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Desi Marriage

(by Sonal Kulshrestha)

Recently a few of my friends were talking about how American couples do not hesitate to take a marriage counselor's help if they go through a rough patch in their marriage. Some of the friends felt that the marriage counselors here in America won't really understand the dynamics in a desi marriage. Now, I'm no marriage counselor. Neither do I claim to be an expert on the matter, but the conversation did cause me to think. Think a lot- on the topic. Mostly it got me thinking how different is a desi marriage compared to an American marriage? I have known a few Islamic couples and do feel that their marriage operates within various different rules, but being a Hindu, I always thought our marriages were no different from those of an American couple. Yes, irrespective of whether or not it is an arranged marriage. After all, the only thing different about “arranged marriage” is the way the couples first meet. Is that not right? They soon do fall in love. Don't they? But those would be topics for another time. I want to focus on married Hindu Indian couples- a desi marriage, and lets' assume whether theirs was an 'arranged' marriage or 'love', it's a regular, happy marriage. What then is a desi marriage like? Of course, we often talk about how Indian men don't open doors for their wives, nor do they pull chairs for them. Okay, they often don't put the toilet seat down for them either- unlike their American counterparts. So again, what then is a desi marriage like?
I would say that there're four kinds of a 'regular' desi marriage. And before you wonder, I would define 'regular' as just that where there's no physical or mental abuse. The couples are happy or at the minimum content with the status quo of their relationship. So what are the four kinds? They are-
1. Couples are truly made for each other. They interact with each other like good friends. They respect each other, consult each other in almost all issues or at least have defined areas where they each have authority, love each other and the chemistry is there for all to see. Such a marriage is really no different from any American marriage here in America, except for the fact that this couple is probably not constantly going 'Honey this' and 'Honey that'.  But yes, made-for-each-other Indian couples are around not just here in America, but in India too. And yes, in our generation (married 10 to 20 years or even more), in our parents' generation and obviously in the fairly newly married (less than 10).
2. Couples which are much more subdued in displaying their love and affection for each other, may not even interact too much in public, but their understanding, mutual respect and areas of 
authority are still fairly apparent. Again, you see marriages like these globally- India, America and everywhere else. I will even put a couple in which the wife dominates under this category because even though the wife calls the shots, she doesn't display any lack of respect towards her husband or utter disregard for his expressed feelings (if he doesn't express, he's on his own).


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3. Couples where the husband plays a dominating role- to the extent of being chauvinistic. This could mean any or all of the following situations - the wife has to check with her husband before spending money on herself for even small things, she doesn't feel comfortable in spending money on her side of the family, she feels obliged to spend more time with her in-laws  versus her family and she feels the need to “impress” him or at least not “earn his displeasure” (in India, the poor wife is often heard saying “yeh naraaz honge” (he'll get angry). This kind of marriage is really mostly seen in the desi world- Asia. Not to say these don't exist in America- but remember we're talking about 'regular' marriages.


4. Lastly, there are couples where not only is the husband dominating and chauvinistic, the wife is actually subservient. On top of the above mentioned any or all situations that she finds herself in, she's actually subservient all on her own accord or perhaps the expectations from others have so molded her. The woman herself gets pleasure or perhaps just contentment in 'serving' ( and I only refer to cases where the manner  in which the serving occurs is servile, hence the quotes. I'm not talking of cases where woman lovingly serves hot food- the manner is love and care then) hot food, even water to her husband and attending to his other needs. I'm not talking of cases where she practically does everything for him in a docile manner, even earning his wrath if not done, because that counts as abuse in my dictionary, unlike what I mention here- where there's no real repercussion if she chooses to not be docile, passive or unassertive. This we don't see in America. Never seen it in 19 years of living here. Woman here may get insecure in their marriage, dependent on their spouse even, but servile disposition they develop not- no situation, no expectation, no attitude from their father or spouse mold them to do that. Sadly, we do witness this in even 'regular' desi marriages at times- very often in India, much less in desi marriages here in America.

Even though I talk of four kinds of desi marriages, there might not be a clear demarcation in where a marriage falls, there are grays too, of course. But my point is, I see now that my friends were probably talking about the 3rd and the 4th kind of desi marriages, where men do have a greater say over larger number of matters, when she said the 'dynamics' are different in a desi marriage. And I realize that she's right, the American marriage counselors fill definitely not understand, will likely not encourage you to be in such a marriage and will most certainly suggest working on first changing that. Will they be wrong really? Isn't that important for a truly strong foundation for a marriage of equals? I'm not suggesting we start working on making all marriages that, but I know for a fact that that's what we're teaching our sons and daughters! And I know we're succeeding because when I asked my 14 year old daughter about her perspective on a desi marriage, she started her answer with, “Mom, you can make your marriage what you want it to be....”

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