We arrived last night in Varanasi after a really interesting train trip spent chatting to a young Indian student doing his masters in medical research. It was fascinating to talk about our experiences and desires- he was especially curious to hear about our relationship, as most Indians are.
At least once a day we are asked if we are married to which we sometimes answer yes, simply because it instantly earns us more respect; especially at hotels or with anyone over about 25. Girlfriend or partner simply aren’t in the Indian vocabulary, and if we say we are not married the next question is ‘friends?’ so that it takes some explaining on our part to sort things out. On many occasions someone has told us that they hope we are married soon and that we come back to India and see them when we are, bringing our children along, which is exactly how our conversation with the student ended.
In India it seems that marriage is much more a joining of families than a joining of individuals, with duties and responsibilities for each family member thrown into the mix. The duty of a son to look after his parents (especially the youngest son) is one that our student was describing. With this in mind, it is a little easier to understand the whole arranged marriage thing, as the duty of a husband towards his wife perhaps makes up for the fact that they might not get along.
I can’t help but think that women are disadvantaged in the process somewhere though, and in the wedding photos Mr Singh showed us in Agra the last photo in the album was the most poignant one. It showed his daughter in tears, probably at a mixture of having to leave her family and the anxiety of instantly joining the household of a husband she had only met for a few hours, probably never in private. Needless to say she had probably never even kissed a boy.
Things are changing though: at Mr Singh’s house there was a family argument in full swing between him , his wife and their son, who had just come back from Australia for an arranged marriage he didn’t want to have. The son had spent a few years in Melbourne as a Chef and had other ideas. The student we chatted to on the train also confirmed that nowadays children have a bit ore say in the whole process, even if they don’t have the final say.
We chatted about lots more besides, but I don’t have time to write it all down! Dana is sick in the hotel room and I promised to be back in fifteen, so I’d better get a move on. Something about Varanasi later, but I’ll see if I can put a few photos up in the meantime.