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Oral History Interview - Monika


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Audio recording of an interview with Monika, born in Amritsar, India and who moved to the UK following a marriage arranged by her family.


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Q. How old were you when you got married?

Monica (M). I was about 18 years old when I got married.

Q. And how did you meet your husband?

M. Well. I didn’t, I mean it was like a family. They asked my father, one of my uncle’s, that will you send your daughter very far. I mean he had some doubts, at that time, but my mum was interested. Like when my father saw my husband he was very pleased to see him, he was a very good looking person. I mean the way I wanted to be honest with you. And he’s like a very simple person, and my family is quite simple as well. So all the family is really .... I got engaged .... I mean I wasn’t ready that time I feel now, but it has been 11 years I’ve been married, I feel my parents made the right decision because I have no complaints, because I wasn’t very career minded, no nothing like that, not even finished my college when I got married.

Q. How did you get to know your family?

M. Through a family relation. My uncle was my husband’s uncle’s friend. So it was like a connection between.

Q. But he was from England? Is that right ? He came from England.

M. You mean my husband’s uncle. No he is in India. His uncle and my father they are like brothers, not that they are brothers, that’s why this happened. I mean I never ever felt that I would go abroad to get married. I mean my sister was adamant but she was very interested in getting married abroad, but not me. I didn’t even think about getting married at that time, I mean you are so young you don’t even think all this and I told my father that I wanted to do B.A., and he said, “Fine. If you want to do it, fine “. But at that time nobody listened to me. He said, “ This is the right time and they are good family.” Its like all my family are after me. Its like everyone is talking to me; “ Oh he is a nice family, a good husband, this and that.” So then you know, sometimes you feel that you are pressurised. And I just gave up.

Q. But even before your family had even started or looking, did you say what kind of man you wanted?

M. At that time yes my father was looking for a boy. They thought, “ Let’s start”. I mean people were asking when they saw me at a wedding or anywhere. And well he went to see two boys. My father didn’t like them. I mean one was very tall, and one was very skinny looking. Because I am tall but I am a good size, not a very skinny person. So he said, “ My daughter will not look nice with that person”. And I was about to go to Delhi, to see a boy, and I mean the were really pressurising me. And they saw me at my sister’s wedding, and he was my brother in laws’ second cousin. So we were actually planning to go to Luknau for that. I mean not Luknau, I mean we had to go to Delhi. But they were coming from Luknau for that. But I was like 50 – 50 because I said no if it was Delhi it was fine. But Luknau it is very out of the way. But then my husband came in in the meantime and my uncle, I mean he just, they were just. I mean they go for morning walk, I mean my uncle and my husbands uncle. And they said, Look my nephew’s just come from England and he is really looking for a girlfriend. He saw so many girls in Delhi, in Amritsar.” He says, Why don’t you.’ And my uncle he was really interested. And he said, “I know one girl, my niece.” He said, Alright, we would like to see. I mean he is looking at the moment. It’s not that he really likes somebody and he has doubts, so we would like to see the girl.” So the next day they showed me and well I mean that time my mum told me that somebody was coming to see me tomorrow. I was so shocked and that I heard the boy was from London. I had a temperature. I was so shocked. I said, “ Look I was so young”, I said Please don’t do that. Let me finish my college. Ml my friends will be after me”. Because they all got married very early. All my friends. And they said, “Look Monica I am the one that will finish my B.A. .You are like a housewife, I do not want to be like you.” And eventually the next day they came to see me and they were very much interested and even my father was very much interested . And he very much liked he boy. And the family, my in laws, were a very simple family. But still you had the sort of thing in your mind, I mean they had lived so far. What sort of family they are, you don’t know? Well my uncle took guarantee that if anything happens, “I’ll be blamed for that”. So we got engaged and after 15 or 20 days we had to do a registrar marriage and the proper wedding after two months.

