Indian Matchmaking: A Mirror to Indian Society?

Ever since Netflix released its docuseries Indian Matchmaking, the show has become the talk of the town, not to mention fodder for numerous memes all over the internet. While some people feel the show promotes casteism, colorism, sexism, and stereotypical ideas of a “perfect rishta”, others say it’s only a mirror to reality. The show features Sima Taparia, a top matchmaker from Mumbai (as she likes to call herself), who collects “biodatas” from clients and helps them find a perfect life partner within her circle, according to their preferences. From Sima Aunty’s statement “Marriage means compromise and adjustment”, to Geeta’s (Sima’s friend and also a matchmaker) advise “In a marriage, the woman gives the emotional side of herself much more than the man does”, many of the opinions and ideas on display in the show have been criticised. More importantly, they have raised interesting questions around the Indian matchmaking culture. To understand some of these aspects and perspectives, You & I spoke to the trending lead from the show, Sima Taparia, along with a few people from different walks of lives.

Sima Taparia

In India, once a person is of legal age to marry, we often hear parents and relatives say, “Beta shaadi ki umar ho gyi hain tumhari, koi accha rishta dekh kar settle kyu nahi ho jate?”While a few of them are asked if they are already dating someone, most are not even given that option because of the fear of breaking societal norms.While some in the latter category prefer getting married through a matchmaking process, others are rather forced into it. And this is how the matchmaking process begins. Sometimes ‘door ke rishtedaar’ find a match for you, and sometimes you find someone through a matrimonial site or an official matchmaker.

Now the problem arises when you select or reject the person on the basis of stereotypical adjectives, like ‘tall’, ‘fair’, ‘pretty’, and ‘rich’! When we asked Sima if these specifications are the way to find a perfect partner, the matchmaker said, “It is each person’s preference. My clients tell me their preferences of who they want to be a part of their family. But as we see on the show, children as well as their parents now want alliances that have similar family values and beliefs as them. As a society, our thinking is changing and we are becoming more open and aware of what we want out of life and relationships.” She further adds, “Some people have criteria for looks or education, but most important is to have good character.” We agree. However, the fact cannot be denied that people do fix their meetings based on a photograph and a piece of paper.

Saloni Doshi

Saloni Doshi, an art collector and patron, feels that it is the role of parents to guide their children and tell them that finding a partner to spend the rest of their life with should go beyond looks and other superficial aspects that exist today, as nothing lasts forever. “What values you have been brought up with and what values you hold for the rest of life are what will take the marriage forward.

You definitely have to be attracted to your partner, but there’s more a person has to offer beyond these superficial adjectives”, she adds. Can a matchmaker help? “Of course, a matchmaker’s job is not just to forward the “biodata”, but also to ask a person what they really want in a partner (beyond beauty and bank balance) and what is it that they have to offer in a relationship.”

Pic: Netflix

Humans often feel an excessive need to be approved or certified by society, and maybe that’s why one has self-doubt when one doesn’t fit into society’s definition of “perfect”.  It happens not just in India, but all over the world. Maybe that’s the reason why we strive to make ourselves a better version of who we are. In the matchmaking show, Aparna did come across as a confident woman who doesn’t feel a need to change anything about herself for anyone;at this moment we all rooted for her. However, when she met a guy who didn’t have a “plan”, Aparna’s mother called him a loser. Cut him some slack, aunty! Pradhyuman, another client of Sima, was seeking a girl with good looks and only seemed to be looking for a model throughout the entire show. What are the possibilities of these two finding an ideal partner? The matchmaker comments, “They are both such lovely and driven people, I have no doubt that they will find a match. As they go through the process of matchmaking, they also become aware of what and who they are dealing with. It’s all about destiny.”

During the ‘arranged marriage’ matchmaking process, women are often advised to learn the household chores beforehand, and take care of their physical attributes by putting makeup on or hitting the gym.Meanwhile, men are asked to have a proper future plan and a decent bank balance. Sharing his thoughts on the subject, Suryaveer Singh, Executive Director of Trance Hotels and founder of the Hyderabad Wine Society says, “It’s not something that is just about matchmaking. Usually after a date, a girl’s friends ask her ‘what does the guy do?’ and the boy’s friends usually ask ‘how does she look?’. We should not give these aspects that much attention and not set any agendas.”

Suryaveer Singh

Do men feel any added pressure while growing up? “Yes, we do have an added pressure,” he says. “We have to have a plan and figure out everything by the time we are 30. Then there is peer pressure, too. Some people don’t even want to meet someone because they are ashamed of not having a plan. I think we as a society should not stress so much that if you are not earning this much, you’re not successful. There’s no perfect person out there. You have to be open and honest in your process,” he replies.

