KRISHNA: A main event in the community is a marriage. In India, a wedding is based on the families. It is basically a wedding between two families, not two people, so that families have to understand each other. They should be the same caste, so that they understand what is expected, what other people expecting… There are a lot of things, financially, mentally. It is not just religion. In India, we have religion, we have caste birth, we have sub-castes. There are so many sections of people, completely different sections. So if people are from one system, they look after the boys and girls in the same system. So for example, I am a Hindu, so if I look for a girl who fits into the same boundaries, so that it is easy. The families can mingle and the boys and girls can understand each other easily. Another big thing is, after marriage, if they have any sort of issues between the new couple, the families will jump in and try to sort out.
INTERVIEWER: So the families take part in it
KRISHNA: Yes, they play a very major role, and the girl will come to live at the boy’s place with the boy’s family. It is not like they take another apartment. It is not like that. So it’s like we have a tradition once the wedding is completed. The Bride’s parents hand over the girl to the Groom’s parents, and the whole family invite the girl to their home, and so the girl will come to the boy’s place, and all the generations live in one place. Like when I was growing up, my grandparents were there in the house, my parents were there, father, brothers. It’s like a big family… not like now. Me, my wife and my kids live away from them. Back then it was like one big family. My Grandparents they got old, so most of the time they were in bed, but people come from different places to visit my grandparents to see how they are doing. And some people used to stay for long period. Some people stay for months in my place. And even when we have school leave, we go to other places. My Mom used to take us on a six, seven hours journey during school holidays, to my Uncle’s place, and we used to be there for one, two months. It was like that. It was not stressful like now. Nowadays, if you get relatives – then you can’t manage. You will struggle with school, with a job, with this, that… it becomes so expensive. There is no way they can cope. But in India, it is not like that because people have farms, they grow crops, we have cattle, we get milk, everything. So it was easy to maintain, and we don’t have these kinds of expectations, like take them for pizza, burger, take them to Eiffel Tower. There was nothing like that. We just used to eat, play around with other kids, then we would come back, eat, sleep. It was simple. It was easier, and we did not have the kind of money we have now. But now, the holidays means we have to go abroad. But now everybody wants a car. Everybody wants a house. It was not like that before. People used to live on 400, 500 Rupees salary, which is maybe four pounds, five pounds a month. That is what people used to live on. I saw that. But now, what do you get for four pounds, five pounds? The whole family could live on that for a month. Now there is no choice. Now India is also changing because the girls are getting an education. They are getting jobs. They are becoming independent. Much of the culture is on the shoulders of the woman.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you say that the culture is on the shoulders of the women?
KRISHNA: The woman is the centre point of the house. They look after the house, the children, the people who come visit. They look after the grandparents. They look after the home. The home is everything. When somebody comes, they look after everything. Even in my mother’s era, they had education, but they did not have any financial freedom, like they do now having jobs. They are competing. The mindset has changed. Now, the girls are getting a good education, they are getting good jobs. They do not want to have the burden of looking after everyone anymore. They want to live separately. They no longer want to live with the parents. Now even the parents are accepting of that. They say “okay we don’t want any issues, you go live your life”. And the parents financially support the new couple with whatever they want. And whenever the couple are having trouble, the family will jump in and try to sort out things… It has changed now. It was not like that before.
INTERVIEWER: Is that because of big cities, because when they get a job it is usually in a big city?
KRISHNA: When the economy changed, it changed the demographics. People move out from the villages. I used to see so many people living in villages. When I go there now, I just see empty houses with locks. Like with my grandparents, that generation were living there. Now we hardly see any people
INTERVIEWER: But before it was really peaceful?
KRISHNA: Yes, yes… People do different jobs in the villages. Somebody is looking after the cattle. Somebody is looking after the farms. So at one farm, you have 20 people to look after the farm. And at the end of the day, once the farm is good, you get a share of the farm. If it is rice you share 5 bags with the community who work on the farm. So if you look after the cattle, you give some money to the person who looks after the cattle. People who used to work in the house, you feed them. So it is a lot of community jobs. Now all these things are gone. We hardly see that anymore.
