May 20, 2019

Runaway Groom (Part 1 of 4)

In college, ours was a group or say a gang of fifteen that included six girls and nine guys. Most of us were on the verge of stepping out of our teens and entering into the third decade of our lives. Ignoring all the incidents and newspaper reports that had portrayed marriage as a responsibility, disharmony, and stress, for our group, marriage was a lifelong honeymoon filled only with love, care, support, and romance. It was a crazy, yet collective belief in our friend circle that parents of bride and groom together create a big family, and everyone takes care of each other.

I was convinced that my parents would find me a wife. I believed that no girl in her right senses would fall in love with me. Why? Well, that subject is out of the preview of this story and hence will be shared some another time at another place. So, I had ruled out the possibility of falling in love before getting married, to which my parents breathed a big sigh of relief.  Also, the thought of going to see a girl at her house and saying no to her, for whatever reasons, didn’t make me comfortable. Maybe I was scared of doing so, or maybe I was too influenced by movies and TV programs of that time and hence those scenes of the reputation of the family in the society or getting emotionally blackmailed by parents were too awful. I was determined to give my nod for the very first alliance chosen by my parents.

I learned quite early in my life that love alone is insufficient for a happy life. It has to be clubbed with care, responsibility, sacrifice, compromise, tolerance and understanding. If I propose a girl to be my better half, she will ensure whether I am capable of providing financial stability. So, before even thinking of getting married either love or arranged it is important to be sound professionally.

It is said, “If you have a poor father it’s just unlucky, but if you have a poor father-in-law, it’s just stupidity.” I am not sure how many have followed that path to gain wealth. Somehow, this axiom didn’t excite me. I would rather be a wealth and status creator than just have it handed to me as a big favour. So, I decided long ago that I wouldn’t accept anything monetary in the form of gifts or dowry or whatever name given to such indecent practice.

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It was in the year 2003 that I got my first chance to dress-up like a groom and be a groom. That was going to be the first marriage in our family among our generations (being the eldest among all my cousins). It was in the month of April, Tuesday evening (I don’t remember the date), on my way back to my room after office hours, I received a call on my mobile. It took me just a glance to know that the call was from Pune. A man in his mid-forties was on the other side of the phone introduced himself as some Mr. Nath and said, “We are from the same town of your home city. We have spoken to your parents regarding a possible match between you and our niece. This Saturday we are coming to Hyderabad and would like to meet you in person. Can we schedule a casual breakfast meeting at Hotel Taj Banjara”? For a second, I didn’t even realize what the hell was going on, and the entire conversation took me by surprise because before receiving the call from would be in-laws, I should have been informed about this by my family. Immediately after finishing the “surprise call,” I called my parents. They were pretty cool about the entire episode. My mother said, “Oh that one. She is Dipannita Bhardwaj, and her family has been referred to us by your sister’s in-laws. They seem to be a very lovely family. We have sent you a photograph of the girl. You will receive it in a few days. We didn’t know they would call you. Some time back her father had taken your number from us”. Well, it was then that I requested my parents to refrain from giving anyone my phone number without my consent. In India, if the matchmakers are in-laws of your sister, which means the stakes are high, and one must be prepared to experience lots of emotional drama and unwanted stress, as is shown in daily soaps.  In our culture, suggestions and recommendations given by the in-laws of daughter are usually taken as non-negotiable orders. Not abiding by those recommendations implies taunts and tortures for your sister or daughter. I was so nervous that I felt like I was preparing for a full-scale war.

Anyway, as decided, on the following Saturday morning at 8 AM, I was in Hotel Taj Banjara. I surely was enthusiastic to learn how the story unfolds. It was my first experience to meet probable relatives of my would-be wife. We made ourselves comfortable around the breakfast table. Her Uncle, accompanied by his wife began to talk about our common family members. For next 45 minutes, I answered their pleasant and not so pleasant questions and inquiries. Primarily they asked me about my job, plans, my salary, and it went on until I got a call from my boss, after which I had to rush to office. Later on, during the first tea-break, I apprised my parents about the meeting.

My father enlightened me with some more information about the family of Dipannita, an activity that they should have done before making me meet her uncle. My dad said, “Father of Dipannita is a Class-I Officer in the Government of Himachal. Dipannita is the youngest child of her parents. She has two elder sisters and both of them are married and so on”. I believe that, in India, more so in cases of arranged marriages, no one cares to know about the status, happiness, plans or dreams of prospective bride or groom, however, the social status and reputation of both the families is what everyone seems to be interested in.

Next Monday, I received the picture of Dipannita.  She wasn’t anywhere close to my dream girl. Going by the face value, she was just an average looking girl, even though it appeared to me that the photo was enhanced and morphed by using Photoshop. I called up my mother and told her, “In the picture that has been shared with me, she is looking good,” which was interpreted as my affirmative response and willingness to marry Dipannita. However, I am not a kind of person who takes such an important decision of his life based on a photograph or over a cup of tea. I need to communicate with the person, understand her purpose in life, her expectations from marriage, share mine and then take a call.

