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.


Anupama said...

I really wish I wrote this blog...May be i should write the impending post marriage question blog...

V N said...

Am happy that you are able to look at it in a detached, objective manner and hence enjoy the humour in the whole process.

themadrasi said...

Amen . As the Americans say . Enjoy the ride .

themadrasi said...

Add to this free unwanted career advice for self and family.

srinitya said...

How true ...

Anonymous said...

That's a very objective take on the whole thing! And had me laughing...

PRK said...


i hate to say this but arranged marriages are becoming like more n more like a commodity transaction(it was there earlier,it continues now.. albiet thro the net..)
Bride/Groom hunting now has become more like shopping from a dept store... u have all the brands.. u pick n choose, u say the same brand of face creams, but you would prefer to buy one coz of a particular whim or fancy.... or brand!

psst.... as for the NRI thing.. i myself have screened umpteen no of prospectives sil's for my bro :)
P.S- one of my european collegue was blown away when he saw our matrimony sites..... n quizzed me, "your parents look for a girl!!?? that incredible!!, but tell me isint it like buying a car without test driving....!!!??"
I replied " hey,thats y our cars last the entire lifetime" :)

The Only One said...

Amazing blog!!!

Anonymous said...

What you have described is very very real situation from the girl's point of view.
For us, the so called modern parents of the girl, we have moved from the traditional groom searching methods to the modern web site searches. The process runs like this.
Having registered in a good Matrimonial site we spend about an hour every afternoon searching for good profiles which suits are daughter's requirements ( as per the norms given to us), send the interest and wait for a positive response. That evening,we inform our daughter when she has reached home from office at 8- 9 pm tired and hungry that we have sent an "interest" for a good boy we have seen on the site and if they accept it would be real good match for her. Obviously she has hardly heard or given a thought to it. I even open the site and ask her to look at the profile which is ignored or a casual look given at the PC screen.Luckily, if the parents of the groom (who are also nowadays spending their afternoons on the net) accept the interest sent, then we immediately call them, talk to them, get the horoscopes matched (for the parents comfort level we add!!). Nowadays, even that can be done online through some "Kundali matching" sites which give the gunas by which the two stars match and if there are any doshas or Manglic dosha or not in either of the horoscopes.
Having crossed this important step we ask the groom's parents for the details not provided in the profile and discuss in length the family background, fathers, grandfathers etc. Being modern we offer that the girl and boy talk for 2-3 times before meeting.Phone nos are exchanged and they are asked to talk over the weekend.
Now the persuation begins,when the daughter is reminded of the profile which was accepted and "Told " to her last week. Which boy now? she will ask? the one I told you on Monday, when you were havng dinner, I had even opened the profile and showd you the photos, I remind. The one with moustache or the one with long face she asks , putting me in a fluster... Dont tell me you did not like the profile, you should have told me so at that time itself na? I would not have spoken to them for horoscope etc.Now you see the profile properly. I feel it is a good match, I venture. See the family background, the qualification ...and he is working in Mumbai, which was one of your requirements na, I say feebly. My voice is lost as she has already left the room.Please atleast talk to him and then take a final view I no one in particular...
On the talk day, she is asked, requested, cajoled to check the profile details once again which she does just few minutes before the impending talk.
We wait imapatiently for both of them to talk at the decided day/time. When the call comes through we are waiting patiently for the 15-20 minutes of talk time and watch her expressions coming out of the room. Dutifully she will relate the talk they had with some side comments by her. She is immediately admonished for talking in such a manner about the would be Son-in-law !!!He must have meant this and not what you think, ventures the father who wants to be a part of the " finding groom process".
They speak for another 1-2 times and when we feel it is clicking,and prepare to talk to the parents for arranging the girl meet boy session, suddenly the calls stop, the SMSs are unreplied. We pressurise the daughter to call up the boy which she first refuses to do and thereafter makes a call reluctantly and the call is not taken. No reason, no courtsey.
There must be something you said to him which was not liked by him, I say and cancel his details from the Matrimony book I am maintaining and start again the whole exercise with the next profile, whose parents have accepted the interest !!!

If this exercise has happened for a few ocassions, we indirectly start asking her if there is any one she is interested or good boy in her office she knows. But Mummy, you have always told me you don't believe in love marriages so why are you asking this now? she asks, No darling, I thought I should check just in case there is any good boy,...but only a Hindu, vegetarian and preferably from South India... I add


Viji said...

Really amazing post Sharmada..made wonderful,hilarious reading..I went through all of this not so long ago ..but you know what ..strange as it might sound,,when you meet "your Mr.Right"(and he may be all thats wrong )....but you just..KNOW !!!!
And just to clarify..most of the NRIs I have chanced to meet are the paavam types..slogging away like crazy and only on the lookout for a companion and friend to share their lonely lives with.Don't be prejudiced and stereotype them ..not fair !!!:) Well much for advice from your wise athai ..good luck with the man hunt ..will keep my eyes open too !!!;)

Sunnu said...

Amazing blog...soo true... i am sure you must have had a awesome exp :P.

CK said...

Fantastic Post Sharmada!!!! Picture perfect account of all that happens typically.. I was ROTFL reading through this. I must imagine you have been observing this really closely..the detailing was terrific. Inspiration derived from your recent visit to Chennai ? :-P

Shankar Thirunakkarasu said...

good one....... :) but then poor that many people getting arranged marriage has to go thro the same process......