INTERVIEWER: How easy it was to raise kids there?
KRISHNA: it is easy. We know all the faces. If any new faces come, we could find out if it was good or bad. So there was freedom. Kids can play anywhere they want. Now I am scared if my kid goes out of my front door, I am scared. If she goes out alone for five minutes.
INTERVIEWER: In my childhood, you used to be able to just run around anywhere in nature. We did not know anywhere that it was not safe. I mean you could just run around and play with other kids. You could run around the forest, and go to the ocean to go swimming, but you could also go to somebody else’s house, have lunch, play in their garden, whatever…
KRISHNA: Yes, now it is like you have to book appointments with other parents, who would have your kids for one, two hours. You have to drop them, you have to pick them up. It was not like that before. If I wanted to play, I just told my Mom, I am going, and she say “Okay go”, and probably she give me a couple of Rupees so that I can buy some chocolates outside in the shop. I just run, I take my friend and we go to play on the ground which is one mile away from my house, and after a couple of hours I come back. Now those things are gone.
INTERVIEWER: That was really like my childhood as well. Different perception. And the hospitality was… like usually, we were never refused. Like I know places where we had a circle of three, five kids, we could go to each other’s flats, and usually the parents say yes, you can come and play with kids, not like now where you need an appointment.
KRISHNA: Even when relatives come to my place, we used to love them so much, because we hardly see them… maybe once a year, twice a year…sometimes only once every two, three years. Sometimes more than that. We did not have any of this technology. We did not have mobile phones… so when somebody comes, you be so happy, that you want them to stay for longer. Now we have all sorts of technology. We have Whatsapp, we have Skype, whatever shit it is. And now, we are hardly in touch with any of our relatives, because everyone is busy, everyone is busy. Technology has completely changed all things.
INTERVIEWER: So you say that you can talk, but people don’t talk anymore
KRISHNA: Yes, because they are busy… busy with life. Whatever time they have, they want to watch Netflix, they want to watch Amazon.
INTERVIEWER: Oh I see, so they prefer this entertainment?
KRISHNA: Yes… and if you go to somebody’s place, you hardly can stay more than one day, two days. If you stay more than two days, they look at you as if okay, when are these people going to go away.
INTERVIEWER: Is this in the countryside, villages, big cities or what?
KRISHNA: It is the same all over, same story, because it has become very expensive now.
INTERVIEWER: Even in the countryside where people still do the farming?
KRISHNA: Yes, because they are struggling. The farmers are struggling more now in India.
Because when they grow a crop, they don’t have storage facilities to store seasonal fruits or vegetables which brings the price down as the product is perishable and has to be consumed at the same time. It’s not like the same fruit that is available all 365 days..
Yet we don’t have a system in India that advises farmers which product to grow..India is a huge country and agriculture is 2nd major contributor to GDP..
INTERVIEWER: When we talked about the marriage as a union of two families you said that parents help if something goes wrong with the marriage. Can you give some examples?
KRISHNA: It is to start with about arranged marriages. 90% are arranged marriages. After that there could be issues about likes / dislikes. It could be matching issues. If these things get exaggerated then probably parents will champion the marriage. Parents make things calm as they don’t want to have a divorce. A divorce is ultimately the last resort. So they never go for divorce. Still it happens but it is the last resort. Most of the parents won’t accept it. Marriage is a lifetime commitment whether you like it or not and you still have to stick to it.
INTERVIEWER: Because for parents to help children should listen. As I understand, people do listen to what their parents are saying.
