Marrying in Nepal: Fall in love or get arranged?

By Alina Rajbhandary Shresta

Alina met her knight-in-shining armour with a lot of help from her family. Her resistance was no match to the powerful pull of destiny.

In Nepal, it is normal for a woman to be married with the man selected for you.

Raised as a very independent Nepali woman, I could never imagine doing that. Not my cup of tea. Just thinking about how I would spend my entire lifetime with a stranger chosen for me bring shivers up my spine. I resisted the idea – much more the reality.

Thus, in 2002, when there was a proposal to meet up with a man who passed the criteria of fitting into our family requirement of a suitable son- in-law, I was distressed. Terribly. The potential groom’s photo got especially delivered to me at our house. It was actually a group photo of men and one of them, of course – was my future.

When I saw Pushkar for the first time in that photo, my immediate answer was a big “no”. However, my over-eager family interpreted my “no” as a “yes”. Eventually, I got persuaded to meet and see him in person. I invented many creative excuses I can imagine. To no avail.

Finally, my youngest sister Namrata came up with an idea that was so simple yet did not strike me earlier. She said, “You don’t have to marry him, just meet him. Enjoy a good pastry at his expense (if he is generous enough to pay for it) and come home.”

It was brilliant, for me at least. It sounded like a hilarious solution to my dilemma of being an obedient daughter who cannot go against my parents’ wishes. I thought I had nothing to lose and it would be a good end to the ongoing conversations at home.

The meeting was set up at Hotel Himalaya in downtown Kathmandu. I drove to meet him with the wise matchmaker seated beside me in the car. Families often engage with a matchmaker for arranged marriages. As soon as we reached the hotel, he pointed to the man at the door who seemed very excited. He was friendly and overly accommodating. Of course, I told myself, he will show his best foot forward.

Pushkar had lived in the United States for 11 years and came home for a break after acquiring his engineering degree. I suspected he also came home to find a wife. His acquired accent reminded me of one of the American shows I watched on TV, which I found very funny. This made me chuckle.

We talked about our interest and hobbies in general. I concluded we were poles apart. He shared his love for fishing and I was like “yeah right — fish in the heart of the city” (add an eye-roll)! Since my mind was already made-up, half of what he said flew past my head. I did not find them interesting. This concluded our brief (and in my mind, our supposedly last) meeting.

“I was raised as an independent Nepali woman. I cannot imagine not making my own choices.”

When I reached home, everyone wanted to hear how he was and my answer was ready, “He is not my kind of guy”. I confidently closed the chapter and life became peaceful. Or so I thought.

Two weeks later, I received a call from our landline telephone that was not working for a while. It was Pushkar, and I got alarmed. I soon recalled this was the number I shared with him when we had our short and forgotten meeting. I pretended to be my sister, trying not to sound like myself, informing him about the distant possibility of talking to a girl who was extremely busy with work. I was then working as a teacher.

He did not give up. When he called the following day, I picked up the phone again and this time, I got caught red-handed. He asked, “Is this Alina?” and running out of alibi, I have to admit I am the one on the phone. He immediately added, “I heard you do not like me? What is it about me that you don’t like – was it my looks?”

Before I could answer he continued, “There’s a face cream in the market I have heard about- called Fair and Lovely- do you think I should start using that?” My jaws dropped and I was lost for words.

Eventually I responded, “Yes, do that!” That did not faze him. “Which cheek should I start with – right or left?” My response- “Your call”. The conversation did not stop. He went to say, “What if I am fairer on the right side and dark on the left side”.

I have no idea if it was a joke or part of a vengeful plot to spite my decision. It was a hilarious chat for sure, but I was scared at the same time. I ended the call but this was just the beginning.

The next day he called again. He said, “You know what, you are the first girl to say no to me and I find that quite attractive – I always thought I was good looking.” The calls got frequent. My sisters and I sat together almost every evening to hear his endless tales just to burst out into peals of laughter.

Here was a man who was so confident that his charm would work on the girl he wanted to marry. I strongly believed it was just a passing phase of my life and would end soon for all of us, including the uncalled-for laugh sessions.

The beautiful bride on her wedding day. “It was destiny.”

My parents noticed the buzz in the house and decided it was time for them to meet Pushkar. A meeting was arranged between two families- his and mine.  This formal meeting usually culminates into marriage.

My resistance broke down. I had no time to think when my parents finally decided he was the one. They added to remind me he was better than the Bollywood actors I admired on screen. Yes, they also did question my earlier decision to say no.

After six months of courtship, I happily married the man I have not imagined would be my husband in the first meeting. It was destiny.

This became the most important lesson in my life.  Sometimes the best gifts in life come as a blessing when you have no clue and when you least expect it. Our choices may not be right but when God has plans for you, they find their way to come full circle.

My husband was not a choice I made, but he is my destiny. He was my perfect fit. He became a friend, a mentor and above all my inspiration.  After 14 years, we were blessed with two boys Pratyush, 12 and Pravaath, 7. Both of them asked me once, “Mom, why did you say no to our dad?” adding, “We don’t like this story of yours.” I just smile.

I guess they love that the story has a happy-ending.

“Sometimes your best-laid plans may fail for something much better to happen. Go for your dreams but don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen exactly as you want. Better things may replace them and surprise you. For girls on pressure to get married, don’t give in easily. Enjoy life and what you love to do. Your knight in shining-armour will find you, if he is your destiny.” – Alina

Now. Alina is a happily married woman to Pushkar and a loving mom to Pratyush and Pravaath. Yes, there are still fairy tale endings. And they lived happily ever after …

Alina R Shresta is currently World Vision Nepal’s Communications Manager and a very passionate humanitarian worker and advocate for the better future of girls and women.