She’d tied me to a chair.
My hands were clasped together, pulled tight behind my back. A dirty rag stuffed into my mouth. A dimly lit lamp swinging slowly in the background.
“I’ll only untie you if you agree to marry him”, she hissed. “We’ve given his family our word. You can’t break it.”
I closed my eyes and imagined my life five years in the future.
If I went for Option A – agreeing to the marriage – I saw a thug of a husband, three children I didn’t want to have with him, and a life comprised of cooking his meals and washing his clothes.
And Option B? Implied saying no to the marriage, running away from my family, and in constant hiding from the ruthless bounty hunter at my heels.
Neither was appealing. But a decision had to be made.
And so, with a heavy heart and pangs of guilt, I slowly nodded my head. My eyes filled to the brim with tears. I reluctantly prepared myself for the future …
What do you think? Is this really how my marriage was arranged?
Thankfully not (my life isn’t half as exciting as a scene from Homeland).
And yet? This is pretty much what the majority of the Western world assumes – that marriages in the Indian and Pakistani community are arranged because one party (or both) is forced into a decision.
That neither the guy, nor the girl, set eyes on each other before the wedding day.
And that every girl getting dressed in her bridal clothes hopes she looks like Deepika Padukone in the photos.
(OK, so the last one’s kinda true).
The arrangement of my marriage was pretty simple.
I knew who my husband-to-be was. So, we hadn’t dated for two years and I didn’t know his shoe size, but I did know his favourite cricket player – that was enough, right?
My mum sat me down and asked if I was happy to marry him. Her jaw dropped to the floor when I said yes. The shock was so profound that she asked me twice again, in complete disbelief, just to make sure I hadn’t completely lost my mind.
What I had lost, however, was my dad. Three days earlier.
And when my mum asked me if I’d marry this man, I couldn’t bring myself to say no.
She’d just become a widow. I could see the pressure she was under from her family to make a decision about the future of her children.
You have to marry your children off soon, her relatives pressed. Your husband died and who knows how quickly you’ll go? You can’t leave them alone.
The principle of loss-aversion at work, folks.
My mum had become a widow too young. The last thing I wanted to do was break her heart further.
So I agreed to the marriage.
Not because I loved him, or even knew if I liked him … but because I realised that I too,was young.
If the marriage worked, then I’d found my partner early and could finally stop agonising over whether my phone was broken because that cute guy who asked for my number three days ago? Still hasn’t called.
And if the marriage didn’t work, I was young enough to start over.
So I went into it. With my eyes fully open.
It was the moment that defined my transition from child to adult.
I realised truly how in control of my life I was. It hit me, square in the face, that my decisions were mine to make. The consequences were clear to me, and they were mine to live.
Even if, as some people later told me, I was being emotionally blackmailed. Even though my dad’s death was being exploited to force a decision from both me and my mum.
The decision, at the end of it, was still mine.
I see a lot of people in the Indian and Pakistani community talking about how they don’t want to succumb to family pressure and marry someone they don’t love. And yet, this is what they feel they must do.
They listen to their mothers telling them they want to kill themselves because their child won’t do the one thing that’ll bring their life the most joy.
They wince as they hear their fathers attesting to what obligations are on their shoulders and how the maintenance of the family’s name depends on this very decision.
And they feel not only desperately guilty, but conflicted.
What do I do?
I want to have what I want and please my parents.
I want them to be a part of my life. Saying no to a marriage I desperately don’t want will ruin the family. I don’t want to be held accountable for that.
My advice to you? Is to stop whinging, and grow a pair.
OK, so your parents won’t be impressed that instead of agreeing to marry Rahul, the sprightly, young paediatric surgeon from the finer part of town, you’re busy swapping doe-eyed dreams of beach holidays and white picket fences with Mark from Accounting.
But if this is your decision? Have conviction in it.
If this is what you really want? Use this belief to fuel your next move.
But Razwana! I hear you cry from way over the Atlantic. How can I tell my parents that I’m shattering their dreams and defying their every wish for me? They’ve done so much for me! I can’t let them down like this!
What about all the shame I’ll bring on the family for choosing someone they don’t want me to marry?
What if they don’t let me see my siblings ever again? Or even step into the house? What then? And what if they disown me?
What if, indeed.
The thing with those pesky little what-if’s? Is that they rarely happen.
The decision you make isn’t about whether you marry this person or that:
It’s about the person you want to be
Do you want to be the person who makes a decision from what they feel in their gut to be true?
Or do you want to be the person who knows what they want, but decides to do what they’re told because it’s the easy route to take?
And that is the easy route.
The one where you please everyone but yourself.
The one where you put their needs before yours.
It’s also the one that guarantees a life of perpetual regret. Because once you say yes once, you say yes a thousand times over.
The tough route? Is making a decision for you, despite what everyone around you will think.
It’s being aware of the consequences (ß different to being happy with them) of your decision, and moving forward anyway.
The tough route means you experience endless hours of blame from your family. Whenever someone gets married, you’ll be reminded of how you disappointed them because it’s not you in that bridal outfit, but cousin Priya who’s a good daughter and listened to what her parents told her.
The tough route also means you can look yourself in the eye and be proud of what you did. It isn’t just about being true to yourself – it’s about carrying out the truth of your convictions.
The tough route:
It’s about growing a pair and standing up for your beliefs
Because nobody else will.
And they won’t not because they’re not bad people – they have a set of beliefs all their own, that are guiding them through their lives.
Their beliefs rule them – so do what they’re doing and stand by them.
As for me – my arranged marriage went ahead. I didn’t look like Dipika Padukone in my bridal outfit, but I did feel like a million dollars.
But did my marriage last?
Well that, my friends, is a story for another day.
Or perhaps for today? Go here.
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