One day while waiting for the bus, I met Mary. She asked me where I was going and then the usual questions followed: “Where are you from?” “What are you doing in India?” “Do you like India?” “Do you like Indian food?” The cross-examination continued once we were on the bus: “Are you married?” – I knew that one was coming. And then: “Is it a love marriage or an arranged marriage?” This innocent question never fails to amuse me. I explained to Mary that marriages are not arranged where I come from, and that each person marries the person of his or her choice. She seemed surprised. I then turned the tables and asked her if she was married and if her marriage was arranged. She replied that she was now divorced but that her marriage had been arranged. I guessed she was Christian because of her name and the absence of a bindi on her forehead. She confirmed that she was, and so was her ex-husband. “But he did not act like a Christian and he was not a good man,” she confided. “Just girls, girls, girls…!” is precisely how she put it.
In Indian society, marriage is everything. Without a husband or wife and at least one child, you’re somehow incomplete and society has little place for you. The parents' duty is to have each of their children married well. Arranged marriages are the norm - 95% is the figure I come across everywhere. Arranged marriages are not only practiced by Hindus and Muslims, but also Christians, as Mary’s example shows.
A girl in dance class has lost a lot of weight. She told me that her parents are looking for a husband for her and that she wants to look more presentable for any potential candidates, hence the weight loss. I asked her how she felt about being married in this way. She said she has no problem with it, as long as she likes the guy. She wants a man who’s taller than her, whose family has a business background like her own family. She wants to work after marriage, so he has to be OK with that. And of course he has to be a Brahmin like her, and have a postgraduate qualification. Surely not too much to ask? Then once she finds someone she likes, and if he likes her, the next hurdle in the selection process is horoscope matching. An astrologer will examine the couple’s horoscopes to determine whether they are compatible. If they don’t match then there will be no wedding.
A popular way to find a prospective bride or bridegroom is through ads in the newspaper. Every Sunday, the matrimonial ads are full of potential life partners of literally every caste and creed. There are two sections: ‘bridegrooms wanted’ and ‘brides wanted’ arranged according to linguistic group: Bengali, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telegu, and Urdu. There’s also a ‘cosmopolitan’ category. An ad typically lists the person’s caste or sub-caste, skin tone (‘fair’, ‘very fair’, ‘wheatish’, ‘medium-colour’), profession and even salary. Interested parties are asked to send a CV, a recent picture, and their horoscope.
Here are some examples I’ve gleaned from last Sunday’s paper:
Alliance invited for a 28-year-old, convent-educated, BBM graduate, fair, good-looking girl from Bangalore of intercaste parents Kannada Bramin/Marati seeks software professional engineers from upper middle class well-settled groom with age gap of 1-5 years. Caste no bar.
Tamil Muslim UK settled Dr father seeks only MBBS MS MD Computer Engineers Groom working in UK or Dr working in India but willing to go UK for his UK Citizen Lawyer daughter 26/168 tall fair.
Alliance of professionally qualified Tamil Iyer Bachelors solicited for Tamil Iyer girl, 36/163, engineering graduate, Sr. software consultant. Widowers, divorcees please excuse.
Alliance only from open-minded progressive not too traditional but cultured well-educated unmarried Tamil Brahmins studying or working in US for 26/168 smart, very fair, pretty accomplished girl doing her PhD in economics in the US.
Alliance invited by affectionate cultured well-to-do Iyer family for son: 28/178 Vadama Athreya Anusham – handsome, clean habits, university topper master’s (Oxford) & MBA (top ten global b-school) global investment bank consulting firm. London top salary India posting possible looking for qualified (not necessarily professional), simple, homely girl, not working or at least not very career-oriented.
Of course, there are also many Indian match-making websites available on the Internet. Here’s one example here.