Sara Jacob, now 29, was used to looking out for herself Raised in Kuwait, she moved to India to do her under graduation. She headed off to England to do a Master’s degree, and when she returned, at 23, the questions began.
When was she getting married? Her older sister was already married, and she had a younger sister, so she shouldn’t wait too long. It wasn’t easy to find people as highly educated as she was, and so she shouldn’t wait too long. Her body clock was ticking too.
‘I was not very happy at the idea at first, but I slowly got used to it,’ Sara says. Now that she knew she would have to get married soon, she went about organizing things. She was used to the role—she had headed activity clubs in college, and at work she was essentially paid to tell people how to run their companies.
The first thing she did as she began to look for a partner was to speak to some of her older married friends, and make a list of quaht.es she would like m a husband. There were two categories:
- Things which were absolutely necessary
- Things which she could overlook
Once she had written that down, she knew what she really wanted from marriage. The advice she got from the married couples she spoke to was:
- You must be happy with yourself
- You must know what you want before you decide to get married
- You can’t expect that getting married is a solution to all your problems, or will make for a happily-ever-after
Sara approached marriage with the pragmatism she exercised towards most things. She attended a premarital session conducted by a Christian organization, which she says gave her a realistic picture of marriage-what to expect and what not to expect.
‘I guess with all the advice and suggestions, and my being clear about what I wanted from a life partner, I knew I was ready for marriage,’ she muses.
Armed with her checklist, it would be simpler to figure out whether someone was right for her.
‘Of course, I regret that I didn’t put “should sing and play the guitar’’ in the must-have, non-negotiable section,’ she laughs. ‘I say that every day, and my husband tries to sing, with a lot of effort. But he just might make a decent singer with training Far from the chai-tray meeting, Sara’s first encounter with Sunil Jose had all the trappings of a cinematic love story. She was helping her friend shop, when they ran into Sunil, who happened to be her friend’s cousin. They were introduced, and she only said hi, before carrying on with the shopping. They ran into each other once again, with the same friend-cousin, and they got chatting. After this, her friend confessed to her that he had set up the accidental meetings with Sunil, because he thought they might get along, and Sunil’s parents were looking out for a girl.
‘I kind of liked him because he was very calm, courteous, helpful and thoughtful,’ Sara recalls. ‘One incident stood out—we saw a very old lady begging, and she looked like she was starving. Rather than giving her money, Sunil went and bought some rice and fruit for the lady. He said that way no one would steal it from her, and she would get her nutrition.’ They finally did have the official meeting with the parents.
‘We met in Sunil’s parents’ place, so it was the reverse. He served us all juice,’ Sara says, with a smile. ‘That was really going against tradition, and I was very happy about it.’
Is if possible, then, to tailor oneself a perfect match? To make a wish-list, and find a made-to-order partner who fits m perfectly with our ideas of an ideal?
‘I don’t believe people can expect perfect partners from either a “love” or an “arranged” marriage,’ Sara says. ‘Whichever it is, you have to be realistic. Many of the older people I spoke to told me this-don’t expect that you can change anyone just because you’re married to them.’
Pointing out that nowadays even people going in for arranged marriages are given some time to get to know each other, Sara acknowledges that everyone tends to put their best foot forward. Despite this, she believes one still gets to know the things one doesn’t like in a partner.
‘I knew Sunil was quite absent-minded in the few months I hung out with him, before we got engaged,’ she says, ‘See, in an arranged marriage, it’s true many of the boxes on your or your parents’ checklist might get ticked, but it’s better not to be idealistic. Somewhere down the line, people change, and situations and circumstances change as well.’
According to her, one of the biggest advantages of an arranged marriage is the fact that one’s parents are happy with one’s choice of partner.
Setting up home, over and over again
Living in a different country from one’s parents isn’t easy. And it takes a while to find a routine. But the good thing about the current generation of parents is that they’re willing to help.
Thankfully for me, my mom had come and set up my kitchen in our new place right after we got back from our honeymoon and started work,’ Sara confesses. It was such a relief! Otherwise I would have been confused and stressed with the whole process. When you live alone, it doesn’t matter how your kitchen looks, but once you’re married, suddenly everyone expects you to be this wonder woman who knows how to arrange kitchen shelves and all that.’
