Tag Archives: #arrangedmarriage

The Story of Prafulla and I: Unpsoken Words From US to India

She bore the face of Nutan, the film star, and the smile of a Hollywood celebrity. With ringlets of bobcut hair framing her face, she seemed an image of abandon. I envied Prafulla. Not only for her looks but also for her chic. Her mother made all her clothes, in the latest Bombay styles, with puffy sleeves and flouncy skirts. 

My mother sewed my clothes too, but she had the annoying habit of leaving just one last detail unfinished. So that my outfits never lived up to the elegant visions of my imagination. No wonder I coveted Prafulla’s mother. 

Our mothers were both beautiful. But while my mother was a fragile princess, Prafulla’s mother was a steely queen – she walked around the neighborhood draped in her nine-yard sari with its end looped in between her legs and commanding the admiration of males, females, and children alike. As the leader of the Women’s Association, she organized events such as the women’s running races during the Ganesh festival. 

I longed for Prafulla’s life. Whenever we went over to her house, the fragrance of delicacies emanated from her kitchen as she sat on the divan, playing with two fluffy white kittens. She was the only girl I knew who had pets. 

Every year, when school ended, she left Nagpur with her family to visit her mamas, maternal uncles. She was the only child I knew who went on a summer vacation. 

When the monsoons arrived, Prafulla returned, with a trunkful of new clothes and tales of a Mumbai I had never seen. She would describe the sandcastles on Chowpatty beach, the aroma of bhel from vendors’ carts, the taste of hapoos mangoes on the coast. I would strain to envision the ocean waves but fail to understand their grandeur until years later.  

From the age of twelve until our graduation from University, Prafulla and I, along with another friend named Shobha, were inseparable.

If there were dark vignettes lurking around the edges of her exotic life, we did not notice them. The bobcut, I would learn only years later, was her mother’s ploy to console her after the untimely demise of her father.

We never questioned why her mother and siblings assembled binders out of cardboard and glue for some local company. We never pondered the reason a part of her house was rented out. We did not wonder why her mother never offered us the delicacies she prepared unless they were made out of leftovers. 

When, after college, Prafulla’s marriage was arranged to a most suitable boy, we thought it the fairy tale ending we’d always expected. 

The first inkling of trouble came, when, a couple of years later, I visited her in Mumbai. She was struggling to be a mother and a housewife. Her husband and brother-in-law criticized her constantly. 

But soon, I left for the United States. And soon, Prafulla stopped visiting Nagpur. Soon, my parents ceased to have any news of her. Gradually, I lost contact with her.

Until 2015, when, out of the blue, I got an invitation for our first high school reunion. By now, my parents had left this world. The long-lost friendships of my childhood seemed to be all that remained of the past. After a frantic search for her phone number, I was able to reach Prafulla. 

“I have so much to tell you,” she said. She begged me to carve out a couple of days of my visit just for her.

Alas, during that hectic week of the reunion, we were constantly surrounded by other people. During the few moments we stole away, I told her of my disastrous first marriage. After a gap of five decades and two continents, she understood me completely. She mentioned her husband’s behavior, her eventual separation, and her strife to obtain a teaching credential to support her children. 

Still, we only scratched the surface of our lives. So, with our friends Shobha and Viju, we planned an overnight trip to the Tadoba National Park to relive a decades-ago visit of our youth. In a pagoda set amidst a grove of teak trees, Prafulla told us of the poverty of her childhood, of her mother tailoring her clothes from her cousins’ discarded outfits, of her family constructing cardboard binders to make ends meet. 

Such revelations would have been taboo during our youth. 

The reason she had been married off at such a young age, she explained, was because her older brother had insisted upon it. As the family patriarch, he saw her as a liability and wanted her out of the house before he himself could get married. She never had an opportunity to build a career. 

“I didn’t get to talk to you to my heart’s content,” Prafulla said to me when we parted. “Promise me that next time you will come straight to my house in Thane. Then we will sit together and I will tell you everything.” 

Alas, I could not return for subsequent reunions because of family obligations in the US. I sent her my writings but it was not the same. I called her periodically to talk to her, but the long conversations only made us hungry to see one another face to face. I would return to India, I promised her, book a hotel room on Juhu Beach, and stay with her as long as it took to exhaust the stories of our lives. 

But then the pandemic came. There was no question now of traveling anywhere. In November, when I heard of a mysterious liver ailment Prafulla had, I called her. Once again, we spoke for hours. 

“I never had a chance to talk to you to my heart’s content,” she said. 

Those were her last words. 

