Parallels
4:55 am
Sat May 25, 2013

In India, More Women Are Playing Matchmaker For Themselves

Originally published on Thu October 24, 2013 1:52 pm

In India, some of the most entertaining reading on a Sunday afternoon is found in the classified ads. Page after page, the matrimonial section trumpets the finer qualities of India's sons and daughters.

Parents looking to marry off their children often place ads such as this one: "Wanted: Well-settled, educated groom for fair, beautiful Bengali girl, 22, 5'3"."

The matrimonial ads are a hallowed tradition in the quest to find a life partner — part of the institution of matchmaking that is as old as the country itself.

But in India, rising economic wherewithal and aspirations of a new generation of women are giving that ancient institution a modern twist.

Making Matches En Masse

In this new India, picture water gentling lapping at a launch in Mumbai, where some 45 young men and women clamor aboard yachts for a sunset sail. Organizers Simran and Siddharth Mangharam say they were deluged by takers eager for a spot on one of the four sailboats captained by former members of India's Olympic sailing team.

The Mangharams are the founders of Floh, a network for India's singles. Siddharth says the idea sprang from the first time he met his wife at a friend's party over a plate of — of all things — blue cheese.

"Stinky blue cheese, which not too many people like, but I loved it, and I still love it," Siddharth says. "And so did Simran."

He says they talked for "an hour before we even introduced ourselves."

Their casual encounter ripened into marriage, and Siddharth seized on the idea of serendipitous meetings to connect the sexes. In a country that frowns on dating, Floh unites the unmarried en masse in activities ranging from cookouts to vintage car rallies, which Simran says fill a void.

"People do feel very lost once they've exhausted the various ways of meeting people," Simran says. "They really don't know how to plug into another circle. It's very difficult in our country, very difficult."

With 500 members paying $300 in dues, plus the cost of activities, the company is finding it difficult to keep up with the bankers, tech wizards and teachers clamoring to join.

"They want to become members. They want to meet other single people," Siddharth says. "So people are flying across the country to meet like-minded folks. And a lot of them are actually hearing about Floh from their parents ... their parents who are looking to get them hitched," he laughs.

A New Independence

With pressure to pair off intense, young, professional, urban women are flocking to Floh; they outnumber the men, 60-40.

Geetu Singh, a financial consultant, flew in to Mumbai from Delhi. At the post-sailing party, the 34-year-old single woman says education and the new financial independence it brings are eroding the age-old compulsion to be married by the time a woman hits her twenties. Singh applauds young women who are putting off their wedding day.

"It's just brilliant to see," Singh says. "To see how independently they decide, 'No, I'd like to wait. I want the right man. Don't force me into a relationship.' "

Mumbai-based businesswoman Shyra Mogul returned to India last year with U.S. citizenship and a desire to find her soul mate in her native land. She says young girls like her grew up on Bollywood romance fairy tales, which typically feature a rich girl who fights with her family to marry the love of her life.

"And he's pretty much, in economic terms, a loser. He's not rich; he's not making that much money; typically he's not that educated," Mogul says. "But she wants to marry him, so this whole war is about fighting the family for love."

Most Indian marriages are still arranged affairs, though the debate about whether love matches are more satisfying than arranged matches rages on. But Mogul, who escaped an abusive marriage in her 20s, says one is not necessarily better than the other.

"At the end of the day, it's still living with the person and adjusting and compromising," Mogul says. "But again, you can reduce the compromise and be happy and still enjoy your life if you're more compatible."

And in India, that usually means "compatible" with the family. Even as modernity and tradition collide in the way young women are finding life partners, one belief abides: that marriage in India is not a union of two people, but of two families.

Pleasing The Parents

According to Gourav Rakshit, the CFO of the online matchmaking service Shaadi.com (shaadi means "wedding"), the vast majority of his company's 20 million users say familial compatibility is the most important consideration in finding a mate.

"Their potential partner will have to be accepted by their families. Their families will need to meet, they will need to like each other, and only then will that match move forward," he says. "But parental acceptance is very much part of matchmaking and marriage in India, and that has not gone away with the Internet."