Q. So did you talk to your husband much? Between then.

M. Yes the engagement brought that, we had a lovely time. That was the best period in my life I must say. In the beginning I wasn’t sure. I mean the problem was he could only speak English, and well he does speak Punjabi, but mainly English. I mean I am from The Punjab, I speak Punjabi but people think it is very much like a village language, so we always, when go to a special do we always speak Hindi. It looks a bit elegant and smart and he couldn’t speak it. I could speak English but I was not very fluent. I did my schooling from convent but still because we are not used to speaking English everyday. So there was always a bit, I was always a bit quiet and he had a feeling, “ Oh this girl is so quiet. Perfect for me”. Because he is also a very quiet person and but when one day he saw me with my friends he was shocked. “ Oh I made a mistake somewhere, I didn’t notice that.” But now I feel I have really changed him. He was so quiet, even the whole family used to say, “Just push him to talk. He doesn’t talk much.” But I think there was a language barrier, everyone speaking Hindi. Maybe he couldn’t answer, that is why he couldn’t talk. He was mainly speaking English, and half of the family they can’t speak English. Like older people they can’t speak English. So he has completely changed now, he speaks my language, I am quite happy.

Q. So did he make a good impression when you saw him?

M. You mean?

Q. First time.

M: When I saw him.

Q. Yes.

M. Well appearance wise he is very good looking my husband. But I still had my doubts inside me. Maybe he won’t, he’s from London, he’s very smart and this and that. I felt I am very low. I mean I don’t know how to explain that. I mean I am not according to his level, I felt. Because he was educated and I mean I was just in the middle of my college. I mean I didn’t finish my studies. But he wasn’t, he wasn’t into like taking my interview, he didn’t do anything. He just explained me, “ Look Monica, you just tell me if you are not happy. If you do not want to go London.” Well we were alone that time and he asked me a few questions. “ Tell your parents that I changed my mind”, he said. I said “Allright.” Then he explained some things you have to do in London. You have to do everything. I mean I was a very homely person before. My mum said I am not to worry about that she is also a very homely person. “ She will manage the house.” But I liked him, that’s why I just accept him. Well he had a very good personality, I was a bit infatuated you can say. When you are young. I mean at that time, You know now I am seeing girls of eighteen or nineteen years old; “ We want that the person should be very well educated. Good job and whatever.” They think like that, I never thought like that. I was so innocent. Just parents and that is it. But now I feel I made the right decision.

Q. Can you remember if there were lots of preparations to make for the wedding?

M. Yes. Well for my wedding there were about four functions. Four big functions. But when they saw me, when they said “Yes”, after that they had a very small gathering. Just in my house, and they came to my house. They gave us sweets and my mum gave them sweets, and they said She’s our daughter.” And my family said “ That is our son”. I mean that was a very little function and then we were just out. We used to go out, and he used to come to my house. Well in our families, well in his family they were a bit narrow minded. That the boy should not go to the girl’s house. But my mum said, “I do not want you to roam around the streets, it is better that if you come to our house.” And we had a lovely time, like we used to talk about our colleges, our studies and so on. He found me very innocent. He used to ask me so many questions but I couldn’t answer because I wasn’t aware of all that. I was really an innocent person. And now sometimes he reminds me of all that; “ Monika I can remember you saying, ‘ I don’t know the meaning of that, I don’t know this, I don’t know that. ‘ “ I was. I mean in India you hardly get this sort of knowledge from your family or from your school, hardly.So then there was a function about a ring, so it happened in my house. You exchange rings. That was a big function, And my mother in law she came from, I mean she was with my husband at that time, just the two of them were there. So after that function there was, we call it suggen. (25 5-260). Suggen means we, I mean where our family goes we say this is our boy now, then in the evening we had a cocktail party, like a drinking party. The family they are really fond of a drink. So that was really a big function. We sing and we dance.

