It could never happen in India

Click to follow

I went down to Cornwall on Monday, to Fowey, to appear at the Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival, which is one of the nicest (and best organised) festivals I have been to, but it is not that about which I wish to speak, nor even the rather risqué story the Bishop of Truro told during the session on after-dinner speaking, but about someone I met on the train going there.

I went down to Cornwall on Monday, to Fowey, to appear at the Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival, which is one of the nicest (and best organised) festivals I have been to, but it is not that about which I wish to speak, nor even the rather risqué story the Bishop of Truro told during the session on after-dinner speaking, but about someone I met on the train going there.

I joined the train at Bath, and found a seat next to a middle-aged man who looked Indian. He was snoring slightly. He woke up briefly at Bristol, and I asked him how far he was going so that I could wake him up if we came to his station, and he said he was going to Truro and went back to sleep again.

Well, Truro is a long way past Par, where I was getting off, so I got back to my newspaper and had finished it by the time he woke up. I find talking to people on trains is never a waste of time, so we chatted about Gujarat, where he came from, and Baroda, the town where he works, and his Parsee boss, and his vegetarian lifestyle, and Boston, Massachusetts, where his son is studying, and the Indian elections, and somehow we got talking about arranged marriages.

"I know you in the West are shocked by arranged marriages," he said," but don't forget that they do work. And don't forget that we are shocked by your Western customs."

"You mean, like falling in love?"

"No, no," he said. "We also have marriages based on falling in love. Not many. About 5 per cent. But if you marry because you are in love, and not because your family wants you to, then you are on your own. I mean, when you have an arranged marriage, and you have a problem, that problem is one for all the family to help with, but if you have married romantically, you have to rely on yourselves and have nobody to fall back on. Love is very lonely in India.

"Also, it means we don't have to date people."

"I'm sorry?"

"If you are a young person, and you are not hunting for a marriage partner, you don't have to go through the whole dating process."

That sounded a bit American-oriented to me. But what he said next made sense.

"The last time I was in Britain," he said, "I brought my wife with me. When I introduced myself to people, they would always say: 'And is this your wife?' Well, of course, it is my wife! In India, you never ask that question. You always assume that it is the wife. Even if it is not, you assume it is. And the other question they ask me here, when they know I have a wife and children, is: 'And are you still married?' That question I have never heard in India! It would not mean anything in India!"

Which, of course, is because they have no divorce. You marry. You stay married. So when I told him my life story (two marriages, two sets of children), he shook his head and said it must be very complicated. I said it had worked out very well, and he smiled his crinkled smile, which meant, each to their own.

And then, just before Exeter, when I was coming back from the buffet, I bumped into an old friend, a travel writer I last encountered at the Havana Jazz Festival in Cuba maybe 12 years ago. She was getting off at Exeter, so there was just time for hugs and embraces and swapping career news, and updates on families, and she said that she and Geoffrey, with whom she had lived for 21 years, were getting married, and she blushed slightly, and got off.

When I got back to my seat I told my Indian friend I had just met a woman friend who was getting married to someone she had lived with since about 1980, and he shook his head, because that was so impossible in India, and asked mockingly if they had just fallen in love after all these years, and I said, no, I imagined it was more to do with inheritance tax or something, and he said, Oh, so you do have arranged marriages after all, and we laughed and then we talked about cricket until I got off at Par.

Comments