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Thursday, April 22, 2010

A classic love story

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Like any love story, boy and girl are passionately in love with each other. Like any classic love story, their parents don’t approve of this.

I’ve seen it happen at least three times and I’ve heard about it about double the number of times and story is always the same. Parents do come around and accept the proposed nuptial after rounds of persuasion, cajoling and threatening — assuming that the couple didn’t choose to go ahead anyway, not at least right away. And Indian couple do attempt to bring families together for marriage because despite choosing to find their partner themselves, they still believe in marriage as relationship between two families. There is a catch, of course. One parent is the most difficult one to please: he is (almost) always father of the groom. Question is, why?

I don’t wonder why parents oppose love based or inter-caste unions. Answer is obvious, even if conservative and prejudiced. I do wonder, however, among four parents, why must it be father of the groom?

We can rule out two women quickly, because, as mothers they usually don't care for social rules over happiness of their wards. They might not like it — in fact, they might feel cheated of their right and dream to choose their daughter- or son-in-law — but they accept anyway. They might need to be persuaded but gentle stream of tears is enough to melt their hearts. They might be angry but that doesn’t stop them from blessing the couple.

Among the two gentlemen, though, debate becomes tougher. Girl’s father has many reasons to be angry. He is going to lose his reputation in the community if he gives away his daughter to another community. There is larger tag of shame on his name as his daughter rescinds his caste and joins another. There is a danger that his way of life may not prevail, that traditions will not be continued and that daughter might change her name and her habits to something despicable in his caste (viz. may cook, or worse, eat meat). Boy’s father, on the other hand, has less reasons to be antagonized. He is gaining a member to his community and symbolically winning over other caste by stealing its woman. His way of life and traditions are guaranteed to prevail. New member of the household may not be conversant with the traditions of his house but can be taught and moulded accordingly. So far, we’ve listed reasons to be affronted and found that girl’s father has more and hence must be more outraged. Why, then, the anomaly?

If we turn around and question who can afford to be angry we obtain different answer. This, clearly, must weigh more for we observe this. If couple elopes, then girl’s family suffers much more social dishonour than boy’s family. This risk defines who can afford to be offended and not who has reasons to be offended.

In all three cases, wedding was organized only by girl’s family and boy’s family boycotted it completely. Couple, after months and years of cajolery, had to give up trying to join two families. Some still hope: some day. Your take?