Imagine marrying someone you have never cuddled, never kissed goodnight. Someone you've never taken to a movie. Never washed the car with on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Someone you've known only a few days.
Sound strange? Not to Subhash and Rambha Chaudhary and Rajesh and Sunita Iyer, Indian couples now living in the Springfield area. These couples met their spouses only days before they said their "I do's" for life. Their marriages were arranged by their families.
Psychology professor Marcel Yoder of the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) has studied this tradition, and says India's 7 percent divorce rate compared to America's near 50 percent divorce rate suggests these marriages can succeed.
"Indian [arranged] marriages are much more stable [than love marriages] because they're focused on the commitment aspect," Yoder says. With many U.S. couples‚ marriages are based on a passionate type of love that can fade within years, unlike the commitment type of love. "That's one of the reasons why our divorce rate is what it is," Yoder says.
In the 26-year marriage of Subhash and Rambha Chaudhary, a loving commitment has remained strong and divorce has never been an issue. The story behind their marriage can virtually be described as a family reunion. It started with the parents making the initial contact with the families of potential spouses.
Subhash, a doctor, had been teaching at Southern Illinois Medical School in Springfield when he decided it was time to marry. In October of 1977, he returned to India for four weeks to find a wife. His relatives started the search for a spouse through a newspaper advertisement in The Times of India. The advertisement stated his age (29) his height (5'6"), and that he was a physician firmly settled in the United States. Out of the 20 letter responses, his parents chose eight candidates, based mostly on their location. For a wedding to occur in timely fashion, they needed a wife who lived within their proximity in New Delhi.
Subhash first met with Rambha's father. They discussed Subhash's interests and "how his family was." Then Rambha's parents met and talked with Subhash's parents over a cup of tea, and brought a picture of Rambha. Subhash was interested in meeting her and was invited to her house. There he met her uncles, brothers and aunts, but Rambha was not in the room. Nevertheless, Subhash requested that he speak with her. Subhash and Rambha met and spoke for nearly an hour.
"When I saw him I liked him. It's like you have a preconceived notion of who you want to marry," Rambha says. Subhash fulfilled Rambha's main requirements -- he was a doctor and a vegetarian. She also liked his personality. He seemed to be very honest and not pretentious, she recalls. On the surface of what she knew about him, she liked him.
Subhash also perceived Rambha to be very honest, straightforward and simple. "I liked that type of person," he says. He was impressed with her personality, especially considering she was the daughter of a general. Most daughters of generals he had met "were kind of arrogant and made a big show. My parents were not anything high," Subhash says.
Subhash decided he wanted to pursue a marriage with Rambha. He introduced her to his family, and they gave their approval. The next step was a meticulous astrological evaluation including their signs and all the details of their births -- altitude and latitude, time of day, and the planets' positions. Rambha's parents told her if their horoscopes didn't match, there would be no marriage.
"I wouldn't have married him if I didn't have the support of my parents -- even if I liked him," Rambha says.
The first astrologer found Subhash and Rambha, both Tauruses, to be a compatible match, but the second did not. The third astrologer determined that Subhash and Rambha were a good match.
Soon enough, their relatives became more involved in their relationship.
"Everyone had to say yes before we could get married. Her parents were concerned that maybe I was already married. They tried to contact the doctors I worked for in Springfield," Subhash says.
"They wanted to be very thorough," Rambha says. "They wanted to know everything because they were giving their daughter away."
Final approval by their parents for their marriage occurred on Nov. 13. On the 20th, the young couple became Dr. and Mrs. Chaudhary. Three children later, they have remained happily married.
Subhash is a professor of pediatrics and Rambha, who has a master's degree in child and family community services, is a tutor of English as a Second Language in the Springfield area.
As they laugh about their memories over the years, there is a loving gaze in their eyes.
"It's not that we don't have differences. We have a lot of differences," Subhash says. "But that doesn't mean we say we are quitting. You just learn to adjust and compromise."
Rambha agrees there are differences, but she says the basic love and trust is there. "It has strengthened and grown."
