India: A Modest Proposal

In India, a boy's best friend is his prospective father-in-law. Before he even considers marrying the girl next door, an Indian blade critically eyes the dowry her father is prepared to put up. In the old days, dowries were usually paid in bright 1-rupee coins, neatly stacked on silver trays. Today, the cash is supplemented by such fringe benefits as clothes, furniture and tableware. Rich families—especially those with homely or dark-skinned daughters—raise the ante with refrigerators, sewing machines, autos and/or an education abroad for the lucky husband.

At the Kalvan, or wedding-day breakfast, the groom is entitled by custom to...

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