The ‘not a love marriage’ in southern India


Indian Wedding

The naked insides of my camera lay on the desk between us. Babu shook his head regretfully, ‘There is nothing to be done Madam.’ He hesitated, ‘However I can offer you something in the way of conciliation.’ He opened his desk drawer and took out an envelope, turning it thoughtfully in his hands before passing it to me. I pulled out a square of cream coloured card with two long Indian names written above each other in pink calligraphy. ‘Wedding is tonight, friend’s daughter will marry rich man,’ he paused, ‘It is not love marriage – wedding day will be their third meeting.’ I asked how many people married for love in India and he sat up proudly, ‘Not so many madam, maybe five percent. I am one, I choose my wife from love. You English peoples are knowing about this.’ He gave me a conspiratorial wink.

He invited me to join him in celebrating this ‘not love marriage’ and instructed me to arrive at his camera shop two hours before the wedding reception so that I could be ‘prepared in Indian style.’ I was starting to feel like a Christmas turkey being trust up for the oven. I shyly asked if I could bring my friend Seb with whom I was travelling. I was told, ‘More people, more fun.’

At 6pm that evening Seb and I gingerly entered Babu’s shop to find it seemingly deserted. We called for our new friend and he emerged from a back room where he said he had been preparing our clothes. There was a splendid red and gold sari lying on the chair, a cream blazer hanging on a clothes rail and a timid girl holding a box of jewellry. ‘This is Anushi, she will help preparations,’ Babu told us. An hour and a half later we were ready. Anushi had combed my knotted hair with gritted teeth, thrust a multitude of gold bangles onto each of my arms and painted my finger and toe nails red. Babu was summoned to admire us. He seemed pleased, and we three posed together for a photo before climbing into a rickshaw taxi and heading to the wedding celebrations.

Outside the town hall a row of topless men banged drums. Inside an anxious bride stood beside her wide eyed husband on a stage. Their faces wore tired smiles as colourful wedding guests queued up to congratulate and bless them. Babu grabbed our wrists and made a beeline for the father of the bride. ‘This my great friend’ he said, fondly patting the father’s bulging belly. ‘And these: My new friends from England.’ We shook hands and were whisked to the front to meet the bride and groom. Heads all around turned to look at us. Babu led us past the queue and directly onto the stage. We congratulated the nervous newlyweds who continued to smile self-consciously. Families of the bride and groom were invited to the stage to pose for photos with us and their son and daughter. Completely undeservedly we appeared to be the guests of honour. As the camera flashed for the fifth time and I felt the stiff, awkward arm of the bride around me I recognized another unearned privilege: I had been born into a situation which granted me the freedom to choose who to marry. Appreciating that this was not the case for the girl beside me, nor for fifty-five percent of the world’s men and women, all at once I realised how lucky I was.


  1. Great article Liv!. But I think you get the part about “lack of the freedom to marry whom you love” a little wrong. Babu has actually been married to someone he was in love with. Many men and women in India have arranged marriages, but not always through coersion or force. Its just a socially and traditional acceptable process to facilitate marriage. Yes, in a lot of cases men, and more so women, are forced to get married, and in that case their marriage is “arranged”. But in many cases, individuals who want to get married but have not found a partner that they love actually ask their parents to “get them married” or have an arranged marriage. In many cases, men and women “select” who their partner will be even in the case of an arranged marriage. In fact, its a long drawn and rather stressful time for families to get their children married, in most cases because kids, after a certain age, just want to get married! Many young people in India actually think that marriage is a great thing, theres a “healthy” age by which one should get married, its not always possible to find someone you love by this age, or at lets just have an arranged marriage and get what you want. I’m not sure what the situation was in the case of the marriage you attended, but I think its important to understand that arranged marriages in themselves aren’t always forced. Though forced marriages, by definition, would be arranged.

    • Yes I know- you’re right Mo! I didn’t mean to imply that 90% of Indians are cruelly forced into a marriage that they do not want. I understand that the system is just so different that usually the family select the partner, and often the future bride or groom is fine with this. Being such a romantic however, it just made me realise how lucky I feel to have the chance to chose someone without the interference or preference of my family but solely on this basis of love!

      • The family, ‘solely on this basis of love’ usually finds dozens of suitable people, not always even from their own caste but often from their own class. Ultimately the two decide. Most westerners do not marry solely for love but do give plenty of consideration to the person’s appearance, education, family, profession, race…. re tribals and the matriarchal south, usually the women/girls decide…. Originally swaymawar was popular in the western states. So many variations!


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