UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Spring/Summer 1998
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 A Passage From India
 ...and A Passage Back
 Family ties to UB

Women's Work

Can we make the ringing stop?

...and A Passage Back
Homeland journey anticipates couple's engagement

When Navin Jain, B.S. '98, traveled to Ludhiana in the Indian state of Punjab for his cousin's February wedding, he joined an exuberant reunion there of more than 100 relatives from India and the United States.

From left: Gitanjali Jain and fiancé Navin Jain join his father, Piyare Jain, in India.

(Click to view larger image.)

The nuptials also set the stage for his own engagement 10 days later to Gitanjali Jain, a young woman he was meeting for the first time. (The couple, as adherents of Jainism, a religion and philosophy of India founded in the sixth century B.C., share the same surname.)

Indeed, Jain – son of UB professor of physics Piyare L. Jain and his wife, Sulakshna K. Jain – has been preparing for an arranged marriage since early childhood. A native of Buffalo and a freelance digital publishing consultant, he has always been comfortable with ancient Indian traditions, even as he embraces the latest computer technology and business practices. His Web sites devoted to Mahatma Gandhi and James Bond have received national press; his UB degree mixes industrial engineering and marketing.

Jain smiles when recalling the meeting with his bride-to-be in Ludhiana. "It was a bit surreal," he says. "We talked about different things. We were given time to talk to each other alone; then we talked with family elders on both sides. The whole meeting lasted about 90 minutes." The final decision rests with the individual candidates, Jain emphasizes; there is an element of free will. "I always had an understanding with my parents that I would have an arranged marriage, but that was something I always wanted to do – as long as I can remember."

What Jain terms "a love story with UB as the setting" began with a university connection.

"My father's family knew the family of my fiancée," Jain explains. "So when her uncle Nirmal K. Jain [M.S. '77] was preparing to come to the U.S. in the 1970s to study, those same relatives suggested UB as a possible place to enroll, because of my father's presence here." In Buffalo, Nirmal Jain got to know Piyare Jain and his immediate family, including the then four-year-old Navin.

Though Nirmal Jain eventually moved to Connecticut, the two families stayed in touch. As Jain approached marriageable age, family members began to consider the merits of the proposed match. "The Jain community is actually very small in the world, so the reputation of one's family is known to all and that's a key consideration," Jain says. His father's youngest brother, Mohan Lal Jain, subsequently made arrangements with the young woman's relatives for the two families to meet in India.

"The whole idea of an arranged marriage in our tradition is to secure the future of the people involved," says Jain, who has made at least 10 trips to India. "The additional benefit is that, as you are growing up, you are not concerned with the whole dating world. All this is put off until after you have finished your education and started on a career path." The value of an arranged marriage is all the more striking, he adds, given the high U.S. divorce rate.

Jain credits his parents for fostering a reverence for Indian customs and religious functions and for helping him learn Hindi and Punjabi. "The stereotype of Indian-Americans born and raised in the U.S. is that they don't have an appreciation of Indian culture, and that they don't wish to know more about it. But my brother and I and my cousins were brought up to appreciate our heritage. I consider myself half-Indian, half American – trying to take the best of each culture."

The couple plans to marry in India after Jain completes his M.B.A. at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Once married, the couple will settle in the United States, the precise location depending on Jain's job prospects.

The bride-to-be, who holds an M.A. in English from Vikram University in her hometown of Ujjain in the state of Madhya Pradesh, had been studying for the Indian civil service at the time Jain met her. "We have discussed possible careers for her in the United States. The notion that the wife always stays at home with no outside career is no longer true for educated women in India, notwithstanding that India remains a male-dominated society," Jain says.

Meanwhile, the couple continue their courtship via phone, letter and, eventually, E-mail. At press time, Internet access was expected to arrive in Ujjain. "I've told her that once that happens, she won't be able to get rid of me, that I'll be contacting her each day." Jain, who will travel to India this summer for a formal engagement ceremony, believes that his large extended family – and many links to Buffalo and UB – will help his fiancée adjust to American culture. She apparently feels this way, too.

"Before leaving India, I asked her how she felt about the adjustment," says Jain. "She told me that while she will be leaving most of her relatives in India, she will be gaining my entire family here in the U.S."

Ann Whitcher is the editor of UB Today.

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