Her mother helped her set up her home as well. But then they had to move, and Sara missed having her mother around. The process of shifting is arduous, and takes its toll on the woman.
‘The wife is expected to do everything— pack, unpack, set up the home,’ Sara says, with some frustration. ‘If the guy helps, oh, he is such a nice husband! In my case, Sunil has tried to help, but that usually becomes double work for me. His sense of aesthetics is quite bad, so he’ll set up things without looking into the colour scheme. I end up changing everything, to go with the curtains or whatever. But he’s really good when it comes to packing and unpacking electronic gadgets, that much credit I’ll give him.’
The real problem came when Sunil had to move to London for a year. At the time, Sara was very happy at work, she had made new friends, and she liked the new flat they had moved into. However, this would be a windfall for Sunil, and great for his career, so she was willing to move. Besides, her sister lived in London, and Sara would get to meet the friends she had gone to university with. The idea of watching the Olympics, and travelling through Europe was enticing.
However, it can be very hard for an intelligent, educated woman to have to give up working, and the restrictions on immigrants made it difficult for her to qualify for a job. Initially, Sara was so busy setting up and getting used to the place that she didn’t miss working. Domestic help is expensive, and so she was under some strain, keeping their home tidy. She admits she felt bitter when she began to look for part-time work, because
she was constantly aware that she had had to give up a perfectly good job back home. Eventually, she listed the positives:
- It’s a new experience
- My sister lives in the same city
- Gluten-free bread is readily available! (Sara had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease)
- I can always go back to India if I can’t take it any more
In sickness and in health
Sara’s and Sunil’s marriage came with health problems on both sides. Sunil had suffered from repetitive strain injury (RSI), and he had trouble with his hands. He told Sara about this before marriage. Unfortunately, both of them fell ill at the same time. Just as Sunil’s hands began to act up, Sara had to deal with stomach upsets, anxiety, falling hair and depression. She thought it was the stress of having to go to work and come back to take care of a house.
‘Initially, of course, we were both fighting about it,’ she says. ‘I would ask him to do things, and he would say he was tired, and I would say I’m tired too. But he was very understanding as well. When I didn’t have the energy to cook, he would get something in or ask our part-time help to make something. I felt bad for feeling tired, because I could not do half the things I wanted to do.’
And then, Sara was diagnosed with celiac disease. She wanted to quit her job, and though Sunil didn’t want her to at first, he came around when he saw how hard she found balancing both aspects of her life. Even after quitting her job, Sara took a month to recover. Meanwhile, Sunil’s hands took a turn for the worse. He couldn’t type, or drive long distances. So she had to take over the driving.
‘It was quite a difficult time for us,’ she says. ‘This is not something most couples face in their first year of marriage—it was a test of our vows, ‘in sickness and in health’. But we stuck it out. We did get angry at each other, but we talked, and we prayed together a lot. It’s only by God’s grace that we saw that period through. It’s not easy for people to understand what we went through, but the best part of it was that it made our relationship stronger, and we learned to pick each other up whenever we had to.’
Though Sunil has now recovered from RSI, Sara has her bad days, especially if she has eaten something containing gluten by mistake. Sunil knows what to do if she gets sick, what symptoms he should look out for, and that he should be careful not to use the same cutlery on bread that he does on food meant for Sara. They’re quite understanding of each other’s need for dependence on the other now, says Sara.
But she does have a grouse with people’s attitudes to men and women in a marriage. ‘You know, he gets a lot of praise for being understanding. But I never did, for taking care of him when he was sick. It’s assumed that a woman should take care of her husband in sickness, but a husband’s doing the same is attributed to the goodness of his heart or something!’ What matters to her, though, is that he appreciates what she does for him.
The silver lining was that Sara didn’t have to deal with relatives harassing her to make babies quickly.
In the middle of all this, there’s something to be said for marriage, Sara laughs. ‘There is always someone you can complain to about your day, or your day at work. If you’re sick, you have someone to take you to the doc. You don’t have to come back to an empty house. You have a friend who lives with you 24 X 7. For me, personally, the best thing about being married is that Sunil really understands how sick I can get and what are the dos and don’ts when I’m ill. He reads food labels, looks for gluten-free food wherever he goes, and mostly eats gluten-free food himself so I don’t have to cook separately for him. I am not sure even my parents and sisters would do that for me.’