In Defense of Tradition
In Bengali Society, it is common knowledge that a single person must be in want of a spouse, and thus the underlying purpose of any gathering is arranging marriages. Evoking scenes from a Jane Austen novel they congregate: young girls clad in vibrant saris and adorned with sparkling jewelry; venerable matriarchs dressed in the billowing white robes of widows, peering through large glass spectacles. They resemble exotic insects, hovering amidst the spice-laden air, buzzing with gossip and sensational stories, eyes gleaming with mischievous fire. In this swarming and perilous social jungle, I navigate furtively in my eighteen feet of silk, undetected until—
“Yasmin! Now what sort of boy shall we find for you?”
I hesitate, startled by my grandmother and other enthusiastic relations, before casually dismissing the question with a charming smile and a merry jingle from my bangles. Teasing and smiling broadly, she tries again to ensnare me: “Would you like the tall computer programmer in Texas? Or the handsome medical student in California? Come and sit down…”
Whenever I relate these episodes to my friends, they grimace and mutter condemnations, simultaneously shaking their heads. They denounce arranged marriages as bizarre and backward and fear that despite my American upbringing, I will be forced to sacrifice my feminist ideals and intellectual aspirations, compelled to don a burka, and essentially sold into slavery.
But to be honest, I relish this melodrama. How, they implore incredulously, can I not be disgusted? How can I not be outraged? Despite their suspicions and disbelief, I happen to have formed a friendly truce with my culture.
Matchmaking is a custom that I have grown up with. When I was younger, I found myself frustrated by my mother’s ultimatums of “medical school or marriage,” and annoyance bred contempt for tradition. I agreed with external attitudes, criticizing the practice as contrary to freedom, love, and common sense.
But as I matured, I developed an independent sense of moral judgment. I saw couples laughing cheerfully, happily married, and I realized that these arrangements, while practical, were also mutual, affectionate relationships, just as successful as those in the Western world. I do cherish the excitement and anxiety inherent in choosing my own match, and am thus unlikely to have my own marriage arranged, but I now respect and truly value the custom as a whole, and can laugh at my mother’s facetious threats. Having tamed this terrifying jungle, I now view it as distinctive and colorful.
So now, I sit by my grandmother, sifting through piles of pictures and information about prospective brides and grooms, watching her receive requests and through her vast social network, finding candidates. Some are old, others young; some are breath-taking “fairies without wings,” others plain but abounding in other qualities; some are brilliant, others happily simple. All are bright, eager, and hopeful. Somehow she always manages to complete the puzzle, weaving relationships wisely and elegantly. In the process, more people are brought together than just the engaged; matchmaking forms bonds that strengthen familie and friendships, fostering the connection of communities, creating love with love.
Now, I ask, how could I deem this despicable?