Sunday, September 14, 2008

The "FSE" and other "arrangements"......संगणकीय बघणे व कांदेपोहे

Scenes from a household. Sometime in the early sixties.

A visit from a family you never met or saw before in your life. A flurry of household cleaning and organizing. The best spreads are on display, textilewise and foodwise.

Cut to the living room, where the elders sit with smug faces like they have been through all this before. The visiting family has one non-smug member , in whose interests this visit is happening. Embroideries on cushions are admired, the mother of the house breathes a sigh of relief that everything is happening as planned. She points out to the curtain where the daughter of the house has excelled at patchwork stuff. a Krishna and Gopi scene. Approving nods, the non-smug member trying to glance through the said curtain, when lo behold, it parts, and a tray of Pohe ( a delicious snack made from pressed rice flakes) appears, followed by a set of bangled arms that belong to a smart girl, who pretends she has made it all herself. Greetings, peripheral glances on the side, and everyone sort of settles down to size each other up. The girl's uncle who is the actual link between the two families, clears his throat, as a preamble, and the system kind of kicks in.

Like the Civil Services, this is like the Family Services Exam(FSE). The girl's education is ascertained, commented upon, and her hobbies are asked, whereupon she is cajoled into breaking forth into a song, and everyone tries to read a secret meaning into it. The visiting boy nods his head in rhythm to hide is nervousness. The food is appreciated, the girls cooking is favorably imbibed, some small talk is made before the boy is asked if he wants to ask her any questions. I have heard of cases where the puffed up chap has asked the girl if she new what metaphysics was. She answered that she was a student of arts, quietly docking off a point against the chap. Some guys ask about hobbies and stuff. At some point the boys mother thinks enough freedom has been granted to the younger members and the visit ends with promises to get in touch.

In the intervening years(70's and 80's), as a concession to the increasing success of women in education, and industry, the Pohe ritual was followed up with letting the two young people talk in a non-parental, non-pohe environment. By and by , this led to the two meeting up several times, on their own, their parents always aware of the meeting times and meeting places. Decisions were reached, expenses and other things discussed and the parental stamp of approval was bequeathed to the couple, among other things from the girl's side to the boy's, which we don't talk about here.

In the 21st century, if you leave aside those marriages that happen between schoolmates, workmates, and folks who meet each other for years together in buses, trains , temples, churches, gyms, saving each other from slipping on banana peels , escalators etc, things haven't changed much.

Today the pohe-ridden living room ritual has been replaced by the emoticon riddled scrap. Scores of young people, whose communication with the opposite sex is restricted to admiring glances from a distance, accompanied by comments amongst friends, lose their inhibition, as they scrap away to glory on social networking sites. You can talk more in scraps to people you half know, than face to face , with people you full-well-know.

A glance at the scraps written by some, and the communities they subscribe to, actually tells you about their mentality. Never mind their posted photos. The language and obssessive attitude reveals all. There is a benefit in knowing all this as opposed to finding out after marriage that the person is a secret creep.

A look at the list of friends and a perusal of their profiles, can tell you, if the person is there for fun, or serious meetings. Sometimes you end up knowing people in common. One step towards the final goal. Birthday greetings. Festival wishes. At some point , a planned accidental meeting after work or class.

We don't have socials ,dances, dating et al, in the sort of milieu in which I live. Communication with the opposite sex is normally innocent,free, and related to your life stage and hobbies, and encouraged.

Like in the West, sometimes, these things go to their logical conclusion. Unlike the West, us middle class types, still frown on singles bars (or any kind of bars), discotheques, weekend outings, and other methods of randomized meeting. Strange , because, in the West, these probably take the place of the Pohe Ritual (without the parents, curtains etc).

At the end of the day, these are "arrrangement" systems, all in place.

East or West, parental concerns are the same. Arrangement systems vary. Degrees of freedom at a given instant in time vary.

In a way, everything is "arranged".

Except the mind of this young girl, impressed with movies, stunned by the articles in magazines, interviews with celebrities, fibs from ambitious friends, blinded by MTV, as she stops while having dinner, gives her parents a surprised look, and says ," But I will not have an arranged marriage.......!"


