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October 26, 2007

I Married a Total Stranger

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But I could not escape tradition entirely. In a matter of months, our home became an extension of the Air India terminal, as uncles, sisters, brothers, and distant cousins settled in on the pull-out couch. (I'd forgotten that an Indian woman marries a family, not just a man.) For three months, I endured gigantic suitcases in the middle of the living room, curry wafting into the hallway, and prayer bells at 6 a.m. sharp. I envied my friend Anna, whose Swedish parents stayed in a hotel, treated her to brunch at Serafina, and busied themselves at Bloomie's.

To escape the houseguests, I found a job as a financial consultant. The New York Times in one hand, coffee in the other, I realized that my saris of bright pink, violet, and salmon were not exactly subway wear. Quickly, I succumbed to Levi's and Ralph Lauren.

My officemates were intrigued when they heard about my arranged marriage. "It's nice to have a spiritual and family connection with your husband, rather than one that begins in a bar and ends with sex," sighed leggy Victoria from Brooklyn, who frequented eHarmony and match.com.

That's when I started to realize that I just might have the best of both worlds. I marinated my Indian marriage in the flavors of Manhattan. I kept the sari and bought the Jimmy Choos. I made fabulous curries, seasoned with spices from Dean & Deluca. And after months of enjoying decidedly non-Indian experiences of seders, Saks, and sake, I felt confident enough to direct Indian guests to a hotel, occasionally throwing in a MetroCard.

As Indian women gain financial independence, it is inevitable that we will see fewer arranged marriages — and maybe that's too bad. I firmly believe that our marriage works because it is blessed and supported by our families. The strength we get from their advice (solicited and unsolicited) helps us overcome difficult times. Had I found my own mate, I'm sure my parents would have come around, but I'd have to live knowing that they wouldn't be truly emotionally invested in the success of the marriage.

I've come to believe it's not so much how you get hitched but what you do with your relationship that matters. Although my husband doesn't always agree with his opinionated and selectively liberated wife, he openly expresses his love. Back home, couples don't even hold hands on the street. Here, well, couples do a lot more than that. India may have found me a husband, but America showed me how much fun it is to be his wife. Power to my parents for arranging this union.


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