I was a bit shocked about the proposal of the woman and it made me think. She was an Indian woman but in London. How does a couple marry there? I was not shocked about the idea of arranging a marriage, I was very used to that from India. But how does this all work in London? I thought people in the west choose themselves whom they want to marry after falling in love. Is that how it normally is? Someone proposes in this way and then they marry?
I was in Europe for the second year. I met many people and had already made several connections in London but it was still a fully new world for me. London Indians, white people, comments about Europeans made by Indians, there were a lot of new impressions. One of these impressions was that the Indians in London are very proud of their culture. I had by then visited many people’s homes and with this interest and idea of learning more about them, I experienced many things that made me understand their behavior and way of living better. It is not that long ago, 2002, and I believe not much has changed until today.
This pride, which I have experienced very early and found strong, was of course also prevalent in the matters of relationships and marrying. They were Indian families and in the Indian culture of their parents and forefathers it is normal to arrange the marriages of your children. They live however in London, a city in a western country with a fully different culture where people choose their partners for themselves. I got to know that there is a kind of middle way. These parents may want to stick with their culture but I have experienced that they are also open to adapt to a more modern, western lifestyle.
They do give their children the possibility to have a love marriage and it happens, not only rarely but quite frequently. There is however one criterion that the parents want their children to take care of: find someone of the same caste. If that is absolutely not possible, at least find someone of the Indian community. Don’t marry a westerner, stay within our community, those whom we know, their relatives, people with the same cultural background.
This is how they adjusted to the western world. You are allowed to fall in love, that is fine. You can choose a boyfriend or girlfriend to marry yourself, that is also fine. But it has to be an Indian boy or girl. You have a certain amount of freedom and at the same time some restrictions. Young Indians take the possibility and matches are made in this way. I had thought in the west everything is free but the reality is different. You can choose, but stick to the rules!
If someone is however not able to find someone in this way, parents feel it is their responsibility to get them married and so they start the matchmaking process. They tell some people whom they know that their son searches for a wife for example. These people tell their relatives and friends or already know someone eligible. I have met several families who then went even to India or other countries where the Indian community is big, to find a suitable partner. If they approach a family in Africa for example who is in some distant way related to them and tell them that they would like to marry their son to the daughter of the family, the Indian family in Africa will be happy. Their daughter will live in London, that is everybody’s dream! The wedding can be arranged quickly once a decision is made. One can marry in Africa and then bring the woman back to the UK. It can be vice versa as well. I tell you, everybody is happy with this solution, too.
The point is that this way seems to them even more ‘Indian’. It is more traditional and someone in an arranged marriage in London can be very proud of the fact that they preserved their roots in this way, even if it is difficult to understand for their British co-workers or friends.
For westerners it is easier to understand a love marriage, even if there is the condition that a partner has to be Indian. And many people also find their spouse in this way. Their parents encourage them to go to evens such as my program or bigger religious events to find like-minded people of the same age, interested in religion and of the same culture. It is just like other people who like art go to a museum opening in the hope to maybe meet someone there. Others go to a club to find someone who also likes to dance. This is how I always also had young people in my program and I learned that many hoped to maybe find a match for them there.