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Thursday, October 29, 2009

So what the heck is 'arranged marriage'?

Arranged marriage is one phenomenon which seems to be the norm in some cultures, while it is totally inconceivable in others. Arranged marriage is still widely followed in south Asia and the middle east. Generations after generations, parents take it as their biggest responsibility to find a suitable bride/groom for their children. Alliances are not just made between the man and the woman but between the families.

Ever since I have been outside of India, all my friends from the western world are immensely curious to know how the whole deal works and if it is actually true. I have been asked over and over again, how in the world can two people who barely know each other enter into a life long commitment. How can one, who takes hours to select a piece of clothing, make such a decision within a couple of meetings? Well, every time I am deeply embarrassed by the question and quite honestly am bewildered myself. But I can make a reasonable assessment of the situation.

Dig this! India has about 30 official languages with over 1000 dialects. We have every possible religion on the earth thriving in this land which is further complicated by the caste system ( age old system of dividing people up by their jobs, which doesn't sit well in today's world but is quite rigidly still there). Hinduism, the predominant religion followed in India has over 330 million forms of Gods or deities with each having a separate following ( most of the countries' population is not so huge! :) ). As you can imagine not two households in India would have the same traditions and beliefs. Now top this all up with a strong tendency to hold on tight to all these customs. In India, kids are grown with immense care and protection. Parents literally give away their lives to get their children the best. In return the children feel obligated to give away the one thing that their parents treasure the most - to stay in line with the family traditions and seek their acceptance. Baam comes in the arranged marriage!

When the kids reach a suitable age (generally 21 for girls and 24-25 for guys), parents start scouting for 'suitable' partners through family contacts/agents/websites. The idea is that if a match is found between a family with similar values, social status and understanding, the possibility of the marriage being successful is high. Mostly a meeting is arranged between the families to discuss the issue and things are finalized within that meeting. Most couples barely talk before their wedding!! They some how have to figure it all out later!

So thats the general picture. But parts of India, especially the cities is rapidly being modernized. With more and more education and influences from the western world, people are realizing the flaws of such a life. While it offers security and acceptance within the family, alarm bells keep ringing in every youth's head at the very thought of living with a complete stranger. As several leaders in the country believe, true integration can only be achieved when people from all over, mix up. The whole arranged marriage business has taken a newer version now with the matrimonial websites playing a major role. Within a shortlisted group, choices can be made quite freely by the boy and the girl, giving them much more time to decide. Somehow this seems to create a win-win situation for both.

While some of the country's youth is of the rebellious nature, most of them are caught in the middle, knowing not whether to sway or not to sway! This is perhaps one of the biggest dilemma that today's youth has in my country. Living outside, I almost laugh over the fact that how certain things are just the way of life in the west while in the east we worry so much over something as basic and fundamental as the right to chose your life partner. Time, common sense (lots of it! :)) and some guts should be the remedy I guess.

Picture Courtesy -

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A visit to Antwerp, the diamond city

The plan was not to visit Antwerp on Diwali, but it just so happened that a friend of mine from India, who now lives in the US came to attend a conference in France! phew! So I met her half way through in Belgium. Lying in the north east of Belgium, about 2 hours away by train from Eindhoven, is Antwerp, the second largest city in Belgium. Well known as the international center of diamond trade and as one of the busiest ports in Europe, Antwerp has a lot more to offer than just that.

To begin with, the Antwerp Centraal Station is a sight in itself, with four levels and trains zipping above and under you. Sipping a hot cup of coffee we waited for my friend to arrive. Even the coffee seemed to taste better in such an exotic city! :) It turned out that she was a tad late, so we decided to walk out a bit before she came. As soon as you step outside the station, you have a feeling that you are traveling back in time. The cobbled streets with the narrow alleys, the many many cafes and restaurants, the unique architecture of the buildings, antique shops, art galleries and the constant smell of chocolate and waffles that drifts through the air. You just fall in love with such things.

We went back to the station to meet my friend and headed straight for lunch. We treated ourselves to some awesome Indian food for just 9 euro at a Jain restraunt called Aahaar. Everybody was so stuffed up after lunch that it took us a few minutes to convince ourselves that we had barely seen anything and hence must go on..:). We started walking through the Grote Markt which seemed to be in the middle of it all.