Till July, no one from Dipannita’s family called me. In between, I fell sick and had to face some stressful and tough weeks in the office, but no one was aware. One day, I called up my mother to inform her of my plan of withdrawing from the prospective relation. I reasoned out with her that a relation must be backed with care and concern, but no one tried to reach me from her side. “Before marriage, I am supposed to talk to Dippanita; I need to know her expectations, her plans for future. How does anyone expect me to marry her without even knowing her? I did allow you to find a match for me, but it doesn’t mean that I will jump into the river with my eyes closed. If this is the way relations work then I am not interested in getting into one”, I told my father.  That one call sent zillions of ripples and charged-up everyone, right from my parents to in-laws of my sister to parents of Dippanita.

In next one hour, almost everyone tried to reach me, and the emotional drama was about to begin. I was visibly upset and angry and was in no mood to answer any calls. In one hour, I saw 37 missed calls from my sister and 42 from my parents. When I calmed down, I answered their calls, and as expected, they were all set to use the power of their tears and emotions. My father dared me to call the father of the girl and inform him about my decision. Usually, parents don’t want to face socially challenged situations and remember I said in the beginning, recommendations and references given my in-laws of daughter are nothing less than a Supreme Court order, which one ought to fulfil. My sister said, “If you will back out from this relation then my in-laws will get upset and will torture me. My life will become hell. As it is my in-laws are upset with me for giving birth to a daughter. I am listening to their sarcastic music Day-in and day-out” and if you do this, I cannot even imagine my life in this house. (At that time my sister was married for just over a year and hence she was too scared.) For that moment, I had become stone-hearted, and nothing could deter my decision. I felt cheated in my very first attempt at finding my bride. I told my father, “I didn’t bring this marriage proposal to you. I don’t even know them. All this while no one cared to talk to me, so, why should I call them now? I won’t.” Next day my father called up again to pacify me and saying that the father of the girl is not in favour of any direct interaction between you and his daughter before engagement. I was shocked. I said, “What is the point of knowing the girl after getting engaged to her? If I don’t like her or if there is no compatibility then I won’t be able to say no after the engagement. When we are not engaged, you are finding it difficult to say, “NO”.  After engagement, if I didn’t find her suitable, you will force me to accept her and get married to her. As always, you are more worried about what people will say rather than how I feel or in which direction my life is going”.

I am not very sure about factors that influenced their stand and decision, however, after two days I received a phone call from the father of Dippanita. He said, “I realize that kids of today are very modern and advanced, they do not have values that we used to have and something that is the tradition of culture. We got married without even seeing the photo of other half. We believed in the choice of our parents. Time has changed. Even we are modern, and hence, I will let you talk to Dipannita”, after saying this he handed over the phone to his daughter. As I was about to speak to her and ask her few things about her career, future aspirations, etc., I realized that I was on speaker phone. Probably this was the biggest blunder that anyone could have made. Probably, he wasn’t aware with whom he had been dealing with. On my day, I am the most difficult person to handle. I can be anything but certainly not dumb, unless I consciously try to act like one. I completed the call in less than two minutes. Nothing changed after that call, and I was very firm with my decision of not taking this relation further. For weeks that followed, there was no discussion on this subject, and I assumed this proposal to have died a natural death.

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On the occasion of Diwali in the year 2003, I took ten days of leave to celebrate the festival with my family, probably our last Diwali together. That time it was out of my budget to travel by flight and therefore, ten days of leave meant spending, at least, four days in travelling. I reached home and the same day I was told that they had arranged for a formal family meeting with Dipannita’s family. My mother said, “Don’t worry. We will just go and see. If you don’t like, you can say NO.” I realized that they had not spoken to Dipannita’s parents about my decision of not getting married, and they wanted me to say NO to them. In the evening, when we were having tea, my parents sat with me and tried to explain me the situation that they had put themselves in and apparently wanted me to take them out of it by saying a YES to this proposal. All their concerns and worries were about society, relatives and of course, the in-laws of my sister. To them, it had already become the issue of social prestige. They said, “People in the village will make fun of us and will raise questions about our parenting and values. No one had ever said “No” to a marriage proposal brought by their parents. Your sister is newly married. She had given birth to a daughter. Her mother-in-law is very upset with her and has already started taunting her, and if you say NO, then the situation will become worse. Dipannita is a sweet girl. We have spoken to her. She is well mannered. She is an MBA and yet knows cooking, knitting, etc. She will adjust with you. You need to give her a chance. Everything will be just fine”. I was confused and naturally tensed. I didn’t know what to do. I made to realize that my parents are batting for them. I had to take a call on this issue and probably one of the biggest decisions of my life then.

