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The Greys of Indian Matchmaking

Manasa Poovayil
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As a 26-year-old woman in India, people don’t ask me about my future plans anymore. I’m at a stage where the next logical step for me is to get married. That’s it. For kids in India, that is the natural order of things: you’re born, you grow up, you go through various levels of education (usually in engineering or medicine), you work, you get married, you have kids, you help them through this cycle, and then you die.

Up until a year ago, after putting up with stress at work all week, my weekends were a welcome respite. . . now, not so much. Every weekend is spent going through profiles, trying to judge a human being in 2D, and seeing if they could be my potential life partner. I know! Exciting stuff (insert eye-roll). Now, I have absolutely nothing against the concept of arranged marriages. It’s very convenient for people like me, honestly. Vetting another human is hard work and someone else is doing that for me!

That being said, the process of arranged marriages has some very obvious and glaring problems. An entire human’s life is compressed onto paper -- the only basis you have for initially judging them. Appearances are everything. I have been on both the receiving and dealing end of such judgments, as are all of my fellow matrimonial-site users. The process is extremely uncomfortable, but you learn quite quickly to deal with outright rejections, and you get comfortable rejecting others too. It is common on dating apps and sites as well. And at this point, prejudices come unconsciously to us. So, no matter how ‘woke’ we think we are, we often make these decisions based on superficial ideas.

Recently, I finally truly (and I mean wanted-to-break-something-truly) got frustrated with this process. My father had been talking about getting a professional photographer to take my photos for a matrimonial site, although I'd always manage to talk him down. But our relationship manager from the website advised him to get this done because of the certain ‘expectations’ of prospective suitors and their families. Much to my chagrin, I couldn't win this time. Draped in a saree, I was taken to the nearest GK Vale. While I love wearing sarees and taking photos, this occasion sucked the joy right out of the experience. They seemed to be telling me that my looks in photos taken in a natural setting weren’t good enough to get me a life partner. So, that day, as I was sulking, I grabbed a big chocolate bar and sat down to watch Indian Matchmaking.

(Yeah. Good going, Manasa. Of the number of titles you could have watched, you chose this show on the day you were supremely frustrated with the process of arranged marriage!)

Needless to say, my sour mood was worsened by the end of the show. But I thought that watching it through a lens of irritation made me view the concept very negatively the first time around. It’s possible that I was forced to face the prejudices that were subconsciously rooted in me as well. So, I went back and watched it again. My judgment? The concept of arranged marriage is not black and white. There are a lot of grey areas, and every aspect of ‘Indian Matchmaking’ made that more evident to me.

1. Age no bar!

I’m starting with something I liked about the show. In arranged marriages, one of the criteria that is almost always mandatory is that of the man being older than the woman by a few years. While I personally agree with this for a few reasons, I don’t believe everyone has to. Anyone who doesn’t care about following this norm should have the freedom to choose, and the show did a good job of showcasing that in a couple of cases.

2. The Matchmaker

Sima Taparia, a well-known marriage consultant based out of Mumbai, was the star of this show. She’s from an industrial family and was married at the young age of 19. Matchmaking has been done by a lot of people, professionally and otherwise. But bearing in mind that she started laying foundations for this business when she was very young is commendable. She professionalized this concept at a time when women were struggling to be taken seriously as businesswomen.
Her advice to her clients of not basing their decisions on superficial factors was also en pointe. She says that marriage is not just about two individuals and families coming together, but a fusion of two minds and it is necessary that these two minds complement each other. Very progressive!

3. Confusion, Confusion!

Young people don’t know what they want. Period. This is universally applicable but is often more prominent in matters of the heart. We often have no clue as to why we wanted to get married in the first place. It’s usually factors like societal and familial pressures or the mere fact that we are at that age where all our peers are getting hitched. Although, the show placed an unnecessary amount of focus on that confusion.

That the confusion exists is well established, but little was done in order to help the clients, and in turn, the viewers, to cut through it. Sure, though there were unproductive instances where the clients were referred to life coaches (something most middle-class families can’t afford). But I personally feel that it would have helped to focus more on the couples they showed at the beginning and end of each episode — many of whom have been happily married for a long time, and listen to them on what made their marriages successful!

4. The Checklist

The unending demands; people being measured against checklists. These are all realities: the ‘tall, slim, and fair’ girl and the ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ guy are common demands across matrimonial sites. People who don’t fit these bills find it harder to get married, and sometimes, even when all these boxes are ticked, there is always something else lacking. Rejecting men based on their bank balance and rejecting women based on their body type is notoriously popular in India. The show normalized the demand for these requirements, but as they aren’t expressing a stand on these aspects, it could be taken either way – as an acceptable norm or as a regressive mindset. I, for one, hope that it’s the latter.

5. “Reality Check”

While the show did open our eyes (intentionally or unintentionally) to existent societal prejudices, there were times I wasn’t able to relate to the content as well. Quite often it seemed scripted and far from reality. To be fair, I’ll call it a selective reality. The show was exclusively about NRIs and rich Indian families, which is a very small percentage of the Indian community. This was misleading to people foreign to our culture, inaccurately representing a community that is majorly comprised of simple, middle-class families.

The platform would have been better used if it talked about real and dangerous social evils like dowry and casteism--ideas that are still prevalent in some sections of Indian society. Instead, they chose to commercialize it and turned it into just another reality TV bordering on a soap opera.

6. Stigma and Regressive Mindset

The show made it quite obvious that certain social stigmas still exist and are quite normal. Divorcees find it hard to find someone and it’s tougher if there’s a kid involved. Parents insist on finding suitors within the caste while discounting the choice of their children.

My generation has come a long way in fighting a certain prevalent social mindset here. The show portrayed such a regressive mindset and tagged it ‘Indian’ matchmaking, that it managed to make it look like all Indians hold these views. And that they had highly educated, successful individuals and families on the show selling such outdated notions made it worse.

In India, marriage alliances have different meanings depending on which part of society you’re from. Granted that archaic ideals are still prevalent in chunks of our society, but the beauty of Indian culture is that it has always been adaptive. Our generation has been very vocal about its disapproval of social evils and stigmas, enabling progressive change in Indian society.

I hope this show serves as a reminder to my generation about what actually matters and not the norms that they should live up to. Don’t get married because the guy has an impressive bank balance, or because the girl has looks which could belong on a ramp. Or because your family thinks ‘it’s time’, or some astrologer tells you that this is the ‘Only Time’, or simply because you see that all your friends are getting married. Appearances fade, and when they do, what are you actually left with?

(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.)

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