Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Indian Engagement

Where I'm from, getting engaged is a private matter. I have a few friends who went from singlehood to marrieddom while I was around, so I got their inside story :)

Essentially, boy takes girl out on a date. That date is nicer than usual. At some point, boy goes on his knees, open a little box that contains a diamond ring and asks "Would you marry me?". Girl says yes, both are happy. And when both get home, they tell their family and friends. Or something close to that.

Of course, some will have a pre-process of asking for the girl's hand to her father too.

In India, family values are so strong that the boy isn't asking only the girl's father, but her entire family too! And then, the engagement isn't a private matter of two people walking on the beach and a ring moving from a pocket to a finger. It is a 'function', which means 'big party with protocol.' 

I got engaged this Saturday with a wonderful Indian lady named Swapna. Her name means 'dream', and she really is a dream come true. I'll share our story another time.

The whole thing has been surreal. I am not sure I am not dreaming this up. Not so long ago, I was crushed by the rejection dealt by another woman. I then decided to drop the checklist approach for bride-selection and to go by faith instead. And then God moved things in a mind-blowing way.

About 2 weeks ago, we met her family. Normally, it is a meeting of both families. In my case, I had a surrogate family in the person of some of the church leaders who joined for the meeting. I already mentioned it in an earlier post.

Saturday, I came with the same surrogate family. The whole day was intense: I met with a brother in the morning for d-time, then it was shopping-shopping-shopping, gift wrapping, buying this, buying that, prepare sharing, iron clothes and off-you-go. 
Only to be told to come a bit later, as they weren't ready. Gotta love IST (Indian Stretchable Time)!
Thankfully, that gave me some more time to work on my sharing. I wanted something extra special for her.

We finally arrived there, and socialized with the guests on my side, as well as one of her family members. We were having something as close to a private thing as possible in this culture: with merely 40 guests, we were almost insulting a whole bunch of friends and relatives. Since we didn't have a lot of space, that falls in the 'what to do?' category :)

And then she came. My heart skipped beating and a truckload of hormones (I'm guessing serotonin) got released in my brain, seeing her great beauty.

I invited her, gave her flowers, and she came with her family members.

Then the ceremonial part started. We had songs, prayer, and a short message. The message was about breaking the pattern of the World, which is what we are doing. 

Now, my reader may ask "what is the pattern of the World that you were breaking?" To answer, here is a primer about Indian marriages: the families will essentially look for your carbon copy in the other gender. That means someone from the same religion (+caste and subcaste for Hindus), of the same cultural group, with the same job (or same level of job) for the same kind of employer (MNCs are on top, big companies follow, then its no-name companies), with the same kind of education, and from a family that is at the same social status. For example, they would naturally seek a medical doctor lady for their medical doctor son, but could settle for a dentist. And a family would be OK if their IT professional son in IBM marries an HR or Accountant lady working for Accenture, but  if she is working for a small outfit (say, Nayanaguda Infotech... ever heard of them?), then that could be an issue. Each family is different, so there will be case-by-case basis too. 
Once the match is found comes the question of dowry. In India, the girl's family must pay a dowry. Nevermind that it is illegal to do so, dowries remain routinely asked and given every day in this country. The sums are typically colossal and funded from loans that can take years to repay.
Some people do break the rules, and those are called "love marriages" in contrast to "arranged marriages". Love marriages are typically frowned upon in Indian society. It does happen that the families boycott the event. 
So, we were breaking the pattern of the World big time: IT Professional working for one of the world's largest companies wants to marry a lecturer in a local college. Then comes the fact that he's not even a Telugu boy, and he's not even Indian! And then, there is no dowry, neither in money nor in kind. Our union went against pretty much all the traditions of Indian weddings. And I must credit Swapna and her family for having the openness to not only allow our relationship to be, but for blessing it as well.

Once the message was finished, I was asked to share about her. I read a small poem (not sure its 100% kosher poem - I must've broken a rule or two here):
Carried by the wind, a dove
Gracefully, by the cove,
Caught my eyes, circling by me
Capturing me by her beauty

Her feathers, shining like the sun,
Almost making me blind.
She stands above anyone.
She would not leave my mind.

Her song spoke of a love
Too strong for words alone
For somebody Above.

Her flight brought joy & smiles
And gave eyes to the blind.
Never tiring, no matter how many miles,
Because she was lifted by the wind of a Supreme Mind.

Her black eyes saw my heart
And looked beyond appearance.
She planted a seed of love
That is now growing to a tree
And its roots are changing me.

Now my heart belongs to you and God alone.
At which point I fell on my knees, produced a red rose and said:
मैंने प्यार तुमसे किया | मुझसे शादी करो गे ?
Which translates as:
I love you. Will you marry me?
Her answer was yes. The most beautiful yes I heard so far!!!

Then she shared about her family and about me. She told me that she truly loved me, more than words could express. You have no idea how much those words mean to me.

Then we exchanged gifts. I gave her a saree and she gave me a shirt and trousers. She was very happy with my gift. I took some time shopping for this gift, and I really wanted to give her the best I could find. Her smile was as good a payback for my efforts as it gets!

Did I mention that she has a killer smile that makes me go ga-ga?

After the ceremony was over, we took a lot of pictures with all the guests (that's a warmup for the 200+ guests we'll have for the wedding. Something tells me we'll have sore feet and a hurting lower back that day) and then we finally got to eat together.

After some more socializing, I left and waved everyone goodbye. They were standing by the gate waving me goodbye. I was happy, I felt blessed.

I am still on a cloud. I feel unworthy of being blessed with such a spiritual and beautiful woman as my bride-to-be. I love her and want to spend my life with her. We have roughly 6 weeks to go before our wedding, and I just can't wait for that blessed day to come. I long for our love to be coming to fruition, and I long to put that ring on her finger. I long to share my life with her and, hopefully, see her beautiful smile every day.

Friday, October 8, 2010

All-India Youth and Campus Conference 2010

Contrary that what you may believe, that conference wasn't an All-India conference, but All-South-Asia conference!
We had ~900 single brothers and sisters from a wide age group who gathered south of Chennai. We were divided in 3 groups: campus, youth, and special fellowship. In my case, I was in the special fellowship group, meant for those who are seeking their life partner (or have already found it :) ).

While the other groups were busy playing various games, we were busy helping our brothers and sisters' matchmaking, or, when freed from this role, talking to each other. It was great! I got to know my wife-to-be so much more.

In the morning, I would pray by the beach with a brother. We heard a lot of sermons. One that struck me was challenging us to stop having a 'small living', but to live big for God.

AIYCC 2010


At this point, I will encourage you to look at the pictures I'm linking to. We had a great time in the train too, as you can tell. We were playing cards, making jokes, singing, eating together.