Mehndi and the Matrix of Marriage This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 11, 2012
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Line upon line upon line upon line, the dark design decorated the palms of her hands like an enigma. Intricate swirls, braids, and tendrils rippled every which way, creating a captivating conundrum, a mystifying work of art. Coils, paisleys, and exotic flowers sprouted from her hands, adding to the mystery. Dots and bands and spirals left no patch of skin untouched. This tessellation of tattoos is called mehndi.

It was her wedding day, and as a guest, I watched as she made her way down the aisle. With her face hidden beneath an opulent veil, and her body covered by the iridescence of her Indian dress, the only part of her visible was her hands – mesmerizing hands coated in an intricate red mehndi. The rhythmic poundings of the dholak guided her courageous steps as she inched closer to the start of her new life. The chime of her payal complemented her climb up to the altar, reminding me of her innocence. The room suddenly hushed; they lifted her veil. She looked upon her husband-to-be for the first time.

Arranged marriage, though a treasured tradition in Southeast Asian and Islamic cultures, has been met with unmerited contempt in American society for quite some time. Born and raised in America to parents who had an arranged marriage, I have come to find that this tradition is simply misunderstood. Indian and Middle Eastern parents believe their children are their most precious possessions. They, therefore, do not allow them to leave haphazardly; they choose who their children are to marry, and spend a great deal of time and effort in search
of a perfect match. Critics claim that this creates artificiality in the affection between those involved, but growing up around friends and family who all had arranged marriages, I have only witnessed genuine love. And though I have a hard time seeing myself agreeing to an arranged marriage, I cannot deny its legitimacy; it just takes a little ­understanding.

Understanding arranged marriage is like deciphering the designs of mehndi. While it is hard for most of us to fathom marrying someone we know little about, the concept actually invites a very appealing mystery. Much like the enticing mystery inherent to mehndi, arranged marriage engenders an intrigue that is not immediately understandable. Upon first look at a bride's hands, one may simply see a fanatically ornate design; yet upon closer inspection, the connections and truths in the motif reveal themselves. Similarly, the bride and groom enter into their marriage not knowing much about each other. But over time, they unravel each other's secrets and discover why they were meant for each other.

While there are certainly stories about abuse and incompatibility in arranged marriages, we must remember that this happens in free-choice marriages as well. All relationships are a gamble, but in arranged marriages, the stakes seem higher. Arranged couples must try hard to make their union work because it is critical to ensure their parents' reputation is upheld. Therefore, there is genuine commitment in these relationships – commitment that lends itself to the growth of a beautiful love.

According to statistics, couples with arranged marriages are less likely to separate. This is because conventional marriage, or at least marriage as we know it, involves two people who have known each other and loved each other for a period of time, joining together in holy matrimony. Usually they have already uncovered each other's cute habits, secret quirks, past history, and future aspirations. Is there anything left to learn? A legal marriage really only gives them an excuse to live together, have children, and obtain marital benefits. There may be little mystery in this relationship. Love is there from the get-go, so the marriage is transparent and straightforward.

The arranged marriage, on the other hand, ­provides a platform as complicated and esoteric as the coils and tendrils of a mehndi design for the ­husband and wife to get to know each other and develop love. It is also expected that these individuals have not yet experienced true love for another person, so this marital love is unadulterated. No one has broken their hearts; no one has entranced them with love's compelling pull. They experience it all in the safe confines of their arranged marriage.

My cousin Saima married Goharr a few years ago. She was born and raised in Pakistan, and Goharr, a man her parents chose for her, is Canadian. The two had very different upbringings and were seemingly unalike, so at the time, I did not know how their marriage would endure. Today, however, they are one of the happiest couples I have ever seen. It is true that they struggle at times and do not have much money, but they have each other. My e-mail is constantly swamped with happy pictures of their family and baby.

In addition, the tales my grandmother used to tell me of her and my grandfather made me crave a love as extraordinary as theirs. Like something from a movie, their arranged marriage fostered a love that involved fleeing countries together during times of war and supporting each other when their house was ransacked and their lives threatened. Both the relationship of my grandparents and my cousin involved challenges, but they worked through them
like true, loving couples. These arranged marriages were far from artificial or ill-fated.

Like the color of mehndi that runs deep, so can the love between two people who previously did not know each other. Arranged marriages work because the love grows from something more than physical appearance and compatibility; it grows from the honesty of the heart.

I am not trying to encourage anyone to have an arranged marriage, and I am in no way attacking the validity of love marriages, especially since the latter appeals to me the most. But my culture is often criticized for arranging marriages, and I believe it is because people see these marriages in the wrong way. Like a free-handed mehndi design, arranged marriages are unique, and like a tattoo, they can be ­permanent.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Sketched97 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm
You use adjectives as a crutch when you write. Instead of finding beauty in meaning you try to find it in diction. It could work, but it doesn't here; it sounds like you're writing with a thesaurus by your side. Besides that, I think you have really great ideas, it just sounds like you're trying WAY too hard.
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