With her interviews-based non-fiction 'Hitched', Nandini Krishnan steps into what is perhaps India’s foremost sunshine industry: the arranged marriages. The industry today stands at around Rs 2 lakh crore per annum of which gold and other jewellery alone make up above half the sum. With almost 50 per cent of the Indian population below the age of 30 years, the arranged marriage industry, which is recession-proof, is slated to grow exponentially in the years to come.
However, unlike any industry which works through perfection of processes and assembly line product deliveries, the peculiarity of arranged marriages is that there is no process which can be exactly replicated between two weddings. Each wedding is individual and has to be tailor-made. So it is with a book of this nature which intends to inform, educate and equip its readers so in a sense it can’t capture the complete diversity of the arranged marriage space.
Also, a certain level of error is factored in by those involved in such marriages and all that the parties seek is relief upon completing the wedding formalities and the hope that the couples will survive the highs and lows of their journey together. Though the society at large is at the crossroads of tradition versus modernity, at the heart of the arranged marriage industry is the modern educated woman—one who can earn her independent livelihood and can afford to wait for love or even choose to not get married. It is in a decade or so of her life that the debate between tradition and modernity plays out most dramatically. Nandini’s book is addressed to them.
Though the table of contents does not say it explicitly, the book is in two parts: in the first half women provide their stories and in the second half the author sums up almost all the relevant issues around the idea of arranged marriages. Some of the interviews are titled slightly naughtily but that is to keep the tone of the book informal, to give it a casual touch and it works. Respondents are comfortable speaking on compatibility issues, focus on astrology, loss of wife’s earning status or relocating to a different country, rediscovering a career after two kids and creating support from in-laws to pursue one’s passion, finances, divorce, and so on.
Nandini keeps the narrative breezy, even to some extent nonchalant. One wonders if the urban sampling she has for her book is not a bit too removed from the politics of caste, religions, in-laws, and so on—the reality of the inner India which involves khap panchayats and dowry deaths. Yet, she scores on two accounts: in not interfering with the respondent’s narrative and in not giving out easy solutions. In fact, many a times where personal accounts are narrated, she leaves the stories without conclusions. She opens them up to the reader’s ways of relating to them.
The second part, without being preachy or self-help, gleans from earlier stories and deals with issues like: how to handle and inflict rejection, whether or not to live with in-laws, the biological clock, the actual wedding, sex between people who do not know each other, the way dowry still operates, and how parents sometimes conceal things from would-be partners. In an interesting structural coup Nandini ensures that the second part can be better understood by one who has read the first.
That is because the reader can relate the abstractions to real people introduced earlier.
Hitched prompts the reader to think for herself, equips her to ask questions about her own situation and to not blindly follow a tradition because everyone feels so or parents are worried. In fact, even that is addressed in the book. Readers will notice that though they have an issue with their bride/groom hunts or marriages, they are not alone or the only ones suffering. They will find solidarity here. That does not mean because it happens it should be borne, but one’s individual misery is alleviated by knowing others too are struggling and by learning how others have surmounted their issues.
The book has a very small peek into the minds of men. It wasn’t intended but what stood out was a strange poverty of language in how men express their thoughts on marriage or what they are looking for in a bride. That, too, is a huge problem, for unless we learn to think and feel and articulate we are not going to be able to expand our emotional experience of partnerships in marriages. I hope Nandini does a next book on men.
Amandeep Sandhu’s novel Roll of Honour has been shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2013