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Love and Marriage in Modern India

India is home to one of the world’s oldest societies, with thousands of years of religious and cultural traditions.

Journalist Anita Jain, born in India but raised in northern California, felt drawn back to her homeland to find a husband the old-fashioned way — by an arranged marriage.

At thirty-three, she was feeling pressure from her Indian family to marry. Her father placed ads in Indian papers and brokered online dates. Her mother cried. Fed up with the New York dating scene, Anita moved her search for a husband to Delhi.

What she found was not the India of her parents, or not exactly. Instead, she found a thriving Generation Y, partying in tight jeans and tank tops to Bhangra club beats, harvesting the fruits of the high-tech boom. A hybrid of old and new, where clubgoers encounter cows in the street.

This hour, On Point: Looking for love, marriage, and tradition, in modern India.

What do you know of that gear-grinding between generations? How do you reconcile the clash of the traditional and the new? Tell us your story. You can join the conversation right here on this page.

* * *


Joining us from New York is Anita Jain. She’s a journalist born in New Delhi and raised in northern California. Her new book, out yesterday, is “Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India.” You can read an excerpt from the book.

And from Cambridge, England, we’re joined by Perveez Mody. She’s a lecturer in social anthropology at Cambridge University and author of “The Intimate State: Love-Marriage and the Law in Delhi.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Roni Jordan

    As interesting as the topic is, I’m having a hard time listening to Ms. Jain’s speak, since she can’t seem to get a sentence out without saying “ummm” and “you know”

  • Ellen Riley

    Ditto to above comment. For a Harvard graduate, it is embarrassing to listen to her constant use of “you know”

  • http://aol Joseph Koegler

    I appreciate that this person is an intellegient person, but the ‘um’, ‘aah’ and ‘you know’ make it impossible to listen to her.

  • http://cogsciandtheworld.blogspot.com/ Catherine Caldwell-Harris

    The guest host Jane Clayson seemed to be fumbling to recover from a misunderstanding of Anita Jain’s experience. Clayson assume that the story was “my parents relentlessly pressured me to get married and I gave in.” Clayson asked q’s like: How early did the pressure start, were you pressured to have an arranged marriage (answer: no, I grew up in the States, I always assumed it would be a love match) and — already 20 minutes in, still not getting Jain’s point, asked: Did you ever feel like breaking with your parents and just doing the American thing ? (answer, no — I had already been doing that!)

    Jain had to correct her here and remind her of what she’s been saying: Jain found herself in her late 20s and early 30s unmarried, wanted to be unmarried, but found the dating scene in NYC cynical. She wanted to find men who were more marriage-oriented, and thought well, it can’t be any worse in India (plus interesting things happening in India, tech boom, etc).

    Quite a clash — a reminder of how we can read a blurb about a book and assume we’re going to hear the familiar story of family pressure, when in facts its a story of being unhappy with the American marriage/dating game.

  • Galina

    Hello. This is a very interesting topic for me, as I am in a similar situation as the guest. I am an immigrant from Russia and have lived in the States for 13 years now. I am 28 years old and everyone in my family is pressuring me to get married. I had a series of long term relationships which did not work out. So, now, I am seriously contemplating going back to Russia to find a husband. I think that I may be able to find someone there easier with similar values and views on life, rather than here. One thing I am afraid of is people being interested in me, only because I am an American, as their card to get out the country and assuming that I would be taking care of them financially. Thank you very much for such interesting topic.

  • Akash

    Hello, This is a very interesting topic for me .
    I feel now India is taking a new path , there is love marriage & there is arranged marriage .In my case It was arranged turned love marriage , we had a courtship period after we were engaged which lasted for a year before marriage . This was a nice move because this way we were able to understand each other in a casual setup . I know a lot of my friends who have traced the same path .
    Some of the reasons why people do so is because :
    1/ Given then time to understand each other & each others family.
    2/ Many a times in india spouse needs to move out of town when he/she gets married and have time on your hand gives then time to look for jobs in the new city .



  • aparna

    The umms and you knows come from the complex questions about a country which they can only remotely represent and talk about- and that too based on their very personal experiences… I appreciated the pauses considering the varied and diverse grids of experiences of people in India.

  • Keith D. Cross

    I agree with comments about this interview. The umms and ahs are annoying and Jane C. sounds thoroughly disinterested and unfamiliar with the topic/guest’s point of view. We don’t need the same style of interview listeners expect from Tom (talkative seque), but this is rather deadpan. Feels like an arranged marriage…maybe with time, I will grow to love it. Unlikely.

