An Uber Ride With a Cultural Twist...
As a turban-headed Uber driver pulls up to my house. I can see his by the direction he is coming from that his GPS took him the long way around to pick me up for a trip to the airport.
The first thing I notice about Andeep (not his real name) — after verifying his license and identity to make sure they match the information on my Uber app — is that he pops the trunk instead of getting out and offering to help with my bag. My husband and I shrug our shoulders and place the bag in his trunk. I wave goodbye to hearth and home and we are on our way. Soon I realize my driver seems unsure of how to find the freeway, so I guide him. Once there, we settle into what turns out to be a longer-than-usual but fascinating drive to the airport on a Thursday evening.
I have a habit of asking every Uber driver (and I have used this service all over the world) how long they have been shuttling people to their destinations. “Three weeks,” says Andeep. This explains his limited knowledge of freeway on-ramps. He explains that he and his wife work a day job at an Indian restaurant and he drives his Uber car during early mornings and at night whenever he can. They are here living here in my suburban town for the sole purpose of putting their only son through college to learn computer sciences. His clipped accent makes it difficult for me to understand every word he says, but I soon learn that a degree from an American university is more valued than one earned in India.
Now comes the real story of the day. “You have only one child?” I ask, wondering how much family he left behind to make this sacrifice for his son.
“Oh no,” says Andeep. “I have two married daughters back in India. They were both ‘love marriages’,” he adds.
I hesitate, wondering exactly what that means. Then it dawns on me that most Indian families still arrange marriages for their children.
“Wow!” I say. “That’s unusual, isn’t it?”
“Ah — veddy veddy uncommon!” he says in a sing-song, almost prideful tone. What ensues is the stuff Bollywood movies are made of:
When it was time for his first daughter to be matched, he showed her a photo of the boy his family had chosen for her, telling her he was about to set up an introduction. Suddenly, his life is turned upside down. “I have already been having an affair,” she says. (I take it the word “affair” simply means she was seeing a boy on her own, without her parents’ knowledge.) The boy is someone she grew up with, but not from a family that would have been Andeep's first choice.
Andeep is taken aback, as it had always been frowned upon to choose one’s own spouse in his world. In fact, he told me, there are STILL villages in India where both the boy and girl are put to death by their own families because of this violation of cultural mores. Local police investigate, but rarely take action. I am now riveted to his story.
Even though Andeep gives in and decides to accept his daughter’s choice, he is terrified of what his own father will say. The news is evidently more than the older man at the other end of the phone can take, however. He declares he will be cutting off all ties to this part of family and will not attend the wedding, along with all his sisters and brothers — the ultimate insult as well as punishment.
Andeep says that while he expected this, he hoped his father would reconsider. So he proceeds to call as many other family members as he can and tell them the news. He also informs them of an impending wedding so they can plan ahead in a country that presents great obstacles to having reserved transportation and a guaranteed place to stay for the entire week a wedding takes place. Some refuse to attend and others, while offering their condolences about this being the wrong way to permit one’s child to marry, say they will attend anyway.
Within days, the family patriarch calls his son. “I can’t have so many family members attend this wedding and not be there. It will be embarrassing. So I will accept this arrangement.”
By now Andeep is fully immersed in his story, and I can detect a huge smile on his face as I glance over from the back seat. He seems to be in no hurry to get me to my destination, using the slow lane to get ample time to finish his tale. I know I will still be early to the airport, so I say nothing to speed him up.
“My other daughter married for love as well,” he continues. “But we already knew and liked the boy she chose, so we had an easier time of it.”
I am curious as to the ramifications this might pose to him as a father in the long run. He explains that his decision does have its consequnces. “It is only in arranged marriages where family intervention can take place when a couple is having marital troubles,” he says. “In a ‘love’ marriage, the families have no power nor any right to influence or offer help to a ‘rogue’ couple.” Then he zings me:
“Since my daughters married, ELEVEN more love marriages have taken place in my family.” His tone indicates that he regards himself a trend-setter among Sikh fathers — a very progressive character in a place where change happens slowly. I have to chuckle a bit under my breath at the charm of all this.
We arrive at the departure level of the airport. I ask Andeep if he might help me with my bag, since I by now I knew he will not automatically do so. He interprets “help” as popping the trunk from inside the car once again. Then I make it clear that I’d like him to physically help me. So he extricates himself from the car and hoists my bag for me. I thank him for the charming story and wish him well, hoping I also taught him something about American customs.
Andeep speeds off, not knowing I would be sharing this immigrant story for all the world to see. By now I’m smiling too, realizing how one person can come along unexpectedly and share his life with me and while doing so, my own life has been touched beyond measure.