In some stratas of Indian society, when a girl doesn’t fit into the required aspects, her family may be expected to compensate it by giving certain amount to the boy’s family. “Not just dowry, but the girl’s side is supposed to pay the entire amount of the ceremony,” mentions Saloni. Many a times we have seen a girl’s father go bankrupt in order to wed his daughter into a well-to-do family. It’s sad that dowry still exists and in certain communities it has been labeled as a ritual. Strange that the show didn’t have anything to say about it.

We often take pride in being called settled, and that is why most of us agree to get married. Looking at others getting married and having kids makes us insecure. Touching on that thought, Sourabh Agarwal, owner of Millennium Marbles, says, “Society has fixed the time for us to study or get married or have kids. It’s not that they haven’t seen anyone get married late, but it’s a perception that it’s better to find a partner early in life. In case they don’t, the question arises if they’ll ever get a rishta or not. There is no right time to get married or point to get married. If you want to, do it, otherwise don’t.” So how do we stop others from bothering us about it, be it friend or family? “It’s basically setting clear boundaries, saying what you feel and taking a stand for yourself; it’s as simple as that.”

Sourabh Agarwal

Besides all of this, caste and religion are a significant part of the matchmaking process. Even though the show highlighted a lot of people who were open to other caste and religion matches, some had a problem with it. It is said that if both the individuals come from the same caste and religion, it’s easy for them to adjust and get along with the family. This is one of the reasons behind the percentage of arranged marriages being much more than love marriages in the country.

Jasmine Pestonji Reddy, Associate Vice President, Chermas, adds, “In a love marriage you are willing to do more and give more to the relationship. In an arranged marriage, a lot of people don’t want to sacrifice. However, I feel as long as the background and upbringing gels between the two, the marriage works. Religion and caste have nothing to do with it.”

In India it is said that marriage is not just between two individuals, but is something between two families. There is undoubtedly a lot of involvement of families in the process. Remember when Akshay’s family was forcing him to get married even though he was not ready? Remember Sima Aunty asking Akshay’s mom ‘What kind of bahu is she looking for’? Remember how his mother said that she would fix a rishta for Akshay if he doesn’t? Yes, that is the extent to which some families get involved. Those who give their kids the freedom to select their partners and only become a part of the process to get along with the other family are called “progressive” or “too forward”. According to Sima, “In a marriage, both individuals involved should be willing to commit to one another. Acting on pressure is never going to go far. As parents, we want to see our children successful and settling down with a companion who we know can be there for them at happy, as well as trying times. We also are very much aware that it cannot be forced upon them.”

Jasmine Pestonji Reddy

Taking the discussion forward, Jasmine adds, “Usually when the families are involved, you have these stereotypical questions like a perfect bahu or perfect damaad. When you ask everyone in the family what they want in a person, it’ll be difficult as the mentality differs from generation to generation and person to person.” At times, the involvement of families guides the relationship on the right path, and at times it creates problems even in a relationship going in the correct direction.

Sourabh holds an opinion that there has to be mutual respect and understanding between both the families. “Mostly people want the other family to be of the same level as they are, be it values or ideas or status.” It doesn’t stop there; astrologers, face readers, and pundits too are involved in this process to see whether the individuals complement each other or not, as all the efforts are meaningless if the stars are not aligned.

Pic: Indian MatchMaking (Netflix)

Right from the beginning of the series, Sima’s idea of a marriage has been nothing but adjustment and compromise. However, the matchmaker gave us additional understanding of marriage. “I believe that the foundation of marriage lies in love, understanding, compatibility and support. However, for a relationship like that to exist, I think it is important to make a few compromises and adjustments along the way, as long as it does not hinder your core values and beliefs.”

Supporting Sima’s definition, Suryaveer notes, “I agree with Sima on this. There is no perfect marriage and just because a girl is good looking and guy is rich doesn’t mean they are perfect. Rather, an emotional connection is most important. There are so many things that one has to adjust to. You might agree on 80% of things, but those 20% of things you have to adjust to, as long as you get along with each other.”  

Hate it or love it, the show portrays a particular set of reality of the samaaj we live in, and leaves us with many aspects still to address regarding the matchmaking process, be it through a friend or an official matchmaker. Guess what we need to know is that change starts from within!      - Srivalli

Pic: Indian MatchMaking (Netflix)