Q. How many people were there?

M. I think about 300. Yes. At my first function there were about 200 people. And the second function it is mainly singing. And they do naughty jokes and they talk against the boy. Like my side will talk against the boy, and their side will talk against me. That was really nice, a really nice function. And I remember all my clothes, mainly in Asian weddings they wear red or pink, all my clothes in the four functions were different shades. Light purple and (283).There was a different one red, one of them I wore magenta. Really nice colours.

Q. So did you have a lot of shopping beforehand?

M: My mother in law and my mum. My mother she went to Delhi to do the shopping because my sister she lives there, and she knows lots of places. And in Amritsar you cant get good variety. Like Delhi is a big city and you get to roam around.

Q. So did you not go?

M. No I didn’t.

Q. Really?

M. My mum said no. The in laws don’t want the girl to travel during that period. Even my husband said don’t go.

Q. So you had to wear what she bought.

M. Yes just what she bought. But my wedding dress I went with my mum to choose.

Q. Where did you get that?

M. From Amritsar.

Q. What was that like?

M. It was a long skirt. We call it (297). It is a long skirt with a small blouse and a long stowe. Really nice. It is a proper traditional outfit for a bride in India.

Q. What colour was that?

M. Red and gold. In my first function I wore a sari. A heavy sari. The ending is in the front. I didn’t cover my hair at that time, because it is such a small function and I am not their daughter in law yet. And in the second function I wore some Indian clothes, really nice purple colour. For my reception I wore a bright pink saree and my hair is covered because now I am married. It was so nice. Yesterday I was watching my video it was so nice.

Q. So was it exciting getting all these new clothes and things?

M. Yes definitely. But you know like now these girls are like that. They want to go with the mum to choose the jewellery and the sari. I wasn’t like that. I told my mum you just choose just whatever you want. But now I feel I made a mistake, I should have gone. But I didn’t have the sense of buying things because I was so young. I never wore my Indian clothes at that time because I was so young. All I wore were trousers and shirt, maybe I didn’t have any knowledge about Indian clothes at that time.

Q. How about your jewellery, your mother chose those?

M. Yes my mother chose everything. My sister, my older sister and my mum. Because she was married and she knew where to go and what sort of designs were in. For the reception, that was a really nice function. I mean after the second function there is a barat (325 ) , that’s from the girls side and it is always in the night, the function. That was really a lot of excitement. Lots of people came. This is the main function of the wedding. When the girl goes to the grooms house, and I remember it was very late night, we were so tired. And the next day was a reception from the boys side. It was teatime, something like 4 ‘ 0’ clock. That was very nice.

Q. So what happens? You are just being shown off?

M. Yes, you are dressed up and there is a proper stage there. People come and see you, and bring flowers. Just like English weddings a bit. But our reception is like that, people come and see you and the wedding day girl is so scared and shy.

Q. Can you remember how you felt on your wedding day?

M. I was very nervous. And also on the wedding day in the morning we had a little function. Have you ever seen those little things the bride is wearing. Little shiny things, that time all the girls side put that on too.

Q. Tassles.

M. Yes tassles. Like a silver thing. And there is one more. You know like bangles, white bangles, made with elephant teeth.

Q. Ivory.

M. Yes ivory. And when the girls they are putting on the bangles the girls should not see .... I don’t know why. I really don’t know. It was my mum’s brother, he has to put it. That time is so serious, everybody is crying. And the whole day I was crying, crying. And later in the day they had to put in henna. I think henna was one day before.

Q. And who did that?

M. Well they had somebody, like a professional person who came to our house. All the young girls get it done, they have it done as well. I mean I feel it was a really long wedding, and we really enjoyed it. There are so many things.