The first years of marriage were a process of continual adjustment. Rambha was very lonely because her husband was always at work while she stayed at home by herself. When he would come home tired from work, he would frequently retreat to watching television even though she had been waiting all day for his company.
"I wanted him to talk to me," Rambha says.
"I listen to her, but watch the TV, too," Subhash says with laughter.
Rambha eventually found volunteer work at St. John's Hospital and at a local Montessori school.
Rambha and Subhash come from different economic backgrounds. Rambha was used to having servants around, while Subhash was not as privileged.
"I didn't come from a very well-to-do family. From early childhood we would always do things so we could make money and have enough for school activities," Subhash says.
Rambha says she is the "happy-go-lucky" type while her husband is very meticulous, more of a perfectionist.
For instance, Rambha would not open the mail and would leave it on the table unless it was from the family. Subhash had a problem with that.
"We need to pay bills and make sure they're paid on time," Subhash says.
When they go to parties or visit friends, Subhash likes to be on time, but Rambha thinks it is all right to be late, and likes to take her time.
"Many times we have conflict over that," Subhash says.
Their personalities differ in other ways. Subhash is quiet and reserved while Rambha is carefree, talkative, and friendly. Subhash watches Moneyline; Rambha likes to watch movies.
The couple, nevertheless, discovered profound common ground. They share a devotion to the Hindu religion and have a strong desire to help others, sending money to the needy annually. They are not materialistic, and enjoy exchanging letters instead of presents on special occasions.
Rambha says she's discovered Subhash to be very kind, considerate and caring: "I keep learning that all the time. He goes out of his way to do what you want. He's more of a practical person who believes in doing things. He shows love not through words, but through deeds," she says. For instance, when she needs to get something in the middle of the night, he would run the errand for her.
In the mornings, when Subhash is rushing for work, Rambha makes sure he gets his breakfast and that his clothes are ironed. In the evening, she waits for him for dinner even though she likes to eat early.
"She's a very kind, loving person who's devoted to me and the family," Subhash says of his wife.
For Rajesh and Sunita Iyer of Springfield, their two-year marriage has been a building process. Rajesh is a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (a computer software analyst and developer), working at the Illinois State Board of Education. Sunita, who has a bachelor's degree in business, volunteers at a local elementary school.
They, too, were advertised in the newspaper in India and were matched through assessments of their horoscope. Each of them, Sunita being a Gemini, and Rajesh, a Taurus, was the other's best match. They then exchanged photographs.
"When I saw her picture, I asked my dad if I could talk to her," Rajesh, now 31, says. They exchanged e-mails and phone numbers.
Over the next month, via phone and e-mail, they laid their cards on the table, each telling the other their priorities, to see if they agreed.
"We were very clear about our needs and how life should be after marriage," Sunita, 25, says. For instance, Sunita was a vegetarian and told him she would not cook meat. Rajesh made it clear that once she moved to the U.S., they would not be able to make frequent trips back to India to see their parents. They also resolved to spend the first two years of their marriage adjusting to married life and becoming familiar with each other before starting a family.
After a month of communication, their marriage was finalized by their parents. Four days before their wedding Rajesh and Sunita met in person.
Sunita was nervous, "but we had to meet someday," she says.
Rajesh says about meeting Sunita in person: "I found her as I had imagined the person she should be."
Despite all the agreements they made before their marriage, Rajesh and Sunita have run into some minor difficulties. Sunita says that her husband loves to be out all the time, but she likes to spend much of her time at home. Rajesh enjoys many outdoor sports such as cricket, volleyball and tennis; Sunita enjoys Indian dance, reading novels and decorating their home. Sunita thought Rajesh was too messy around the house; Rajesh thought Sunita didn't cook enough.
But so far, they've found a way to work through their differences. Rajesh now helps Sunita with the cleaning. Today, they both claim to be good cooks and often cook together. Sunita likes her food spicy, but she agreed to tone it down for Rajesh.
"I had to adjust and cook accordingly," Sunita says.