Indian society places such a premium on marriage that there is not much room to stay single. Jyotsna Kini, 36 and divorced, says the expectation is that she will find another groom. And even a second time around, Kini couldn't conceive of her family not being at the core of that decision.

"They've sort of been the ones to stick with me through everything," Kini says. "Moving from continent to continent, moving from husband to being single ... all this stuff, they've been my rock. So I'll trust them because why shouldn't I?"

With the family as a pillar, Shaadi.com says 10,000 new users a day are taking the leap into online matchmaking. Sonali Manjrekar, 38, says her parents had been looking for a partner for her since she was 22.A foot taller and eight years younger than she, Manjrekar finally got her fiancée.

"You have to kiss a lot of frogs," she says, "before you find Prince Charming." She found her husband-to-be online after he allayed one of her biggest fears.

"I was always scared that if I marry a man who says, 'I don't want you to pursue a career further,' it would not be something that I would digest just like my mom or my grandmom did in the past," she says. "So, he is not like that. There's a sense of freedom with him. He lets me breathe."

'It's Their Choice'

Newlywed Jennifer Pandya picked her husband online from a field of some six candidates in one year. She admits it was rapid work, but says it is also a measure of "how progressive the Indian women are getting."

"There was a time when you would not even see the face of the person whom you were getting married to until you were already married," Pandya says. "And you had no say whatsoever in your life. And today I'm not saying it's the perfect scenario, but we've definitely moved leaps and bounds."

Nita Jha, a successful matchmaker at the high-end matrimonial firm Sycorian, says what today's young women want — chemistry and companionship — versus what parents want for them — status and security — is now in constant conflict.

"Girls are furiously independent. It's their choice," Jha says. "They are rejecting guys left, right and center."

And, Jha says, "it's high time" they have options.

"Girls have suffered in India for so many hundreds of years," Jha says. "But now they are doing extremely well. They have their time, and I'm very happy for that."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

And let's touch down again now in a great series NPR has been featuring this summer about women around the world, stories examining how a rapidly changing world is changing the lives of women. For instance, in India, where rising economic wherewithal of a new generation of women is transforming an institution as old as the country itself. NPR's Julie McCarthy has this report on Indian match-making with a modern twist.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Sunday's classifieds are chock-a-block with matrimonial ads. Often placed by parents, they trumpet the finer qualities of India's sons and daughters. This one reads, wanted: well-settled, educated groom for fair, beautiful, Bengali Brahmin girl, 22, five-foot-three. But classifieds are the old India.

This is the new India. Water gently laps at the launch of a sunset sail in Mumbai where organizers say they were deluged by takers eager for a spot on one of four yachts.

SIMRAN MANGHARAM: Yes.

MCCARTHY: Everyone is on board?

MANGHARAM: Yeah, everyone is on board. It was quite a production.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: Simran and Siddharth Mangharam host the event. The couple runs Floh, a network for India's singles. Siddharth says the idea sprang from his first encounter with his wife, whom he met at friend's over a plate of bleu cheese.

MANGHARAM: Stinky bleu cheese.

SIDDHARTH MANGHARAM: Stinky bleu cheese, which not too many people like, but I loved it and so did Simran.

MCCARTHY: When their casual encounter ripened into marriage, Sid seized on the idea of serendipitous meetings to connect the sexes. In a country that frowns on dating, Floh unites the unmarried en masse. They go to cookouts and vintage car rallies, which Simran says fill a void.

MANGHARAM: People do feel very lost once they've exhausted the various ways of meeting people. They really don't know how to plug into another circle, you know. It's very difficult in our country, very difficult.

MCCARTHY: With 500 members paying $300 in dues, the company is finding it difficult to keep up with bankers, tech wizards and teachers clamoring to join.

MANGHARAM: They want to become members. They want to meet other single people. And a lot of them are actually hearing about Floh from their parents.

MCCARTHY: Their parents who are interested in getting them married off.

MANGHARAM: Married. Yeah.

MANGHARAM: Yeah, yeah. Their parents who are looking to get them hitched.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: With pressure to pair off, young, professional urban females are flocking to Floh, outnumbering the men. Geetu Singh, a financial consultant, has flown in from Delhi. At the post-sailing party, the 34-year-old single says education and the new financial independence it brings are eroding the age-old Indian compulsion for parents to marry off their daughters.