Q. Was your mother crying and upset at the day?

M. I tell you my mother is a very strong person and my father is not. Well he is no more now, but she is a very strong person. She is like that you have to go then you have to go. So why think like that, “Oh my daughter. You are in good hands.” She was not worried. Still when I come back from India she never cries. “You have a good family, good in laws, good husband why should I cry? You are happy there, your family they are there, your friends they are there, your life is there So I didn’t feel ... the only time she was upset when I came from, when I got married, India to London, that time. That whole day I was crying, my mum and my dad were crying. My dad is a very emotional person, he used to say when my first sister got married. This hand is gone now. The left hand has gone, now the right one is going. He used to think like that, he really was an emotional person.

Q. I know a lot of girls and their mothers get sad, spend the whole day crying.

M. I know. But I did that, I’m telling before the wedding, before the function in the morning. The whole day is very serious. You are so nervous. I was really nervous.

Q. Really why?

M. I don’t know. The whole lot is going to happen later on, because we are not used to it.

Q. Also because you are the centre of attention for the whole day as well.

M. I was very nervous, so nervous. Even in my wedding the people are making me laugh but I am so serious on the inside, I’m so worried, I’m so tense. You can see my hands. But everything is O.K. My husband is really good I can tell you. I tell you every time, anytime he always makes me feel really comfortable, he never forced me into anything he really was so good. Still he is just the same, he has not changed.

Q. What did he wear on the day?

M. He wore a suit, a three piece suit. I asked him to wear the traditional one, but he said; “ Maybe I won’t look nice. I don’t want to”. And yesterday I was showing that video to my children and they were saying; “Mummy, daddy shouldn’t wear that, he should wear a traditional one. Well when I get married I will wear that one.” I said, Oh alright, we will see.” But he looked very nice in that also. They have to wear something in their hair, it is a silver thing like a crown, which they have to wear. And they have to sit on a horse.

Q. That must have been a shock for him coming from London.

M. No, he was very excited, he was actually looking forward to that. Because he had seen his cousin and brother doing the same thing. And yesterday he was watching this and he said; “Monika, that time I was a bit nervous but I want my son’s wedding to be like that.” But you don’t know in ten years time what he wants to do. Maybe he wants an English wife. So he said, “I really want my son to be the way we got married”.

Q. Once in a lifetime thing.

M. I am already preparing my children, I already prepare my son, “Look I want a girl from India.”

Q. So you want him to have the same kind of arranged marriage as you?

M. Yes.

Q. Would you like to have the marriage here or in India?

M. In India. Definitely I will have a big function here, because my whole family and friends are here. I mean I have got a big gang of friends here now. And when I come from, when I am in India after four weeks I do miss my crowd. Because in India when you go they are just talking about their lives. Their lives are like the children are being looked after by the servants, they are going out for Kitty party (419) or for cards party, going for shopping, Our life is not like that. I am a working person now. I don’t want to have all that nonsense. I get bored now. They say, “What is wrong with you Monica, you are so quiet and so serious?’ I mean I really can’t explain them, maybe they are thinking “ Oh, she is a boring person.”

Q. It is a different world though.

M. It is, I mean I do not miss that life now. It is just more show off life, I mean in this country it is not. People are not show off, whatever you have people appreciate. Whether you have got Mercedes or you have got ordinary car, nobody says “ Oh you have got that I’m going to have that.” In India it is like that. Like a .... even in the middle classes it is happening now.

Q. How old are your sons now?

M. My son is now going to be ten.

Q. He’s got plenty of time to grow up.

M. I mean my husband got married when he was 23. So another 13 years it will go like that....’ snap’.

Q. You think.

M. Yes when I got married my niece was three and she is fifteen now. Such a big girl, she looks like a big girl now. I mean she is taller than me now. A really big size.

Q. I guess it will go quickly, but I guess it is hard to think about.

M. Time flies.

Q. What kind of food? Was there a lot of food?

M. Yes, a lot of food, mainly vegetarian. In some weddings they do it, but in my family they said we do not want any non veg. Mainly Hindu weddings are veg. Very rarely do you find non vegetarian.

