Marriage is the ultimate institution as per the diktats of our society. Specific to our own country, we have another unique but nuanced aspect that plays a key role – arranged marriages. The arranged marriage market can be brutal, especially for women. We all know the kind of standards that have been set for the ideal woman/wife. Not only should the bride know how to cook and sew, she should also know how to sing and dance like an angel (but not professionally or publicly, mind you!).
As if that’s not enough, she should preferably not work. Even if she does, she should earn less than her husband to be. If she earns more than him, she should not show it and definitely have no ego whatsoever. Her family should be well to do – to give her lots of jewellery, car, furniture and cash (shhh…. it is not dowry, it is love). But the most important item on the list, she should look like an angel – just the right weight, a beautiful face, figure like a supermodel (which, by the way, she would not be allowed to flaunt at all), long and thick hair, and the works. It really does not matter if the bridegroom does not earn enough or scores miserably in the looks and personality department.
At this point, I am sure my friends from ‘Mars’ will protest. It has been quite a common complaint (in social media) these days that women have become very mercenary and accept only men who earn well. Well, referring to my thoughts above, is there any further need for the debate?
This is one of the reasons why I absolutely enjoyed Encounters of a Fat Bride, authored by Samah. The book not only highlights the above issue, but provides a wonderfully balanced perspective on both sides of the coin.
The story revolves around the protagonist, Madhurima, who at 25 years and 93 kilos, may have been of an ideal age for marriage, but certainly not the ideal weight for it. It highlights the trials and tribulations of a girl in an Indian arranged marriage market, which focuses on her getting accepted, rather than her accepting. It focuses on the boys falling in love with her, at least liking her enough to marry her, while her expectations of love are discarded as a pipe dream and love itself is declared as overrated by the older and the wiser.
Being an obedient and docile daughter and granddaughter, she agrees to and accepts the plans of her elders.
Then, as fate would have it, Harsh comes along with his parents to ‘see’ her. While he is nowhere near what her dream guy is supposed to be like, Madhurima is not averse to him, so she says yes and agrees to the wedding. To her surprise, after some drunken drama from her side, he agrees to marry her too.
Harsh’s parents, behind Madhurima’s back, demand a big fat dowry along with the proverbial red car. Her parents and grandmother, scared that no one else will accept her, agree to the demands. Madhurima, unaware of this, is torn between happiness and her expectations from Harsh. On the one hand, she is finally getting married! And she can’t help but be excited about it. But on the other hand, Harsh does not seem very friendly.
When his family takes her on a weekend trip for a wedding, Harsh does not say a word to her the entire time. At some point during the trip, the conversation leads to the new car the family is buying on the occasion of their wedding. Harsh, for the first time, becomes all animated and starts talking nineteen to the dozen about the car and its mechanics. It irks Madhurima, but she decides to let it go, attributing the whole thing to his shyness.
After coming back from the trip, Madhurima accidentally finds out about the car HER parents had ordered for Harsh and the entire dowry deal. She puts her foot down to cancel the wedding. It takes a lot of courage for anyone to go against popular opinion (especially one by family), but this portion of the story reminds us all that there are a lot of girls who do it, and we can do it too.
The engagement ends, and she is able to buy some time from her parents to focus on her education and career. But one day, she happens to see Harsh entering a building. Curiosity gets the better of her, and she follows him to check where he is going. The trail leads her to a psychiatrist’s office, where eventually she finds out that Harsh has an anxiety disorder, called Selective Mutism, which makes him socially awkward around women.
To know this much, she pesters Dr. Marwah, the psychiatrist, a lot; in fact, she even becomes his patient to know more about Harsh. During their conversations, she realizes that she has been struggling with low self-esteem herself and the visits to the doctor helps her immensely.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Dr. Marwah beautifully highlights that mental health and how it is handled depends a lot upon the circumstances and surroundings of a person, and how parenting becomes a key factor in maintaining one’s psychological health. He goes on to highlight how stereotypes affect men and women alike. Stereotypes are not necessarily restricted to physical characteristics, but personality types as well. For example, who decided that it is the men who should initiate romance in a relationship? Why can a woman not initiate it if the man is the shy one?
In the doctor’s words, “Stereotyping people is human nature. And that’s not even the problem here. The problem is to be able to acknowledge the exceptions to the rules. It’s important to validate them, to make them feel equal. Most women might be thin, but the fat ones are also women. Most men might be macho and romantic and confident but the shy ones are also men.”
All in all, I had picked up this particular book on a whim, but turned out to be quite a pleasant read. The language, the flair of writing, and the plot line are all very simple, yet deep.
Coming back to my initial point, while I still stand by my views, I do think we should be more tolerant and generous towards each other, whatever the gender or other station in life. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It does not matter who does what, as long as it all gets done amicably. As they say, beauty is only skin deep. What lies within is what takes us far. In the end, it does not matter if we do not match the impossible beauty standards the society has set for all of us.
As clichéd as it may sound, a good person is worth more than a thousand good looking people together!
*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*