Nandini Krishnan, on her latest book and what she discovered about arranged marriages in India

Nandini Krishnan’s Hitched: The Modern Indian Woman and Arranged marriage is based on her interviews with over 30 women and ten men. We spoke to the writer and journalist about the people in the book, and what she took away from their stories.

Having spoken to so many people, how did you pick the stories that ended up in the book?

I was already familiar with some, and thought them to be interesting. I also wanted certain profiles – women of different religions, from different parts of India, in different professions, with different stories. So I spoke to women who had migrated to other cities or countries after marriage, singers and dancers and writers who had had arranged marriages, and women who had had both happy and unhappy marriages. And all of them had to be urban, westernised women who’d had the same privileges their brothers did.

Did you find that most of the aversion towards arranged marriage was on account of the usually unpleasant process of ‘groom-hunting’ rather than the desires to choose someone on your own?

There are several reasons for this aversion. One, of course, is the unpleasantness of the spouse-hunt, both for brides and grooms. Everyone meets freaks. Another reason is that many people feel like it’s an admission of defeat, that they simply couldn’t find love. Or that they may be seen as doormats by friends, for listening to the ‘elders’. I think another important reason is that the thrill of falling in love, the rush when you see that person, the mutual awkwardness when you both sense the spark but are shy about admitting it, and finally the moment when it’s out in the open, are all such wonderful experiences. If you’ve had that once, you want it again. And people who have had relationships, which is most people of our generation, find it difficult to say, “Okay, I’ve had my turn and it didn’t work. Let me look at other options.”

You mention people with arranged marriages often like to think of romantic back stories …

We treat arranged marriage like some kind of lottery. When someone absolutely gorgeous and intelligent and talented, man or woman, decides to go in for an arranged marriage, we frown and go, “But why arranged? You can easily find someone, no?” So, there are those who’ll tell you openly that it was a ‘proper arranged marriage’, which began with a newspaper ad. And those who will make up stories and say “Oh, this alliance came in and then I realised we were in the same school, and always had a crush on her/ him, but nothing happened back then...” Maybe it’s a way of fooling themselves a bit or telling the world they’re not ‘old-fashioned’ enough to settle for an arranged marriage. What I’ve said in the book is that some of the people I spoke to told me they were going to make up (or had made up) such stories. That was a very ironically honest admission – they basically told me that they were going to lie to the world. Many of my interviewees are friends, so there was as much truth and transparency as one may reasonably hope for.

Do you think men do the same?

Oh, yeah. And perhaps more of them do that than women, because the reaction to an arranged marriage for a man often is, “Dude, you couldn’t find one girl who would go out with you?!” And for women, it’s like, “Yeah, it’s so hard to find a decent guy who isn’t just looking for sex, someone whom you actually want to live with...” I think women tend to have the upper hand in the arranged marriage market. One of my unmarried male interviewees told me how he planned to come up with some story of this kind if things worked out, but he was quite open with me about how all the women he’d met had been through the arranged marriage circuit.

People choose to get an arranged marriage for many reasons. For some it is parental or social pressure, others believe it is the best way to find a groom…

Very often, it was age. Sometimes, it was the need to be in a familiar milieu. And, in some cases, people felt they didn’t want someone who worked in the same field. Now, whether you’re in the media, or a writer, or an IT professional or an actor, chances are that you’ll only meet people from your field. I won’t say I find any of these reasons ‘convincing’, because I can’t relate to any of them personally. But I do understand why these may be important for some people. And they didn’t have to convince me; they only had to convince themselves.