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Much ado before ‘I do’

For starry-eyed couples, weddings are no longer about trousseaux and lavish bashes; they're also about practical aspects like compatibility, finances and HIV tests. Mini Pant Zachariah & Riddhi Shah report.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2008 00:40 IST

Adam and Eve took their chances. So did our grandparents and perhaps, parents. But Gen Y would rather not. With more marriages ending up in divorce and urban stress taking its toll on couples, they are trying to leave little to chance before they take that all-important plunge.

So, long before talk of the trousseau and the jewellery, the caterers and the guest-lists, there are some reality checks that young couples are increasingly insisting on. Like meeting a pre-wedding counselor to iron out any incipient or dormant problems. Figuring out their compatibility levels. Checking out their chances of having healthy offspring. Getting an HIV test done. Or sitting down for an honest talk about their finances, single and joint. Starry-eyed the couples may be when it comes to romance, but not when they deal with the more mundane nitty-gritty of married life.

The Catholic church, which once offered pre-marital counselling as an option, has now made it compulsory for couples who want a church wedding to undergo a certificate course in counselling. In 'Engage Encounter', as the programme is called, a senior couple and a newly married one meet in the presence of a priest who plays facilitator, to discuss the many issues that could crop up in a marriage.

Sue Ann Fernandes and Zeno D'souza who are to marry in December, did their weekend course six months ago. Says Fernandes, “There were so many questionnaires one had to fill up that one was forced to think of many issues like relationship with in-laws and finances that one would not otherwise before marriage. For instance, if buying a house is a priority for one, the other may want to spend money on holidays.”

Interestingly, she says, the girls wrote volumes on every issue but the boys were pretty much to the point. “I realised then that men don't brood over such issues as much as women do,” she says. An insight that would definitely help a new bride.

Sabrina and Jason Rebello, who will soon celebrate their first wedding anniversary, reveal that Engage Encounter certainly helped them. “It is the things that you pick up - like marriage is not all about love but also about responsibilities and how to create a win-win situation for both the partners.” She elaborates: “One couple told us that even if you are very upset with your spouse, do not show your anger in public. Sort out your differences behind the four walls of your bedroom.”

The format of the course was interesting, too, with plenty of Bollywood reel-life clips thrown in to illustrate a point.

For instance, where did Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan go wrong in their relationship in Salaam Namaste? Or, was Shah Rukh Khan justified in throwing a tantrum in Chalte Chalte? Such interludes loosen up even the most reluctant participants, she says. No wonder she has been recommending it to all her friends going to be marrying soon.

The Dawoodi Bohra community has a sensible way of helping the bride-to-be get used to the house she is scheduled to live
in. The Bohris often have long engagement periods, sometimes as long as three years or more. In this interim, the girl is
invited to stay with the boy's family in short spells to get to know the family, its customs and dynamics. If anything is not to the girl's or boy’s liking, the engagement can even be called off. “It is better before, than after the wedding,” explains Aslam Shahpurwala, a Bohri who's been married for seven years now.

Says counselor and psychotherapist Bharati Chawathe, “Couples are more practical now and have more realistic expectations.
They are taking precautions before as well and girls are asking boyfriends for HIV tests.”

Dr Rajan Bhosle and his wife Minnu, who have been running a pre-marital counselling course for the last decade, say the demand for their course is so high that they often have a two- to three-week waiting list. “Everything from medical tests to discussions about finances, religion and lifestyle choices are covered. These are often issues that one tends to overlook during courtship and that can assume unmanageable proportions post-marriage,” says Dr Bhosle.

Not all couples seek professional help, though. Some, like Radha Parekh and Debashish Mehta have relied on some straight talk to build a relationship of mutual trust. When they marry on November 30, it will be an arranged marriage with a difference. Their Gujarati parents arranged their match but the couple has taken over the responsibility of all the wedding arrangements.

Parekh, an only child, told Mehta unequivocally that she did not wish her parents to pay for her wedding. “Fortunately, Debashish did not want his USA-based parents to spend lavishly on his wedding either. So we decided to finance our own wedding,” she says.

It meant meticulous planning and monthly savings from their salaries. “We've worked out that in one year, we would have made up the money we plan to spend on our wedding,” says Parekh, a media professional, adding mischievously, “It's one of the advantages of marrying a banker”

For Amit Malvankar, 27, who marries his girlfriend Megha Sood, next month, paying for his own wedding was a given. “We come from a services background and don't have pots of money to spend on things like this. So both Megha and I have been saving for the big day,” he says.

Besides, he adds, “Our generation earns good money now, often better than what their parents did. So they should pay for their own weddings.” Sood has diligently set aside money from her salary every month to finance her trousseau, while Amit has taken charge of furnishing the home.

One advantage of financing one's own wedding, says the couple, is that one has a bigger say in deciding the kind of wedding one wants. “The wedding cards have been decided entirely by me and Amit. Our parents will get to see them only when they are printed,” laughs Sood.

The young and the responsible are taking charge of their lives in more ways than one.