Friday, October 30, 2009

M for Money. M for Marriage.

Just like grocery, food, cosmetics, clothes, house, car and much else we care to buy for a living, there’s another item available for sale, especially in markets in Kerala. It’s an auction of sorts, where the highest bidder gets the privilege of taking the item home after a grand handing-over ceremony.

You’ll know what I’m talking about if/when you’re between 21 & 25, finished your graduation / post-graduation, Syrian Christian (SC), eligible spinster hailing from Kerala (esp Thiruvalla, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta Districts)… ready to hit the market (at least that’s when it all begins!).

The Sunday Matrimonial columns bring them in.

Grooms Wanted: 21 yr old, white (a point to note!), good looking (could have contested for Miss Universe!), SC girl of medium height (meaning 4’ 9’’ or 5’6” or somewhere in between?), in Kottayam, seeks TDH boy (as in Tall, Dark & Handsome or Tom, Dick & Harry) with good qualification (read Engineer or Doctor) and good job (read Government job, Bank job or working in the Gulf).

Brides Wanted: 28 yr old, 185 cms tall, handsome SC boy, working as Manager in reputed Oil Company in the Gulf, seeks fair, beautiful and well educated girl, preferably a Nurse / Teacher (point to be noted), having sound family background (read cash-rich).

There is a spate of calls, in response. Half of which could be people from the newspaper desk to prove that their paper indeed brings response. Quarter of which could be dimwits who don’t get the details in the ad right. And the other quarter may or may not work (it’s like a weather forecast…it may or may not rain).

The brokers are worse. It’s like setting up a blind date. The difference is, the date here is usually between parents. And the main factor discussed (apart from exchanging courtesies) is how much money and gold can the bride’s family cough up in exchange for their son.

Then come in the views of the extended family and friends. The grandparents, aunts and uncles (who you didn’t know existed until then), friends and well-wishers (you know what I mean!). They step out of their way to offer their assistance or give their opinion on matters (even without asking).

Once upon a time, I was this eligible spinster on a vacation to my maternal grandparent's house in a small town called Ranny, in Kerala. It's a beautiful place, kinda uphill with winding roads and rubber plantations on either side. I was 24 then, and my grandfather started checking the matrimonial column and calling the eligible bachelor boys' families frantically, from the day I landed. I was witness to one of the ugliest nature of haggling in the marriage market.

Excerpts of a telecon I overheard...
Appachan (Grandpa): I'm so and so, and you? (Establishing credentials). [They find some common connection and the next couple of minutes is dedicated to telecon in that direction. Then resumes...] What does your son do? My granddaughter is here for a few days. Why don't you drop in today or tomorrow and see her?

In the backdrop:
Me (Panic button on): Mom, let's get out of here quick! I didn't come here to buy myself a buddy boy.
Mom(hushes me up): Relax. You have to get married some day or the other.

On the other end of the telephone (on speaker phone, so we get to hear the atrocious conversation, loud and clear):
Lady(Thankfully not my mother-in-law!): My son is an engineer in KSEB. You know, sound Government job, getting a fat cheque and all! So how much are you ready to give?

In the backdrop:
Me (With my jaws wide open and my eyes ready to pop out): What? Is she out of her mind? What does she mean, how much we are ready to give?
Mom (hushes me up again): Quiet. That's the way marriage aliances work.
Me: Hmmph..I think I'll rather stay a spinster!

Back to the telecon:
Appachan (Keeping his composure): They're just 2 daughters, the elder girl is married off and is abroad. So, you know...(and trails off).
Lady (She's lucky I'm not her daughter-in-law or I would have probably wrung her neck): 10 lakhs, nothing less!

In the backdrop:
Me (ready to swoon at this outrageous demand for money, and swearing under my breath!)

On the telephone:
Appachan: I suggest you first come and see the girl and if you like her and everything goes well, we'll get to money matters.
Lady (Shamelessly desperate to make money at somebody else's expense) If you're ready to give 10 lakhs, we'll come.

Appachan turns in our direction, we nod our head left to right to express our disapproval.

Back on phone:
Appachan: We'll think about it...

Beep, beep. End of call. End of alliance. I returned home after the vacation feeling heavier, full of questions. How could anyone demean themselves asking a total stranger blatantly for something they do not deserve? Do they consider their son a product for sale in the marriage market? Where the auction starts at 10 lakhs and the highest bidder becomes the bride? Is that the price value they've given their son? Isn't human life worth a lot more, above currency value? The questions remain. The practice remains. And boys are preferred over girls.

PS: Since asking for dowry is against the law, people think they outsmart the legal system, by asking for the "share" of the girl! Such people need to be lined up and asked to shoot themselves, because what they commit is a bastardly and shameless act of daylight robbery!

Ladies and Ladaas, I rest my case.

Points to note:
1. White - Fair complexion (In Kerala it is 'nice colour', white or black)
2. Nurse / Teacher - There's a big demand for nurses, as it is a free ticket abroad. Nurses from Kerala rake in big moolah in the US, Europe and the Middle East. Teachers in Government Schools in Kerala are also in demand in the marriage market. Government job, easy money, plenty vacation!


sujata sengupta said...

lovely lovely!!! I am so glad i dropped in. such beautiful writing and what a point.."if you give 10 lakhs we will come!!" mil or no mil you should have taken the address and gone and wrung that bloody head!!