Next day, we went for that social drama. The meeting was organized in a guest house, 20 miles away from our house. Traditionally, the boy’s family gets an invite to the house of the girl. From our side, it was me, my parents and in the absence of my sister, one of my cousins accompanied me. However, from their side the list was pretty long, it was Dipannita, her parents, her both sisters and From their side, they had come with a big troop of around 15 members, including, both parents of Dipannita, two sisters, brother-in-law’s and their kids and two of her uncles and their respective wives and two of Dipannita’s cousins. It was 15 members from her side Vs 4 from my side. 10 minutes into the function and Dipannita’s father told my dad, “Let Sanju talk to Dipu. Let them know more about each other”. I was directed to the lawn where Dipannita was waiting along with, to my surprise, her sisters, cousins and nieces and nephews. Dipannita was 5’2 tall; fair in complexion, shoulder length hair and bespectacled (something that wasn’t in her picture). She seemed to have become slimmer than what she was in her picture. As mostly happens in arranged matches, she was dressed in traditional dress – sky-blue coloured salwar-kameez. She was wearing a light makeup which didn’t make her prettier, but she was looking better than what I saw in the photo. I sat there and tried to initiate a discussion. Her sisters were asking me questions on her behalf. She hardly said or asked anything. Most of my questions were answered by her sisters, and most of her questions were asked by her cousins. It made me more upset, and therefore I waived-off any consideration that I was thinking of, considering the so-called social reputation of my family and parents. I decided not to commit suicide. Dipannita was MBA and was working in a leading national bank but hardly knew anything about the corporate world or management. I told her, “Dipannita, I am not prepared for this marriage. I am sure you can find better prospects, and you will have a happy life. It is just not with me. We are not on same page as we have different expectations from our lives.   So please either you say No or allow me to say so”.

After having discussions for 40-45 minutes, I returned to the lawn of the Guest House, where everyone was waiting. Like one of those reality shows, everyone had played their role to the best of their abilities, and now it was time to announce the result. The next thing I saw was Dipannita’s father rushing to my dad, with a smile on his face, to inform that his daughter has said YES for the relation. I looked around, a bit shocked as well as surprised and gave a bright look to her father and said, “However, I am sorry, but this relation is not acceptable to me. Your daughter will get someone better, more compatible as well as suitable. I am just not prepared to and nor willing to take this forward. I am sorry, but this is what it is.” He gave me the scary look, as if, had it been any other place, he would have killed me. My father too looked at me with a shock, as if I had socially humiliated him. He said something to my father which I didn’t care to listen. We returned to our home after concluding the drama. My cousin told my dad, “She doesn’t appear to be suitable enough to become eldest daughter-in-law of our family.” In the evening, the father-in-law of my sister called up and it seemed that my father was scared to talk to him. After missing his 2-3 calls, my dad answered his call and explained to him everything. To this, he replied, “Don’t worry. We can find more girls for Sanju. We are not in a hurry to get him married.” So, this is how I managed to escape from my first probable marriage. Last I heard that Dippanita got married to some Government Officer of Himachal Pradesh Government, and she is living in Manali, Himachal Pradesh.

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I am not sure why our parents make everything as an issue of social pride. If our generation find it difficult to say “No” to anything, it is because our parents had not taught this to us. Anything said by a grey-haired man must be accepted and obliged. Secondly, we have created an unwritten rule, which states that, “daughters and daughter-in-law’s are not equal”. We don’t give much importance to what is being said by parents of our daughter-in-law but give very high regards to what is being said by in-laws of our daughter.

What you would have done had you been in my place? Would you have got married to Dippanita for sake of your parents and then looked for your love interest out of wedlock. Do you think it is good to walk out of a probable relationship before getting into it instead of walking out of it at a later stage?

Your stories, comments, and feedbacks are invited.


About the Author

Sanjeev Himachali, Pune

Sanjeev is seasoned Human Resources professional with a wealth of experience spanning across Manufacturing, Information Technology and Financial Services Industries. He is an Integral part of the Global HR Leadership Team which works on HR strategy development and deployment plan for all organizational level HR programs. Sanjeev has a well-rounded exposure to Business Operations and Delivery along with focused Human Resources assignments to understand people and people strategy. It Enables being a true Business Partner in deciding 

People Processes and making informed decisions by leveraging market intelligence. He is a strategic planner with experience in Organization Restructuring, Change Management, Organization Development and Talent Management. Sanjeev is a qualified Career and Performance Coach.

Specialties: Change Management, Organization Development, Performance Coaching, Career Coaching, HR Operations, Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, Green-fieldLegal CGreenfield Operations, Start-up, Learning, and Development, and Compensation and Benefits.

Twitter: @Sanjuhimachali


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