March 21, 2012

Do Arranged Marriages Still Work for Young Educated Couples Today?

"A picture is worth a thousand words." 

Here are photos I took of Nimesh and Bhawana last Sunday when the three of us finally had some quality time together, after meeting only in crowds of hundreds during the events of wedding week.

We spent the day on a drive into the countryside outside Kathmandu. We first visited the village where the Thapa family has its roots, and where Nimesh spent his first seven years before the family moved to Kathmandu. Then we went for lunch at Dhulikhel -- which competes with Nagarkot, another hill town, for being the best place in the KTM valley to get a view of the snow-capped Himalayas. I've been to each town several times, even getting up at dawn, supposedly the best time of day to catch a mountain view. I've yet to see a mountain from either place.

But seeing Nimesh and Bhawana's solid, loving relationship was more enjoyable to me than any mountain view.

A Modernized Nepali Arranged Marriage
Today, arranged marriages are common in South Asia (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka), Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and, to a lesser extent, East Asia. Arranged marriage practices vary greatly among the different cultures. Some are "introduction only" arrangements, in which the parents (or other match-makers) simply introduce the potential couple... and let the two young people take it from there. In other cultures, the bride and groom never meet until their wedding day.

The Nimesh/Bhawana arranged marriage falls between these extremes. Nimesh's parents, having decided it was time for him to marry, began the search for a suitable bride. They talked with friends and acquaintances about suitable prospects. Factors considered in Nepali arranged marriages include:
  • Same Hindu religion and similar spiritual beliefs.
  • Same caste. Although caste prejudices are fading, particularly in the cities, it is still important for bride and groom to be from the same caste.
  • Reputation of the families.
  • Similar economic status.
  • Similar vocations (Nimesh and Bhawana both recently got their MBA/Finance degrees -- Nimesh from American University here in Washington, and Bhawana from a university near Bombay).
  • Age and physical fitness.
  • Horoscope. Numerology and the position of the stars at the births of bride and groom are used to predict the success of the match. Astrologers gave a very high rating to this match. However, although Nimesh and Bhawana would have preferred an April or May wedding, the astrologers decided that no auspicious dates were available for a wedding in those months this year, because of a lunar eclipse. The only good dates in the first half of this year were either in March or late June. Nimesh and Bhawana decided that earlier was better.
Both sets of parents wanted a non-traditional element: giving Nimesh and Bhawana the "final say" about going ahead with the wedding. The parents urged their kids to spend lots of time getting to know as much as possible about each other. If the young couple wasn't entirely comfortable with the idea of marrying, the parents would accept their decision.

Nimesh and Bhawana took this parental "get acquainted" advice seriously. Although Nimesh was in D.C. and Bhawana was in India, the internet and Skype software (which lets you both hear AND see the other person on the call) enabled them to spend hours... and hours... and hours talking through issues that I'll bet most love-marriage couples never get around to discussing before marriage, if ever.

Early in these lengthy video-chats, they were both convinced they had found true love. Seeing this process unfold has been a wonderful experience. And I'm looking forward to this Saturday, when I'll meet them at Dulles Airport. Then, we'll begin the next chapter: living together here on Eskridge Terrace.
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