Matchmaker, Matchmaker….

Shared memories are probably what define a community or nation or any grouping.

And one indelible memory shared by millions of Indians is seeing miles and miles of walls painted with:

‘Rishtey hi rishtey

Prof. Arora

Mil to lein’.

Prof. Arora rocked social media before social media was invented!

But this piece is not so much about the ‘world-famous in India’ professor, as about how matches were and are made.

Detail from ‘Matchmaker’: A painting by Nilofer Suleman

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When we were young (and for centuries before that, I would imagine), it was about

Pushy pishis

Mission-mode mamas

Chatty chachis

Anxious ammammas

Each activating their network of relatives, friends, acquaintances; chatting up people chance-met at weddings or house warmings or whatever; reaching out to guests of their neighbours, sisters in law of their cousins, whoever. But the fundamental strategy was ‘pass the word, pass the word’.

And boy, did it work! Everyone (except the resolutely resistant), did end up getting married.

‘Matchmaker’: Nilofer Suleman

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And then came a generation where it was considered OK to put up a matrimonial ad in TOI or Hindu or whatever the local dominant newspaper was. This seemed to work fairly OK too.

Today, with so-called efficient networks and all manner of specialized networking sites, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I meet so many 30+ people who are not married. It could be that they don’t want to get married. But I know at least half of them do want to. But they never seem to find the right person. The trick seems to be to find a soulmate in school or college. It seems to get increasingly difficult afterwards.

Then parents come into the picture. And they are pretty clueless!

Which makes me think that we have to find some other means to fix matches. Have no idea what, but maybe go back to real-live human beings as intermediaries, rather than just bits and bytes of information floating in the ether?

—Meena

Happily Ever After?

I must confess, I am a regular ad observer! I believe that ads improve my GK as it were! They give me a sneak peek into “what’s hot”, “what’s cool” and where its “raining discounts!” Ads add to my vocabulary, introducing words like Swag (!), and now KDM. Ads paint me a world where the swag and gloss of the PYTs is never to be touched by the seven signs of aging; the housing schemes that promise “paradise on earth”; and dhamaka deals that will make it feel like Diwali every day! The world is your oyster–Just choose, click and add to cart!

Pardon me if I sound like I don’t relate! In fact I don’t want to, in this make-believe air-brushed world, while the mad, bad rest of the world continues to grapple with the daily business of survival–water shortages, spiralling prices, blatant corruption and abuse of power, and the horrors of every kind of atrocity that humankind can unleash.

But I digress. Coming back to the ad ad ad world. A long-time item of my ‘ad education’ is a scan of the Sunday paper’s matrimonial pages (another confession!). This is in some ways a tiny window into what society considers “a suitable match”, and how things are changing (or not). Some years ago girls were ‘wheatish’ complexioned and ‘homely’ (wonderfully Indian use of the word which in British English means cosy and comfortable and in American English means unattractive!) Of course we use it to mean home-loving and, perhaps, skilled in domestic duties! The other attribute highlighted was the “cultured” family background.

A quick look-over of last week’s page revealed that ‘Beautiful, slim, fair’ were the main adjectives used in almost 80 per cent of the ads. Somewhere in the fine print is revealed that the girl is also well-qualified professionally. Another interesting, though curious, point was the highlight on the “successful business family” angle. A case of lucre over culture? On the same page are also some Elite ads in which everyone, without exception, is ‘looking for a like-minded and well-educated/well-read match.’ I would love to know how these very noble-sounding words are interpreted!

On the very same page was the proud announcement by the newspaper that it has started a BooksOverBeauty initiative through which the intention is to change the format of matrimonial ads so as to put education over looks. The paper promises to highlight every ad that puts education first. I am flummoxed—are looks and books so irreconcilable? Does it always have to be one or the other? Are we continuing to reinforce the comic-book stereotype of the frothy beauty vs the geek? I thought we had moved beyond that?

It would be interesting to see how that initiative unfolds. At a time when our society seems to be at the lowest ebb of basic human values and respect for dignity and life, are we merely paying lip service to the notion of respect for women? Or are we merely playing with words? Will the mere order of words change the way we see women, we treat women, and perhaps even how women see themselves?

–Mamata