  1. Good One!!

    All said and done. I repent myself for the sake of kande-pohe!!Maybe some 10 years later, i will make sure I have the ceremony with Sudhir making the kande-pohe and cha for me n aai- baba :-D

    That "girl" in your blog sounds closer home

  2. Neat ! "Today the pohe-ridden living room ritual has been replaced by the emoticon riddled scrap" !

    Brilliant ! LOL !

    Yes. We talk in English but write in gibberish !! Orkut and Facebook are the new grammar schools. And chat rooms provide instant marriages..err messages !!


  3. Chandru had told me about your blog and your interests in Cricket.

    My visit to sysads room has reduced and hence you might not have seen me recently.

    You can also have a look at:

  4. That young girl looks very familiar :) Though everything is arranged, a young girl would look out for an accidental rendevouz somewhere to flare up imagination.

    Nice read.

  5. Enjoyed this post very much. I've read some blogs where the marriage was arranged and found it fascinating. Myself thinking, "I could not stand to be in that situation."

    But to look back on my previous relations, my parents KNEW when the guy was not right for me and stated their mind. I wish I trusted in their views much earlier on. (I am happy to say that my parents think Greg is a great person and definitely approve of him!)

    Should I mention I met Greg online at a dating site? I'm not the bar type, neither is Greg. We aren't in the same social settings (though his good friends live within walking distance of my home and I never knew them until after I dated Greg).

    Had it not been for the dating site, most likely we never would have met.

    Dating has changed.... yet, not really. The venues, mayhap, but not the foundation.

  6. harshu: I'll fly to Bengaluru if Sudhir is making the Kande Pohe....

    Kavi: Thank you. Just realized that CCD is part of the proceedings these days...but no pohe, no fun.

    Joy: the girl is certainly familiar :-). thank you.

    Aleta : very interested to read your comments. Just proves that East,West,North or South, parents will be parents....Thank you.

  7. enjoyed reading the post, it all sounds so familiar, except that in our families people wanted to see the girl walking( may be she is lame:), reading, and even if the girl cant boil water for tea, she is attributed with all the activites being done by her, as she ia jack of all trades:)

  8. renu: actually, in addition to asking the girls to walk, they even ask them sometimes to read, from what I have heard. Checking the limbs, eyes, brains.... what next ?

  9. That last line was something i did tell my parents! :)Thankfully, they didn't subject me to the kande-pohe ritual, but i did meet a few guys just to keep them happy (outside the home of course).

    You will be amazed at how 'arranged' marriages are in the West too. Very often, people get introduced in church or the families know each other or friends set up people on blind dates. And parents in the West are equally worried about their children finding the right partner. They are as persistent as Indian parents in this matter.

  10. Im hoping to rack up and bank enough bonus flight miles so that my children get free tickets to whereever they want to elope to with thier unsuitable someones!

    My kids are now 6 and 4. You figure I can do it by then?

    Loved the line about scraps! In my day we just simpered at each other with angst ridden eyes. Al Gore hadnt invented the internet yet.

    Another Kiran in NYC

  11. globalindyan : I agree with your take on how "arranged" marriages in the west are. I was in grad school at UCIrvine in early 70's, and shared an apartment with an American girl. Parents everywhere are absolutely the same. The manifestation of the tension varies....

    Another Kiran in NYC : Dont worry about bonus miles. I have a feeling that by then folks will be trying out everything, including eloping etc in "virtual reality"....

  12. I just went through your post. It took off tangent but something on similar lines. I'm a Tamilian born and brought up in dombivili in the early 70's. Then it used to be a predominantly Maharashtrian area. We (me and my friends) as kids used to have free access to everybody's house as we lived in a 'chawl' system. I have been through all this rituals (courtesy the uninvited visits to somebody's house) though never understood the significance of it till late in life.

    Dassara is approcahing therefore this post made me remember the days of 'Bondla'. Guessing what was inside the 'dabba' and getting to eat at least 7-8 varities of sweets and savouries.

    Where have those simple pleasures of life gone?

  13. Ganesh : I did the "Bhondla" too, in Pune. It is normally a girls thing. I wonder how you guys managed to gatecrash in Dombivli....

    But yes, those were the days.

  14. Dear Madam,

    I was talking about the days when I was a 4-5 years old kid. At that age you get a free license to any function irrespective of gender. The reason being kids at that age are innocent and are not capable of any devious acts.

    Another reason I mentioned the 'Bhondla' was I'm cursed with a photographic recall of many events in my life irrespective of their importance.