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This is a follow-up to my last Shaadi.com post.
So I should probably start out by saying that I created an account. I will admit it. I have an account on Shaadi.com.
Ok, cue the laughter…all right that’s enough.
Oh, and no you can’t see it.
You may be wondering, “After all that whining in your last post, why did you cave in and create an account on Shaadi.com?”
First, a refresher for my non-Indian readers:
Malayalees refers to people from the South Indian state of Kerala. Nairs refers to a caste among Malayalee Hindus, probably most similar to the general “kshatriya” caste.
Well it’s not like I’m wading knee-deep in Nair guys who fit my parents’ stringent criteria (as well as my own). I don’t have the time to go to many of these Malayalee events and conventions anymore (yes so that means I probably won’t be making it out to the KHNA convention in LA this year…sigh). Sure, Nair guys make up probably the largest chunk of the Hindu Malayalees in the United States, but among all Indians in the United States, we are a rarity. I think if I just left it to chance, I’d probably only end up finding someone who fits the bill by the age of…50? 60?
If I learned anything from my Human Bonding class in college, it is this: the largest pool of potential partners you will ever encounter is in college, after that, social networking/dating sites or other dating/meet-and-greet events are your next best bet (depressing, yes, but true). Well…that and people tend to be attracted to people who look most like themselves, but that’s another story altogether.
So I guess to answer the question in my last post…Shaadi.com may be a legitimate possibility.
However, I think Shaadi.com and a lot of other Indian dating/matrimonial sites seem to cater more to those in India than Indians that have either moved abroad or were born abroad. The vast majority of people who have profiles on Shaadi.com are from India. While, yes, I’m Indian, ultimately I’m a product of the United States. Yes, I took Carnatic music classes and classical dance classes, yes I like Indian culture, and yes I ultimately want to end up with an Indian guy. Yet I was born in the United States, and my outlook has been colored by my experiences growing up in the United States. Perhaps that’s why, for many Indians born abroad, Shaadi.com and similar sites seem ludicrous. I’m not even sure there are any websites geared towards NRI’s (non-resident Indians) or people of Indian origin that has the same popularity (or for that matter, as smooth an operating system) as Shaadi.com.
It would be even better to have a site for Malayalee NRIs/people of Indian origin, but that might be asking too much. If I had an ounce of computer programming ability, I would have started a site myself. Unfortunately, I’m as computer-challenged as they come. Anyone want to help me out?
So I’m hoping something comes out of my first foray into the (big and scary) world of online dating/matrimonial sites. It’s a crap shoot, but at least I’m keeping my options open.
Usually when people think of foreign movies, they think of deep, insightful films, more akin to the indie film genre in the U.S. Many go on to capture such accolades as the Palm d’Or, foreign films Oscars, and headline several of the world’s major film festivals.
Then there are Indian films.
Bollywood represents the biggest share of the Indian films that are produced every year, and they are almost always produced in Hindi, the national language of India. There are, of course, other films that are produced in other Indian languages; their respective film industries usually have nicknames closely resembling Bollywood (Tollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood, etc.). Most are loud, with loose plots, weak acting (but gorgeous actors) and plenty of musical numbers replete with hundreds of extras and questionable choreography.
And that is why so many people love them.
While I haven’t watched that many Malayalam films (I’m such a bad Malayalee), I’ve watched enough to notice a definite trend from good to embarrassing. Gone are the films that were hailed by the world community as intricate exercises in storytelling and acting. Vaanaprastham is still one of my favorite films to date. The problem with films after that is that they have begun to veer too closely to the Bollywood model. Dancing does not work when half of your actors wear shirts and lungis.
P.S. When your male leads are currently 40, some knocking on 50, you may need to find new actors. Sorry Mohanlal, Mammooty, et. al.
Bollywood, at least from my perspective, seems wholly incapable of producing a film that would be universally well-received outside of India. That is to say, a film with a strong plot, strong acting, and (alas) no music (or at least not the gaudy musical numbers endemic in Bollywood). In essence (as a friend of mine put it) they resemble movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, though not quite as good. At least as late as a few years ago, I could watch a Hindi film with some mild appreciation of the plot. Now, I don’t even have that. Even the songs are getting unbearably bad, with rare exception (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na comes to mind as one such exception from this year’s batch of films). The last good film that I can think of is probably Omkara. Everything since then has been abysmal.