  • Suzanne Craik

    I agree w/ all of the above comments. The author’s speaking ability is beyond excuse. I have turned it off because I can not tolerate such poor language skills. This should be an embarrassment to all Harvard graduates. I am an elementary public school teacher, soon to start my 35th year, and none of my student teachers would be allowed to address elementary students w/ such poor public speaking skills! And this woman is speaking to thousands of listeners! Unacceptable!!

  • Annonymous

    The ‘uums’ and the ‘you knows’ can be more accomodated in any conversation if you are not trying to be more critical about it. When you are commenting on somebody’s wide usage of ‘umms’ and ‘ you knows’ just try remembering that this person probably had to know more languages froom birth and be fluent in each one of them then most Americans ever dream of. And Harvard does not worry about your spoken English cap[acity they are more worried about what you have in your head…and needless to say ….many Indians do better and you will realize it if you see the stats in American universities today.

    I loved the discussion and feel it truely represents the dillema that is there in every Indian or American Indian person regarding marriage and life.

  • aparna

    I really liked the discussion… I have a sister unmarried who is 33 and just has a brilliant life- the problem is most people in Indian society still see this as a problem and would have unmarried girls of a certain age married… that is something that should change in India… I feel that women should come out and talk about marriage from their point of view rather than have it imposed from outside… And I liked Jane for at least not jumping to assume things… in cross-cultural interactions I suppose there are always hesitations and miscommunications- but so long as the conversations moves ahead without reducing complexities, its refreshing…
    Thanks for having the talk

  • Meera Sai

    Well, Its amazing how some listeners can turn the issue of the talk into a discussion about language- the women are bilingual and “Indians,” without trying to homogenize, have their own brand of Englsih- Indian English is very different from American English and I would say it should be considering the cultural and contextual differences- perhaps the umms are Indianized adaptations and inflections…
    To suggest that the women were intellectually inferior is very very demeaning and resentful, I took it personally as an Indian scholar…
    I think people here are just resentful without understanding how useful and interesting the discussion might be for the culture involved.

  • Leslie

    Further re: endless ‘you know’ing and ‘ummm’ing: she grew up in the US speaking English and went to Harvard in English and is a journalist in English, right? So, it does not matter how many other languages she speaks — articulately or otherwise. Perhaps she says ‘you know’ and ‘ummm’ equivalents in Hindi (if that’s her parents’ language) and other languages. It doesn’t matter. Any value to her story was devalued by her inarticulateness.

  • Asgar

    It is yet another sad story of our times. A handful of Indians thriving on the spoils of a market economy become ‘liberated’ while the remaining hundreds of millions toil in abject poverty, prejudice and ignorance. Meanwhile this bumbling Harvard graduate writes a book to make some dough. I was surprised that Jane didn’t ask Anita what caste circle she was hunting her groom in.

  • Una

    The use of words such as “prejudice” and “ignorance” for the “millions” of Indians and “hunting” for Anita’s search, not to mention “bumbling” mirrors the wrietr’s own prejudice… Indians cannot be homogenized in these Kipling like terms… These images conjure Indiana Jones where people still think most Indians barring a few are half naked!! I suppose some in the West still rather see South Asia and much of Africa as still archaic and lagging in terms of their interactions with modernity. There is a desire to misread the dynamics of countries that are grappling with forces of development and the issues of sustainability.

  • Rajesh

    The topic was interesting, however the author/guest completely missed the point!

  • Lauren

    After reading some of the comments, I expected this interview to be a train wreck and barely intelligible. I thought the interview brought an interesting story to light. But this is just one story and though I’m sure there are other Indians in the States that can relate, by no means do I associate all Indians with the author.
    Nor do I cast all Indians in the same light for having read “The Namesake.” Though stories and interviews can give an otherwise uninformed person insight into different cultures and customs, it would be truly ignorant to assume the subject’s beliefs are held by the entirety of their race. Also, I find it hilarious that her education at Harvard makes people automatically think she would be an excellent public speaker. Talk about assumptions!

  • Eric Johnson

    Just listened to the re-play. I agree that the “ums” and “you knows” detracted from the substance in Anita’s responses. I was surprised because I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Anita and she is very articulate. She sounded a bit nervous. I also don’t suppose its very easy to come up with responses to some very difficult questions on the fly!

    I’m reading her book now and it is in my humble opinion excellent! She is a tremendous writer with a lot to say about the modern India and how it has changed. Her relationship with her father (who is a wonderful character) is very sweet and Anita doesn’t hold much back in terms of her relationships. I’ve laughed out loud on more than one occasion. I’ve also shed a tear or two.

  • Tanya

    I picked up her book last week and couldn’t put it down! I finished this morning…what a great story!

