Thursday, April 12, 2007

Matchmaker matchmaker make me a match ...

Der Spiegel's international edition profiles online matrimonial sites in India, with brick and mortar offices.
Matchmaking is an important niche, worth some $250-300 million each year. And even if only about 5 percent of the country's 1.1 billion citizens surf the Web, an ever increasing number of Indian love stories are beginning in cyberspace. Companies like are taking notice -- but they are also looking to capitalize on Internet efficiency in the low-tech world as well.

Chawla's franchise-- essentially an interface between cyberspace and traditional India -- is one of 130 dotting the country and there are plans to add another 400 in the next two years. Furthermore, while online users can buy access to some 400,000 profiles in the company's secured database, ads are also published in newspapers and magazines. Indeed, most customers, Chawla says, have never used a computer -- at least 90 percent of those who walk through her door are parents, sibling or aunts or uncles, of the young singles.
Her success is also an indication of India's eclectic mix of technology and tradition. Walking into the Shaadi Point late one afternoon Rajni Jaiswal, 26, takes a seat along her father and an aunt in Chawla's enclosure. Doe-eyed with jet black hair, Rajni is the picture of India's next generation. She relaxes in jeans and a black hoodie, while her aunt sits stoically in an orange sari and black sweater, clutching a red purse. Most of Rajni's friends have gotten married in the past year or two -- the pressure is now on for her to follow suit.

"It's good," says Rajni. "She is able to understand what kind of match I'm looking for." That is, a fellow a few years older, employed, and located outside her hometown.

A few keystrokes later Chawla pulls up hundreds of choices. Rajni picks one and after telling Chawla her date and time of birth, everyone watches with bated breath as a horoscope-matching program tells them whether it is a match made in heaven. Much to the family's delight, the computer says yes.
Let's see, of my college friends (all middle, or upper-middle class urban Bombayites), almost all the Catholics had "love marriages" (two across religious lines, Catholics marrying Hindus) and many of the Hindus and Muslims had "arranged marriages." The former are more common, and certainly more accepted, among the more Westernized educated classes, but not always. One of my college aquaintances was locked up by her parents in her room when she refused a match. She escaped through the window and ran away to Delhi and didn't come back until her folks saw reason. This was a very well-off and educated family! When another close friend, a Mangalorean Catholic, wanted to marry a Keralite Catholic girl, her family resorted to similar measures. They were afraid of what this would do to the family reputation in the village and so on. But, eventually, they bowed to their daughter's wishes. (And from rural India, one constantly hears stories about young lovers who elope, are caught by their familes, and then butchered to protect the caste's honor.) All are still married, to their original spouses. (The same can't be said about friends and aquaintances my age in the US!)

In my family, I'd say the split is about 50-50 among the cousins in India (none of the cousins born and brought up in the US has had an arranged marriage. All but one, so far, have married other Indians). And several of the cousins' kids, now of marriageable age, are having their marriages arranged. In fact, just last month, two rishtas (matches) were confirmed (involving a ceremony where both sides meet and swap a rupee and a coconut. No idea which sides brings what. The side with the coconut gets stiffed through -- it costs more than a ruppe for sure. :)) in the extended clan. I don't think was used though ... just the informal, yet quite widespread network of aunts, who are the Repository of All Collective Wisdom.


Mac said...

There's an amusing "Dear Prudence" in this week with an Indo-American girl wondering how to cope with her parents in India proposing to help out with finding a Suitable Boy. Prudence, to her credit, suggests that the girl check out what's on offer from that quarter before turning up her nose.

But a Bohri Muslim friend of mine right here in Australia has been doing his own research through the Indian matrimonial internet services and he came around a few nights ago to put the girl he has found on the webcam to meet me: she is in Karachi and her opening words after well-hello-and-how-are-you were "I've heard so much about you: and it's wonderful that you are a Paki-lover." Hmmm...well, OK. Develops that it was my reports of good times in Pakistan that prompted my friend to broaden the search to include Pakistan as well as India. Whatever it takes.

(Meanwhile, his parents in Bombay, who have braved the Hajj and -- yikes! -- the Shia holy sites in Iraq of all places are frightened out of their wits at the thought of venturing into the madhouse of Islamic lunacy that is Pakistan for a wedding, even of the adored offspring. So much for the fond delusion that Pakistanis labour under that Muslim Indians are all potential Pakistani fifth columnists. ("Kashmir was the loveliest place on earth till the wretched Pakis ruined it!" I radically bowdlerise the quotation, needless to say.)

What does one take to a Bohri wedding, one wonders. Last time the need arose I cobbled together an Elizabethan epithalamium and it was received with vast enthusiasm, but they were feckless Sunnis, not hardnosed Bohris: commercial value is what is required; can the sentiment, thank you.

UltraCrepidarian said...

What do the Mangaloreans have against the Keralis, or vice versa? I thought in the Christian minority in India, it was too small to admit for this sort of narrow exclusivity.

Silly me, eh?


Gashwin said...

@ Ultracrepid: Ha! Please -- all kinds of divisions exist within Christians: by rite or church (Syrian Orthodox or Catholic? Malankara? Malabar? Jacobite? Evangelical? Charismatic? CNI? CSI?), by geography/region (Goan? East Indian? Keralite? Mangalorean?), and the absolute worst -- by caste.

Sometimes these are benign (the last rarely is though). Often, basically, these divisions reinforce the sense that Christianity basically operates simply as another culture or ethnicity (and the others can also be endogamous groupings) within a vast collection of others.

UltraCrepidarian said...

Kind of fascinating stuff. I guess it's the same as the rest of the planet then. :-)


Gashwin said...

Yup, imagine that! :)