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Indian Matchmaking A contrarian view

Filed on August 17, 2020

The way forward begins with concrete reforms and business-friendly practices

Indian Matchmaking — the popular Netflix show — is the most discussed topic in India and among its diaspora abroad.

The eight riveting episodes of the show, which is a mix of reality show cum documentary, shine light on what many say is the ugly underbelly of the Indian marriage system and the society at large.

It is being branded as regressive for its open and threadbare discussion of skin colour, caste, many other qualities of prospective brides and grooms.

I was quite unnerved by the criticism the show generated. The show and its star match maker Sima Taparia have become the objects of attack from the people of the left-liberal mindset who believe India has a long way to go before it becomes a fully modern society. 

But I saw nothing wrong per se with the show. It shows the modernisation of Indian marriage system. The redeeming feature of it is it gives brides and grooms enough room and choice when they choose their mate. Though the family looms big in the background, it is bride and groom who make the final decision. No coercion of any kind.

This is a lot of progress when compared to the rules of the yore where the consent of girls hardly mattered and the boy’s was often given a short shrift. Parents were be-all and end-all of everything those days. But in the setting in the show, the boys and girls are allowed to know each other as much as possible and expected to make an informed decision. The traditional systems are evolving to incorporate the modern sensibilities. And this should be good news and this, I think, is the key takeaway from this.

But this is not how it is being perceived. I am in a minority who believed the show exemplified how the Indians are developing a mature attitude towards marriage and relationships.

But the show, according to many, embodies all that is bad with India. Its obsession with caste, skin colour and wealth. It is all there to see, they argue. That is why the show and its main protagonist — ‘the top Mumbai matchmaker’ — is being trolled all over the place.  

And there is this false binary of arranged marriages versus love marriages. The notion that love marriages are somehow progressive and forward looking whereas arranged marriages reinforce pre-modern hierarchies is very strong and fairly accepted among the educated Indian elite. 

The so-called love marriages, which are often glorified, do not happen in a vacuum. They do factor in skin colour, height, weight, social status, and all that. Except these attributes are never openly discussed.

In an arranged marriage setting, all those things including physical, mental and financial attributes are up for open discussion. Some people balk at the very idea of broaching a person’s income when discussing a marriage. Is that realistic? Compatibility requires parity on several fronts. Being upfront on these matters should not be objectionable. But this has become the subject of trolls.

Akshay and his mother have become particular targets of the politically correct people. Akshay says his prospective wife should be like his mother who thinks his daughter-in-law should be flexible and respect the rules of the house. This family and its mores are portrayed as the most regressive of all families seen on the show.

Anything that is traditionally Indian is termed as somewhat backward-looking and archaic. The guy’s mother fixation has come in for particular lashing.

Aparna, a lady in her thirties making a living in Houston as attorney, is another widely-discussed character. Sima the matchmaker calls her stubborn and picky. When asked whether she wants someone who has sense of humour, she replies politely but firmly that she does not like comedy at all. In one of the conversations she was seen saying she cannot stand the thought of the seeing the same person’s face day after day. Some people appreciated her candour while many suggested that she should give up the idea of marriage.

Pradhyuman, a 30-year-old-old man from a jeweller’s family, gets bad press for rejecting over 100 matches but is still hot favourite of Sima Taparia. He serves fox seeds dipped in liquid nitrogen to his guests and the dish is now a rage on the web.

The show with real people and real situations connected with people in way that no film can do. That explains the wide mind space that this show has grabbed ever since it started streaming.

There are many characters such as Vysar, Nadia, Ankita who have distinctive personalities and garnered their own fan following on social media. Many people who derided Akshay and Pradhyuman tended to like Vysar and Ankita. They embody modern values without being tainted by the Indian legacy.

Nadia, a Guyanese Indian, is particularly striking character with her wide laughs and amiable nature. Sima sets up a match with another Guyanese Indian but that did not click. Later she was shown two guys whom she met on some dates. But they too did not work out.

All the characters are now instant celebrities. The media outlets are setting up special interviews with them and asking them all kinds of questions. Many are having difficulty coping with this unexpected stardom thrust on them.

Sima Taparia consults a face reader and an astrologer about the possibilities of her choicest clients. The face reader tends to get quite a few things right. But I doubt if it was real. Astrologers and pandits have been part of the Indian marriages for generations. They will stay on however modern we may become. The presence of them does not necessarily make Indian marriages or society regressive. Very difficult to imagine Hindu marriages without pandits and other rituals. Indian marriages and its morals are changing for the better. No point chest beating about the so-called regressive tendencies.

 

A. Sreenivasa Reddy


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