  • Gail

    Anita Jain should listen to herself on the show..maybe she’ll learn to answer a question without the use of “ummm”, and “you know”. And she didn’t seem to be able to answer a lot of the questions…she rambled and hemmed and hawed…I had to switch channel for a minute a few times…she was driving me crazy with her vocal mannerisms.

  • Pam

    I enjoyed the discussion with Anita Jain. Although, it was tough to listen to at times because I was once a part of a relationship in which arranged marriages and race played a factor. I am an African-American woman and he was an Indian from Britain. Not familiar with Indian culture before we met, our relationship seemed doom from the start because of the pressures from his parents to “get married” and/or to “marry the right” person. I thought the comments I heard from the caller who married a South African Indian and the Professor from Cambridge regarding interracial relationships rang true to some of my own personal experience. Needless to say we did not marry and he eventually married a caucasian women. This program reinforced my belief that it is important to understand and grasp cultural thinking even in something as basic as relationships and marriage, and to understand what makes a marriage work within our own culture or between cultures. I am glad that I had the experience that I had in my relationship, and look forward to reading the book.

  • Ann Sinclair

    I find it impossible to listen to this guest. She seems incapable of completing a thought or sentence. Umm…ahh…you know -interspersed all other words -over and over. So the topic is not getting through.

  • meb

    I am an American middle-aged woman who has had the good fortune to meet and work with Indians pursuing studies here in Boston. They welcomed me into their broader community of NRI’s and asked me to visit when they returned home to India.
    Initial reaction-”I don’t think so…I have seen the pictures!”
    Fortunately I was persuaded and I am now planning my 5th trip! Many of the wonderful families I have stayed with had “arranged marriages” I am told by these couples (most in their late 30′s) that in a love marriage couples “marry the person they love” but in an arranged marriage they “love the person they marry”
    Those who are well-matched by loving parents plan to be together for the rest of their lives. Their love is an exploration to learn what they do or will love about one another. I am not proposing that we all adopt this manner of marriage. The next generation in the diaspora I have met are more in tune with what the British sociologist’s viewpoint. The younger women tell me they will agree to meet some prospects, but they will have the last word in the decision. Interestingly, the mothers of teens who grew up here are not planning arranged marriages for their children.

    Meanwhile, one final point I am compelled to make is that Ms Jain speaks of the clubs and nightlife of Delhi and Bangalore and contrasts that lifestyle with the rural and traditional areas where it is implied that arranged marriges are foisted on 15 year olds.
    I wish to submit that there is another group of educated but less fast-living and sexually active young adults who, during college enjoy more traditional lifestyles-not dating, but enjoying their off time with like-minded friend who go on group outings with many friends of both sexes.

    Some of the references in this interview reinforce the many preconceived notions held by Americans about India. It must be seen to be believed!
    Incredible India is a young nation, but an old country and there are wide variations in it’s
    receptivity and adaptation to globalization.

    Jaya Hind!!

  • http://chingrimaachh.com.au shrimpy

    Thanks to Jane Clayton and her guests for a fun show. It looks like the cultural identity introspection trend is set to continue for a while. Also thanks to my fellow (aah-umm) commenters who sound like Youtube commenters who’ve swalled the big-word dictionary.

  • Cat Gomez

    I heard a piece of a song on this program that I first heard when I was riding in a taxi on my way to the airport in London. The driver offered me the CD that I regretfully turned down on the grounds that I was about to backpack through Europe for a couple weeks and didn’t have and way to listen to and I was worried I would scratch it. Either way I haven’t heard that song in a long time and I would really like to know the artist and title of this song. I looked at your music section of npr.org and On Point was not on the list of shows to pick from.

    Thank you for your time!

  • meenu

    I felt that the host and guest never matched. Here is Anita who’s written a memoir and being born and brought up here and does not have good answers to Jane’s question about marriage in modern India. This discussion should be more about her exploration, not statistics about modern India or status of marriage in India.

  • skris

    The family plays a very important role in one’s married life especially with kids in India.
    Getting married against the consent of the families has a big cost to pay later on. You won’t get invited to family functions (even the extended family) and be cut off over a period of time.
    So many arranged marriages I know of are actually chosen by the couple but then arranged (all the formalities of the engagement and wedding) through the families.

  • Gail Enid Zimmer

    I caught part of the interview with Anita Jain on my ten-minute drive home from work and sat in the driveway to hear the rest of it. I have many friends in India, including one who is trying to make the best of an arranged marriage to someone who is not as compatible as he hoped she would be given their similar backgrounds, but that was his choice because his parents were not opposed to his having a love marriage. I hope Ms. Jain’s speaking style will not prevent anyone from reading her book, which is already being circulated by many public libraries. Sample pages on her Home Page – http://www.anitajain.net – will whet your appetite. I loved the story about the family comb!

