Yesterday 5 of us went out to a very nice place to eat. Another Chelmsford employee arrived and we sort of welcomed him with a long lunch. I rode there with Riaz and Mahendra and on the way we chatted about Life, The Universe and Everything.
I guess the subject came up because Mahendra mentioned that he'd visited his family in Bombay that previous weekend. You know how conversations meander... Mahendra happened to describe his wedding ceremony. Or rather ceremonies.
He and his bride to be were married in India with a traditional Hindu wedding but for a reason I can't recall that wouldn't quite make muster as far citizenship for his wife in the US was concerned. When they came to America they intended to tie the knot there as well. As luck (bad luck) would have it, the demands of Mahendra's job interrupted his neatly laid plans. He was required to travel to some place or other and his boss said "bring your wife".
Okay... that works... While they were at the site, Mahendra called a justice-of-the-peace and asked if he could do him a favor. "Today?!" "Yes, right now if you wouldn't mind." :-) So in between the rush and rumble of everything else that was going on, they got married in the US. A bit unceremoniously, but they were legal.
That was marriage #2 for Mahendra and marriage #3 for his wife. That's the interesting part. You see there's a neat tradition here in India. I want to write about it respectfully. Mahendra and another fellow who also chimed in and said that he had participated in this tradition too. They both spoke of it with a bit of self-conscious humor. I think it's a cool thing.
You see the stars, astrologically speaking, didn't quite line up right for Mahendra and his bride to be. Or for the other guy who said he was married this way. It would be bad luck for this woman to marry this man at this time. So what they did was to arrange for another marriage. They married her to a pot. A clay pot. Then they broke the pot, "killing her husband". That makes her a widow. It breaks the bad luck and she's free to marry the man she wants. Kinda cool.
They tell me this marriage tradition goes back a thousand years or more. The other guy was married to a plant and the plant was killed. They spoke of this tradition with good humor. It was something they indulged their spouses and families and future in-laws and and everyone else in. And who knows... maybe it helps. A good marriage needs a good start. Why not go through with the tradition? Doesn't hurt and costs nothing, right? And years later, it's still a great story that is warming and feels right.
I'm glad they shared it with me and gave me permission to write about it here.
The conversation in the car that day drifted to other matters concerning raising a family in India. Riaz told us he's having a tussle finding good housing. He is non-vegetarian and when the landlords find out they refuse to rent to him. (?!) I hadn't heard about this sort of thing. Riaz was laughing about it but you could tell it wasn't that funny. He wants a better place to live, not an apartment but a house. He had a good lead on a place, was just about to close the deal but the landlord checked in with his daughter (the landlord's daughter) who lives in the US and she had said she wanted the house rented only to vegetarians. Imagine!
I didn't know the feelings about such matters ran that strongly here. I have never felt nor seen disapproving looks at restaurants because I order non-veg. But those that is to be expected I suppose. They have it on the menu. It's already "approved".
I have a firm belief that "people are the same everywhere". Their faults and foibles, sins and depravities, virtues and shining moments show up in diverse ways but basic human nature is the same no matter where you go.
India may be thought of as more "tolerant" than some other society. That may be true when compared to North Korea for instance. Countries have "personalities" in much the same way that people do. You can think of each country as a person and characterize it. What's its mood, likes and dislikes, what's its "character", good or bad? Is it polite, crude, refined, educated, rich, poor? It's a way of thinking about an entire society.
You can think about the country that way, sure. But be careful that you don't ever take that broad sweep and start thinking of each of the individual people that way. That would make you a bigot. To keep from being a bigot, you have to adopt the motto: People are the same everywhere. They really, really are. Individually we all love our children, we all love life, a good joke and good food. We all want to prosper and live a long time. We're all the same.
And wildly different at the same time. Cool, eh?