The facade of Indian Matchmaking
The year was 2001 and the city Mumbai. In theory, I was in the city to catch a break, having just finished my college exams. In practice, I was riding the marriage merry go round and meeting suitable boys. Exactly like Lata in Vikram Seth’s magical magnum opus “A Suitable Boy”. This person I was meeting was well educated, well, he had a slew of fancy-sounding degrees to his name but degrees do not maketh an educated man is a fact I hadn’t learnt till then. So as is the norm, in situations like these, we met and got chatting over a cup of coffee while our relatives looked from a distance trying to gauge whether the height, the weight and the skin colours matched. Right in the middle of a perfectly normal conversation, about a shared love of books and cricket, this bespectacled gentleman asked if I wore glasses. Like the quintessential Indian girl on the marriage market, I was wearing contacts. To his question, I smiled in the affirmative and actually made a funny quip about bookworms and glasses. He paled. He actually turned white. It was as if a vampire had sucked out some of his blood. His next question was to ascertain the degree of my shortsightedness; he wanted to know what my eye power was! The next 15 seconds after my answer would put Fast and Furious parts 1 to 5 to shame. He gulped down his coffee, was upon his feet, ushering us back to our relatives as if I was carrying the Spanish Flu. Poor little me had no clue as to what had just transpired. On being asked my opinion back home, I didn’t even know whether I liked him enough to ask for a SECOND MEETING ( Statistically speaking if you like someone more than 50%, then and only then can u ask for a second meeting). We waited a week for their answer. For they were the haloed Ladka walas, and had to be given time to think! Then like the families of all Indian girls do, we called. (after all Hum ladki wale the). And the bespectacled gentleman’s mother politely said, her son wasn’t interested in marrying a girl with glasses, he was keen on not having glasses being passed on to the next generation. Royal asshole, Right! I’d marry a baboon rather than touch him with a barge pole! C Sulphate! would be my reaction today. But that 21 years old, well, all she wanted to do was curl up and hide. Her self confidence took a major beating. She was absolutely shattered. Oh! the humiliation of it. To have something about you highlighted and pinpointed and found wanting, something, that isn’t even a flaw. Because for God’s sake, smart people wear glasses! Today, I look back and find the entire episode hilarious. My only regret is not emptying the glass of cold coffee on that jackass’s head when he enquired about my power. Or maybe I should have said -13 and then tried to look cross-eyed.
That entire period was like a farcical comedy, with each meeting an exercise in scintillating conversations about hobbies and star signs and Salman Khan in the middle of Kumbh ka Mela type family gatherings. Each arranged marriage meeting was unique in its strangeness. Like, there was this gentleman, also from Mumbai who wished to marry me largely due to the fact that I was on first name terms with Sachin Tendulkar (I still am, but that is another story).
But why, (you are perfectly entitled to ask) am I talking about this now. Well, Indian Matchmaking, Netflix’s latest show got me on this old memories road. Netflix’s latest show is the stuff of a broadcaster’s wet dream. It might be the most hated show in India right now with people cringing and cribbing and wrinkling their noses in disgust but still, binge-watching. It’s at the Top. If you’ve just crawled out of lockdown hibernation, this show follows one of Mumbai’s TOP globetrotting matchmakers, as she tries to convince uber-cool millennials to try the arranged marriage route. She matches people up in terms of height weight and kundalis (horoscopes) while asking girls to be less demanding and more compromising. In quotes “Flexible”. There’s an almost, we are the Indian Tinder vibe to the show. You have prospective grooms cooking exotic dishes and people meeting over sessions of Goat Yoga. But the basic premise is still as stinky as a fish market. Every cliché in the book is played out. A girl who speaks her mind is bossy and needs to tone it down. A divorcee will have trouble marrying off her child. A successful woman cannot have the best of both worlds. Howsoever successful, the house and its denizens are her responsibility. There are 30-year-old men wanting girls their mummies to approve of with no preferences of their own. A man can reject 150 girls and yet not be called demanding. A boy can choose and a girl can only hope to get chosen. But then is the show lying?
Because 18 years after, I sat in that café, do we still want picture-perfect (read tall and thin) brides who look after the house while looking like they stepped off the cover of Vogue and men incapable of making a cup of chai? Do we still watch Netflix but deep down desire Gopi Bahu from Star Plus’s regressive stables? Or are the winds of change blowing? Journalist Faye DSouza nailed it when she tweeted, To young women watching #Indian Matchmaking, You don’t have to be “adjusting” “flexible” or “compromise”. There are many wonderful, loving, supportive men/women in the world. Wait until you find the right one for you. This snake pit of patriarchy is not the whole truth.” The world is slowly but surely changing.
Written by Priyanka Modi