As arranged marriages, inextricably woven into India's societal fabric, come under the scanner with a new Netflix show ''Indian Matchmaking'', more and more couples are making sure love happens before they finally say ''I do''.
Love actually! A necessary, non-negotiable step even in a marriage made not in heaven but ”arranged” in drawing rooms, coffee shops or sundry other social places by matchmakers, parents and sometimes distant relatives.
As arranged marriages, inextricably woven into India’s societal fabric, come under the scanner with a new Netflix show ”Indian Matchmaking”, more and more couples are making sure love happens before they finally say ”I do”.
The times are changing, but slowly. While the concept is still built on caste, religion and looks, arranged marriage, for most women, no longer means welcoming prospective in-laws with a tray of tea and sweet treats, and sitting quietly while the groom’s side judges away.
”It is very important to fall in love, otherwise there is no meaning of a relationship. It’s true that when you start living with each other, you fall in love deeply but there has to be some spark, attraction, chemistry and compatibility in terms of understanding each other to move ahead,” said Pratibha Singh, a 28-year-old who went along with an arranged marriage.
Singh, who works at a government regulatory organisation, had one non-negotiable condition. She would not give up her job. Her parents were keen on the caste factor but soon gave in to what she wanted. So, Singh met and interacted with at least 10 men, some for even a few months, before zeroing in on Aditya Fogat, now her husband. They got married within 10 months of meeting but not before falling in love with each other.
While ”Indian Matchmaking” does hold up a mirror to the regressive traditions associated with arranged marriages (without calling them out), others who went that way to find a life partner also feel the idea has evolved over time.
For many men, the focus has shifted from wanting a wife like ”my mother” to desiring a partner who is an equal socially and financially.
Delhi-based business consultant Mudit Varshney got married last month. The 30-year-old said he met his wife on a matrimonial site, fell in love and married her in a matter of ”few months”. “I don’t understand why people view arranged marriages with a negative mindset, and honestly, our marriage can also be called a love marriage. We initially connected over the fact that both of us have twin siblings”It was a very quick decision for us, perhaps because we were brutally honest with each other from the very first day, and had fallen in love just after knowing each other for a few days,” Varshney said.
Treading the fine line between tradition and modernity, people like Singh and Varshney are among those who believe emotional and intellectual compatibility take precedence over social factors like caste, and aligned goals and ambitions are a priority over physical attributes like complexion and height.
A2020 survey by Viacom 18 noted that 60 per cent of over 25,000 youngsters (15-25 years) across more than 400 Indian cities said arranged marriage was ”acceptable” to them. But that does not necessarily mean submitting to parents’ criteria unconditionally.Parents know best, but when it comes to choosing their better halves, the brides and grooms know better.
And while the process might begin clinically, almost like a business deal, falling in love, whether it takes a few days or a couple of years, is mandatory. ”’The preferred characteristics might be subjective but we have seen that educational background, employment, nature of the job, compatibility of personalities, interests and passions have become increasingly important,” Rohan Mathur, business head, Jeevansathi.com, a matrimonial portal, told PTI.
According to relationship expert Shahzeen Shivdasani, the difference between love and arranged marriage is merely that of what comes first ”love” or ”discovering an alignment in goals” and, for a successful marriage, the sequence is inconsequential.
”For any relationship, it is very important that the two individuals are in love, and that their goals are aligned.” ”While in a love marriage, you fall in love and then discover your goals together, in an arranged marriage you decide what your ambitions are and if you share them with the other person, and then subsequently fall in love,” she said.
Shivdasani, however, noted that while there were couples who would get married within a few months of having known each other, it was best to wait at least a year before tying the knot.
”Most people are on their best behaviour in the initial period. People should wait until at least a couple of flaws of the other person surface, and then decide how tolerant they can be of those flaws,” she said. As the concept of arranged marriage is being redefined, so is the matchmaking process, with new platforms that allow individuals, instead of their parents or relatives, to take the lead.
Using technology to their advantage, these platforms bring together like-minded individuals. Sirf Coffee, for instance, is an application based service, where a suitable match is picked not by an algorithm (like in dating apps, or matrimonial sites), but by a team of ”expert matchmakers” who interview every client offline.
”Our service falls in the sweet spot between dating apps and the traditional dot coms/aunty matchmakers” We offer a pressure-free, personalised approach to dating,” Sirf Coffee founder Naina Hiranandani said.Hiranandani said they’ve set up almost 10,000 dates in the last six years, with about 2,400 set ups in 2019.”Our growth is 50 per cent year-on-year over the last three years (tripled our user base in the last three years),” she added.
Some popularly sought after qualities in a prospective partner on Sirf Coffee include fitness, education, international exposure and sense of humour. Another platform that works on a similar principle is ”andwemet” that caters to urban Indians between the age of 25 and 60.
”It is an online matchmaking service for those seeking a meaningful relationship, inclusive of marriage, live-in or just companionship.” The sign up process provides clarity on what the two individuals are seeking, including topics like living with parents, as well as as one’s sex drive, which we feel are important to discuss before connecting real-time, said Shalini Singh, ‘andwemet’ founder. Though there is an evident progression from a time when parents steered their children’s marriages, some traditions continue.
Women are still bound by dos and don’ts before they meet their prospective in-laws and are expected to relocate because they are told that’s the right thing to do. For instance, Shivani Joshi Kalia, who has been happily married for a couple of years, and recently gave birth to a daughter, said her parents ”instructed” her not to not speak loudly or laugh when her prospective in-laws would be visiting.
”We met through an online wedding portal” I didn’t come with a tea tray obviously, but the feeling was quite the same,” she recalled. The times, they are A-changin’, just not as fast as some would like.