KRISHNA: Yes. Let’s see how it works, it starts from engagement. For example, the parents of a boy go to his potential bride’s place. They have a chit chat with her parents. They get to know each other. If they are on the same level of understanding they decide on an engagement. Then the boy meets the girl to meet each other. If the children like each other then a wedding happens. It could be in the next 3 month. Parents decide everything, who you’ve got to marry, wedding planning, everything. Weddings are a big thing in India. Absolutely massive. It could be 1500 guests managing – that is crazy. In India rich people go for the rich. In India we have this caste, sub-caste system. We have to match to the same level of people and then get married.
KRISHNA: In India, long back we had over 500 languages, probably only 40 or 50 are in use in India now. If a family of a girl is of a different background or culture and speak a different language then you get many problems. Because they want to follow their culture. And how wonderful this culture could be anyway there will be clashes and ultimately there will be a disaster.
INTERVIEWER: Is it all the same religion such as Hinduism, or is it different in different places
KRISHNA: The ultimate belief in Hinduism is the same – Mahabharata, the Gods we pray – they are all the same. But the day to day life they live has different practices for different castes and subcastes. Still we all make similar festivals, but rituals are different. They are not the same from one caste to the next
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so beliefs and rituals are different. And Even everyone knows about Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
KRISHNA: Yes they are the ultimate Gods. But how they follow, how they reach them – that may be a little bit different.
INTERVIEWER: From one province to the next, is the lifestyle different?
KRISHNA: Yes it’s more about the lifestyle.
INTERVIEWER: And language, if there are two different languages then your kids need to learn one more language?
KRISHNA: Yes you can try to explain or teach your wife a different language but it is hard. In India, we have different states. In primary education they teach a local language. They teach a national language – which is Hindi, and they teach English. So they teach three languages to children at school, along with all the other subjects. And that language will carry through all the primary and secondary education. You don’t stop. You learn them for 10 years.
INTERVIEWER: I see so this is to avoid all the difficulties between people from different backgrounds?
KRISHNA: India is massive, man. There are desserts. There are mountains, cold places, hot places. The landscape is varied. What is in Goa, is not the same as in other parts. If you come to my place, you see big, big mountains. If you go to Shimla – people live on the mountains. If you go to Rajasthan places, it is like the Sahara desert. With different places you see different people, places, different backgrounds. The majority are Hindus, but the gods they believe, the language they speak are different. But they all believe in the family system, the same core family system, where the parents will meet, they will discuss the marriage and arrange the whole wedding. Irrespective of class – rich, poor, middle class, upper-middle class they all do the same thing.
INTERVIEWER: That is very different from the west where they could just meet random people.
KRISHNA: Yes, they take all these measures. They do the checks. When two families are joined by marriage, they check seven generations of the girl, and seven generations of the boy to check how the family is, what they did, have they done anything wrong, and if they did, they won’t proceed.
INTERVIEWER: How do they verify that?
KRISHNA: They ask and they find out. Obviously, many of the families have a village background. When you have a village background, it is very easy to find out things about people. You just go around and ask people. In the village all the families know the common friends and common relatives. They’ll find out
INTERVIEWER: That is actually why countryside life is better, because the people live there for generations and the history persists, and you can trace what was happening generations before.
KRISHNA: When I go to India, I take my girl to my village where my great grandfathers lived. My great grandfather, he was a lawyer, grew up in the 1930s. And they were landlords and his father was a landlord. I take my daughter and tell her “this is where we came from” so she never forgets the roots. They put computers into the schools, so that the poor can get a better education, better facilities.
INTERVIEWER: So people listened to their parents and it was natural. I am researching all these traditions. Your parents have more life experience and when you are 20 or 30 years old, what do you know about life? Not much.
KRISHNA: When a 60 or 70 year old person is dying, he is not just dying, he is dying with an experience. They learn a lot in 60 / 70 years. There might be lessons which are useful to the next generation which they pass on, and we pass on to our kids. Like our kitchens. Our kitchens are strong, we use so many varieties of strong spices and ingredients that boost our immunity. Still some people get sick, but it is not that bad because of the food we are eating. Of course, the climate is also helping the temperature, but the majority is the food. If I go to Tesco, I find carrots and cabbage, cauliflower, but I am not finding the vegetables and other ingredients that we eat. 80% of the vegetables I can’t find. A normal vegetable market in India is so crazy. There are so many different kinds of vegetables, and for years we did not have any storage facilities, so we had to eat it fresh. If they do not sell the produce, they have to throw it out.
