"She's very young", said my guest. "Do you think this was an arranged marriage?".
"Probably", I said, giving her my stock answer.
"I don't know any official statistics, but I think over 90% of marriages are arranged."
"Does everyone marry this young?"
" No, the national average age is 19-20 for women."
"Nineteen? That's young as well!"
"Yes, but at the time the British left India, the average age of marriage was 14. We've come quite a way from there, especially if you look at the size of our population, and what it takes to change a whole nation's average in 50 years. It's nothing short of a revolution."
She looked at the young bride again. I could see her thinking, how does this girl feel about this? A stranger in her bed, chosen by her parents? What is this relationship really like?
And, seeing the couple again through my guest's eyes, I thought yes, how does this girl put up with this stranger in her bed?
My guest turned to me.
"Can I ask you something personal?"
I could see it coming.
"Did you have an arranged marriage?" she asked me.
"No", I said.
Her relief was palpable.
"I cannot understand this arranged marriage business! How do you put up with it!!", she said.
I could see that for her, being told who to marry was about as medieval as it gets.
I launched into an explanation of expectations and conditioning, and how marriage in India is not between individuals, you marry into a family, so the more similar your backgrounds and religion, the easier it is to fit in. We spoke of East versus West, Hollywood's romantic brainwashing, divorce rates, the caste system, the obsession with fair skin, matrimonials, the shaadi.com revolution, and so on. She was a highly intelligent lady, a pleasure to talk to.
At the end of the conversation, she had heard it all, and it didn't change her mind a bit. The bottomline was - sometimes East is East and West is West, and there ain't no middle ground!