On December 9th, she passed away. A death so far away, it seems unreal, mysterious, unreachable, and unfathomable. I phoned her son but could never fully understand why she had to die so young. I wish I had dropped everything just to see her one last time. Some incident reminds me of my youth and I think “I should tell Prafulla that,” before remembering that I can’t. 

Her unspoken words haunt me in the night. The stories she never told rise like phantoms in my imagination, dark and ominous. But then I see her, exquisitely attired in a turquoise blue salwar kameez for our school gathering, in defiance of our principal’s edict to wear only our school uniforms, and I smile. This is how I want to remember Prafulla, a vision of beauty and gumption. 


Sarita Sarvate has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications.

Indian Matchmaking’s Pradhyuman Confronts Toxic Masculinity

If you have watched a reality show lately, chances are it was Indian Matchmaking.

This particular contestant wowed many of us. He wowed us with his miso paneer recipe, his with nitrogen fox nuts, but he really wowed us by keeping his cool under pressure. Dishing out his rich boy charm with a big dollop of humility, Pradhyuman Maloo‘s name managed to stay on in our conversations even after the Indian Matchmaking season one reunion wrapped up. 

Pradhyuman, the young jeweler, is someone you might think most people would view as a great catch for a girl looking for a boy.

Not only will any future ‘match’ have bling galore, but she would also have a partner who whips up all sorts of irresistible yummies the latest being sushi inspired cocktails.

What’s not to love about a boy who knows his jewelry and loves to cook?

Well, apparently the fact that knows he his jewelry and loves to cook.

Yes. Pradhyuman was trolled for not being manly enough. The Insta-fam he never chose proclaimed that he must be gay. He can’t be straight if he likes cooking and jewelry so much…

So how did he cope with this insensitive line of questioning? Well, he used his words – with an Instagram post. A post that made us see him as more than just a celebrity aspirant but as someone who expands the conversation beyond himself. It said, “People will judge you for not being ‘manly’ enough, but I want other men to know that it’s okay to be who you are & do what you love. Stereotypical masculinity is not the rent we need to pay to exist in this world.”

What made you take on the bullies head-on,” I ask in my early morning interview from California, and for him, the end of a long day of work in Mumbai.

“It is something we really have to take on as a society that whatever we speak, whatever we do, has a consequence. Luckily due to my business and upbringing, I have been hard skinned. I can imagine someone not handling that pressure…I have some friends who are gay and can imagine how difficult it is to deal with this kind of criticism. After the show I got DMs from straight men and gay men asking, are you okay. I was wondering why are they asking me if I am okay? And it struck me, what if that person was really gay and had a difficult time opening up to society. This thought really worried me,” Maloo answered.

Pradhyuman Maloo

By taking the reins of the dialogue around sexuality, Pradhyuman has deftly has taken online negativity and channeled it into some really productive chatter online.

“It is time we re-think what we consider ‘manly enough’. I think what people consider manly enough is what people consider very strong. Physically, mentally. It is what people consider “Haan yeh to mard hai” or yes, he is ‘a man’. It determines that men cannot show emotions, men cannot be weak. They don’t realize that being really strong does not mean that men cannot show emotions. If you overcome those weak times then you are strong and you are man enough.”

Showing emotions is what Pradhyuman is getting a lot of people to do, and it seems to be working from everyone chiming in to answer his questions about everyday feelings to what makes someone ‘beautiful’.

“The ability to stand up and speak your mind is beautiful. Empathizing instead of judging is beautiful. Not making excuses is beautiful. Self-care is beautiful.”

Did Pradhyuman wonder how the world outside India would react to grown men and women being guided so closely by their parents in their search for a partner? The stereotype of Indians and arranged marriages?

“When I was abroad people asked why I stayed with my parents. When you stay together as a family, you operate as a family. Today I might take a life partner and I wouldn’t want to do it without my parents’ point of view…I trust their judgment and value their opinion…I would take it in a positive way and not like a push.

Pradhyuman is evolved and insightful. He doesn’t worry so much about what other people think and is guided by his moral compass. I can’t wait to see more of him!


Amrita Gandhi is a Lifestyle TV host who interviews inspiring personalities on her show ‘So, What’s It Really Like‘ on her Instagram

Tea for Two

In Seeing Ceremony, Meera Ekkanath Klein’s sequel to her 2017 debut novel, My Mother’s Kitchen, the narrator, Meena, is now ready for college and continues to rebuff her mother’s need to subject her to seeing ceremonies in advance of formally arranging her marriage. The continuing obstacle is that Meena refuses to think about marriage until she returns home to Mahagiri, degree in hand, ready to begin her own life as an adult.

