It's your entire life - not just an event.
Marriage is an important part of life. It's a partnership you form; it's a companion you choose, hopefully for the rest of your life. Someone who helps you and supports you and vice versa. How we look at marriage is important. The way we view it and approach it determines how our life could end up being. Today, I want to largely address youngsters because those who are parents or older are already married and, for better or worse, have already made their choices.
In India we spend so much of our emotions, thoughts, time and money (that which we have, and that which we borrow), on the run up to a marriage. But do we actually 'spend' all this time, effort, money and emotion on the actual marriage? I think not. In fact, we concentrate all these resources not on our marriage but on our wedding day. "Bade dhoom dhaam se shaadi", is probably one of the most common phrases in India. There's so much of emotion, thought, focus, all concentrated on the 'event': 'How will I look on that one day?' 'How will society perceive me and my chosen partner?' 'What will they say about the wedding arrangements, food or clothes?'
Now, this 'they' is our friends, relatives and other people in society whom we are acquainted with, and whom we hope to invite. Most of our energy goes towards making this one day a success. Even the choice of spouse is often linked to the driving need to make the day perfect. Have not all of us heard these statements: 'Meri beti engineer se shaadi karegi', 'My daughter is marrying an NRI'? We imagine that people admire such choices, and their admiration makes us happy. The hard truth is that 'they' are not going to spend the rest of their lives with the groom or the bride.
Sometimes we simply choose the 'khandaani, the family or the aura surrounding the family, and not the individual himself or herself. 'My son is marrying so-and-so's daughter', 'My daughter is marrying so-and-so's son'. We tend to focus not on the groom or the bride but on the label attached on him or her. Now let's examine a few other important aspects of marriage.
Time: After we've spent the bulk of our time worrying about others' perception of us, we spend a lot of time deciding on what to wear. We do intense R&D on honeymoon destinations. We spend a lot of time discussing arrangements, menus, guest lists. All this time is spent on preparing for 'the day'. But how much time do we spend on the most critical decision - selecting the right life partner? Don't we want to know them as human beings and understand their nature and value system? Are we on the same wavelength? Is this the person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life? Instead of taking ample time to make this crucial decision, often, marriages are fixed after just one meeting. 'Chalo baat pakki ho gayi. Muh meetha karo.'
In India, most marriages are arranged. We check on the prospective groom's or bride's family, caste, home, education, income, bank balance, appearance and complexion. But all these things are purely superficial. Why don't we utilise the same time and effort in understanding the human being we are about to spend (hopefully) the rest of our life with?
Should you agree to spend the rest of your life with someone just because he or she carries an attractive label such as IIT or MBBS? Shared interests, like-mindedness, companionship, shared sensibility, sense of humour - shouldn't all this matter? Do you wish we could start spending more time selecting our spouse and less on designing our wedding outfit?
Money: We spend a lot of money on the wedding day. The rich spend beyond measure - each competing with the other in extravagance. The middle class and the working class pour all their earnings and savings into the wedding. If you have money, please, by all means, decide how you want to spend it. But for those who are not wealthy, for whom every rupee earned is precious, for whom a daughter's wedding means pouring everything they have earned or saved into it, marriage means breaking fixed deposits, selling assets and taking loans. Instead of spending all that money on the wedding day, why not give it to the girl to start her new life? Instead of a lavish function, why not have a simple, sharbat wedding? I believe sharbat weddings are a great idea. Call as many people as you desire, serve them a soft drink and thank them for coming and blessing the newly-weds. Have fun. Enjoy the day. Make merry. But with simplicity. Youngsters, tell your parents, "We don't want a big function. Let me use the money for something important that helps my life. Let me use the money to invest in building the foundation for a happy married life."
Emotions: All our emotions are trained on 'that day'. What will happen on that day? What will people think and say? Will the day be memorable? Instead, should we not be thinking of how we will feel for the next 40 years of married life? Let's not barter one day of happiness for a lifetime of unhappiness. Our emotions need to be invested not in that one day, but in a lifetime.
Think about the life ahead, not just that one day. Let's give marriage the importance it deserves in every sense - financial, emotional and mental. Let's give our time, emotions and energies to plan the years that lie ahead. Therefore, the key is the person you have chosen as your life partner. He or she is the only element you should be thinking about. And take your time to make the decision. Understand, probe, check, go deep. The better you do this, the happier life is likely to be. Marry only when you are fully satisfied about the character and temperament of the person you are marrying.
I am totally opposed to dowry. It is not only a retrograde practice but also an illegal one. Think about it - can a relationship, built on the foundation of money and greed, be meaningful or beautiful? Should we not invest in our daughter's education instead of saving up for her dowry? We should make her so accomplished and independent that she is capable of crafting her own future and becoming the master of her own happiness. Then she won't need a greedy, useless groom to complete her life. Let her marry a person who respects her. Let her marry a man who she believes is worthy of her; whom she is happy to spend the rest of her life with.
Aamir Khan's column will appear every Monday
The views expressed by the author are personal