VIEWING A WOULD BE WIFE

VIEWING A WOULD BE WIFE

  In most cultures all over the world, it is the men who strive to find his female partner, like his living by ‘the sweat of thy brow’.The tradition of finding a wife to be in Kerala, India is entirely different from other parts of the world. The rituals of ‘Pennukanal’ is an integral part of arranged marriage.When I narrated my experience to my English friends, they thought the process of displaying girls was like buying a commodity. That too unlike in the Western world, where the divorce rate is nearing 50%, in Kerala the ‘purchase’  is a once in a lifetime deal. Since a lot of British people were inquisitive about the ritual, I shall narrate it in  male outlook. 

Unlike the current trend of social media, high-tech dating sites and newspaper advertisement,  parents of boys or girls in 1970s or earlier were  getting the information about each other solely through marriage brokers. They were very well regarded in all Kerala communities as they were known for their capacity to spread gossips of good  or bad  about the family like an advertising media. Their mannerisms, attire with a diary in the armpit and their fairytale description of the girl were legendary.  Once wedding is fixed, the marriage brokers get commission from both groom’s and bride’s sides. 

Once the marriage broker brings an alliance, parents will thoroughly search about the girl, family and their connections. Unlike in western countries, the decision of marriage mainly depends on the compatibility of families involved.  The tradition of ‘bride viewing’ takes place in girl’s home. The bachelor gets a glimpse of the would be bride, who typically brings tea and snacks for the guests who accompany the would be bridegroom.  Normally, the parents, immediate relatives or fiends would accompany the bachelor. In the girl’s home also there will be her immediate relatives. To match the aspirations of both families, parties involved, and to get a  horoscope match for Hindus, the ritual of bride viewing could carry on for many months or even years. 

During the long car journey , parents or brother in laws would coach the bachelor on how to present, how to talk and how to impress the girl. One should not reveal any emotions including whether one likes or does not like in the presence of girl’s relatives. Once returning home in the car, parents would ask the boy to appraise everything  about the meeting. Conventionally, the evaluation is expressed in certain percentage for look, personality, the standard of relatives and general ambience.  In the appearance of girl the salient features are her height, weight, colour, facial features, hair, body shape and gait. By 1970s, boys were allowed to ask a few questions direct to girls like where does the girl study, and her vision of future career. This gives a rough idea about the intelligence and articulation of the girl. Once the boy’s party return home further deep discussion will ensue, to arrive at a unanimous decision. One of the parents would inform the decision to the marriage broker. 

Let me unfold my experience in various bride viewing in line with the above rituals. Just a few months prior to my going to Nigeria in August 1976, I kicked off viewing brides.  I used to ask humorously every broker about the body structure of girl’s mother. My medical knowledge taught me that invariably the girl will end up inheriting the fatty nature of her mother in years. The first viewing was at Ernakulum, about 45 miles south to my home town,Thrissur, India. The parents of the girl declined after my viewing as they thought I was an alcohol addict. This was because of my company with junior doctors in Jubilee Mission Hospital, where they used to party once a week with blasting music. The second one was a lady doctor at Kottayam, where I went with Mathew, my employer, of St. Mary’s Hospital, Udumbannur.  

Whilst in Nigeria, I visited India during my holidays in August 1977, my solitude strongly persuaded me to get married at any cost. In order to ease the misery of frequent travel by public transport, I bought a second hand Ambassador car and employed a driver. Marriage brokers inundated with a number of cases, and my parents and myself short-listed the number. Once more I went to see another girl at Kottayam with my father, and her family was very posh. While the girl was bringing tea and snacks, her uncle casually hit her and the spoon fell on the floor. She bent to pick the spoon, as if the uncle had planned to show her assets. I was annoyed to notice that she kept the spoon back in the tray without washing

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Within four days, I visited at least 8  girl’s houses at Kuriachira, Chalakudi, Ollur, Kanjirapally and Thalore. I was insistent in marrying a girl with good qualifications. Most of them were unsuitable because of lack of height, over weight, their quirks and lack of chemistry between us. Although no one complained about my over weight, one girl turned me down because she did not want to go to Nigeria. At last, I fancied a girl who had been seen by my parents earlier.  I went second time to her house with my sister who came from Delhi. Subsequently these meetings  led up-to my marrying my life partner.  

Generally speaking, bride viewing is stressful not only for the would be bride but also for the would be bridegroom. It is stressful when each time one goes to a strange environment and has to restrain one’s emotions and talk formally. After each viewing, my regular friends at Nehru Mandapam would ask “How was your Pennukanal like?” I had  to explain every nitty-gritty aspects about the trip. Often my description was an entertainment to them since I portrayed the whole episode in an embellish language. Then they  would ask questions like, whether the girl got a sister, how much mark I allocated to the girl,what were the snacks like and where would be my next trip! 

Sadly the plight of Kerala girls are far worse than boys, as the community as well as the family will look down upon a girl who is not liked by a boy. Normally boys would not give a feedback why he did not like her, except telling there was no compatibility between them. It is painful to stomach negative feedbacks about height, face-cut and colour, as the girl could do little to correct them. It is less so if the boy or his family declines on the ground of dowry. In 1989, I had two meetings with then Thrissur Catholic Bishop Joseph Kundukulum  to dissuade him from the church encouraging the evil of dowry system.  

If the readers outside India think that viewing prospective brides is an outdated and obsolete system in Kerala, they cannot be more wrong.There might be a slight increase in the percentage of bachelors falling in love with girls and marrying them  like in the West. But predominantly, still bachelors practise the outdated tradition of arranged marriage. They even have no shame in getting illegal dowry and enjoy the trappings of the same. Although in India, Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in 1962, sadly few have been prosecuted on that count. 

 In 1970s, there was no television,computer, internet and therefore no social media to help sprout romance. Then the society did not allow boys and girls to mix together which was  enforced by ‘morality police’. Today’s youth are more exposed to romantic life in the west. Yes always it is good to marry a girl whom you know for a while  as compatibility smooths family life. My wishful thinking is that in the coming years, our young men will cease the bride searching trips for good.

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Dr.C.J.George FRCS

This blog is about my experience as a doctor working in various countries in different clinical set up. This experience spans through 45 years, in which I acquired a lot of favourable contacts and unfavourable encounters. I shall dig deep into them and make it interesting to the readers. Unlike others in the profession, I worked as a community medical officer in a remote areas, prison medical officer, benefit service medical officer, in cardiac surgery in prestigious institutions and as a private doctor. I was managing my own businesses, and real estate in three continents. I hope the information I impart will be valuable to the like minded readers.

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