Comedy/Satire: A Modest Proposal (With Apologies To Mr. Swift)

The number of unmarried women in South and East Asia has been gradually but surely rising at a worrying rate, and it has become the cause of much justified perplexity and angst of the older womenfolk (see Aunties) of our communities. And who could blame them? Indeed they have the right to be concerned, for unmarried women only become burdens on their families, disrupt the social order held together by the family unit, and cause general discomfort for everyone with their ‘liberal’ dismissal of traditional culture. One might suggest that we solve this big problem by re-thinking certain conventions of ours: the tedious arranged-marriage process of forced unions and dowry, the intense pressure placed on women to marry within a limited time-span, patriarchal culture that keeps many married women socially, financially and mentally stunted, the many ridiculous trivialities and superficialities involved in the act of the ‘marriage proposal’ — but then let us be realistic, re-thinking and re-structuring these conventions would require a tremendous amount of effort and ruffling-of-feathers, not to mention it would be highly counter-productive in the greater scheme of a family’s earning of wealth via dowry.

– which is what, ladies and gentlemen, brings me to my modest proposal.

To make the process of arranging marriages for the South or East Asian woman all the more befitting, transparent, and efficient – for this will probably oil the system and make it run smoother – we need to package it better. Advertising is key. Why do we stick to just tepid newspaper advertisements in the Classifieds that ask for a ‘good, fair, pious girl with xxx acres of property’? We need to be more specific, judging from the concerns that Aunties have regarding these women they are considering for their sons. It would not be too much then, to expect a more detailed and accurate advertisement: ‘We want a good, pure girl (i.e. hasn’t had sex before or at the very least hasn’t told anyone about it if she has), who can cook and clean, who will obey her mother-in-law, and who has at least a bungalow or a 50 acre plot to her name because we plan on taking that shit and using it. We are willing to buy her for a compensation of no less than 2 lakhs worth of gold, preferably in the form of jewelry, clothing and dinner-sets, plus a cow or two as a security deposit. We want only a girl of our race, class and caste, so please don’t kid yourself by imagining that your wealth alone can get you into our family (unless of course, you want to add another cow to the deal, then we can negotiate). We don’t want any fatties or blackies, and we don’t like plumpy faces or crooked noses or bad teeth, so please send five photographs of your skinny, tall, fair daughter taken at different angles, to our email address ASAP and we’ll get back to you after reviewing; please also attach her dental records, blood test results for any disorders or hereditary problems (because we require her uterus for baby production), and any other relevant documents. Send copies of certificates declaring her qualifications as well, because if it works out we need to xerox those and send it to all the neighborhood Aunties to rub it in their faces.’

Surely, with such detailed specifics included in the advertisements, the unmarried women who seem to fit the extensive preferences of certain families stated in these ads, may contact them immediately with little chances of failure. Such explicit demands made of women will also encourage the women with plumpy faces or crooked noses or bad teeth to fix themselves, for their own good – to bleach their skin and stop eating so much and look prettier, and then get married for it too – it’s a win-win situation!

The second stage of the traditional marriage arrangement involves that of the meeting of the man and the woman – the woman is made to dress up for the boy and bring him tea and biscuits as he and his family survey her and judge whether she is good enough to enter the family. Many a family waste so much time at each of these proposals, as they go to one woman’s house and it doesn’t work out (because the woman’s skin wasn’t fair enough – the photograph in her email was Photoshopped) and they are forced to visit another woman’s house, and so on. To lessen the tediousness of this process, the man’s family may simply make a list of the women who fit the criteria, from the emails received – send out a mass email to the families of these women, and call them to what I shall term a Live Bride Picking Contest. Yes, it is as exciting as it sounds. All the women who have passed the basic tests – that is, the virginity test, the caste test, the blood tests etc. – will arrive at the scene, and be placed in a long line. Each woman, dressed to the nines, may be surveyed by the man and his family as they walk from one end of the hall to the next – while also studying the sign-board held in each woman’s hands, which shall specify the following: Price (in Rs.), Property to my name, Number of cows you’ll get, Shelf-life, Special talent (this can be a convincing tagline that adds a touch of distinct allure to each woman’s appealing qualities – for example one woman’s board may say ‘I can make amazing biriyani for you’ while another says ‘Mad ironing skills’).

The second round of the Live Bride Picking Contest (the first being, surveying of face, teeth, feet, sign boards etc.) shall involve the talent round. Here, the contestants will have to display their talents of worth: for example, one woman will offer the man’s family a sample of her cooking, another will show skill at engaging in conversation with the Aunties of the man’s family (“yes, Aunty, of course, Aunty, you are so right, yes the price of vegetables is so high these days”), while another who is perhaps more inclined towards theatre may enact a moving dramatic skit that features her skills at taking care of many babies, her husband’s needs and her face and body at the same time, while still making time to engage in conversation with her Aunties about the price of vegetables. The judging panel will consist of the man, his mother, and some Aunties whose relationship with the man is a bit obscure (his mother’s cousin’s father’s cousin’s daughter’s something something..).

The final contestants that get through will enter the final interview round, where they will be subject to the grueling interrogation and scrutiny of the Aunties of the panel. Here, she will be psychoanalyzed, everything from the tip of her hair to the mole on her neck will be questioned, and she will be poked and prodded too as they check her specs i.e. if the Bride is supple, her hips are wide enough for child bearing, etc. They may even throw surprise questions at her, to throw her off guard, and discover her weak points (such as, ‘What is the name of the fourth cow that your family is offering us to get us to marry you!’ – and it will be likely that the correct answer is ‘But we gave you only three cows!’ but the less clever Brides will be flustered by the directness of this question and probably burst out in desperation ‘Betsy!’ or ‘Lakshmi!’ and be disqualified from the round).

I do concede that my proposal is indeed perhaps too ahead of its time, and that we must wait for an epoch during which men and women realize the futility of the civility and dignity that they attempt to wrap around their traditional conventions – and that it is time to embrace the brutal market forces that truly determine our very holy matrimony. However, should we decide to put my suggestions into motion, I would imagine it evolving into a gigantic, invincible industry, perhaps if we expanded it through the use of TV, radio adverts and billboards (I can see it now – a picture of Kareena Kapoor smiling demurely in a wedding choli as the words next to her burn in neon: “Get Brides now at Brides R Us – pure and fair, brand new, ranging in all prices; buy one, get a cow free! Discounts available this Valentines.”)

Some may confuse my explicitness with cruelty and inhumanity, but my dear reader, nothing could be further from the truth. I have only taken what we respectfully and reverently put into practice today and I have extended it further, fleshed it out to its full extent and glory, and I can assure you that our interests as a society today will only be maintained in the propagation of my proposal. Indeed, Aunties shall receive their wish of so easily and conveniently finding beautiful and appropriate Brides for their sons, women will no longer have a choice but to give into a mass commercial industry screaming for their participation, mothers will have a new occupation of perfecting and training their daughters at an early age so as to put them ahead in a competitive market, and girls will no longer be a burden but a boon to the wealth of families! And to think I could not have dreamed up this magnificent plan without nurturing it from the foundation of our oldest and most respected traditions?

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