Super Grooms for Super Brides
EYE - May 22-28, 2011
Matrimonial hunts have got more complicated than ever
A favourite question from foreigners is whether the institution of the arranged marriage is dying in new India. Their assumption is that such an archaic institution must be on its way out because, after all, we are getting more globalised and modern. However, judging from the number of requests I get from friends and family to do reference checks on prospective bridegrooms or brides that somebody who knows somebody had recommended to them, I think arranged marriages are alive and well. In fact, I am told by a lot of people that their children have come to them and said "okay parents, please can you find someone for me to marry?" and many of them don't know how to go about it.
My take on this is that parents are now a lot more democratic, and there is little danger that they will force their children to get married to anyone that they don't want to. The children know this and are outsourcing the hard work of dating and finding their own spouse to their parents. As my friend, adman and cultural analyst, Santosh Desai, says, the dating market has not developed. The mating market has just got more de-controlled. Young people have a word for it – they call it "engineered marriages". Looking at the surveys in magazines on sexual attitudes and behaviour of GeNext, it seems that there are indeed two "value spaces" that co-exist, one new, one old, one the world of dating, the other, the world of marriage. It isn't necessary that the dating pool is the one that needs to be waded into, in order to get to the marriage pool.
The world of arranged or engineered marriages has just got more complex. There are many websites, both general and nicely segmented like secondshaadi.com, or the site for those particular about community. A look at the matrimonial ads in a leading newspaper was most revealing on how complex this whole marriage business has become. Earlier, she had to be fair, beautiful, convent-educated, homely. He had to be tall, well-qualified and having a good job, maybe handsome too. The families had to be good on both sides. But now, looking at the biggest ad on that page, the girl was "internationally well-education and traveled", had awesome grades, and had "traditional values and a modern outlook". The boy needed to be fair, highly-educated and dynamic, the wedding would be "best memorable, anywhere in India or the world guaranteed".
The 'grooms wanted' section was divided into subsections – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jat, Khatri, Kayastha, Bengali, Punjabi, and the new castes and communities of doctor, government service, MBA and NRI. Many of them had a number and LPA attached to their profiles. It took some time to figure out that was the new version of the "four-figure salary" – lakhs per annum. The LPA was mentioned as much for the girls as for the boys. There were also more professional details than even before, including a groom who said he worked in the insurance industry and added, in brackets, "non-life". There was an "exceptionally smart, handsome, suave, smart young man with Deep Family Values" (capital letters as in the ad), with a string of degrees from great academic institutions, all mentioned by name, who was seeking a "fair, beautiful and professionally qualified bride". The 5ft 4 inch girl was described also as being fair, slim, extremely beautiful, engineer, pursuing an MBA, and having a cosmopolitan outlook with "Indian Values".
The economic model of marriage is flourishing in this new aspiring India, as it always did, but with a twist. The girl has to have all the same earning prospects as the boy. Clearly, the Holy Grail is Indian Values, but with Modern/Cosmopolitan outlook. If one ware to generalise from this small but rich sample, IIT, IIM, and medical graduates seem to be as much in need of arranged marriages as others. And a higher LPA does not seem to reduce the odds that you won't find anybody yourself. What was surprising to me was the number of boys who described themselves as "fair" and "slim", and, in one case, "looks much younger (than his age)". Sadly, though, the girls are now expected to be super girls – very, very fair, homely, fun-loving, NIFT graduate, renowned fashion designer. Added to all this, the astrological angle is very much in evidence.
What these ads show is that we seem to have added a great deal of complexity to our society over the years, instead of simplifying it. We have added newer dimensions without shedding the old ones – "this as well as that" is definitely a "we are like that only" trait. We love money, we love education, we love beauty, we like family, we like modernity and we like good old-fashioned Indian-ness. We now have a very complicated matrimonial matrix of criteria and more expensive big-fat-Indian weddings! No wonder we are so stressed out, and no wonder GeNext is leaving it all to their parents to slog and find them a spouse. They enjoy the interim dating game, while they wait for Mr. or Ms Right to be found.