Destiny's child said...

Ugh! Yuck! Sheesh! (Throws up!) Any other creative way to express my disgust to this whole system of dowry in the name of marriage?

You won't belive it, my neighbour is a teacher, she keeps talking of high ideals and when it came to getting a bride for her son - all she cares abt is money! And yes, imp point to be noted, nurses needn't apply! (Yeah, to her it is one of those 'lowly' jobs)
And guess what? She has a nurse for a daughter in law, didn't quite get the amt she was expecting too! :D That piece of news made me ecstatic.;)

I wonder what she teaches the students at her school. With teachers like her, we are probably never going to get anywhere...

Btw, words to describe this post, wow, awsome, great (add as many as you like) :)

RGB said...

@ sujata, Glad u liked the post. And yeah, I shud have wrung her throat afterall...just that, I didn't like the idea of have my hands stained with blood of that woman who thank-god-is-not-my-m-i-l!

@ destiny's child, thanks for sharing ur views. And to think of a teacher who's supposed to imbibe values in gen-next acting like a greedy gut is difficult indeed!

Ellen said...

I have come to be acquainted with your culture through the several indian friends in my first blog. Others have moved on to other interests but a few have stayed on in the friendship which I treasure.

That was unpleasant, if I may say so myself. There is no price for a human being, man or woman. But culture is a different matter. You have your culture and tradition which simply cannot be ignored. How sad that some fall into this marital trap. On the other hand, how fortunate for those who have succeeded to free themselves from this bondage --- with getting for themselves a good education and acquiring a keen awareness of the rights of a woman.

But change will come. Yet as change is.. it will be slow.

You are brave to post something like this. Salute to you! God bless!

RGB said...

@ Ellen, This is not really part of our culture. It's made to be, by a few who think they've found a way to make money quick. And people who follow, think likewise. However, like you said, things are changing...for the better.

KParthasarathi said...

It is a hilarious pice but brings out starkly the worst aspects of our society.It is not confined to Kerala or any particular sect.It is widely prevalent camouflaged in different ways.Very often the weddings of daughters leave the parents in the middle and lower middle classes with a big hole in their pockets and even finacial hardship.The system is so entrenched that it is difficult to break easily.Good you wrote on it

RGB said...

@KP, yes it is like this contageous disease that has now become ingrained in our societies. The gaping hole in the poor-fathers-of-daughters' pocket is a gross reminder of such atrocities. If the boys wake up to the truth, they can sure do something abt it, don't u think?

Novice Writer said...

Loved the way you described the telcon!

I had one or two experiences as well regarding this horrible dowry business. Rejected the proposals as soon as the question of 'How much will you give for my son?' came up! As you said all these people should shoot themselves! Hmph!

BTW an excellent post- easy to read and well-written:-)

The Holy Lama said...

No words to express the seething anger towards these kind of people.

RGB said...

@ Novice Writer, Glad u enjoyed reading my post. Yeah...maybe somebody should pass the 'shoot-at-sight' order!

@ The Holy Lama, the blog was my vent to my anger. I wish I could do something more. Non-violent but effective, that would stop this practice once and for all!

Ananya said...

Dowry plays a huge role in marriages in India...parents of the bride are so stressed out asthey have to find the right guy within their standards, who would love their daughter and take care of them...and guys whom they could buy with their money...yeah when u look at it this way it sounds better...the bride must have a higher say coz her parents bought the guy with the dowry...else the guy must be chivalrous enough to say NO to any sort of dowry...but such sort of prince charmings are not 2 b found in abundance...
I remember when i was in Chennai and I was blessed with baby boys...everyone was so happy for me except me...coz i always wanted girls not that i dont like boys...but if given a choice i would have had old lady was cheeky enough 2 suggest that i could get a fat dowry since i had 2 boys...she said this when my children were hardly 10 days

RGB said...

@ Ananya, Agree with u totally! I can understand where that lady must be coming from. And the worst part is, it seems like it's the women who encourage this practice -bcoz they're the ones taking initiative - asking and the giving!!!

Rush said...

Holy crap...i wud have picked up one line of the phone and really sweared the lady out till she got deaf...u actually got me boiling on my seat rite now.
i feel people who get their daughters married off shud receive the dowry for parting with their sweet child.
I dont understand the logic our ancestors came up with while deciding who shud be giving and who shud be receiving?? what were they thinking???

RGB said...

Yeah...what were they thinking?! Such a meaningless practice that has become a big burden to fathers-of-daughters!

scarlet pimpernel said...

I feel like i accidently got in to the ladies only compartment of the shuttle to eranakulam.
food for thought ladies .... In oman ( the country where i work ) the guys have to pay the lady and also the ladies dad a whopping amount ( between 5lakh to 10 lakh) as dowry to get married.
While i would definitely agree to the fact that bargaining over the phone for money is cheap i would also like to present my case
My dad married my mom with out asking for any dowry.My mom had enough moolah in the bank to see her through her life.Very recently when we bought our second home in eranakulam her moolah saved my dad from crisis. so having some money in the bank can be useful ...again i am not encouraging dowry or the cruel things associated with it.