The export of trophy wives

The export of trophy wives
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First Published: Thu, May 22 2008. 11 10 PM IST
Updated: Thu, May 22 2008. 11 10 PM IST
Applications for the much-coveted H-1B visas, exit strategy of choice for many in India’s high-technology industry, were sent off late last month and will be decided by lottery. But you can bet another group making their way to the US soon most certainly won’t be left to chance: their wives.
This being the nation where total strangers learn to love, the centuries-old game — happiness is not the measure; longevity is — has had pretty good odds. But the NRI (non-resident Indian) won’t gamble.
So this summer, the prodigal sons already overseas will descend on their hometowns, Chennai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Kolkata, and begin putting faces to the email addresses with whom they have been dutifully corresponding. Depending on how free the young man is from Ma’s clutches, some will have the privilege of meeting at a coffee shop and pretending it’s a date night, just without the perfunctory groping. You can’t miss them: the spectacled, balding software engineers and the lip-glossed, kurti-clad brides-to-be parading into Barista. She tosses her hair flirtatiously and he looks on enviously; you wonder if he wants the confidence…or the hair. She just wants…the visa.
Only one will win his heart, wallet and immigration sponsorship. He will return again in that perpetually auspicious month of November to marry; the citizens will tell immigration officials she’s just a fiancée because it’s easier to be exported that way. Once there, she’ll join the category of visa known as “dependent”, a word which will come to define her very existence. The lucky ones go on to get working papers and green cards soonest, but those married to H-1s remain dependents until someone else — usually an employer or a college — comes along to save them with a different visa.
I’ve been writing about H-1B visas for almost a decade now, and really I feel for the holders of the “H” visas, both the workers and their wives. I also side with brides who have been abandoned by NRI husbands or duped into thinking they were marrying an engineer, when really he pumped petrol for a living. I certainly don’t condone or make light of the very serious physical and psychological torment some Indian brides are subjected to, either from husbands or in-laws.
But now that all the disclaimers are out of the way, let’s get real.
If you’re going to marry a guy because he’s overseas and he’s looking to India to find a wife, doesn’t something signal this equation might go awry?
And yet, even as the NRI has lost his lustre and our great nation does victory laps around its GDP growth rate, somehow we Indian girls and our families still hang onto these dreams of marrying our way out of the country. There are websites devoted to finding a husband overseas; articles headlined “How to marry an NRI, safely.”
The fourth question asked on — after gender, age and community — is the location of the partner.
And never one to miss out on getting involved in people’s personal life, the Indian government is inserting itself in the matter. The ministry of overseas affairs has drawn up guidelines for people who want their daughters married abroad, releasing the Information Booklet on Marriages to Overseas Indians. (In an ode to the wisdom of Omkara, a better title would have been The Best Way to an NRI Man’s Heart is Below His Stomach).
If you are one who maintains that women these days really don’t see NRI as a status symbol, just spend this coming Sunday with the matrimonial section of your newspaper. Or go online and read ads such as this one: “Seeking a beautiful bride…we are open-minded and modern… We believe in horoscope matching.” Fittingly, the advertisements on the site flashed various screensavers to download, including two well-endowed blondes.
Director Nagesh Kukunoor deals with Indians desperate to find NRI grooms in the film Hyderabad Blues. In one interview in 2005, he said, “For women who want to marry US grooms, it is in the search of a prettier, better and more materially comfortable world. They think that the grass is always greener on the other side. I hope that NRI men want to get married to Indian women for some level of commonality and not because they just want a subservient wife.”
Usually, the NRIs are much more euphemistic about their intentions, saying they want someone with “Indian values” and “uncorrupted”. Barista brides, please tell me what else that means if not chaste, submissive — and svelte, of course.
But if you insist on conducting a search for the perfect groom overseas, the government advises: “Have regular and meaningful communication with the man and his family... Make sure the bride and the groom meet personally and interact freely and frankly as many times as they feel necessary. Rely on your gut.”
Most of it sounds worth heeding, here or abroad. Happy hunting.
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First Published: Thu, May 22 2008. 11 10 PM IST