Involuntary

“We all know it happens around the world, but watching it happen right in front of you is a whole different story. I was traveling through the north-western part of India - where the Himalayas build up in the distance. I booked a stay at a farmhouse in Uttarakhand where I stayed with a local family for a week. A distant relative of my host father was getting married, and he eagerly asked me to join them. I humbly accepted the invitation, but I honestly didn’t feel like it was anything heartfelt. Being a young, white man in India, I would often be approached with enthusiasm and curiosity, but a lot of the time I think it stemmed from their idea of me as a status symbol.


All my presumptions for an Indian wedding were met; colorful textiles and flashy decorations hanging around everywhere, loads of people - probably around a hundred and twenty -, and a lot of gift-giving. Oh, and amazing food! The celebration had already been going on for a few days when I got there. Everything was so big and comprehensive that I didn’t even see the bridal couple until the last day, all glammed up and seated next to each other on what was literally a throne. That was also the moment when their remarkable age gap became obvious to me. He was a seemingly middle-aged man while she appeared to be way younger. At the wedding, I mostly hang out around the kids, as they were the only ones who spoke English. I asked some of them how they knew the bride, and they answered “She’s in our class!”. Still not really grasping what was happening, I asked them again how old she was, and they told me she was fourteen years old. I then learned that the man marrying her was forty-one. I was shocked and deeply uncomfortable by what I had just discovered, but it didn’t strike me that the kids I had been talking to felt the same way. They looked more as if they envied or admired the bride for all the attention and fuss organized around her. The bride herself had a very different expression on her face. I couldn’t help but notice how angry she looked, even unhappy. But during most of the ceremony, she looked indifferent, almost as if she was a passive participant in her own wedding.


When I turned to my host father and asked him if this was legal, he dodged my question and didn’t really answer. Suddenly, everything felt so wrong, but being just a foreign guest at a foreign wedding I felt out of position and power to do anything about it. The experience was an eye-opener and a humble reminder that normal is relative. What I perceive as objectively wrong might be considered to be for the greater good to someone else. For me, the wedding illustrated a culture that is so often reduced to statistics. We easily alienate numbers, but seeing that young girl getting married to a much older man gave those numbers a face. Seeing myself as tolerant and open-minded, I was surprised by my own xenophobia. I guess that’s the part of this experience that stuck with me the most.”


- Andreas, Norway





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