If I had to name the best actor in Bollywood, I’d have to go with Amir Khan, possibly even Saif Ali Khan (based especially on his performance in Omkara). I’m not even sure I can name the best female actress, most are awful. Aishwarya Rai does sometimes shine, as does Rani Mukherjee, but neither are particularly good.
There are only a few films that have come out of India that are deserving of any merit, in the context of the world community as a whole. Most seem to be coming out of the Bengali film industry, though I have yet to see a Bengali film. Many people have lauded the films of Satyajit Ray, his films are first on my list. The same is true for Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair, though the latter I wouldn’t really categorize as an Indian filmmaker, as much as a filmmaker of Indian origin. Her films don’t necessarily incorporate Indian culture all the time.
I can’t help but turn to Indian films as a sort of source of comfort, because of how over the top they tend to be. Sometimes I just need to completely lose myself in a silly romance with lots of singing to forget how crazy life really is, most of the time. Maybe that’s why that film model is still so widely used; in a country where poverty and hardship is still present in large numbers, sometimes people just need to lose themselves in lighthearted movies. Yet if India wants to gain any respect in film circles, it will need to slowly begin the shift away from these movies towards deeper plots and better acting.
That being said, I’m going to go watch a Bollywood movie.
So I’m Malayalee, but more specifically, I’m a Nair. Nairs are one of the many castes in Kerala, and were traditionally warriors and rulers, so something a la “kshatriyas” for those more familiar with that term. This is meant to be an informal, yet informative piece. It’s based on my own understanding, what I’ve been told, and what I’ve read from various sources.
By the way…as a sidenote, we are not in any way associated with the hair-removal product of the same name. In fact, Nair isn’t even pronounced the same way. Nair, the caste, is pronounced “na-yer.” “Na” as it sounds in “narwhal” and “yer” as it sounds in…yer… Please get this straight, I can’t tell you how irritating it is when people mispronounce it. Of course, I’m not assuming people are born with the innate sense of how to pronounce “Nair.” Now you know.
Nairs themselves can be subdivided into a whole host of subcastes. For the life of me I don’t know the differences between all of them, but there are at least four or five I can name off-hand. Nair, Kurup, Menon, Pillai, Nambiar, Panicker, and Paliath, to name a few. Nairs have, traditionally, held a pretty prominent place in Malayalee society. Sometimes a bit too prominent, and this gets into the whole mess of caste discrimination.
The most curious aspect of Nairs, I think, are their origins. I don’t mean mythological, though from what I understand, the claim is that they were from the North and fled to the South to escape Parashurama. However, perhaps even more interesting than that, is their ethnic origins. While there is one school of thought that claims that Nairs are most likely descended from the Newars (from Nepal/Tibet)–owing mostly to the presence of pagoda-like motifs in traditional Nair homes and temples–there are others that claim alternate origins. A friend of mine sent me an article a while back, the citation is below:
Thomas R, Nair SB, Banerjee M. A crypto-Dravidian origin for the nontribal communities of South India based on human leukocyte antigen class I diversity. Tissue Antigens. 2006; 68(3): 225-234
This article analyzes a set of South Indian nontribal and tribal groups to determine their similarity to other ethnic groups. For Nairs, what was found was that according to the analysis of HLA Class I haplotypes was that, Nairs were most similar to Western Europeans. I am incredibly curious to know if any migration theories exist for this postulation. Another existing theory places Nairs under the same umbrella as other supposed Indo-Scythian descendants (Pashtuns, Jats, Rajputs, etc.). Indo-Scythians spent most of their heydey in the region from present-day southern Afghanistan to around present-day Mathura, in northern India. This ties in weakly with the mythological origin of the Nairs having Northern ancestry.
I suppose if Nairs are related to Jats, that justifies my love for bhangra…right? Maybe? Ok, I’m getting off topic.
Nairs have their own martial arts system, known as kalaripayattu (color-ee-pie-yettu). It is most notably a form of swordfighting, but it does incorporate hand-to-hand combat as well. It is an incredibly elegant system of fighting (note: the fighters may look wiry but they are fast!). There has been speculation that kalaripayattu found its way into East Asia, by way of Bodhidharma–a Buddhist monk supposedly from Kerala–and this gave rise to the modern system of kung fu. Again, just speculation…but it would be pretty cool if someone definitively proved this to be the case.
Nairs were (and to a degree still are), notably, matrilineal. This is a rarity in most of the world, let alone India, where patrilineal societies are still the norm. Indeed even among Nairs, this has taken root. Yet it used to be that the women, not the men, were the real power-wielders in the household. Women were the property owners and family heads, though men were the legal heads of household in some cases.
