Samson & Shantaben, Chicago, IL — Married 1955

While attending a friend's wedding in Chicago in the fall of 2003, I contacted a pair of community centers in the center of an Indian neighborhood in search of a local couple to photograph.  Though it was a last-minute cold call, I was lucky enough to connect with Samson Macwan, who gamely invited me on the spot to come to his home and interview him and his wife, Shantaben.

Their 7-year courtship began in 1948.  Shantaben was in nurse training at a Salvation Army hospital in India when she met Samson, who was working as a office clerk and storekeeper there.  They fell in love but, before Shantaben finished her coursework, Samson moved to the Gujarat capital city of Ahmedabad for a better job with an electric utility company.  They reunited in 1950, when Shantaben passed her nurse training and moved to Ahmedabad to work in a civil hospital there.  The families met and arranged their marriage.

Samson and Shantaben are Methodists who emigrated from India in 1993 and became American citizens in 2001.  They live on the second floor of their house, the remainder of which is dedicated to the activities of their family foundation, which provides counseling and assistance to Indian immigrants in the Chicago area. They have two children.


RF:
What is the advantage of arranged marriages, in your mind, versus the standard American way of marriage, where two people meet and choose to be married?

Samson:
In an arranged marriage, sometimes that also goes failure.  And these marriages which are—what do I want to say?

RF:
Freely chosen?

Samson:
Yeah.  In that, after some times, they don't try to understand each other, and then it goes failure.  Most of the Americans I've seen, they have one or two marriages.  I have seen so many American friends of mine, "oh, this is my second marriage."  They had dating… and after dating, after a couple of years, they get married.  But then sometimes that marriage doesn't settle forever.
  For the life.

RF:
What is it about an arranged marriage that makes it stronger, or not as strong?

Samson:
Out of two families it becomes one family.  I don't know here, much, but in other countries, or in India, this background of that family, what is their occupation, what are their…

Shantaben:
Income.

Samson:
Income.  And all that.

Shantaben:
Good family…

Samson:
Good family.

Shantaben:
Her sister, brother, mother, what they are doing.  Everything we have to see.  Then we get married.

RF:
So everything is checked out ahead of time.

Shantaben:
Yeah.  Anything wrong, then they would say no.

RF:
I see.  By checking all this background ahead of time

Shantaben:
They will realize, this is a good family.  So we have to get married.  Mother, father, whatever.  And anything will happen, they will meet.  My family, and [his] family, they meet.  And they will…

Samson:
They will discuss.

Shantaben:
Discuss.  And they will keep together.

RF:
They will keep the couple together through group solving of the problem.

Shantaben:
Yeah.  Solve problem.

RF:
Is it still that way?

Shantaben:
Yeah.

Samson:
Yeah. Sometimes arranged marriages are arranged through some people who are arranging marriages.  So when there is a dispute, they will call that guy.  And ask him, "what kind of family you brought for us?"

RF:
Complain to the salesman!

Shantaben:
Salesman, yes!

RF:
And what happens in that situation?

Samson:
Then they settle, sometimes.  They settle.

Shantaben:
Mm-hmm.  Both families.


RF:
Do you feel that you've seen a lot of changes between your generation and current generations when they get married?

Samson:
Yeah, yeah.  A lot of changes.  Nowadays we cannot tell children, "don't do this," or "don't go there."  They will not listen.  They don't want listen, anything.  Nowadays.

RF:
And that's different from your day?

Shantaben:
Yeah.  Very different. 
(She laughs.)

RF:
Is there an advantage or disadvantage to it?

Samson:
Disadvantage.  Because those marriages, arranged marriages, with the consent of two families, the marriage which took place will create a good impression amongst whole family.  They will help each other—if anybody has got no job, they will try to help for a job, they will try to help for the money, everything.  If it is only, I mean, two persons will [arrange] with their own concepts, there is only way left, out, will be to be separated.  That's it.

RF:
Now, you say your son's marriage was arranged also.

Samson:
Yeah.

RF:
Has that followed the same kind of stability, and the same dynamics with the families all helping?

Samson:
Yeah.  Same.

RF:
So you think that will last?  This style of marriage will continue to be strong that way?

Samson:
Mm-hmm.  Yeah.


Samson:
We are never separated.  Suppose if I were to go to my son's place, or she.  She would come down immediately in one or two days.  I don't think we are separated more than one month.  Only once, she went to India.  And that earthquake took place in India.  So at that time, she stayed for one, or —

Shantaben:
Two months.

Samson:
Otherwise, everywhere we go, always together.

RF:
Some people try to spend as much time separate as they can.

Samson:
No.  I will not live without her, she will not live without me.  God has made us so.

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