Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Great Indian Arranged Marriage Hunt

If you are 21 & above, belong to a typical Middle class Indian family, and are still single then there is huge probability that you hear the following questions quite often:

“So when are you getting married?”, or

“Hope your parents are looking out?”, or

“So when are you giving us the good news?” , or

“What are your plans on settling down?”

It makes you wonder if settling down, good news, happiness are all contingent on getting married. The Great Indian Arranged Marriage Chase begins with Parents/Well-wishers/Family friends coming across some horoscope which they just feel would “match” with yours, or a reference to/from them of someone they know, or whom someone they know knows, “all from a good family you know” ! Initially it begins with adhoc references, then there are the good (now old) matrimonial websites promising you the made in heaven groom/bride at just the click of a mouse. You can save upto 5 search criteria and keep searching till you catch the person in the net ! Some of them offer you a personal matchmaker – Picture this you may not have a personal secretary but you can have a personal matchmaker! Of course all these specialized services come at a sizeable fee with “discounts” when you “renew”! Oh yes and when you sign up you can choose from plans that range 3 months, 6 months & 9 months - the longer the better discounts you get! Alternatively there are the community centers, religious associations, and temple marriage faciliators who also provide this service mostly for a fee. Oh yes and then comes the proverbial photos – the kind of photos typically reflect the mind of the youngster –If it is a very geeky snap then the parents would have forced the photo session, if it is a mug shot – they wouldn’t have suceeded with the child throwing a tantrum – it is this picture or nothing, or thirdly the casual snap – from the I don’t care and don’t want to impress groom/bride, and lastly the one with patient postures and forced smiles – resulting from immense parent pressure or an over desperate candidate.

The typical flow with minor variations runs this way: parents shortlist, candidate reviews, parents check horoscopes, if horoscopes match then the “good news” is exchanged, the “kid’s” are allowed to exchange mails or phone calls with varied levels of reluctance or eagerness depending on how orthodox both sides are, then there are meet the parent sessions which are traumatic especially if you don’t know the guy/girl – haven't seen anything beyond a photo max (typically mug shot or geeky pic), or haven’t yet been permitted to communicate to the guy/girl by the potential parents in law who want to meet and “understand” the person/family in an hour or two over of edibles and pleasantrie. Even companies don’t have such convoluted processes for recruitment/vendor selection! After this the kids are either allowed to meet and decide, or communicate and then let parents decide through a round number three.

The communication stage can be quite hilarious especially if located in different places. Awkward mails are written and phone calls made as the two try to “gauge and understand” each other. Elaborate discussions of Likes and dislikes, Career Ambitions, Social Ambitions, and Idealistic discussions soon occur as the two try to make a presentation of themselves, their views, ideologies, aspirations etc. All this becomes traumatic if you need to keep repeating it to different prospects simultaneously (as there is an equal probability you see .. - worse than a sales job really), or if you exchange two long mails followed by a full abrupt stop of return mails as a result of which you are left wondering where it went wrong and whether there is something known as common courtesy left. However sometimes mails and calls are easier than meeting up incommunicative prospects, especially the ones who leave you wondering whether the definition of horoscope matched needs to be changed.

Matrimonial profiles and messages on websites can also be hilarious, pathetic and irritating. More pathetic are the cases who send one line introductions asking for photo password straight with no introduction whatsoever. It’s a typical let downer no matter how good or bad the persons profile actually is since it actually communicates the emphasis on color and good looks often contradicting the superficial idealistic points mentioned in the person’s profile. The down right hilarious are the ones with bad English and which end up showing the person in very poor light. Others have idealistic reformer style statements which seem condescending and repulsive at best.

The Great Indian Arranged Marriage process can also bring to front social biases/evils/customs/prejudices still in place like

  • prevalence of dowry in some communities even among the more educated, so called “liberal”, well-to-do middle class families
  • bias to color – this is revealed if one just checks how many profiles either mis-classify themselves as fair/very fair while the picture/reality is contradictory or ask for fair brides/grooms in the profiles
  • caste biasedness – being a process driven by parents the profiles are and alliances are typically sought for same caste, same linguistic background etc
  • dependence on astrology/horoscopes – most matrimonial sites/other faciliators also provide astrology/horoscopes which are very commonly used as both filtering & deciding criteria

Another amusing (in retrospect definitely) facet of the process is the personalities one meets in the course of it. The most pathetic cum irritating cum amusing of these are the NRI category. Cases in point I have met myself or heard from my friends –

  • The mother, father, and maternal grandmother of say the NRI groom who wants to understand the prospect, judge the looks and color with the photo. All this even though the son’s friend will be shortlisting potentials for him before his impending visit so that he can check them all out before he decides, and despite the fact that they just require a glorified housekeeper to maintain the house while the son works at an other city and visits home twice a week! Moreover the parents have the prospect’s family believe that their son (a software engineer well educated and supposedly working well in the US) correctly feels that any communication before the shortlist and his proposed Indian bride search tour would be a Sin!
  • The NRI parents who come on a survey visit to understand the prospect after the horoscopes matching stage who have a solid story to sell about their software engineer son who is doing exemplary well and wants a “god fearing”, “homely”, “good looking”, bride (good looking house maid in short). Of course they will decide whether to go ahead and their son/daughter will abide by their decision even without meeting the bride. What decisiveness on the son/daughter’s part even in this era!
  • And yes again the well to do parents who are most keen to know how much property the bride/groom owns, what are the property rates currently, whether there are other claimants to property. One very “intelligent” bureaucrat father decided to survey the entire house they were visiting for the first time.
  • Demands for dowry for the mom and sister/brother of the groom (typically) are also common I hear. Unfortunately I haven't heard of any bride asking for dowry! These demands even though all of them are well off and occupy senior positions in reputed Indian/International organizations. Though I know of people (extremely well qualified, intelligent, in good employment) who have been asked dowry, I haven't met any such person/family just yet and I consider that fortunate for the other person/family !

