Have you heard of dowry carpets? I hadn’t either until I read an article about Turkey in a travel magazine.
In some parts of Turkey, the inhabitants are known for the beautiful carpets that they weave. When a girl reaches marriageable age, she weaves a special carpet ; one into which she pours all her art and skill, one that expresses all her desires and longings. This carpet is put on display in their house and when another family whose son is looking for a wife sees and is impressed by the carpet , the negotiations begin. Once the two families have met, the boy and his family are invited to the girl’s house. If all goes well, the girl’s father calls for coffee to be served. The girl, who has been sneaking peeks at the boy from the kitchen , then brings out the coffee. If she approves of the boy, she puts sugar in the boy’s coffee; if not salt. What is not clear is how much say she has in the matter. The article says that espescially when the girl is beautiful, the boy keeps smiling face even if his coffee is heavily salted. This would seem to imply that the marriage will go through as long as he wants it, regardless of the girl’s wishes. But it could well be that he is merely trying to save face ; by drinking his salted coffee without flinching he can save his “honor’ and later claim that he was the one to reject the marriage proposal.
In such situations, no matter whether it be in Turkey or Japan or elsewhere, it is very important for both parties to save face . Psychologically, it is a blow to be ‘rejected’ and it can spoil one’s chances in the future. It takes a great deal of tact to be able to say ‘No’ without hurting the other party’s feelings. This anecdote illustrates just why the Japanese are masters of subtlety. A young Japanese man fell in love with a girl and begged his mother to arrange his marriage with her. A meeting was arranged and , on the appointed day,the young man and his mother went to the girl’s house. They were graciously received by her family.They sat down and made some small talk and after some time refreshments were served. There was tea in elegant porcelain cups and a platter of fruit, exquisitely sliced and arranged in fancy shapes. They partook of the refreshments while, all the time. the boy was wondering when the subject of marriage would be broached. It never happened. All too soon, his mother stood up and thanked their hosts and took leave of them. Outside, she told her dumbfounded son that she was sorry but his suit had been rejected.
” But’ he remonstrated, ‘ you never even brought up the subject. How could they have said no when the proposal was never even mentioned ?”
” They didn’t have to say anything’, his mother replied ” when they served us tea and fruit, two things that never go together, they were telling us that it was not a suitable match.”
Arranged marriages are strange to Western sensibilities but they are as good a way of getting hitched as any other. The process too has changed from the old days when the couple hardly got to know each other before they were betrothed. The Indian writer R.K. Narayan describes the awkwardness , the terror and the ecstasy of one such meeting in his 1965 novel ” The Bachelor of Arts”.
In the novel, the protagonist , Chandran, is recovering from a failed love affair when his family receives a marriage proposal . He initially resists but finally agrees to at least meet the girl. His mother and he set for the girl’s house by train and are received by her parents.Chandran tries to guess her looks from those of her parents… …
… ” about an hour later,before him. She had to be coaxed and cajoled by her parents to come to the hall. With her eyes fixed on the ground, she stepped from an inner room, a few inches into the hall, trembling and uncertain, ready to vanish in a moment.
Chandran’s first impulse was to look away from the girl. He spent a few moments looking at a picture on the wall; but suddenly remembered that he simply could not afford to look at anything else now. With a sudden decision, he turned and stared at her. She was dressed in a blue sari. A few diamonds glittered in her earlobes nad neck. His heart agve a wild beat , and as he thought, stopped. ” Her figure is wonderful’, some corner of his mind murmured. ” Her face must also be womderful, but I can’t see it very well, she is looking at the ground.”
The girl’s father asks her to come forward but….
“The girl was still hesitating and very nervous. Chandran felt a great sympathy for her. He pleaded ” Sir, please don’t trouble her. Let her stay there.”
” As you please” said Jayarama Iyer.
At this moment, the girl slightly raised her head and stole a glance at Chandran. He saw her face now. It was divine; there was no doubt about it.”
That’s the way it was fifty or more years ago. Nowadays, at least in the big cities, even in arranged marriages, the boy and girl are allowed to meet ( and not just once) and discuss their likes to see what they have in common before they are betrothed. And , of course, both parties have a right to refuse.. There is also an increasing number of love marriages, very often the result of workplace romances.
Oh, about that Turkish carpet. It is part of the bride’s possessions when she goes to her husband’s house.