partner.
The Indian system of marriage is quite different from the west. While love marriages frequently take place, arranged marriages are more commonplace. An arranged marriage means that parents try to find suitable companions for their children on the basis of family, position and education. It is an age-old belief that children from similar family backgrounds and comparable economic positions are likely to have a more successful married relationship. Moreover, Indian society being conservative, till very recently, it did not give boys and girls the liberty to move about socially where they could get an opportunity to meet suitable partners. Parents are particularly strict with daughters, seldom permitting them to socialize unescorted. This naturally meant that the probability of young people meeting prospective life partners was very low. The task of finding a life partner has been the prerogative of the parents and relatives, and matchmaking quite an interesting assignment. This generations-old tradition has also been based upon common belief that children are too naïve and immature to decide who would make a good life partner for them, and therefore, the task should be handled by mature elders. Initially, the boy and girl in question were not even asked whether or not they liked the person chosen for them. Over the years this has changed, and the boy and girl meet and even go out together, quite like the west. As a friend puts it,” people all over the world, meet, fall in love and decide to marry; in India, the boy and girl meet, marry and then fall in love!” Marriage is serious business in India, and considered to be a lifelong commitment. Divorce and separation are frowned upon, and even the courts of law try to resolve issues of marital discord to preserve the relationship and restore normalcy in the family. This is the rationale behind parents choosing prospective marriage partners for their children.
The fate of an NRI is quite the same. Once he succumbs to pressure from parents and agrees to meet prospective brides, the boy’s parents shortlist a few girls whose family backgrounds have been checked and the girls’ qualities, personality and habits gauged through common friends or acquaintances. They seem to have fixed notions about an ideal daughter-in-law, and fervently hope that their son would choose one of the girls they have liked. The son, in turn, has an image of a partner who has a bit of the smartness of a Susan or Jane at his workplace, but also has a strong set of Indian values, who can run a warm Indian home for him, cook exotic meals both Indian and western or oriental, pamper him so that he just has his work to think of, and does not have a thing to do once he comes home. She must also be well educated to blend into his social circle and not be a misfit. She must be able to fend for herself rather than depend on him for everything. Men in India, often feel that everything they say or do, must be accepted and even appreciated, but never questioned. While non-resident Indian men have learnt to do household tasks, but once married, they wish to wriggle out of such mundane though essential chores.
Choosing a life partner is difficult especially because nowadays, it is not enough that the girl is “presentable”. To be able to gauge her attitudes and outlook, and to see whether they may prove to be compatible, the Indian abroad wishes to meet the girl time and again. Her behavior and demeanor will help him decide whether or not she will fit into his life overseas. The girl on her part, takes her time to see whether the man is thoughtful, warm and caring or is he a male chauvinist, arrogant about his success, and singularly lacking in the ability to give respect to others, especially women. Many Indian young men remain tied to their mother’s apron strings for their whole lives, and hence are never able to see the talent and qualities in other women. These attitudes sometimes change when they live abroad where the society offers a lot more respect to women. Marriage for Indian men too is a deep commitment; therefore, the NRI takes pains to acquaint the prospective bride with the tough lives and tasks ahead, which in India, they may never have faced. Living in India under parents’ protection is an entirely different experience. India is home, their comfort zone, familiar and friendly, and seemingly safe. Parents indulge and pamper, assist and advise in everything, always shielding their children from difficulties and tensions.
Thus, when the goal is to marry someone settled abroad, it is better to prepare in advance, get acquainted in western ways, and hence be equipped to handle a different life in an unknown place. The bottom line is that life abroad is tough, entailing a lot more hard work. One would need to be efficient in household chores since domestic help is a rarity, restricted to only an elite class of people. India is one of the few countries where domestic help is a given. Time management skills are an asset and efficient handling of every chore becomes essential since there is so much to do. From shopping, cooking and cleaning to clearing snow from the driveway, mowing the lawn, the list goes on… Added to this is the fact that the migrant feels lost and lonely in an environment that does not exude warmth, and cities seem almost deserted, as populations are not at Indian levels. Above all, the young ladies in question are in a new relationship, still getting to know their husbands.
