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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
TV marriage - Pakistani style
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
By Zaffar Abbas
BBC correspondent in Islamabad

Traditional, arranged marriages are a cornerstone of Pakistan's conservative society.

Young Pakistanis prepare for match-making show
Guests get ready to go live on Shaadi Online

However, in the cities, the assertive sons and daughters of an educated middle-class are finding new ways of meeting that elusive match.

Although most Pakistanis still have arranged marriages to people within the same tribe, caste or family, it is no longer unheard of for couples to marry after having fallen in love or met over the internet.

Time-honoured customs are being brushed aside, as potential partners are pursued through internet chat-rooms, dating agencies and TV shows.

Runaway ratings success

A significant impact has been made by a recent television show, which claims to help eligible singles find a suitable spouse.

The show is called Shaadi, or Marriage Online, and is broadcast on the GEO TV network.

Shaadi Online guests
The set for the show resembles a wedding ceremony

It sticks to a simple format, steering clear of setting up blind dates between the couples.

Instead, the prospective bride or groom is invited to state their case before the millions who watch the show.

The set may be designed to look as if a wedding is about to take place on it - but the pace is not adventurous.

The show's presenters ask the participants about their likes and dislikes, family background and their reason for wanting to marry outside the family or clan.

Then, if viewers like what they see, they are expected to contact the participants directly.

And because finding a right match is a huge problem -particularly for women - the show has become an instant success, with its ratings scaling new heights.

The producer of the show says Shaadi Online has been designed in such a way that the participants from all communities and religions can take part.

Good men hard to find

Recent guests on the show have included three members of a Catholic family.

Naveed Anjum and his sisters, Margaret Sultana and Suzanne Uzma, come from a family in rural Sindh.

"After watching a couple of episodes, we decided to participate together", says Naveed, who now works for a private pathology laboratory in Karachi.

"Although finding a suitable match from within our extended family may not be so difficult, we thought it will be wise to present ourselves before the entire Catholic community in the country", he said.

Margaret Sultan said that she hopes her eldest brother Naveed is the first to tie the knot - though the siblings have agreed that whoever finds the right match will marry first.

Match-making over the wires
Match-making over the wires: a woman takes calls from curious suitors

Shaadi Online only started broadcasting a few months ago, but it can already boast having initiated at least two marriages, as well as a couple of engagements.

But the show's main presenter, Mustanser Hussain Tarar, says its success should not be judged on this basis alone.

"Its real success will be if... people start to break the age-old customs of marrying only within their families, tribes or caste," he told the BBC.

"And this pioneering programme has already started to make a difference."

Discretion matters

But Pakistan remains a largely conservative society, where many people still shy away from match-making in the public eye. They prefer the discretion afforded by traditional match-making methods.

Perhaps for this reason, Mrs Mumtaz Qureshi's Marriage Bureau in Karachi's upmarket Clifton district remains a popular place for families seeking the right match for their children.

Discretion is guaranteed at her match-making bureau.

For a nominal fee, people are asked to provide details of eligible sons and daughters, as well as their requirements from a spouse.

Mrs Qureshi then sifts through her vast database of contacts, to present a suitable spouse for her clients.

She proudly says that in the last 15 years she has arranged nearly 10,000 marriages. She is not opposed to the idea of young people marrying for love alone, but claims that arranged marriages are more successful.

"When boys and girls fall in love, they can only see the most attractive attributes in each other. But when parents make the decision, they bring all that experience and knowledge into play," says Mrs Qureshi.

Less boundaries, more fun

But people like Murtaza Kasuri might disagree. His first marriage, an arranged one, ended quickly in divorce.

Traditional Pakistani wedding
A world away from the web: wedding in rural Pakistan

Now he's in love and married for the second time - to a girl he met in an internet chat room.

Mr Kasuri says his first experience of marriage was a bitter one. Then he discovered the internet - a medium where there were no boundaries and where no-one demanded instant commitment.

Internet romances and shows like Shaadi Online may still be a novelty here, but they point to a generational change in cultural attitudes.

It seems Pakistan's youth want a greater say in choosing who they will live with, and they want to have a little fun in the process.

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"The approach is unique in a country where most marriages are traditionally arranged"

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