November 4, 2014

With Love From The Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal's backyard

"Well, it's big and white" I replied, after Qurban, our guide, asked me what I thought about the Taj Mahal. "To be more specific, it's big and white with two red buildings beside it."

That was all I got to say after finally seeing the Taj Mahal in person. The two buildings beside are completely symmetrical because "Muslims love symmetry", Qurban said. He also said a lot of other things about the Taj, the history, the architecture, but I was slightly busy focusing on taking pictures that the only memorable piece of information I remembered was how many kids the emperor's wife had.

"Taj Mahal is entirely marble. It was built for the empire's wife, who birthed him 14 children and died after birthing the 14th child."
"Holy crap. 14 kids?!" I replied.
"That's not a lot. My grandparents had 9 kids back in the days." Qurban said.
"If my husband want me to pop out 14 kids he better also build me a Taj Mahal."

Then for some reason we got into talking about arrange marriage. Because that's the 'thing' in India. And since Taj Mahal symbolizes love it seemed appropriate. Qurban told me that most people still get arrange marriages in India, but more in terms of the parents introducing the kids and the kids can either agree or disagree to marry.

"So you don't date before you agree to marry them?!" I asked.
"No, you date after you marry." Qurban replied.
"What if they have some gross habit that you have no idea?! Like, what if they always clip their toenails on the living room carpet?"
"Well, you are stuck with it."

If dating after marriage is odd, the whole concept of dowry is even more odd. Though dowry is becoming less common, it still occurs quite often. It goes that when a man marries his woman, the woman's family has to give a chunk of money to the man.

"How much is a typical dowry?"
"About $300,000 CDN. Or sometimes if the woman's family has a business the man's family will ask for a percentage."

After seeing how some people's living condition here is hard to imagine them coming up with $300,000 to marry off their daughters. I can't even come up with $300,000 let alone someone who lives in a shack with no air conditioning and no bed frame.

I thought Qurban might have been off with the numbers so I decided to ask my friend Vineet and his friends when we went out to smoke some hookah.

"People in India, they don't buy things, they don't travel, they don't do anything, they just save and save for their children's marriage, and blow all their savings and everything on that marriage." Akshit explained.

Akshit said that even the most simple weddings from people in poverty cost $50,000 and confirmed that a typical dowry is around $300,000. Though some younger men in our generation ask to not have a dowry as the concept seems to be treating the woman as an object.

"Well wait, does the woman have to work after she pays a dowry?" I asked.
"The choice is solely up to her if she wants to work." Vineet replied.
"I wouldn't. If I was to give someone 300K it means they have bought themselves a trophy wife. Literally."

Vineet laughed. And this is why I am glad I don't live in India- because I love my money way too much to just give it away like that, I thought.

"Can you not have a dowry but ask for the woman to have a job?" I asked Vineet.
"No... It is really bad form to ask a woman to work!!"
"Well, in Canada a lot of men would like their woman to have a job to help pay for bills."
"What?! That's not right to ask!!" Vineet said.
"So you're saying that it's bad form to ask your wife to get a job but it is NOT bad form to ask a woman's family for 300K to marry her."

Arrange marriage and dowry aside, one thing I do love about Indian culture is that their family value is very high. I mean, the guy built the Taj Mahal for the love of his wife. What famous Westerner has ever built something as magnificent for their wife? The memorable wives I can think of are Henry VIII's who got beheaded for not birthing him a son.

"So how much are engagement rings in Canada?" Sidharth asked.
"3 months salary. So around 10K." I said.
"Yeah, I have a friend whose ring is 25K. The worst about engagement rings is if the engagement falls through sometimes the woman will keep the ring and you then have nothing."

Now it was those Indian guys' turn to be baffled.

I guess every culture pays a form of dowry. Whether it's a shiny diamond ring or cash. And in every culture, men work, women nurturer, women nag men, because they do things that make women nag. It doesn't matter if you're brown, black, white or Asian, whether you eat potatoes or rice everyday, we are all very much in common with each other.