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 Shaadi.com are taking notice -- but they are also looking to capitalize on Internet efficiency in the low-tech world as well.[snip]
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.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!)
"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.
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 Shaadi.com was used though ... just the informal, yet quite widespread network of aunts, who are the Repository of All Collective Wisdom.