Raajeev's Corner - 2019


Arranged Marriage

By Raajeev Aggerwhil

As a comedian, I used to be hesitant about telling people that I had an arranged marriage. I used to think that my audience would judge me by thinking I came from a primitive culture. I used to say that I sort of had an arranged marriage – that we were introduced. However, after performing jokes about arranged marriage for several years, I decided that it did not matter. They would judge me anyway based on my color, my ethnicity and my accent. Now I just say, “I had an arranged marriage" and use this simple sentence as a short premise for my joke: That arranged marriage is not as primitive as it may sound. It is very much like Tinder except your mom swipes right!

When I was going through the arranged marriage ordeal, I was very nervous. There were three reasons for being nervous. First, it was taken for granted that you would remain married forever; not just this lifetime but for all future lives. Second, all transactions were final. There were no returns, no 14-day trial periods and certainly no exchanges. There was no extended warranty. Third, regardless of whether you liked the girl, you had to behave properly towards the family and the girl. One wrong move and you may be subjected to the “you-broke-it-you-buy-it" rule.

Despite the supposed handicaps, we have been married for over 25 years. It worked for me because arranged marriages have a motto: No Nerds Left Behind. With the new generation of Information Technology (IT) workers and more women entering the industry, they have taken nerdiness to a whole different level. The daughter of one of our family friends in Bangalore is a Java programmer. She turned down three potential grooms because they all specialized in Microsoft .Net technology!

Parents are the driving force behind arranged marriages because a deep understanding of culture, psychology and wealth management is required. A lot of strategy goes into this major project. One of my uncles married his three daughters into three different households of successful businessmen. He also made sure the sons-in-law were the eldest in their family. He was so happy after his youngest daughter got married. He said, “All my daughters will be successful leaders … in their households. “Apne khar mein khushi se raj kerngi. They will rule happily in their household." I thought this kind of mindset promotes a conflict. His daughters will probably give hell to their younger sisters-in-law.

In India, when couples marry, the families of both sides form a bond. The marriage vows are different too. “Mala, do you take Jai as your lawfully wedded husband, his parents as your father-in-law and mother-in-law, his cousins as your cousins-in-law, and all his distant uncles and aunties as your uncles-in-law and aunties-in-law? Do you promise to love him, cherish him and all the 250 members of your new family for all eternity?"

Americans generally find the concept of arranged marriage strange, even though, half the marriages in the US end up in a divorce. When we were married for about six months, we met an American couple who I knew from college. The wife asked us, “How did you meet?"

I replied, “We were introduced. Sort of an arranged marriage." She just didn't know how to react. Her next question was, “How is it going?"

People also want to know the secret of our happy marriage. I tell them living in Hollywood, we are just good actors! Still they don't believe it and insist. So I tell them that we hired a surrogate couple in India to outsource our arguments. We give them character descriptions, a script that describes our individual objectives and our conflicts. They fight all night on our behalf and report the results in the morning.

Sometimes the outsourced couple is not able to handle complex conflicts, so I decided to get my wife into stand-up comedy also. I thought why fight in the privacy of our own home when we can have our arguments in public. The audiences laugh and it works like free marriage therapy for us. We are too cheap to pay for marriage counselors. However, sometimes my wife does not want to have unscripted arguments on stage. I feel that with a scripted debate, we lose the organic ingredients of a real fight. Once I managed to convince her to go unscripted at an open mike. After that, we had an actual argument in the car on the way home which undoubtedly defeated the purpose.

Being constantly on the move and living a hectic lifestyle does take a toll and sometimes even comedy is not able to solve the real conflicts. When all else fails, I remember the words of my father. “Divorce is a luxury for white people." We would rather stay married because we don't want to lose what we already have: money. There is a story from Panchtantra where two cats are arguing over a fair way to divide a piece of bread and seek the help of a monkey. The monkey weighs the bread on a scale, starts nibbling on each half and eventually eats all of it. The thought of paying some high powered attorney has always terrified me. Essentially, it is frugality and fear that keeps our marriage going strong, like the Energizer bunny.

If we were to analyze the mechanics of arranged marriages, they follow a pattern and fit in five different stages. In stage 1, during the first year of marriage, you are like “strangers with benefits." In stage 2, from the second to the fifth year of marriage, you are like “friends with benefits." In stage 3, you and your spouse get busy with work so from the fifth to the 10th year of marriage, you go back to being “strangers with benefits." In stage 4, typically after the 10th year, work takes over personal life so you transition to being “strangers with no benefits." Finally, from the 15th year onwards, you become too opinionated and groggy so you graduate to being “adversaries with no benefits."

A couple of years back, we went on a family vacation to Las Vegas. My son Neil asked, “Dad, how come you are not gambling?" I said, “Son, I already had the biggest gamble of all. I had an arranged marriage."

After living in this country for so many years, we want the best for our children. Whether through arranged marriage or love marriage, we want them to be happy. When my oldest son was 15, I wanted him to marry a girl — educated and Indian. When he was 20, I wanted him to marry a girl — educated. Now he is over 25 and I want him to marry a girl — breathing.

----------

Los Angeles-based comedian Raajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon's TV show 100 Things to Do Before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series. See his videos on YouTube.