The concept of ‘arranged marriages’ remains the most Indian of social constructs, and an issue that always leads to animated discussions with foreigners.
Most of them can’t understand how two people who have met only briefly can take the decision to get married and spend the rest of their lives together, and no amount of explaining that it's little different from ‘setting up’ friends or acquaintances (or that the couples often spend time getting to know each other anyway) seems to convince them. In any case, I often tell sceptics that the immediate and sudden agreements people often think about are actually becoming less and less common (among the urban upwardly mobile, at least).
But at a party with a group of friends last weekend, I had to confront the reality that this isn't always the case, and that the practice is really still something quite unique to Indians—even to modern, urban Indians.
A friend in her early 20s had just come back from a trip to Mumbai after deciding to get married to a young man she had met only a few times through her parents. The girl is an independent young woman—well educated, well-read and working for a well-known multinational company. Yet none of us thought it was strange that she'd taken such a key decision in her life within days of meeting her soon-to-be husband.
As Indians, we’re somehow confident that we can arrange marriages that work based on a leap of faith and brief encounters. In fact, rather than offering cynical or shocked reactions, many of us used her example as a positive way of encouraging another friend to give in to his parents' wish that he meet some girls they think might be suitable for marriage.
This particular friend has so far been resolutely against ‘arranged marriages’, saying it's just these sorts of studied efforts that he can't understand. But I have a feeling he's beginning to come around. And I’m not surprised—after all, in India, we often seem to have a gift for arranging perfect matches.