Meena is the daughter of affluent Indian immigrants in the United States. They have been able to give her whatever she desires,
including an Ivy League education.
When Meena decides after establishing a
career and starting an independent life that
she wants to be with John, a man she met at
work, instead of one of the men her parents
tried to introduce her to, they are heartbroken
and stop speaking to Meena.
Meena marries the man she loves. They
have a child. She is happy by most accounts -
except that she has no relationship with her
Meena’s marriage is one of the case studies
presented on the Shaadi Remix Web site, part
of Geetha Ravindra’s project to help families
understand how traditional Indian ideals of
marriage don’t always translate well into
modern society, both in urban India and
A Washington, DC-based attorney, mediator, and trainer with over 20 years of experience dealing with alternative dispute resolution, Ravindra has worked with Indian and
non-Indian families who have come to her
with marital issues.
She says most of the issues she sees among
Indian couples could have been avoided had
there been more proactive or thoughtful consideration about the priorities, needs, and criteria of young people before getting into marriage.
Something had to be articulated, she felt, but
found no resources or literature that spoke specifically to the community.
“It was a bit disturbing to see the high volume of
problems that Indian couples were facing,” she says,
discussing her book Shaadi Remix: Transforming
the Traditional Indian Marriage. “I thought it
would be helpful to our community to provide some
information on the patterns I was observing.”
Though she has seen all kinds of couples face
problems, she says, those who have had arranged
marriages in particular seem to be confronting an
irresolvable mismatch in expectations, largely relat-
ed to culture and gender roles.
Some of these couples are the basis for the case
studies in the book.
In Shaadi Remix, Ravindra outlines the roots of
Hindu marriage values in Vedic scriptures, how the
concept of families and societies selecting partners
for young people came about, what factors were considered in finding matches, and why these were
thought to be relevant.
“It’s the immense value that our society has placed
on this institution. That’s why I spent some time
explaining the religious grounding of our marriage
system,” Ravindra says.
She describes how parents can adjust to the new,
21st century reality, and provides tools for couples to
better communicate and resolve conflicts.
She also discusses divorce substantially, explaining
why in Indian society it has been considered a taboo,
and points to instances when it is the best path to
“It is because of its being so closely interconnected
with our faith and it’s blessed by the gods, etc that
we are so resistant to breaking this bond,” she says.
Ravindra is neither disrespectful nor dismissive of
the values the community stands by. Though she was
raised in the US, she had an arranged marriage to a
man from India, to whom she is happily committed.
But she stresses the need for a change in outlook at
a time when more women are becoming educated
and independent, and divorce is not quite so off-limits.
‘ The viability of the Indian marriage and the fami-
ly unit,’ she writes in the book, ‘is dependent upon
younger generations of Indians better understanding
the purpose of Hindu marriage traditions, thought-
fully considering which customs and values they
wish to retain, and determining how they choose to
honor and preserve the sanctity of marriage in the
Shaadi Remix breaks down why many of the
determining factors in partner selection according to Indian tradition - family, language, caste,
wealth, horoscope, diet - are outdated.
Young people, especially here and in urban
India, have more interaction with the opposite
sex, more independent lives at a younger age,
and generally demand more autonomy in their
lives. These are not changes that can be denied
or reversed, the book notes.
“We’re in a very interesting time right now,
transition wise, with there being first, second,
third, fourth-generation Indians in the US,” she
says. “I know for my kids’ kids this won’t even be
a conversation. If I said to my granddaughter,
‘You have to marry who I say,’ she would never do
She also points to overt indicators of gender
imbalance - like dowry, and that many still
expect women to submit to and obey their hus-
She also calls out a harsher reality.
‘Indian women have long suffered a great deal of
physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their
husbands and in-laws,’ she writes. ‘They have lived
lives of tremendous personal sacrifice and tolerated
poor treatment on a daily basis. Regardless of their
mistreatment, Indian women did not return to their
parents’ home or leave their husband, because to do
so would bring shame upon their family.’
Even in the US, she has found, women are scared
to leave destructive or dangerous situations because
of the enormous emphasis the community places on
image, reputation, and saving face.
“I really wish we didn’t hold onto things that are
causing us so much pain,” Ravindra says. “It just
doesn’t make sense for such an educated community.” ;
BOOKSHELF M8 THE MAGAZINE
India Abroad September 13, 2013
Chaya Babu speaks to Geetha Ravindra, whose book examines
the traditional Indian marriage against the 21st century backdrop
DANIEL BEREHULAK/GETT Y IMAGES
Puja is the oldest of five children, born and raised in India. A respected mem- ber of the community, impressed by
her character, was interested in having her
marry his son. Puja’s parents, out of respect
for this gentleman, his family, and his
standing in the community, agreed to the
Vikram, born and raised in India, had
moved to the United States for higher stud-
ies. He had a great job in the IT industry
and had also fallen in love with a woman in the United States. He did not
know how to break the news of his relationship to his parents, so he didn’t.
He put off his parents’ requests that he marry as long as he could, until
during a visit to India he conceded and married Puja.
He and Puja had a grand wedding, but within months of Puja joining
Vikram in the United States, things changed. Vikram did not speak or
interact with his wife. He ignored her to such an extent that Puja finally
After years of heartache, stress, anger, frustration, and desperate
attempts at trying to understand what happened to their marriage, Puja
ultimately agreed to divorce Vikram.
Vikram and Puja are now happily married to new partners.
If Vikram had just had the courage to explain to his parents that he
loved another person and did not wish to marry Puja, he would have
avoided years of pain and suffering for himself, Puja, and their families…
‘You must tell a thousand lies
to make a marriage happen’
Geetha Ravindra finds
this Indian saying is often
practiced by the family
and marriage brokers
to create a marital alliance