I was 26 when I first met him, and in the true tradition of Indian arranged marriages, married him a few days later. He was tan, handsome, and impeccably full-figured. Our impending marriage was brief and lifeless, and it ended soon after he died. Or rather, after I murdered him by drowning him in a river a few miles away from the site of the ceremony in Jaipur, the state capital of Rajasthan, India. My husband was a porous, water-cooling, man-made earthen pot. And no, I didn't do it for love.
Kumbh Vivaha or 'pot-marriage' is a commonly practiced Hindu astrological precaution in India. Men and women born under the slight or complete influence of the planet Mars—known as Mangliks, or 'Mars-cursed'—are said to be astrologically destined to wreck their marriages. (I do, however know many Mangliks who have managed to make it last, often longer than the non-Mangliks.) The only preventative measure is to marry a pot prior to your marriage to an actual human. Or a tree. Sometimes even a dog. No sex is involved, if you were curious.
Born with this astrological condition, I was in my late-twenties and single. My mother, who consults our family astrologer as much our family doctor, was understandably worried. Convinced that my single-ness had everything to do with my Manglik-ness, and nothing to do with my general resistance to the institution, she wanted me to marry a pot. "I can't tell my boss I am going to get married to a pot! I won't get a leave. I'll get fired," I reasoned with my mother on the phone, with my former editor as my alibi. "She (my editor) must know about this. Aishwarya Rai got married to a tree and your publication printed it," she countered.
A potential bride could be rejected for anything: an inability to cook, a love for meat, modern ideas or jeans, even 'too much education.'
Bollywood movie star Aishwarya Rai, like me, was known to be a partial-Manglik. She reportedly married a peepul tree in 2007 before she could marry her current husband, the other-half of the Hindi film industry's power couple, Abhishek Bachchan. Indian news channels stalled obsessing over the wedding's venue and shopping details for few days to report on the ceremonial tree wedding, which was allegedly held in the holy town of Varanasi. Even without any official pictures and after a public denial from the Bachchan family, paparazzi pictures of the couple flashed relentlessly across television screens with headlines announcing Rai's alleged tree wedding in bold, colorful fonts. Rai's desirability as a movie star, whose money raking box-office hit Dhoom 2 had her scaling to top of the charts in 2006, remained unaffected by her alleged Manglik status. But for millions of other Indian girls born under this condition, it could come with heartbreaking rejections and the near-impossibility of getting hitched through an arranged marriage. Rai was in fact, slapped with a lawsuit for 'promoting practices that are offensive to women.'
In the combative, patriarchal mosh-pit that is the subcontinent's arranged marriage 'market', a chubby frame or a darker skin tone on a girl are massive red flags. In the male-dominated marketplace, the men's family chooses and a potential bride could be rejected for anything: an inability to cook, a love for meat, modern ideas or jeans, even 'too much education.' Add a reputation of husband-killing Manglik to the mix and left behind is an 'aged spinster with shriveling ovaries and a wrinkled turkey neck'.
Clearly, it was my mother's biggest nightmare. So she insisted that both my younger sister—apparently the condition runs in the family—and I get married to pots in a simple ceremony. She ultimately convinced me to travel to Jaipur from Delhi, where I lived and worked, to pick a pot of my choice. On the car ride to the venue, my parents wouldn't stop joking about how both our husbands fell miserably short of their expectations or how they were sad that we'd get no insurance money after their imminent deaths, after we drowned them. My inherently amenable sister laughed along and even contributed to those terrible jokes as I churlishly stared out of the window for the three hour journey. I was furious at having to participate in a dumb charade that stood no ground in reasoning or logic. Of course, I could get married if I so wished, without worrying if the ill-fated alignment of my stars would kill or maim my future husband.
The wedding was on a vulgarly hot day in June, with temperatures rising typically close to 115 degrees. The eye-stinging smoke from the holy fire, my increasing irritation with ceremony and the heavy silk saris mother insisted we both wear weren't helping. We went through all the religious rituals of an Indian wedding that can last up to four hours. Twice. We performed the calling of all gods, circling around the fire, chanting of vows in Sanskrit and our parents ceremoniously 'giving us away' to our husbands, with Hindu priests and our family astrologer directing us. Both times, our said husbands, the pots were sitting in and my and my sister's laps. It all had a viscous magic realism to it. We were getting married. But they were pots. It was happening in an admittedly lovely ceremony, a special day for any girl. But we were going to ceremoniously drown them in two hours. They were our first husbands. The earthen inanimate objects our future partners would eventually succeed. It was real, surreal, and unreal.
My parents wouldn't stop joking about how both our husbands fell miserably short of their expectations.
Eight, intense and smoke-filled hours later, we traveled to the lake near the famous Amber fort in Jaipur to drown the pots. I still recall the stab of regret as I saw my pot bobbing away on the slimy surface of the water, eventually disappearing in the inky darkness. The pot that symbolized security, partnership, and support had to drown so I could possibly access all that in a real person. It was my sister's and my express track to marriage. I found myself mystically attached to this earthen vessel that was to be filled with so much of our imminent happiness.
Astrology-supporters argue that both men and women are equally affected by this condition, even though it unfairly stigmatizes the women more. However, Mangliks in India now have it better than previous decades. Customized Manglik matrimonial services and decreasing reliance on astrology have many millennials rejecting the 'myth' altogether. Though such ceremonial marriages remain popular. Google India alone shows 66,700 results on typing "Cure for Manglik" in the search bar, and 80,000 results for Ghat Vivah—another translation for pot marriage. Additionally, most marriage seekers, like my mother, consult astrologers in person instead of seeking help online.
My younger sister got married to her current husband last year, while at 29 I am resolutely and happily single. There is no accurate way of knowing if our pot weddings changed anything for us. As a rational, fact-checking journalist I was against it, but I couldn't get myself to reject it entirely. After all, having a dead pot on my hands sounded better than a dead husband.