They have had their arguments. "Actually we both are pretty dominant personalities," Sunita says. "But over the period of time we talked about it and resolved it. We have realized that argument doesn't take us anywhere."
On the other hand, the couple has encountered pleasant surprises about one another. Rajesh says that his wife has been very good at gauging his mood. "She would know when I have had a tough day and would cook something I really like. She has surprised me a number of times."
Sunita says that her husband has learned what things make her depressed and feel sad, such as missing her family in India. To comfort her, he would take her for a walk or a drive or watch a movie with her. "He would always try to keep me cheerful and happy," Sunita says.
"After two years I know her likes and dislikes," Rajesh says. "We are getting along pretty well."
Doing things the couple enjoys together allows for the relationship to develop. They both like to listen to light, romantic music, take walks or long drives together, and talk about their favorite friends and the fun they've had with their families.
Rajesh and Sunita believe their marriage has worked so far because they come from similar traditions. They have both lived in Bombay for several years, share a similar lifestyle, speak the same language and are Hindus. They say they're on the same wavelength.
When asked if they are in love, Rajesh and Sunita say, "Yes, it's beginning to blossom -- it's growing."
Not everyone from India embraces arranged marriage. Shravya Nellutla, a 21-year-old Indian student at UIS, says she is totally against arranged marriage. "Marriage is a relationship that should be maintained throughout your whole life and for this, you have to know everything about the person you'll marry," Nellutla says.
Her parents wanted to arrange a marriage for her with a man she says she is not content with. "I don't want to marry the person they chose. They have been upset with me," Nellutla says. "But I'm sure I'll find the person that I like."
But another 28-year-old Indian student, who doesn't want her name used, says she almost wishes she had tried an arranged marriage. She knew her husband seven years before their wedding, but their "love marriage" lasted only three years. They are currently separated.
"I think people make the mistake of thinking you're going to be forced into marrying someone you don't like in an arranged marriage," she says. "But when you come from an urban city, that's not going to fly with an educated woman of today. I've had friends who said no to many guys. They just felt it was not right. I have other friends who are extremely happy [in arranged marriages]."
There's another rare -- but horrifying -- side to the tradition of arranged marriages in India. There have been instances where husbands request more dowry, or money from the bride's family, sometimes even years after the wedding, and upon their refusal, douse the wife with gasoline and set her on fire, either killing or severely injuring and disfiguring her.
Such dowry deaths deeply trouble Subhash. "That's very bad and sickening. That's cruel," he says. "People have to be sick to do those type of things. It's not at all common among arranged marriages, but there are some instances -- more among the non-educated. But I know of so many non-educated people that have very happy marriages and none of these cruel activities, like burning the bride, occur."
Blair Kling, retired history professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that arranged marriages, which constitute 95 percent of all marriages in India, oftentimes prevent women from getting a divorce, even in situations as severe as domestic abuse or when the husband commits adultery. The pressure to maintain the honor of the marriage and family bond, and the wife's lack of education and inability to support herself, keeps her silent.
"You don't get divorced because it's a family arrangement -- family is the operating unit in the arranged marriage tradition in India," Kling says.
Normally, though, the two families who arrange a marriage work to help the couple stay together. Subhash and Rambha Chaudhary can point to numerous instances during their 26-year marriage when family intervention helped.
Subhash's parents, for example, reminded him that Rambha was not used to doing chores and that he should not expect too much work from her. They advised him to help clean the house and make bread everyday.
"It was no problem," Subhash says. "I work at work, and then I come home and do work like yard work."
When his father had been staying at their house, he would always take the side of Rambha if Subhash got angry at her for something she did not do. "He would be very upset with me saying that I was being inconsiderate to her because she had been so busy all day," Subhash says.
Rajesh and Sunita Iyer also credit their families with helping their marriage. "You inherit a lot of knowledge and people around you who can support your marriage along the way," Rajesh says. "The relatives offer suggestions and support to help you in the relationship."
"You have your parents with you and they can help you -- they have seen life so they can give good guidance," Sunita says.