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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.