People | Fifteen Minutes


An arranged marriage or a seventeen-year-old unwed mother

My friend Diana thinks I
have led an “adventurous, daring life.” Like a majority of Indian girls, I had
an arranged marriage. I moved to America with my husband a week after the
wedding ceremony. “I can’t imagine uprooting my life, leaving my family and
friends behind, and moving to a new country with a stranger,” she says.

 I remind her my husband was not a stranger. I
had met him twice, once a week before our engagement. Second time, the day of
engagement. And strange as it sounds, for me it was enough. I didn’t see it as
daring or adventurous or throwing my life to the fates. I wasn’t doing anything
exceptional by Indian standards. If anything, I had full freedom to choose my
mate. My parents would have been fine if I had a boyfriend I wanted to marry. I
didn’t. Every time they arranged a match for me they respected my wishes if I
didn’t like the intended guy. So, after meeting about a dozen prospective
matches every year for three years, when I met the guy who would become my
future husband, I knew he was the one right for me. I have never seen my
decision as daring or adventurous.

On the other hand, I
think Diana has led an interesting, adventurous life. She had her first baby
when she was seventeen, married at eighteen, had three more kids before she
divorced her first husband. She has two more kids by her second husband, the
youngest of whom is in my son’s class.

Years ago, she accidently
left her keys in the car with her first-born son locked inside. This was before
cell-phones and remote access cars. She realized her mistake even as she
started walking away from the car. She called her boyfriend, then called 911
from a payphone. The police officer and fire fighter who responded wanted to
break open her front window to unlock the car and she panicked. “It was a new
car. I didn’t want him to break the window,” she tells me. I can see her side
of it. She was seventeen.

They broke the window anyway. By then,
bystanders were booing and hissing at her, shaming the young mother for being
irresponsible. The policeman refused to hand over the baby to her. He called
her in-laws to come over and gave them the baby. I tell her I can’t imagine a
more harrowing experience or a more daring one.

To her, a seventeen-year old unwed
mother is not unusual. To me, a twenty-seven-year-old women marrying a man she
barely knows and moving to another country, state or town is not unusual.