Nairs have also had an enduring tradition of snake worship. I actually don’t understand the nuances of this, aside from the fact that most Nair households in Kerala had a sarpa kaavu on their property for the worship of snakes. The tradition fits in alongside traditional Hindu practice, but I believe this may be something that even predates Hinduism in the area.
If anyone else happens to have some cool/interesting Nair facts, or other information related to what I’ve presented here, feel free to comment.
Let me set the stage for you:
The girl is a graduate student on her way to applying to medical school next year. She is not in a relationship at this point, and there seems to be no one that has expressed any real interest that would keep mom and dad placated…i.e. Malayalee and Nair. Therefore, the aforementioned parents want to put an ad up for the girl to be married within the next two years, something a la Shaadi.com. The general connotation of Shaadi.com and matrimonial ads of the sort is that of ridicule and considered a “last ditch attempt” by most. Others, however, have found great people (her parents included) through these methods. What is the girl to do?
Arranged marriage has tried to evolve to meet the times, no doubt. Back in the day, couples would be arranged perhaps within the village, but at least within a certain area. Marriages were alliances of families, not just the bonding of two people. It was about preserving one’s identity across generations. In Kerala, for example, cultural and religious practices even differed across the state. Those closer to Tamil Nadu have a culture that melded Malayalee with Tamil rituals. Those closer to the Malabar coast have their own. This is clearly evidenced with my parents, one of whom is from Palakkad, one of whom is from Ernakulam. That union was viewed as almost radical, I mean, a girl from Ernakulam marrying a boy from Palakkad? Insane! That too, they met through an advertisement.
Now it’s my turn.
Being born and raised in the United States my whole life brings about its own set of challenges. I am cynical, which may or may not be a function of my being raised here. I tend to be suspicious of people at first before warming up to them as I get to know them. It seems like my parents were much more open to ads than I am and many of my peers. I tend to think (not entirely erroneously) that half the ads on sites such as Shaadi.com are not made by the person who is being advertised (I’m not including sites like eHarmony and Chemistry because they’re a bit different). “Shaadi” for my non-Indian readers, means “marriage” in Hindi. A quick browse through some of the profiles seems like most were written by their parents, rather than the guys themselves, and that strikes me as duplicitous. Maybe the guys asked for their parents to put the ad in, but if they can’t even invest that much in finding a spouse, I’m not sure I’d want to even deal with them. Part of me still wants to see if I can find someone on my own, who my parents would like as well. Shaadi.com seems like a last resort, if I look at it that way.
Yet there are definitely benefits to this system. At least on Indian matrimonial sites, if you’re so inclined, you can search by region, religion, and caste, which theoretically makes life easier. The same can be said for newspaper matrimonial ads. While my parents are probably more vested in my ending up with a Malayalee, Nair guy, it can’t hurt to have that option available if I want to search for one myself. Like other dating sites (I think) there are the options of looking for profiles with photos and without photos (and praying the photos that are up are not heavily Photoshopped). What’s convenient about Indian matrimonial sites is that you can indicate whether you are vegetarian or nonvegetarian, drink or not, smoke or not, and other things. Me, I’m a pescatarian…yes it’s a word, and you’d be surprised at how things like diet can shape a relationship (there was a New York Times article on it a few months back). I myself am pretty lenient, but I’m just saying…it’s a factor to consider.
Nonetheless, it’s important to get to meet and know the person, regardless of how one found the other. Sometimes that’s a bit harder when the person you met on Shaadi.com lives in India and you live in the States. Even if you both live in the States, getting from New York to say Texas, is easier said than done. Yet the argument can be made that, if there is a legitimate connection between two people, distance shouldn’t matter, right? Still, for me, face-to-face contact is the best way for me to judge a person’s character. Denying me that makes things very difficult. Also (on a slightly lighter note) having my brother play “that brother-in-law to-be” a la Nick Portokalos in “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding” would be very difficult if the guy’s not around too often before the wedding. It’s an inevitable, right of passage.
So for me at least, the jury is still out on the possibility of me utilizing a site like Shaadi.com, or just plain old matrimonial ads. I’m hoping I won’t have to, that I’ll find someone the “old-fashioned way” but I guess there could be someone special that may be found through an ad. I just hope his picture isn’t John Abraham’s when he actually looks like Mohanlal.