Now, if you still don’t find yourself knotted up (:P), in spite of this entire search process and drama that accompanies it, build the composure and wit to handle the multitude of questions mentioned at the beginning of the post from family, friends, and “well wishers”. Also after a point you will stop getting amused at the number of people who are willing to play matchmaker, though your parent’s anxiety seems to multiply as their ordeal in monitoring the process gets prolonged. Sometimes they even resort to excel trackers, multipage word documents with profile ids for you to shortlist proving that every known technology will be put to use to ensure you find your “better” half.

Anyway to close this post and give the process some credit, a majority of Indian middle class youth still stick to this process for two main reasons among others: one for want of another method of finding partner in real life by themselves, and two for the social/family security and support that is brings with it. So if you are in it grin and endure if not enjoy (by remaining amused) till your turn comes to move out of the hunt. Two standard responses which may come handy:

  1. every thing has its time/ its destiny - a profound statement! , and
  2. counter question (especially if the other person understands Tamil) would be “Is this a case of Naan petra tunbam viyyagam um perave”. These should work as effective silencers on elderly people, when doled out with an easy casual look, eyebrows raised, & a deep entrenched smile with hint of a smirk. However it would be wise to escape through the nearest exit. Naan petra tunbam viyyagam um perave essentially translates to “Let the world also get the sorrow that I have got (through marriage)”

Also while there is an end to these questions on actually getting married, I hear from a few fortunately/unfortunately (according to them/their spouse) the next logical (or should I say illogical) question progresses to when they can hear the post marriage good news! So best of luck with that question if you have escaped these.

Politics, Identity Tags & the Need for change

The headlines screamed " NCP leader Sharad Pawar in favour of a Maratha for the PM's job". Just a few days earlier another headline stood out " Talk of 'PM' Pawar only in Maharashtra". These headlines somehow had me brushing up my memory and also framing my opinion on Politics, Identity Tags and the Need for change.

The immediate recollection was of two other contenders who feel that the PM's job is due to them - one a prominent controversial female chief minister of a North Indian State, and another a prominent politician from the North again who is also the the current Railway minister. The lady feels its overdue as she is a "dalit" while the gentleman just feels he's up to the job and he can turn it around like the Railways. Well both are dangerous propositions, imagine a statue of the lady or her so called mentor turning up outside Parliament, or the gentleman spitting pan in all the corridors of the PMO and representing/addressing the world on behalf of India (splitting image or spitting image!)... Oh yes not to mention their reach in furthering their corrupt purposes at the cost of the Indian exchequer.... The Mahrashtian leader harboring these ambitions is himself not beyond redemption and is rumored to have dirtied his hands in a power project not to mention promoting his interests while he was in power in the state.

Tags seem to be an effective way to promote individuals rather than principles or the tenets of good governance. Dalit, Minority, Woman all are tags which are used in this regard. Evidenced in the selection of Presidents. Not withstanding their achievements these tags were the justifications given by Political parties to nominate/select R.K Narayan. Abul Kalam, and later Prathiba Patil (while denying Abul Kalam a second term despite him being arguably the most popular and committed President). All this for gaining mileage from voters. Now add Mahrashtrian to the list. Imagine then all the states of India will stake claim to the top posts on a rotation basis - quota system !

Governance rather than sectarian identity tags should be the main platform to promote a PM/President. Seniority within a party can again not be the main reason for proposing a Prime Ministerial candidate (like the current projected candidate of the second largest National Party of the country who has been very adept at making useless noises rather than take bold decisions when needed). Indeed over the last five years opposition parties baring a select few have been making noises with the sole objective of presenting a contrarian view to the view of the government. The noises needless to say are not accompanied by any sound logic or reasoning. The need of the day is for parties and politicians who can rise up to the new challenges of modern India, keeping in mind the need of the country as a whole. Sectarianism, narrow minded vision, self propagation/promotion (financially) should be given up. In this regard I do feel the Congress has done a decent job. The decisiveness with which they approached and signed the Nuclear Deal impressed me. The manner in which they were willing to put a lot of things at stake was unprecedented. As for the unproven corruption charges well even if they were true sometimes the ends justify the means! Atleast the party (congress) worked more cohesively and effectively than the main opposition party whose stance was to oppose without thinking and rationalizing. Also they managed to keep in lead a Prime Minister who was least partisan and possesses among the best C V.s among all politicians who have held the post.

Have just three final points to close this post. One, the Prime Minister/President of the country are Indians first, elected by Indians for India. This cannot and should not change for the good of the country. Two, the only way of changing this is to vote, and on that count request you to exercise your franchise based on which party can provide better governance. Yours truly will now sincerely try to see if she can get her voters id card (due from the CMC since Jan 2001 :( despite many follow ups).... The third and final point - why we need to do this? - coz our country's finances (read the deficit figures in the interim budget to understand the unexploded fiscal bomb) , & security are specifically under danger. Good governance is needed so that we can have a better future. The population pyramid is wide right now - a lot of young work force. We need to manage them better, to ensure a better future for them (social security as they grow old, as we may for all we know reach an inverted pyramid state like Japan some few hundred years later) and also make a difference so that the future generations experience a better, more progressive India.