Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arranged marriages misunderstood in the West

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Arranged marriage and Folklorama are two traditions not lost on Winnipegger Surekha Joshi.

The president of the India Association of Manitoba, which hosts a Folklorama pavilion every year, came to Winnipeg thanks to an arranged marriage.

"It's much more practical," said the widow with an adult daughter.

"Infatuation doesn't necessarily last."

Joshi was 20 when she met her first husband, and it was love at first sight. The dashing fighter pilot in the Indian air force swept her off her feet and they were married. Before their first anniversary, his plane was shot down in 1971 during the Indo-Pakistani War.

He died, leaving a very young war widow.

She moved in with her parents in the city of Pune, got a master's degree, a job and had no intention of marrying again.

Her in-laws, however, were concerned about her future and her being alone. They knew of a suitable match for her in far away Winnipeg -- a relative who was divorced and well educated, literally a rocket scientist. He came to India, and they went for a walk to the beach on their first date.

"I did most of the talking," Joshi laughed.

"It wasn't like sparks were flying," but that was OK.

They married two weeks later on Valentine's Day, 1986. That fall, her visa was approved, and she moved to Winnipeg to be with him.

It turned out to be a very good match.

She and her husband Sunil stayed together until he died in his sleep of cardiac arrest in 2001.

Joshi said arranged marriage isn't the terrible thing that many in the West think it is.

"It's a very good idea. Parents and families find someone with a similar background and upbringing, who's shared your way of life," she said.

Her grown daughter is an engineer in her 20s and not in the market for an arranged marriage, Joshi said.

But "I would if she'd let me."

Joshi isn't in the market either. She's committed to the India Association of Manitoba, helping to fundraise and organize its Folklorama pavilion.

They've had a pavilion since the annual cultural event began in 1970, and that tradition is alive and well, said Joshi.

After 42 years, young people in the community are still taking an active interest, she said. Three-quarters of the India Association's 12-person board are under 40 years old, many in their 20s, she said.

The size of Manitoba's Indo-Canadian community is growing thanks to immigration, and its mood is more upbeat than she's ever seen it. Joshi thinks India's booming economy and its sought-after talent and skills make expats here feel good. There are all kinds of opportunities for people here to tap into India's growth, said the Royal Bank employee.

"It's a good time to be an Indo-Canadian."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 J16

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