for those of you who are not familiar with these terms, an arranged marriage is a typical indian phenomenon where the marriage is completely arranged by the parents of the bride and the groom (and usually paid for by the parents of the bride). and this also includes finding a bride for your son (who would otherwise not stand a chance of finding a bride on his own) or a groom for your daughter (who has, on last count, driven at least 6 boyfriends up the wall and around the bend!)
and no, i have never come across a same-sex, arranged marriage till date. i mean, there's only so much any parent would do for the apple of their eye!
the entire arranged marriage rigmarole is quite an involved exercise and the rituals and associated customs across different states, communities and sects are far too many, even for wikipedia to capture.
but most arranged marriages begin with the ubiquitous horoscope. if you venture out into 'arranged marriage land' without this piece of indecipherable gibberish, you have as much chance of landing yourself a spouse as a sea-lion has of marrying you because you remind him of his voluptuous neighbour! (no, maybe i wouldn't bet my money on that!)
this is usually followed by a terse, crisply worded matrimonial ad in some leading national daily. each letter costs money. and people in the know are able to decipher the meaning of the ads which usually read like this - "SM for 27/5'9" Handsome Goel boy MBA Rich/ Affluent B'ness F'ly seeks for V'B'ful Edu. Homely N.Manglik Girl BHP Em: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mo:98200 xxxxx".
can't make head or tail of this ad? well, it only goes to show that you have a long way to go before you venture into the business of 'arranged marriages' :-)
most of the 'subjects' in these ads are usually blissfully unaware (thankfully for them!) that their carefree days are dangerously outnumbered and that most of the 'arranged marriage' seekers are perusing their cryptic descriptions, while they are innocently out on a steamy date with their boy/girl friend!
the responses to the ads are carefully and expertly filtered out by the wise ones (usually parents, uncles, aunts, or any remotely connected branch of the family tree). you can't have some cranky pervert trying to slip through this cordon to steal a peek at the 'apple/peach/pumpkin of your eye', can you?
the long-listed candidates are contacted and then the BHPs (bio-data, horoscope, photograph) are exchanged. this is followed by another more careful round of scrutiny and short-listing.
and then follow the 'meetings'. (some of the non-believers rudely term them the 'meetings' before the 'matings'!) this is when the 'boy' and the 'girl' accompanied by at least 3-4 members of the family from either side meet at some coffee-shop/ restaurant/ meeting-place to 'see' each other. this usually means that the family members politely introduce each other and then after some small talk, the 'boy' and the 'girl' move to another table out of ear-shot but still under the watchful eye of the elders. here they try to get to know each other as best as possible over tea/coffee/lime juice. both parties usually have a prepared set of queries which they believe will help them instantly evaluate the opposite party and thereby grant them a blissful marital life.
but its not always as easy as i make it sound here. one of my friends told me about how he 'saw' about a dozen prospective women before he made up his mind on the first lady he had seen. but by then she was already hitched! (my wife usually does the same thing when she is out shopping for clothes! its always the first dress that she goes back to, after she has gone through a few dozen options. and unfortunately for me, unlike the disappearing 'lady in question' in the case of my friend, the dress is usually still waiting for my wife! i am so glad she, my wife and not the afore-mentioned 'lady in question', did not select me through this arranged marriage routine! i wouldn't have stood a chance in hell!)
and finally if you have managed to make it through all these rounds and are still standing, and if the opposite party has also chosen to throw in his/her/its lot with you, the topic of marriage is broached. not by the 'boy' or the 'girl', but by the 'elders'.
the run-up to the actual wedding would be the subject of another post.
but as i mentioned earlier, majority of the weddings in india, even to this day, are arranged marriages. and they seem to work, not just for the earlier generations, but even for our own generation. and i am sure they would work for some time to come.