Her confidante and neighbor Mac, an elderly Scotsman who owns a tea plantation, is always ready to lend an ear and offer sage advice. However, reality enters Meena’s life when he reveals a friend is interested in purchasing Meena’s late father’s spice plantation. With the express understanding that the transaction will honor Meena’s father’s legacy, the money exchanged is Meena’s ticket to a college in California where her uncle is a professor.

During the brief pages devoted to Meena’s time at school, she studies agriculture, discovers Chinese tea, and embraces the calming concepts of the Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies. It is then, in a flash of brilliance, that she understands creating a tearoom in which a variety of teas could be sampled and tea ceremonies would be held, maybe the answer to bolstering her mother’s remaining business.

On her journey home following graduation, Meena meets Raj Kumar, a young Indian businessman. They take an immediate liking to each other, and while at the airport in Singapore, they spend their layover time dining and chatting. As expected, neither can get the other out of their minds after going their own ways. Later, in a convenient twist, Meena and Raj come face to face again.

The bones of the story are good and hold promise, but much of the plot isn’t new. The seeing ceremony, arranged marriage, traditional vs. modern attitudes, and going to college in the U.S. are overused. Nevertheless, the elements of agriculture, introducing new crops, rotating crops, and bringing concepts from overseas are fresh enough to bring balance to the novel.

That said, this book should be a massive celebration of the senses, yet the ubiquitous spices, the meals prepared, the visit to a tribal village, and the vistas Meena experiences both at home and at her father’s plantation exist with an assumption that the reader is familiar with all of those essentials when sensual imagery would have enhanced Meena’s narrative and assisted in building her world. Instead, that part of the storytelling was incomplete, like a coloring book with pages half colored and abandoned.

On the plus side, Seeing Ceremony can be read as a standalone novel. It isn’t necessary to read My Mother’s Kitchen to enjoy this succeeding story. However, since the books are billed as novels with recipes, you may want to see what’s cooking in both. In “Kitchen,” the recipes are found at the end of chapters which, unfortunately, impede the reader’s flow. In “Ceremony,” the recipes are conveniently gathered at the end of the book.

If you’re in the market for a quick read that may take you away, introduce you to some interesting characters, tell a story of finding one’s way back home, and offer some recipes to spice up your next meal, this may be the book for you.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in North and South Carolina where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects. 


Seeing Ceremony: A Novel with Recipes by Meera Ekkanath Klein. Homebound Publications. 270 Pages.

A Woman Must Make Up Her Own Mind

You might think it’s strange, but I chose having an arranged marriage in the midst of an era with dating apps like Tinder.

And I love my husband.

Generally people find it hard to reconcile these two things.

When I turned 24, my parents decided that it was time they made ‘arranging a daughter’s marriage’ as their top goal in life. As with any arranged marriage, entire families were enlisted to convince me that it should be my top priority as well. Although I was young, I knew that marriage would be a giant leap for me. It has always been thus for women – from moving into a new house and adjusting to a different environment, to changing her last name and finding her place in a new family; the institution of marriage was something not to be entered into lightly. I was not ready. 

I managed to dodge and escape for a year and a half before I caved in. But I made it clear that I would not meet gazillion boys in the dance of acceptance/rejection that plays out in the arranged marriage system. No problem, my parents said, and created a profile for me on a matrimonial portal. I had complete freedom to screen and choose proposals based on my personal preferences. After scrolling through multiple profiles, Gaurav was the first boy whose digital proposal I accepted, and after two-three months of ‘courtship’ in the virtual world, we decided to tie the knot.

Although still sceptical of marriage, with both of us being based in India at the time of our engagement, we looked forward to the wedding, unaware of the change in dynamics that would occur in a few weeks. G was offered a job in Singapore, an offer that was too good to refuse. This added to my dilemma. I had not considered the possibility of leaving my full and fulfilling life behind to travel abroad to join my husband. 

After the wedding, I chose to stay behind in Delhi, ostensibly to take care of pending matters. I had been working as a TV presenter at Doordarshan for the past three years and was on the cusp of a promotion. My second book ‘Saturated Agitation’ had recently been launched, and I was busy with book readings. I had just completed my Master’s degree in journalism, and was waiting to collect my original mark sheet. I was teaching journalism as a part-time lecturer and was reluctant to abandon my students in the middle of the semester. One of my dogs had given birth to seven pups. The other one was sick. 