Q. Who sorted that out?

M. My brother in law because he is a chef in a hotel. He was acting chef at the time. He made up everything. Everybody liked the food because he did his own. He works in a five star hotel. It is like a very posh one. It was really good.

Q. Were there any superstitious things you could or couldn’t do before?

M. I think one month before or twenty days before they put you in green bangles. It means like you should stay at home you shouldn’t travel. I mean if you are going out, you go in the car so nobody sees you. They say the girl is roaming around, because Amritsar is a very small place. To go to market, it is five minutes drive, you see people, I mean your family. So they always say’ Don’t go’. And they also said stop meeting each other, to my husband, my mother in law said that. But we used to meet, he used to come to my house. And my parents are really nice I tell you. They used to give us a separate room and we used to chat and so on. You go to Karis ( 460), so we had a lovely time. sometimes my father has gone to the factory and my mum she’s gone somewhere, some religious thing and we were all alone in the house. We had a lovely time.

Q. It is better than not knowing at all.

M. But we got along really well during that period. And I felt that I had a fear in me, some sort of fear in me that maybe he is very educated and he will make me, “Oh she doesn’t know anything.” Some men do, some men are a bit like that. Well he never made me feel that, he always said you are great, you are something. Still he does the same thing. Sometimes we go to a function and I say “Oh that woman she is wearing lovely clothes.” He says” Oh I didn’t notice that, I just saw my lovely wife. I don’t want to see other women, why do I want to see them?” But men are not like that.

Q. No men are not like that.

M. No. He says, “I do not want to see people’s clothes. I am watching to see if you are looking nice, if you are wearing your dress nicely.” I dress up, even everyday I dress up. He, if he doesn’t like, he says” I don’t like it, go and change your clothes.”

Q. Your sister got married before you?

M. Yes.

Q. Can you remember what her wedding was like?

M. Yes well I can tell you another story about that. When my sister got engaged, we are about the same height, I was one inch taller than her. And she is a bit smaller than me but we look about the same age. And my grandfather he was really after my mum. I had just finished my matriculation, which is G.C.S.E. in this country and he said look find another boy and get married at the same time. He was really after my mum, and at that time I told you about the boy from Luknau, his mum saw me at the wedding and she really wanted to get this girl. But my mum says, “No She is too young, she doesn’t know anything. I am so worried she is so young. Because I was really like a Tomboy. I wasn’t a feminine personality, very different. First time in my life my mum says, ‘You must wear a sari to your sister’s wedding.” So I wore a sari. Since then I joined college I really changed myself I was a different person. Like settling down I can say. More feminine I can say. My mum was shocked when she saw me going from here for the first time, from this country. Not shouting when I’m talking, very calm, she was so glad when I changed. Maybe it is because of my husband because he is not like that, because when Asian people speak they are very loud. He is not. Even my mother in-law she is not. So maybe you do pick up habits from each other. And in her wedding it happened in a Five Star Hotel, very nice. Nice posh wedding, a very good wedding. It wasn’t a very long wedding. In my family, it is the best wedding to happen, a very long wedding. But they are very like my brother, their family is very well educated. They are not like into wasting money, my in laws are like that. They wanted to have a proper wedding. Because they only had two sons and it was very short. One function in Amritsar in my mum’s house, one in Delhi and that is it. Very, very short wedding and that is it. So my sister enjoyed my wedding, my older sister, which is nice.

Q. Yes, to have four big parties.

M. And every day they are in white in my house or they are going somewhere out, in club. My sister she came one month early before my wedding so we all had a lovely time. Like dressing up, it was so nice, something special was going on. Or sometimes we would go out with my husband, and he would take my sisters. He really liked my family. He had some memories that, I don’t know, maybe he had seen some other families. He always said, “I always wanted a family that is very simple. Down to earth, not like showing off .“ He said, “The first thing Monica when I saw your parents I had a feeling that I liked the girl .“ He didn’t see me that time. “I really like your parents.”