If you’ve crossed into your 20s, you’ve definitely had the subject of marriage broached at least once. It could be a carefully planned family ambush at your second cousin’s wedding, or that neighbour who can't help but mention what a perfect match you'd be for her nephew every time she sees you. And if you cringe a little whenever someone mentions ‘arranged marriage’—or even ‘marriage’, for that matter—these 4 modern women have some real-life advice culled from their own experiences.
Devika*, 31, Fashion Designer
Devika insists that her journey was a "typical Sindhi way" of setting up an arranged marriage. “There are four things that a boy’s family looks for in an arranged marriage—how fair the girl is, how thin she is, how much her father makes, and where the family lives,” says Devika. “It took me 4 years to meet 14 guys. The last one was my ex-husband, Dipankar*.”
“I went to meet him with my parents. He was an NRI living in Dubai. His mother liked me, and so Dipankar and I exchanged numbers,” she says. In a couple of months, the wedding conversations—or dowry demands—had begun. “My father was getting questions like, ’What is your budget?’, ‘Will you have a destination wedding?’, ‘How many diamonds and gold chains are you giving us?’”, she confides.
After a 3-day long expensive wedding destination where alcohol flowed like water for 72 hours, Devika and Dipankar were finally married. “But it turned out to be a big illusion,” she says. “Every night, Dipankar would stay out with his friends, while I would be at home doing the cooking and the cleaning.” Months passed, and the couple had not even gone on their honeymoon. “I was in love, for this was my first relationship, but I realised something was fundamentally wrong when Dipankar refused to have sex with me,” she reveals.
This pattern continued, and two years later, Devika realised it wasn’t going to change unless she took some action. “I approached a sex therapist who made Dipankar understand how important it was to be physically intimate with a partner, but it was like speaking to a deaf person,” she says. “Amidst fights, he admitted he had married me for the sake of getting married. He wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility, and wanted to live his bachelor’s life. I knew it was time to file for a divorce,” she adds. The two parted peacefully a couple of months ago.
Devika isn’t letting this experience make her cynical, though. “I haven’t stopped believing in love, and I’m willing to try again,” she says. Her parents are helping her manoeuver various dating websites and matrimonial centres in Bombay. “From being asked for a dowry of Rs 4 crore to being told that my hips are too big or my boobs are too small, I’ve learnt to laugh along with life,” says Devika.
Her advice: “Get to know your in-laws first. If there’s an issue in your marriage, don’t let your silence be understood as acceptance. Speak up.”
Zayan, 25, Journalist
Born in the small district of Mahé in Puducherry, Zayan is a Mapila Muslim who comes from a traditional background where an arranged marriage is the norm. “Girls get married when they’re 20,” she says. But hers isn’t a society that shuns love marriages—in fact, they’re quite open to it, including her family. “My father would not have disagreed to my marriage had I fallen in love first,” she says. But fate intervened, and hers is truly a story of serendipity.
Zayan was working as a journalist at a Malayalam channel when she met her now-husband Anasu. All of 23, she was introduced to him through mutual colleagues who thought they would make a good match. “The coincidence was that I knew his sister from college,” notes Zayan. But the real synchronistic moment was when her father was approached by an acquaintance who recommended the exact same match. Call it chance; call it destiny—the two got engaged within four months of meeting each other, and after being engaged for little over a year, they were married in October 2015. Today, they’re blessed with a beautiful 8-month-old daughter, Aza.
“Marriage has been a whole new chapter in my life. We have to take each other’s families into consideration. It’s not been easy, but I can happily say that I love being married,” says Zayan with a laugh.
Her advice: “Get to know the man before and make the decision yourself.”
Minal, 29, Travel consultant
From not being keen on getting married to saying yes on a whim, Minal calls hers a “typical arranged marriage”. Brought up in Dubai, Minal was exposed to a non-Indian set-up from an early age, and though her parents come from a conventional Punjabi background, she had her own aspirations that she wanted to pursue. “Plainly put, I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to go to India to do my MBA, but my parents wanted me to stay back and study in Dubai,” she recounts.
She was 24 when she began her MBA. Soon enough, her parents began introducing her to potential suitors. And then Anuj came along. “I didn’t meet him with the idea of marriage,” she reveals. “First, our kundlis were matched. Then my parents showed me his photo. I liked it, so I thought, ‘why not?’”
But there was a hint of nonchalance in Minal’s ‘yes’. She didn’t expect Anuj, who was 26 then, to settle down immediately. “I thought I’ll meet him and it’ll be a no,” she laughs. “But when we met, we just clicked. We spoke about everything but marriage—and that was a relief,” she remembers.
In less than 10 days, the roka, the initial ceremony to seal the deal, was done. And after 10 months of long-distance courtship—which involved a lot of Skype calls—the marriage took place. It’s been more than 5 years today, and the couple has a year-old daughter, Ariana.
“It took us both time to get to know each other, understand each other’s physical needs and emotional needs. We’re still figuring it out, day by day. And we’re just growing stronger.”
Her advice: “Don’t overthink it. Trust your instincts.”
Navi, 29, Banker
A Sikhni born in Holland, Netherlands, Navi lived away from India all her life. “I always knew I wanted to marry an Indian,” she confesses. So when the time came, Navi’s uncle introduced his friend’s son Impal to her parents. “At that time, he was working in the UK, so my parents and I flew over to see him.” After having a talk there, they exchanged numbers. And the first time they spoke, their conversation lasted for 12 hours.
“That’s how I knew he was the one,” says Navi. Despite the time and geographical difference, the two managed giving each other quality time. “It was obviously a big yes from both our sides. I didn’t have this connection with anyone, and he was really good-looking,” she laughs.
January 2013 marked the first time they met, and by October, the wedding preparations had begun. But the issue here was the distance—they lived in different countries. “Initially, I was going to move to the UK. Impal had applied for his British nationality, but when he didn’t hear back from the embassy, his lawyer advised him to withdraw his file,” explains Navi. Impal decided to look for a job in Amsterdam instead, which is where Navi lived. A long and tedious process followed which saw Impal clear mandatory Dutch exams and fill out his visa applications. After a lavish wedding in Punjab, the two moved to Amsterdam. That was five years ago, and the couple today have a ten-month old son, Amtej.
Her advice: “Get the guy’s background checked before you marry him. And listen to your parents, they know what’s best for you.”
*Names changed to protect identities