Join us as I blog the crap out of starting a new life abroad.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Warning, this is epic, but I really wanted to write about this...
I was in Airbus training all last week, and my computer partner was an Indian guy named Lakshi. For the first 2 days, we didnt say much to eachother...I learned he was from a town in Southern India called Salem, near Bangalore, he had been in Germany for 3 years, and is getting married in January. I asked him of some good Indian restaurants in Hamburg, and of his one year spent in Toulouse, France. He had nothing good to say of either. And my deutsch skills are better after 8 months than his 3 years...so I gathered from his information that he is here to make as much money as possible. In my American curiosity and small talk leanings (bordering obnoxiousness, I hope not!) I asked him what he was doing with all of his money. His mom had been an IT teacher in India for 30 years and he is helping her start and run a college in Salem. Starting a college seems weird to us, but I guess there are many people needing IT and engineering education in that area, so it is monetarily worth all the beuracracy to get it going. He said they had 400 students already. This guy is 27. One morning he asked me "What is the proper response to the greeting 'Whats Up?' ? I googled it and could only find 'Nothing Much'....is that right?" I tried to answer that one without laughing too much. I asked him about his fiancee, and the real story began. First he wouldnt tell me about how he met this girl--I wasnt sure if he thought that I thought that the Indian way of relationships was ridiculous, or if he was embarrased because of the way he met her. Either way, he delayed, and after I asked him again, we found a block of time at lunch for him to tell his tale.
I have known many Indian people in my life, and was fairly versed in their ways...the culture, the food, the arranged marriages, and all that. But Lakshi's story and his life took me off guard. The best part was how willing he was to tell me all of this and open up to me. I get the feeling that he doesnt talk about it very much, and was willing to spill all the details to a westerner who doesnt care about all the things that an Indian would judge him by.
Southern India is a traditional place, and this guy plays by all of the rules. People get married between 24 and 28. Any older and you are too old to marry. There are some days every month that are considered auspicious dates (for mainly astrological reasons), and are to be avoided for a wedding day. There must be a calender somewhere of auspicious days. If you were born on a certain day, you were considered a "Manglik" and it would be wise for you to find a mate that is also a Mankglik, as a single Manglik marriage is not balanced.
Lakshi met his future wife on the internet. He was embarrased of this, but stated right away that it is becoming more popular to do it this way. Traditional methods include parents finding you a family friend to marry, or hiring an agency to find you a match. There are many websites catered to Indians looking for a match. The one he used is this one. You should check it out. Search criteria is crazy to me....along with the standards (age, sex, marital status) is Caste/Division, sub-caste, family values, astrological information, education, annual income, body type, complexion and manglik status. All modern internet drop down menus and tick boxes. Please read some of the descriptions. Many of them plain.."need a good natured man" etc etc, many of them written by parents "she is smart, intelligent, and excels at everything she does", and most simple..."I need a man who is caring and loyal."
Onto Lakshi's story...he went on the website in March, to start looking for a girl...it sounded like his family had been hoping for some action, since he was getting older now. After putting in all of his criteria and wants, the list of available girls shrank from thousands to around 40. Out of these 40, he discussed each and every one with his mother, his father, and his brother. Together, they all agreed on one, and he emailed her. It is custom to not respond within a day or two, but Lakshi had no reply from the girl after 1 week. He later found out that the girl he emailed had only the day before put her profile on the site, and had been propositioned 23 times. He emailed her again after the week, saying things like "I would appreciate it if you would not post your profile if you are not serious about getting married," stuff like that. I guess she liked his agressivness and go getting-ness, so she emailed him back, and they began corresponding. The girls mom did not like this one bit, since they did not want their only daughter moving to Germany. So the emails stopped, but only to begin a few days later. Lakshi was relieved...this is the girl he wanted! The emailed and chatted online for 1 month...slowly falling in love with eachother. Again, after 1 month, the emails and chats stopped. The girl was going behind the back of her mother this whole time! Like a Bollywood movie. Around this time, one of Lakshi's friends in India told him that people were asking about him, asking all his friends if he was a good person, if his character was that of an upstanding citizen. The girls brother had asked frineds, who asked frineds, who finally asked Lakshi's frineds. All of the reports were good (one bad remark and it would have been over), so the brother went to the mom to tell her of his findings. The mom was still appprehensive of sending her daughter to Germany, but agreed to meet Lakshi's parents before she gave her approval. So the parents got together, and got on very well together. Its all about an alliance...the whole family is getting married, basically. Now the mother let her talk freely to Lakshi. They continued to chat for another month, before Lakshi went over to India to meet her in person.