  • ju

    Interesting to listen to Indians being honest about their own racism. Marrying a white person is fine, even one who may not be rich, but marrying a millionaire black person is a complete no, no.

  • Crystal

    Cat–the music played during the interlude of the piece was from the musical “Bombay Dreams.” Hope this helps.

    I actually wanted to speak up as a White American who married an Indian American. My experience has been nothing but positive. My husband’s parents were welcoming, as has been his extended family. If anything, my extended family has had a bigger issue with my husband’s race than my husband’s family has had with mine.

    I am also, for the record, NOT a millionaire.

  • Nina

    My feeling was that Anita was very courageous to write the book. Probably one reason her interview had some “umms” and “you know”‘s is because it is a very personal subject, and speaking about it on the radio takes more courage; another reason is that being a writer, where you can edit and re-write, is a different skill from speaking. That said, I thought she was clear on many points and worth listening to.
    There are so many factors that can lead to a happy marriage, including luck, and it makes such a difference in life, that I admire Anita for discussing, in print, and verbally, what many people experience in the search. I had a brief, difficult marriage in my early thirties. Later, in my early forties, I met and married (we found each other through a dating service) a wonderful man and we have been happy together for sixteen years…seemingly more deeply happy every day. I never expected it, so, coming later in life, I am always grateful. This is one of the benefits of finding love later, as Anita probably will, that you never take it for granted.

  • http://johnpmathew.blogspot.com John Matthew

    Interesting. clubbers can find cows, dogs, and bullock carts on Indian road.

    Interesting stuff you have there!


  • raj

    I just listened to the show and recognise the frustration of the many complaints above. I think beyond the lack of superfical fluidity, Jane and Jain walked us through a fascinating topic of the cultural and personal interchange from India to America with candor and simplicity. I look forward to reading the book and being reminded again of, how despite our differences, the things that drive us; love, marriage, family, money, society, career are truly global.

  • DM

    To me it seems we Indians cannot speak without doing You know You know. Not only the guests, but even Indian callers keep doing You know You know on the show. I have to watch myself now. :)

  • Rita

    Here’s another radio interview with Anita, this time from Airtalk w/ Larry Mantle in Los Angeles:


    Great interview in my opinion. MUCH better than this npr one. She doesn’t sound nervous at all with almost no ‘you knows’ and ‘ums’ to speak of….great chemistry between her and interviewer!

  • Mark

    Sheesh. What some people won’t do to cop a superior attitude by making snarky comments about trivial language tics without addressing the content. I sympathize with the author for having to deal with a pretty unskilled interviewer who missed the point of the book–that the Indian dating scene in New York and in New Delhi had both blurred the lines between an arranged marriage and the pure chance of romance. Jain went to her ancestral city and found pretty much the same sort of dichotomy that she’d fled in New York.

    The fill-in interviewer’s questions were all over the map (and she asked the same questions myriad times). There was no sense of flow, no sense of any attempt to build on each question and each answer to create a facsimile of a conversation. Considering the scattershot questions, it’s no wonder that the author had to pause to follow a really chaotic and clueless serious of queries.

    The interviewer, the author and the Cambridge lecturer all had their proportionate share of “you knows” and “ums” and “ers,” but that’s entirely the fault of a lousy interviewer, whose job is to create some sort of coherent thread of conversation. The professional lecturer had a string of five “ums” in a row.

    To take cheap shots at the “you knows” is incredibly superficial, elitist and pretty pathetic. Jain is a gifted writer and a published author, and the snooty comments from the stereotypical, pseudo-intellectual segment of NPR’s herbal tea-sipping listenership smacked more than a little bit of–wait for it!–jealousy.

  • Marci

    That Anita Jain purports to represent “what is happening today in India” is laughable. She is grossly misrepresenting India culture.

    She’s describing a small, urban elite. It’s a population that is growing rich by catering to Western business, a tack that requires adopting Western mores and values. The middle-class – and by this I don’t mean the elite – has been set at just 5% of the population (McKinsey Global Study, 2007). Even in the big-city, Mumbai, middle-class suburbs where my husband’s family lives, people are not behaving the way she describes.

    The level of self-absorption of this woman confounds me.

  • nik

    quite intresting this topic was ………………… actualllllly
    but,,,, it showed hw panic she was at the time ,,, she was getting married………………….while in ” INDIA ” it is one of the wonderful moment for any girl………………
                                                               with regards

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