Speed dating meets arranged marriage
December 28, 2008
When Guneet Kaur goes to India every winter, her shopping list runs into a half-dozen pages and takes up a major chunk of her holiday – shoes and clothes for herself, leather bags and pashminas for friends, and souvenirs for co-workers.
But when Kaur left Toronto for New Delhi on Friday, there was only one item on her list – a husband.
Kaur, 25, will spend most of her time meeting young men introduced to her by relatives and friends. She will meet them at parties, weddings and the homes of friends. She has already seen photographs of some and chatted by email with others.
Her parents, who are flying with her, hope that she will like someone enough to marry him.
"My parents want me to get married and if I meet someone I like, I'll think about it," said Kaur, who works at a bank in North York. Ideally, they want her to get married before she returns to Toronto by the end of January. Her mother is prepared – she's already planning her daughter's wedding clothes and jewellery. "She's even warned at her workplace that she might extend her leave," said Kaur.
Many young South Asians travel to India at this time of year to look for brides and grooms, giving a new twist to the age-old concept of an arranged marriage. They meet people, have courtships and get married – all in a matter of weeks.
Speed dating meets arranged marriage?
Kaur, who was 5 when her parents immigrated, would have dismissed it as an outrageous idea a year ago. Then her cousin, a teacher in Brampton, was introduced to an accountant at a wedding in Dehradun in northern India last winter. The two clicked instantly and were married in weeks. He joined her in Toronto in July.
"It worked well for them," said Kaur, who is excited and nervous about her trip. She knows it can be awkward. "I don't know how it'll go, but I hope I meet someone nice."
Winters are considered a good time to travel to India because the weather is cool and the wedding season is in full swing. Indian weddings, mostly week-long affairs, are the perfect place for single young adults to mingle.
Young people who have grown up here try this wholly South Asian concept after they have dated unsuccessfully.
"They get disillusioned and decide they might as well try this route," said Amita Handa, a student equity adviser with the Toronto District School Board. She also wrote Of Silk Saris and Mini Skirts, a book that explores cultural conflict among second-generation South Asians.
"They also know dating doesn't really guarantee successful marriages. Look at the divorce rates in the U.S.," said Handa.
South of the border, the divorce rate is almost 54 per cent and it is 37 per cent in Canada. In India, a traditional society where divorce is frowned on, it is 1.1 per cent.
But that is not the only reason why some South Asian men, even second-generation immigrants, prefer to get married to girls in India. Some believe girls in India are more traditional while women born or brought up in Canada are too Westernized. "There are some men who date for fun but when it comes to getting married, they want a traditional bride and a virgin, and all that," said Handa.
On the flip side, some women believe if they marry men in India and bring them to Canada, they have the upper hand in the relationship. Also, if the man relocates, women do not have to deal with in-laws and an extended family.
But Handa warns there are still adjustments to be made. "Women who come to Canada leave their parents, community and circle of friends," she said. They need support or it strains the relationship.
Shailav Mehta, 30, says he never let that be a problem when his wife joined him in Toronto. "It's a big change but there is the question of adjustment in a new family, too," said Mehta, business development manager for BSA Diagnostic Clinic in Scarborough.
He took some time off when Rachana, his wife, arrived in Toronto earlier this year. "I knew she'd be homesick, so I decided to spend time with her."
Mehta first met Rachana, 25, when he went to Baroda in western India in March 2007 to meet girls his mother wanted him to see.
"It wasn't because I was looking for a traditional woman," said Mehta. "I didn't meet anyone I wanted to get married to."
But he was smitten with Rachana the first time he saw her. She was smart, funny, attractive and from a good family, he said. They met a couple of times in the next few days and were soon engaged. He flew back to Toronto and went to India to get married in January this year.
"I totally believe in the concept of arranged marriages," said Mehta. "That's the way I have been brought up. I think it's important that elders are also involved. After all, two families get married."
But misconceptions about arranged marriages annoy him. The common perception is that parents arbitrarily choose brides or grooms for their children, giving them no choice. In reality, parents introduce young people to each other and couples get married after a period of courtship. The two can say no, too.
Westerners confuse modern arranged marriages with forced marriages, which occurred decades ago and may still happen in tiny segments of Asian societies. Arranged marriages where couples see each other only on the wedding day are increasingly rare.
Mehta, meanwhile, would have liked to have fallen in love and then gotten married. "But somehow, I fell in love after I got married. It's worked for me."