GEETU SINGH: It's just brilliant to see how, you know, independently they decide that, no, I'd like to wait. You know, I want the right man. Don't force me into a relationship.

MCCARTHY: Mumbai-based business woman, Shyra Mogul, returned to India last year with a U.S. citizenship and a desire to find her soul mate in her native land. Shyra says young girls like her grew up on Bollywood romance fairy tales where, typically, a rich girl fights with her family to marry the man she loves.

SHYRA MOGUL: The love of her life and he's pretty much in economic terms a loser. You know, he's not rich, he's not making that much money, typically, he's not that educated, but she wants to marry him. So this whole war is about, you know, fighting the family for love.

MCCARTHY: A love match or an arranged match, most Indian marriages are still the latter. But Shyra, who escaped an abusive arranged marriage in her 20s, says one is not necessarily better than the other.

MOGUL: At the end of the day, it's still living with a person and adjusting and compromising. But again, you can reduce the compromise and be happy and still enjoy a life if you're more compatible.

MCCARTHY: Which usually means compatible with the family. Even as modernity and tradition collide, one belief abides, that marriage in India is not a union of two people, but of two families.

GOURAV RAKSHIT: Absolutely.

MCCARTHY: Gourav Rakshit is the CFO of the online matchmaking service, Shaadi or Wedding.com. He says the vast majority of his company's 20 million users say familial compatibility is the most important consideration in finding a mate.

RAKSHIT: Their potential partner will have to be accepted by their families, their families will need to meet, they will need to like each other, and only then will that match move forward. But parental acceptance is very much part of matchmaking and marriage in India and that has not gone away with the Internet.

MCCARTHY: Indian society places such a premium on marriage, there is not much room to stay single. Jyotsna Kini, 36 and divorced, says the expectation is that she'll find another groom. And even a second time around, Kini couldn't conceive of her family not being at the core of that decision.

JYOTSNA KINI: They've sort of been the ones to stick with me through everything, you know, moving from continent to continent, moving from husband to being single, to being single - whatever. All this stuff, they've been my rock. So I'll trust them, you know, because why shouldn't I? You know.

MCCARTHY: With the family as a pillar, Shaadi.com says 10,000 new users a day are taking the leap into online matchmaking. Thirty-eight year old Sonali Manjrekar settled on her six-foot-three husband-to-be after he allayed one of her biggest fears.

SONALI MANJREKAR: I was a little bit scared that if I marry a man who says I don't want you to pursue a career further, it would not be something that I would digest, just like my mom or my grandmom did in the past, so he is not like that. There's a sense of freedom with him. He makes - lets me breathe.

MCCARTHY: Newlywed Jennifer Pandya picked her husband from a field of some six candidates in one year. It's very rapid work.

JENNIFER PANDYA: It is, it is.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: What does it tell us about young women in India today?

PANDYA: How progressive the Indian women are getting. I mean, there was as time when you would not even see the face of the person whom you were getting married to until you were already married, and you had no say whatsoever in your life. And today we've definitely moved leaps and bounds.

NITA JHA: How old is she? Forty-six, no way. No way I would say that I'd be giving you unmarried guys.

MCCARTHY: Nita Jha reigns in client expectations with charm and tough love at the high-end matchmaking service, Sycorian. She says what today's young women want, companionship, versus what parents want for them, security, is now in constant conflict.

JHA: Girls are really furiously independent. It's their choice. They are rejecting guys left, right and center. Very good.

MCCARTHY: And Jha says it's high time they have options.

JHA: Girls have suffered in India for so many hundreds of years, but now they are doing extremely well. They have their time, and I'm very happy for that.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

YOUNG: And a quick heads-up. Tomorrow on HERE AND NOW we're going to take a look at summer romance films for teens. Now, does that make you think of Molly Ringwald or John Cusack holding up his boombox, or maybe Natalie Wood and James Dean? Let us know your favorites. We're going to look at them tomorrow. But still ahead today, getting kids into the kitchen by teaching them how to cook. You might even get a meal out of it. That's next. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.