Nine months after my wedding, I kept adding more excuses to the already long list of valid reasons for me to linger in Delhi. Despite the distance, G was very considerate in not insisting that I move to Singapore. Was it because he was as tentative as me about our union? Things seemed fine on our occasional short meetings. We often connected over various digital devices and channels. But we did not share a home; we had no history together.

*****

It is the month of August, the month of my husband’s birthday. This is his first birthday as my husband, and I do not want us speaking over flat screens. For some reason, I feel compelled to be with him; I want to make this day special. Is this love? I make plans and buy gifts. I am flying to Singapore tomorrow morning to see him. This is not a surprise visit because I cannot afford the risk of him being elsewhere if I arrive unannounced. I know that G has also made plans. We are both excited to see each other. It has been three months since our last rendezvous. 

I pack my bags and lay out my favourite white cotton Anarkali suit for the flight in the morning. I wash my face, kiss my pups and dogs good night, apply night cream and sleep. 

I wake up with a mild sense of excitement when my alarm goes off at 4 in the morning. I have to leave home at 5:30 to reach the airport on time. A I am getting ready, I sense a commotion outside our home, and the TV news confirms my misgivings.

A sleep-deprived, tired reporter screams out news about fire, mobs and roadblocks. People have turned violent to protest the rape conviction of Baba Ram Rahim who had subsequently been jailed. Oblivious to the implications of this news, I get ready to leave for the airport only to realise that I cannot step outside. People are walking the streets with swords and fire torches. It is a communal riot-like situation. There are half burnt vehicles on the roads with mobs screaming “Baba bekasoor hai, Baba ko riha karo” (Baba is innocent, release him from prison.)

I have a long phone call with G; I don’t want to disappoint him. I argue with my father about the unfairness of his demand that I stay home. Before long, I have to accept defeat. There is no way I can safely make it to the airport in time for my flight, thanks to the harsh reality of things beyond my control. 

“The important thing is that you are safe at home. It is alright; we can always plan for next month or the month after.” G is incredibly sweet and understanding. He is the one consoling me even though I am the one throwing tantrums for not making it to his birthday.

As I sit with my head in my hands, my sick dog walks towards me, lifts his leg and pisses on my bag. And something finally snaps.

“Am I taking advantage of my husband’s understanding and supportive nature? Is this a punishment for being a terrible wife? ”

I see my father leaving for his clinic despite the unruly situation outside, knowing that there may be additional patients who need his help. I have grown up seeing him devote his entire life to the welfare of the people. His passion for his work and dedication towards helping others has been an inspiration for me. Being the youngest one in the family, I was naturally close to my father. What I hadn’t realised was how interdependent we have become in the past few years… I am so much like him. His preoccupation with work had always kept him away from his family. Am I doing the same thing?

A woman’s life changes entirely after marriage, and so does her opinion of it. Before marriage, my focus was more on the “wedding”- clothes, jewellery, make-up, events, music and whatnot. However, the next morning, when the band baja baraat was over, I found myself transformed from the kid of my family to the eldest bahoo of my husband’s family, a promotion of sorts that required significant adjustments to my outlook about my life ahead. With the completion of the rituals of marriage, I had wondered what other literal and figurative changes lay in store but had not ventured to find out.

Today, thanks to Baba Ram Rahim and his followers, I can finally see that it is not my career nor my dogs, not my students nor my mark sheet holding me here. I got married and was ‘given away’. From kanyadaan to bidai- every ritual confirmed my departure from my maiden home and guided me towards the road to becoming a wife. The only thing that is holding me is me. I haven’t mustered the strength to leave my father, my home, and begin a life with my husband, to become a wife in its real sense. Only I could correct this unfair situation. I had to let my marriage take shape, even though I had no idea how to create it. It was time to fly.

*****

In the next ten days, I resigned from work, completed my assignments as best as I could and started looking for work in Singapore. When G came to Delhi to escort me to Singapore, my father waved a tearful goodbye. I knew then that my father was happy for me – he would not have asked his daughter to go away because he wanted me to take that step by myself. He would be fine, and so would I.

As the aircraft gained momentum and trembled with new-found energies to take off, I felt a gush of overwhelming emotions soaring within me that gave me the courage to start my married life. 

Sometimes it takes more than mere rituals for a daughter to accept the position of someone’s wife, but it is never too late to start, and there is nothing wrong in allowing yourself some extra time to graduate to the idea of being a Mrs After all, marriage is one small step for man and a giant leap for womankind.

Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Surabhi’s work has appeared in various publications in India, Singapore and Australia. Website | Blog | Instagram


A version of this essay was published in Desi Modern Love- An Anthology published by Story Artisan Press, Singapore.