Amidst the Rubble, Earthquake Survivor Finds Love
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About this Article: I wrote this article in February 2001 after my trip to India -- a trip, during which I met the woman I would marry...

I was in the city of Ahmedabad, India when the 7.9 Earthquake hit on January 26. I can remember thinking that a train was passing by. However when I noticed that the entire building was shaking violently and that I had trouble even keeping my balance, my family and I ran down four floors of stairs and outside. Legs-shaking and in shock, I looked for the familiar faces of my mother, uncle, aunt and sister to make sure everyone was there. Thankfully everyone was fine, but later I would find out that 100,000 people would not be so lucky. Ten minutes later, a car pulls in front of the apartment building and a hired-driver steps out. My entire family and I were demanded to seek safety at my fiancée’s home – my fiancée, whom I have known for only a week…

Now that I have your attention, let me briefly tell my story; and if by the end of this short tale you still want to know more, I’ll be more than happy to share. I was raised in the United States and the thought of arranged marriages always spooked me. As far as I was concerned, I was someday going to meet my soul mate, fall in love, and then get married. So it still surprises me that I am now happily engaged to someone I have known for all of a week. Before you wonder whether I was forced into it by age-old Indian tradition, the answer is “No,” I chose this fate for myself. When I saw how the system worked in action, it began to make so much sense to me.

The purpose of dating in Western culture is to develop trust with someone while revealing that person’s character, flaws, strengths, and quirks. Through a process of trial and error, a person can get lucky enough to find a person with whom they “click.” However while 50% of American marriages end in divorce, less than 2% of Indian marriages result in divorce. Why the staggering difference? Let me explain my story and give you an insight into the Indian paradigm of wedlock.

On Thursday, January 18, my mother, my uncle, my aunt and I were on our way to a pre-arranged meeting with a girl my cousin had recommended for me. As my mother had informed me, we would meet her family. We already had some background information on the girl, Jalvi. This information (termed “biodata”) has a basic description of Jalvi’s appearance, hobbies, education, religious beliefs, and aspirations. Apparently my mother had given her family my biodata already. Now the two families would socialize with one another, indirectly trying to see the character of the other family. After half an hour of chatting, Jalvi and I were taken upstairs to a room, wherein we would talk to one another in privacy. At first I was quite nervous, since this was the first girl I was meeting. Later I found out that I was also the first guy she had met. We talked about life goals, likes, dislikes, pet peeves, and anything else we could think about. Imagine dating without any deception or falsities. Neither she nor I would hide anything from one another, because if what the other had to say, it was not a big deal, there was always another potential-spouse waiting. This actually takes off a lot of the pressure of having to impress, because you are just supposed to be yourself. Also because we are not emotionally attached the other person, there are no compromises and bending of truths. It’s all straightforward and honest about who we are and what we want. After about an hour, her sister came to get us. Meanwhile our two families had been quizzing each other about the families and us. Traditional Indian thought says that good parents usually lead to good children.

For the next five days, I continued to meet girls – about four to five a day. On Monday, Jalvi’s family contacted my mother and asked if I would like a second a meeting with Jalvi. The second meeting means that I am seriously considering her as a wife, and she is seriously considering me as a husband. Before I came to India, I was totally against the idea of an arranged marriage, but I had promised my mother I would keep an open mind. After meeting Jalvi, I had realized that she had all the qualities I was looking for in a future-spouse; the only difference is that I was not in love with her. So after carefully considering the situation, I told my mother to go ahead and plan a second meeting. On Tuesday evening, Jalvi and I were taken to a private country club, where we sat on swings for two (amidst a beautiful garden) and talked about marriage and what we wanted. You see, in India girls and guys are raised to wait until marriage to experience love. They are raised with the idea that family-ties are more valuable than anything else. When an Indian girl or an Indian guy gives you his/her love; it is complete, innocent, and loyal. I liked Jalvi’s personality, her aspirations, her interests, her humor, morals, and family values. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I thought she was attractive. She had thought the same of me, and even though we were not in love, we both knew that because both our families got along and because we shared similar interests and life goals, we could get along. In Indian tradition, when two people marry, its not individuals that are joined, but entire families. After all, how many times have in-laws ruined a marriage? I thought carefully about the decision I was about to make. I reasoned to myself that I could come back to America and look for a girl to fall in love with that would have these qualities. There was a chance I would find it, and there was a chance I would not. I knew that my cousins had successful, happy marriages, and the love does come. So I told Jalvi that I am favorable to an engagement, and she told me the same. The next day, Jalvi’s family called my family and they gave their approval for their daughter to marry me. I told my mom, that I also wished to marry her, and we gave them our approval also. Because I was leaving on Sunday, our two families hurried to set up an engagement ceremony, which was held the next day.

At my father’s home, the men from her family came to give their blessings. Meanwhile the women from my family went to fetch Jalvi and bring her back – a symbol of bringing her into my home. After a short ceremony, we were both taken to her family’s home, symbolizing Jalvi’s family’s acceptance of me into their home. We then had a short ring ceremony and celebrated. Even on only a few hours notice, we had about 75 people at our ceremony – all family and close friends.

I went to sleep that night wondering if I had made the right decision, whether or not she would fall in love with me. The next day, the earthquake hit, and I soon found out what it meant to have the love of a traditional Indian girl. She was bound to me as I was to her. She had waited her entire life to give her love to someone, and now that she had found that someone, she would not hold back. As the driver picked me up and took me to her home, I found her sitting on the stairs, anxiously waiting for me. I later found out from her sister that Jalvi refused to eat or move from her place until I came and she knew I was safe. In India, only 2% of marriages end in divorce. What I didn’t mention was that 90% of those that do end in divorce were Western style marriages. In just a day, Jalvi and her entire family had taken me in as part of their family, giving me their unconditional love. I had not just gained a future life partner, but also a sister, parents, cousins, uncles, and aunts; all of whom who would care for me as if I were their own. On hindsight, I would have been foolish to have given this up and chance my finding a girl just like her. I too was falling in love with her, and I know that we will have a happy life together.

(C) Saurin Shah