Where east and west will never meet

Ed
Ed Smith
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It's a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack!We could substitute the word "interesting" for "strange," or the word "curious," as in "The Curious/Interesting/Strange Case of Benjamin Button." Interesting/strange/curious movie, by the way.Anyway, different words can sometimes mean the same thing and sometimes not. Depends on the situation.

Take the case of the man from India who recently was faced with a most perplexing problem. As is the custom in some parts of that country, young men and women don't always choose the person they marry. Marriage between two people can be arranged by parents almost from the children's infancy.

It seems strange and unacceptable to those of us in the Western world. But it's a custom that's lasted a very long time, so it must have something going for it.

It does save a young woman the trauma of getting herself dolled up, spruced up, made up and dressed up simply for the purpose of trying to find a husband.

I know what you're thinking. Young women don't do that anymore, Eddie. That belongs to another age, another time and another generation, one you obviously haven't moved out of. Young women aren't interested in going out of their way to attract husbands anymore.

I'd agree, with the addition of one small word: "some." as in some young women, etc. Or perhaps the addition of four little words: "in some places some" young women. We must be careful to avoid generalities, mustn't we.

Likewise, the young man is faced with none of the stress of finding a wife satisfactory to his parents, or someone who will make a favourable impression on his work associates, or who may be socially acceptable to his peers. The lady he has for a wife is not his responsibility, after all. It was done for him - or to him.

Once the parents of the two little tots have agreed that they'd make a wonderful couple, the die is cast. There's no going back. It becomes a sacred pact between the two families and thus a matter of honour.

In our culture, we can see all kinds of problems emanating from such a system. Suppose she's ugly? Suppose she's as crooked (in the contrary sense of the word) as angels are straight? Suppose she turns him off physically? Suppose she can't cook? Suppose she turns out to be gay?

For her part, suppose he's ugly? Suppose he stinks? Suppose he leaves the toilet seat up? Suppose he makes a bad father? Suppose she can't stand to have him around? Suppose he's gay? We could go on and on.

Perhaps in arranged marriages, physical attractiveness, personality characteristics and gender lifestyles aren't important.

We met a man from India last summer who was in one of those situations. He hadn't chosen his wife, nor she him. In fact, he hadn't seen much of her since they'd been married because she found work in another part of the world. He was adamant, however, that they were very much in love.

We know a couple who always maintained that their excellent marital relationship, lasting more than 30 years, was directly due to the fact that he worked in another part of Canada and got home for two weeks every two months.

It's hard to believe that these arranged things always end in perfect love and harmony. Still, it may be a better basis for marriage than hormones gone mad, unplanned pregnancy or the need for financial and social security. The divorce rates in this part of the world would lead one to assume that, would they not?

On the other hand, the romantics among us argue that falling in love with someone who is compatible and who loves you back is an excellent reason to be in a relationship.

Which leads us back full circle to our young man at the beginning. Understand, I'm not making any of this up. I'm not above making it up, but in this case I'm not.

As with so many others in that culture, this fellow's marriage had been arranged by the respective parents when the children were quite young. I saw pictures of her and she didn't look half bad. Perhaps that's a crass way of putting it. She looked like a very nice young lady.

The chap concerned didn't seem to have much of a problem with her, either. Indeed, his subsequent actions proved that. But there was one little fly in the ointment, as there always seems to be. In this case, the fly was in the form of a beautiful young woman with whom our friend had fallen deeply in love, and she with him

Now, here was a pretty quintal of fish. He was honour-bound to marry the one, but desperately wanted to marry the other. What was the poor man to do? The solution to this dilemma would require thinking outside the box.

When Abraham and Sarah were childless in their old age, Sarah, too, had a rather creative answer to their problem. Sleep with Hagar, my maid, she told him, and get her pregnant. Then we will have our child. Perhaps not surprisingly, Abraham agreed.

The young Indian man also had a novel idea. It wouldn't have worked in our world anymore than Sarah's would have, but it did quite nicely in his.

"I will," he announced grandly, "marry them both!"

And he did, within 24 hours of each other. No, I don't know which one he had his first night with, but I have my suspicions, based largely on my western world upbringing.

Evidently, this was acceptable to all parties and the deed was done and everybody happy. How did the two women feel about it?

"Wonderful," said one, "that we are both married to a man we love. We'll be like sisters!"

Interestingly, curiously and strangely ... nice.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca.

Geographic location: India, Canada, Springdale

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