It would be beneficial for each of these girls to acquire skills such as driving so that they can be independent. In the Indian system few can afford a car per member of the family, employing chauffeurs is a prerogative of the elite and the middle class are a single-car family with men most of the time. The young ladies on the threshold of marriage must also read and gather information about the social norms of different countries, be well informed about western society, and even acquire some language skills, for, who knows when the knowledge of another language may come in handy. The Internet puts a world of information at one’s fingertips, and one has to browse around to become well informed. Knowledge is the key to greater confidence makes you more self assured and dignified in demeanor, and society is more receptive and warm to such individuals.
In terms of appearance, it is important to merge with the crowd, rather than stand out as a foreigner. The young ladies can also try out different types of cuisines and develop a taste for non-Indian food. Most Indians find continental food unpalatable, and vegetarian options are not their kind either. One would have to develop a taste for different foods so as to not face an embarrassing situation in a social gathering being unable to eat anything. Young ladies are not in the habit of taking on complete cooking responsibilities, restricting their culinary experiments to a single exotic preparation. Most mothers are in charge of the daily staple food in Indian homes that include multiple preparations. Under their watchful eyes, the girls can gather a number of helpful tips that make every meal delicious.
In Shruti’s case, she has to grow out of the student mould focusing only on studying. She has to get used to the idea of getting married, sharing her life, shouldering the responsibility of a home, being a wife and student at the same time, and above all, learn enough about the U.S. Western influences have crept into Indian society, but many unknown facts are unraveled when one delves deeper. Her homework on universities, admissions and scholarships will have to be centered around the place where her prospective husband is based. She has to work herself out of the emotional attachment to her family, to be able to leave them and go. A part of her daily schedule set during discussions with her parents, is to plan one meal everyday and set it in front of her family. Her father has decided to give her driving lessons himself and useful tips on money management.
Radha and Neha need to do the same. Both belong to smaller cities and are less exposed to Western influences. Simple living and their laid-back attitude would have to be changed if they are aspiring to marry abroad. Exposure to non-Indian food and dress, etiquette and table manners, good command over English, the art of polite conversation even in a crowd of unknown people instead of sitting quietly in a corner, appropriate behavior in public places, are some of the things they need to learn. Being able to walk smartly with an air of confidence will take time and practice. This will please their partners and life beyond the home would become a lot more fun, than facing the prospect of reprimand each time they are out and not doing things right. Neha realizes that she needs to take aerobic lessons to lose weight and tone up her body. Radha feels the need to learn western dance so that she can join the crowd wherever there is music and dancing.
Marrying abroad has been a happy experience for thousands and a nightmare for just as many. Girls must learn to handle difficult situations. Beyond India, each young man is an anonymous entity, very few know where he goes and what he does, certainly not his family in India. If the girl’s family does not make sufficient enquiries, the girl’s life faces the risk of being ruined. Some young Indian men have already married foreigners, but keep their families back home in the dark. They lack the guts to tell their parents the truth and lead them on, never realizing that they would be ruining an innocent girl’s life. They feel they could go on with this dual charade forever, but the truth inevitably stumbles out. The worst sufferer is the girl in question.
Many a time men profess to own businesses while they are actually employed for menial jobs. Thus a waiter claims to be a restaurant owner, a salesman becomes the owner of a chain of stores. Torture and abuse of innocent girls are horror stories. Caution and thorough investigation becomes the key to avoid such agony. The stresses and strains of survival in Western society take their toll on men too, who, unable to vent their frustrations elsewhere, resort to abusive behavior and the young wife is at he receiving end. Crossing from one economic level to another also leads to behavioral changes in men.
Times have changed and the gap between India and the West has narrowed. Each successive generation has a more westernized lifestyle, and if the people stepping beyond Indian shores, are able to retain a bit of our own culture, blend our Indian value system with the Western style of thinking, their aims and aspirations will certainly have positive outcomes and happiness would be well within their reach.