INTERVIEWER: So it’s all fresh
KRISHNA: Yes, all fresh, no chemicals. Take tomatoes. The lifespan is just two weeks. They can’t keep it for more than two weeks. From farmer to consumer, it has to happen in two weeks. Otherwise you have to throw it out. Of course there are a lot of problems with the farmers, because they are not making good money. But most of the people eat fresh, fresh vegetables, and we have seasonal foods. Here (in the UK) we have bananas all the time, but in India, we have seasonal foods. In summer we have mangos. Next season we have different fruits. Again the fruit varies there. The vegetables vary there. It is just amazing.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, my wife has been there two or three times, and she wants to go there again, because the fruits are fresh and food is fresh
KRISHNA: And the majority of the people, they do not eat red meat and all that stuff. So they don’t eat cows, buffaloes, or wildlife.
INTERVIEWER: Coming back to these arranged marriages. What happens if they couple do not like each other. Does that happen much?
KRISHNA: Not much. Especially after the engagement. The engagement is like half marriage. Once you are engaged, you are 50% committed to the girl.
INTERVIEWER: Before the engagement, do you talk? Do you see each other?
KRISHNA: Oh yeah. You see a lot of each other. You talk. You go to each other’s house
INTERVIEWER: What about the parents? Do they see each other?
KRISHNA: Yes, they all see each other. The boy and girl see each other. You talk. You spend time together. You see 10-15 matches, either you go or they come.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so you take your time
KRISHNA: Yes, it is not like you see only one girl and you are fixed. No, not like that. And if a boy and a girl don’t like each other, the parents won’t proceed. They go to an agency and they say, this is my caste, this is my vision, this is the property we have, this is my background. Then the agency tries to match that background with the same kind of financial, social, cultural background. They look at the matches, then they filter out three or four. Then they proceed. If they are good, they go on to speak to one of them.
INTERVIEWER: Oh I see, so there are several options to choose from.
KRISHNA: Things have changed now during the last 10 years, girls are more demanding. It was boys’ domination before. It is hard to find a boy for a girl for a girl’s family. Were there any issues with the family financial or social. We still consider smoking, drinking as very bad habits. It takes time. Yes but now they are only interested in money. I have some relatives in my family, the boys. They are looking for girls for the last two, three years, and they have still not found anything.
INTERVIEWER: A colleague of mine, he was trying to find a girl, and he was unsuccessful, and he went back to his parents to ask them to help him find a bride, and they helped him, and it worked really well. They have kids now. It was easier to find a match when the parents were involved.
KRISHNA: If the parents are not involved, then the first thing children go for is “the looks”. Kids want to find someone handsome. They don’t see anything. They don’t see what is the character of them. If the boy and girl make the decision without the parents, it is like the lottery. When you are young, you are immature and you go for “looks”. Yes, that is important. What is also important is how the person really behaves when he is at home or alone, nobody really knows. What the financial issues are, nobody knows. What is the background of the family, nobody knows. Are there any issues in the family, nobody knows. I strongly say yes, the parents choice is good. There are cases where, even if the boy and girl they like each other, they approach the parents, and the parents talk and decide whether to go ahead or not.
INTERVIEWER: To a Western person, it may seem strange in the beginning, but it actually makes a lot of sense.
KRISHNA: In India for every 1000 boys we have 930 girls. Because there are more men than women
INTERVIEWER: Why is that?
KRISHNA: It is due to the male dominated society. When a woman finds out she is pregnant with a girl, they(husband and wife) sometimes don’t want to have a girl, and they go for abortions. But that is banned in India now for the last 15 years. The doctors do not say whether it is a boy or a girl. They went crazy with abortions, so the doctors they say, okay, we are not going to tell the gender of the child to the parents.
