Crazy Rich Asians is a 2018 movie about Rachel, a professor in a university, who meets and dates Nick in New York. She looks forward to meeting his family in Singapore. It’s there she discovers that he is from a very wealthy Singaporean family. This shakes her up. Nick’s mother does not think that Rachel, from a lower class and questionable background, will be a suitable fit into Nick’s life. She tries to dissuade Rachel from proceeding with this relationship, making her aware that the family would prefer to arrange a suitable match for Nick. This romantic comedy is, of course, a twist on the typical tug-of-war that most Asian cultures have between love and arranged marriage.
Mr & Mrs
Most Indians are under the impression that there is a massive shift in the way that marriages happen in India. But data, from as recent as a couple of years ago, suggest otherwise. In the Lok Foundation-Oxford University survey it was found that 90% of those in the 20– and 30– year age window had arranged marriages. On the other hand, among those who would be their grandparents (70–90 years old) 94% had arranged marriages. In other words, there is hardly a difference in the percentage of those who entered into an arranged marriage in the last 3–4 generations.
Of course, there is a further twist to the data—Christians and Muslims are more likely to have love marriages than those from other religious backgrounds. Thus, it is not surprising to see that states with relatively higher non-Hindu percentages like Kerala, Goa, Assam and the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir have the highest percentages of love marriages.
Elizabeth Flock, who worked more than a decade ago in Mumbai as a journalist with the Forbes magazine, was fascinated with the marriages that she encountered in the city. She could see a kind of love that seemed to be straight out of romantic Hindi movies. Around a decade later, she decided to come and meet those young couples she had befriended during her stint in Mumbai to write a story of the city through the lens of marriage. She was surprised by what had happened—most of the marriages she had known had drastically changed.
She writes in her book Love and Marriage in Mumbai: “When I landed in Mumbai in 2014, the city, save for its skyline—which had more malls and high-rises—looked much the same. The people I knew did not. Their marriages did not…They were calling old lovers. They were contemplating affairs and divorce. And the desperate attempts they were making to save their marriages, by having children, in at least one instance, were efforts I recognised from my own family.” She observed the tension of middle-class couples who were struggling to find a balance between their personal desires in a transformed society and existing social traditions.
Maria Thomas, in an interview with Elizabeth Flock in Quartz magazine, makes a statement that bears reflection, ‘In India, popular representations of love and marriage mostly tend to stop at the point where the couple gets together, especially in Bollywood. Your book begins where these representations end and it’s not always pretty.’ To this Elizabeth Flock responds, “What happens after marriage is really difficult, and no one wants to read about people falling out of love. Many of us still believe in this institution and hope it works out. We often don’t talk about what is happening in marriage after marriage, not just in our representations but (even) among our friends.”
Many in the Y & Z generations have really given up on the dream of having a marriage that will endure, and also be a place of lasting happiness. As it is, marriages are collapsing, not only in the western world, but here in India. The veneer of togetherness is cracking up with the decrease in societal pressure to keep up appearances; and the increase in personal and social honesty and transparency. It is not like earlier marriages were working out well, but just that the very-dominating-husband-and-submissive-wife model kept public appearances in line (and still does to some extent). But the urban young lady who now is well educated, has an independent source of income, and carries a liberated outlook on life, is no longer dependent on her husband, at least financially. At the same time, men are not willing to recognise this new reality and are hoping to hold on to the dominating-husband model. These are leading to tensions—for arranged marriages as well as for love marriages.
The Marriage Ideal
Flock is right when she says that, ‘What happens after marriage is difficult’. Consider that two people from entirely two different homes, with different cultures (even if they are from the same region and ethnicity), with different outlooks on life, with different values, hopes and aspirations, get together in marriage. The title of a book by Tim LaHaye captures this well, I Love You, But Why Are We So Different. Add to this the reality that, in this era, neither is willing to give up anything (or at most, a very few insignificant, inconsequential bits). This seems to be the perfect mix for disaster.
So, there is the need for a good deal of understanding, patience, grace, forgiveness and other-centredness to be added to the above combustible mix. But, alas! We can only be virtuous to a limited degree in our own strength before we become weary and give up. This is especially true for those who have some desire to live as disciples of Jesus but are not living in complete surrender. The tug of the desire for godliness in relationships, not being met in the reality of life, can lead to despair.
This is where the true gospel comes into the picture. Christ is the only one who lived, died and rose again from the dead wholly for the other. When each of us abide in Christ, His other-centredness will flow in and through us. A Christ-life lived out by each spouse will bring the fragrances of heaven on earth. Godly virtues will outdo all the challenges. We then no longer need to echo Flock’s observation on difficulty in marriage—but we’ll be delighted by the joys of marriage. So, let’s drop the debate about arranged or love marriage but move on to choose between Christ-centred or Self-centred marriage!
Cliff Richard wrote ‘You and me and Jesus’ many decades ago. Oh, that we would enter into relationships with our eyes wide open to this truth.
Love is really fragile
And if it’s going to last
We’ve got to start by giving Jesus
Future, present, past
I ache the way I love you
But, babe, it’s sink or swim
And when we look back years from now
We’re gonna owe it all to Him
And the refrain of this song is lucid & clear:You and me and Jesus
Jesus, me and you;
On our own we’d break
With Him we’ll make it through
Jesus, take us, make us
What you want us both to be;
I give myself to her
She gives herself to me.