Lined with what can only be called a shopper's paradise, we tried not to sway into a store before reaching the Onze Lieve Vrowekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady). Unfortunately we made it 5 minutes after the closing time! So we had to be satisfied with a sneak peak inside and of course the majestic Gothic structure that it is from the outside.

We decided that we should visit the Provinciaal Diamantmuseum before it closes as well. The museum describes the history, mining and the finishing touches made to diamonds in a very interactive way with several actual tools and samples. Frankly, before polishing, a diamond looks like any ordinary stone that you would walk on without a second glance! The museum also has a range of exquisite jewelery and art pieces made of diamonds.

After the museum we couldn't contain ourselves any more. We decided it was shopping time. One stop was naturally reserved for the incredible Belgian chocolates at Leonidas and fresh warm waffles with ice cream. yummmm!!

We went back to the station, said our good byes to my friend who was heading back to Tucson the next day and settled our bills while waiting for the train to Eindhoven. As we were traveling back, I was thinking that Antwerp is one such place where you really don't have to visit places to be entertained. You just have to walk through the city and that is quite a bit for a day!

After coming home, my neighbor called me to her place for a mini celebration. In the small space we live in, she had made some pretty authentic decorations for Diwali. The day ended well for me.

On that note, much belated Deepavali wishes to everybody! May the year ahead bring in prosperity and good health.

Picture Courtesy - Abhinav Rohit & Prasad Perlekar (Yes, I agree the camera and the photographer both matter..;) )

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Lighted Route in Eindhoven (Lichtjesroute)

Eindhoven was liberated on September 18th, 1944 by the Allies in World War II. The soldiers were welcomed with lamps outside their homes. Since then, every year, the citizens placed lamps along the route that the Allies took in Eindhoven to celebrate their liberation. The tradition was stopped in 1969 but was picked up again in 1984, and this year marked the 25th anniversary of the Lighted Route or the 'Lichtjesroute'.

At the pond

From 18th September - 11th October, the 22km long route is right along the bike path, making it an excellent outing in the night time. Luckily the weather God had mercy on us and it din't rain while we pedaled our way through. Right at the middle of the route is a small pond which is completely decorated with lights and has small stalls in the night with treats for the riders. We stopped to take some pictures and continued along.

Few lovey - dovey ones

Statue of Liberty and Dutch bikes

A crazy fish and wind mills ( of course!)

Honestly it wasn't the most magnificent piece of work that I have seen, but was an interesting way to tour the city in the dark hours. We met an old man on the way who waved at us from his window! :) After the chilly ride, we stopped near the station for some warm frites which tasted like heaven. A good ride with a tasty ending. :)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

4 Indians, a Spanish movie, Dutch subtitles

Well, the title literally gives it away. The university has a small theater/cafe called the 'Zwarte Doos' or the black box which plays a movie three days a week. The movies played are mostly foreign and are generally not the main stream hits like in regular theaters. You have to watch out in their Dutch website to see what movie is played and in which language.

It was completely my idea and as I checked the website, it said the movie was in two languages - English/Spanish. Somehow I just assumed that the movie was in English with sprinkles of Spanish in between. So off we all went to watch Che-part 1, a biography on the Argentina born Cuban revolutionary.

The movie started and for the first 5 minutes everything was in Spanish. While my friends gave me the weird looks and mumbled a few curses under their breath, I was confident that the language would switch soon. Ah! Steven Soderbergh, the director was trying to give an authentic feeling to the film. As it turned out the movie was entirely in Spanish, sprinkled with some English.
And as one would expect the subtitles were in Dutch (The Dutch never dub foreign films, just subtitles). I did suspect something when the ticket counter guy gave us the odd looks.

While I desperately tried to figure out the subtitles, I really really wished I had payed more attention in my Dutch class. The movie was dead serious and the one or two times the audience laughed, I joined in just to blend in. hahaha!!! I seriously thought at least one of my friends was going to walk out soon. But we managed through the 2 hour movie. I must say quite an accomplishment. And to think that we were thinking of buying tickets for Che - part 2 for a back to back view!

The only good thing was that I realized my Dutch even though not any where close to being decent has vastly improved in the nine months that I have been here.

P.S - Ernesto Che Guevara! What a man, what a revolutionary! Not having learnt a whole lot while watching the movie, I came home and read quite a bit about him. Will probably try watching Che - part 2 with English subtitles.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Remembering Gandhi...

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Google homepage today -

Celebrating Mahatama Gandhi, the Father of our nation's birthday. Happy Gandhi Jayanthi!
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