INTERVIEWER: Ah yes, they had similar issues in China
KRISHNA: Yes, because society is a male dominated society. But the woman, she is the goddess, the queen of the house. But when they go and have a baby daughter, many of the families do not agree to take it, because they want a boy. The boy will take their surname, their family to the next generation, and all the properties… All the properties were linked to the gender. All the property went to the boy. You just give a little bit to the girl. You just give her a good wedding, and send her to another family, that’s it. There were no properties there. But things have changed now. They don’t care if it is a boy or a girl, they treat them the same. They raise them good.
INTERVIEWER: So it changed like ten, fifteen years ago?
KRISHNA: Fifteen, twenty year ago. Like now, I have only one girl, I don’t want anymore. But years ago people tried and tried until they had a boy. But when you have more kids, you have to feed them. It is okay if you are wealthy, but 80% of the population live below the standard, so it is very difficult for them to feed so many kids. It changed 10-15 years ago. Now they want just one or two kids. They want financial stability. They want a good life. They don’t see any difference between a boy or a girl.
INTERVIEWER: What about sex before marriage, what do people in India think about it?
KRISHNA: They will kill you. No way. Especially for women it is bad. If a woman has sex before marriage, 99% of the time she will not find a suitable partner, because nobody wants to marry that girl.
INTERVIEWER: So if she has a child before marriage, nobody will want to marry her?
KRISHNA: Not just having a child before marriage, but having any kind of sexual relationship before marriage. If they are found out, nobody will come to marry that girl.
INTERVIEWER: So if a lady is not a virgin, nobody will take her
KRISHNA: Yes, probably the only option for that girl is if a boy got divorced and it is a second or third wedding. So those kinds of people may match, but not good families.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a lot of information. And I as I understand it’s been passed through generations over hundreds and thousands years. And this knowledge is still the same; it hasn’t changed, has it?
KRISHNA: It hasn’t changed. I live in the Western World, I have a daughter and after the shower I tell her to pray to God, pray to grandparents. We celebrate our festivals. We do pujas (religious ritual). She grows up. We will be looking for a good match, maybe America, India I don’t care, probably the same background.
INTERVIEWER: So do you celebrate your traditional Indian holidays here (in the UK)
KRISHNA: Yes, we celebrate our holidays here, Diwali, Sankranti, and so on. Every month we have a different festival in India because we have lots of gods and every god has a birthday and they have some background like one god killed a demon and brought peace to the people. Diwali is about a god Durga who killed an evil person, and that is how the light has come into people’s lives.
INTERVIEWER: I know there is a colourful festival when people throw coloured substance at each other.
KRISHNA: This is related to Lord Ganesh. It is crazy in Mumbai and everywhere. Because they take the idols everywhere across the country. They take Lord Ganesh with elephant head.
INTERVIEWER: When Indian people move to another country, do they still have communities and temples that help each other, like they did in India?
KRISHNA: We still have temples. Every year we go to Birmingham temple here. It is very popular. It is quite a big temple. Every year we go, we pray to god.
INTERVIEWER: When it comes to traditions, do you observe the same traditions, or are you going to say something different to your kids?
KRISHNA: Our ancestors, so many generations have been successful in following that, so I don’t want to change that. I don’t want to take a risk especially with the next generation. But every year we get more advanced. But we have to agree on common ground that they are happy, we are happy, so that we make it a successful life. It is going to be tricky for the future, but we try to follow our traditions as best as we can.
INTERVIEWER: How far back do these traditions go?
KRISHNA: Thousands of years. There was no Christianity, no Islam. We have a concept of Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga, every Yuga is thousands of years.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I am familiar with the concept. So it could be half a million years ago or more?
KRISHNA: More. There is thousands upon thousands of years of culture, and it is our duty to protect it. Hinduism is not just a religion it is a way of life.