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Why Arranged Marriages And Careers Aren’t As Crazy As You Think

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If I were a non-Indian reading some online critiques of Indian parents, I would visualize them as heartless taskmasters who are hellbent on crushing their child’s dreams. Wouldn’t it be nice if parents just let their kids vegetate in front of their laptops, hang out in bars, pick their fashion designing or literature courses, and become poor-but-satisfied art historians and film critics?

A few thoughts:

The New Baby Boomers

We (the 80s and 90s generation) are the ‘baby boomer’ generation of India, and it is important to place our role in historical context. Indian parents want their kids to have a better deal than they did. They want their kids to be able to afford a nice house, a car, live a good life, and balance it with a nice family. Barring a privileged few, ~99% of the parents of the current generation couldn’t have afforded all of the above in their time. Jobs weren’t as easily available or lucrative as they are today. In the first 3 years post-MBA, I earned more than my dad did all his life.

In the first 3 years post-MBA, I earned more than my dad did all his life.

Career Planning
I don’t understand why people consider it crazy that their parents would want them to pick a professional course. There simply aren’t enough career options out there that guarantee a reasonable earnings flow. Actually, barring certain professions (engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants), the job market for other roles (economics, arts, sports, history etc.) is still nascent in India. If you want to start up your own company, I am sure a college degree is a bare minimum requirement for employees or investors to take you seriously (unless you are an IIT dropout). If you are blaming your parents for your inability to start a company, you really have no business starting a business anyway.
Athletic Dreams
While success in tournament style fields like sports, entertainment, or startups (winner takes all) is highly recognized and rewarded, the probability of success is negligible. In all probability, your startup will fail, you will not play for India, and Shah Rukh Khan won’t know your name. Unless you are from a privileged background, putting all your chips into the probability of your success in a tournament is a bad idea. It would take a bad or a delusional parent to allow you to put your future livelihood at stake on your teenage whims, unless you are spectacularly talented.

Forced Marriage
While forced marriages are a curse of our society, it is unfortunate that it is being mixed up with the good old arranged marriage. Today’s urban marriage process has evolved into a system of arranged dates, from what was earlier a ‘meet once and marry in a month’ to a long drawn 6-12 month process, wherein the guys and the girls get enough time and also have a clear veto on the process. The system has worked well for all supremely urban/well travelled/modern couples I know, and I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from the ‘love marriage’ couples. And unless you are a rural Indian, arranged marriage is a very good backup option, and a responsible parent would encourage you to keep it alive.

Unless you are a rural Indian, arranged marriage is a very good backup option, and a responsible parent would encourage you to keep it alive.

Indian dads are among the most committed and exhausted men around, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. I haven’t heard of many dads who have chosen the easy way out by abandoning their kids. Similarly, Indian moms will sacrifice their happiness and peace of mind to get their sons/daughters ashore.
Behind every Indian student who burned the midnight oil are a set of parents who bore through the crazy test prep courses, prepared countless cups of midnight tea, and spent hours in queues and temples to help their kids get the best opportunities that they never had. Behind every reluctant bride is a scared to death mother — praying that her daughter has a great life and a financially stretched dad — who will have trouble sleeping for the next 3-4 years.

Vivek Mohan is a father and part of an investment team as an associate at TA Associates in South Asia.

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