Six Months India – Workaholics and Arranged Marriages

Levin Stamm - India


April 22, 2020

This blog was originally published in German on tize.ch as part of my capstone project – you can read it here.


The dim light of the light bulb may not yet drive the darkness of the night out of the kitchen. Mother stands at the stove – her eyes tired, the long hair still a little tousled – and rolls out small lumps of wheat dough into chapatis. With her bare hand she takes the flatbread from the hot iron plate, while the sun rises outside and another day in the hustle and bustle of the Indian city begins. A bit sleepy her husband joins her and hastily takes a bite to eat.


Soon he will leave the house in a hurry and drive out to the construction site of his latest real estate project. Father embodies the new Indian middle class that has emerged over the last decades. He likes to talk about his way up: From the beginnings in rural India, where he grew up in poor conditions and did his homework at night under the only streetlight in the village. Later he came to Pune, at the time a small provincial town. During the day he studied, at night he worked to finance his studies. Even today he often sits in his office until late night. The hard times have made him a workaholic, he says.


In the mornings, mother does housework and sits somewhat bored in the living room; but most of all, she waits for the children to return from school. Of course she is grateful for this life, in such a big house with all the comforts, especially when she thinks of the meager conditions of her childhood. But she often feels isolated in the anonymous metropolis, where she knows no one except her mother-in-law – the only one to keep her company during the long mornings. She thinks of her family that still lives in the village.


Mother comes from a small rural village that lives from agriculture and fishing in the nearby lake. Nearby, agrochemical company Syngenta operates a research station for hybrid seeds, but most villagers lack the necessary education to work there. Instead, they cultivate their own fields. The days begin before sunrise and end early in the evening, when the whole family rests exhausted on their thin mats. You can see that mother has not lived in the village for years. She is better nourished and less tanned than her sisters who do hard field work under the sun.


Mother also worked as a harvest helper in agriculture at that time. Until one day her future husband came and asked her parents for her hand. She was twenty at the time. He, more than twice her age, wanted to marry again a decade after the death of his first wife. So he traveled through the province and visited countless families from the same caste who wanted to marry their daughters. For her he returned. Father renounced the usual dowry and even paid for the wedding. An enormous financial relief for her family.


The arranged marriage: What is often automatically regarded as a forced marriage in the West is still commonplace in rural India. Mother proudly shows the wedding album of her niece. She was married at 17 and recently gave birth to her first child. None of the women speak negatively about their lives. How could they? They don’t know it differently. Those who defy the will of the male head of the family have nothing more to say. Father’s daughter from the first marriage has chosen a love marriage with a man from another caste. Since then he has completely broken off contact with his daughter.


Her brother, the second child from the father’s first marriage, is more pragmatic. He will marry a girl from the same caste. Like tens of thousands of other men his age, he studies engineering for his father’s sake. The annual flood of engineers from Indian universities can no longer be integrated into the job market. Many remain unemployed or in positions for which they are overqualified. Taking over his father’s business is the only goal he has. May have. He would like to become a musician, he says. But he himself knows that this will probably remain a dream.


Levin Stamm