Soon after flying back home, he gathered with his family and headed to a local temple. It is tradition to first meet the girl you will marry in a temple. The families gathered and the two finally set eyes on eachother. Giggles and blushing and awkwardness were displayed. They do not touch eachother....just say hi amongst the family and go to dinner with everyone. Lakshi was in town for only one week, and during this time, was alone with the girl for only one date...they saw a movie and walked around a mall. The other days, they were together, but with family all around. One time Lakshi was showing his girl some pictures on the computer and he brushed up against her accidentally. Her mother saw this and chewed the girl out. I guess on their date, they actually held hands! Thats like 3rd base for us.
So he is back in Germany now, awaiting another visit to India in September, whiuch will be an engagement ceremony. There are lots and lots of celebrations in India, and the engagment party is almost as big as the wedding itself, which will only have 500 people in it. This is the most important date in all of theri lives. The divorce rate is basically zero in India, it just doesnt happen. All families involved are shamed, bride or grooms fathers could lose jobs because of it, and it is virtually impossible to re-marry. I asked if people tried to hide it if they got divorced, but he said there are detective agencies setup to find out about this, if you are suspicious. Lakshi told me of his fiancees friends who was going out with someone that the parents did not approve of--wrong caste, wrong religion, whatever...it doenst matter if they are nice people or not. Of course that helps, but it is a marriage of like people. Anyway, the dad of this girl told her he would kill himself if she did not break up with this lover. Of course, he probobly would not really do it, but to shame your father is the worst thing you can do. These girls are coddled and raised to be a respectable wife, to have a perfect wedding, they are smothered all their lives for this day. It is for the parents more than the kids.
So we started talking about our systems of marriage..him not touching his future wife before a wedding, 8 months after meeting her online, versus our 5 years of going out, having sex, living with eachother before getting married. Ours is as strange to him as his is to me. He thinks the US lacks respect for marriage, and he has a point. But to have the family pressure and the expectations piled on to provide and to not dissapoint would be too much for my western ness. Family is so much more important to them than it is for us..we are raised to be independent and free and to do what we want. Lakshi learned to swim last year and never played sports..he was raised to be an IT guy since he was 10 years old. From my eyes, the Indian cultuer is assembly linig people, same as their exported goods. Of course, he is not sad about it or anything, this is how life is for him. It is natural. He wants nothing more than to live back in India and start a family. Living in Germany and France is just for the money. I am just as freekish. "Are there not any jobs in the USA?" why else would anyone come over here, but for work, and to make money. He is very surprised when I told him I quit my well paying job and brought my whole family over here, basically so that we could travel, not really caring about work too much. This is crazy talk to him.
I am super stoked that I met this guy...I hope I blew his mind as much as he did mine, but I doubt it, since he is so very happy in his ways that he has blocked out all other new thoughts to creep in. I must admit some enviousness to know that your life is planned out, to know what is next year, and the year after...that would provide a large level of comfort. He would be dishonoring his parents and his culture if he stepped out of line, however, and that is one trait for why I am very thankful to be a Westerner..I can basically do whatever I want... I just have to stay concious of the fact that we are also in a glass prison, except ours is constructed of slightly larger glass panes.