Wednesday, January 14, 1998 Published at 15:38 GMT
Marriage Ads In India
They occupy several pages in some Indian newspapers, many of them are positively lyrical and they're pored over avidly ... they're the adverts in the Indian press seeking marriage partners, called "matrimonials". But in a country where arranged marriages are still the convention, who chooses this particular way of searching for marital bliss, and do the ads work? With one of India's marriage "seasons" now under way, we asked our South Asia correspondent, Mike Wooldridge in Delhi to investigate.
Should you play your full hand in the ad - that's the first dilemma.
This would-be groom seemed to be holding little back. "Virgin bachelor boy, 39 but looks 30 really, 180cms tall, fair, very handsome, vegetarian, non-smoker, teetotaller, MA Psychology, registered for PhD, permanent confirmed lecturer at Delhi University, author of books, been to USA to present original theoretical research findings, most likely to achieve fame" ... and finally, as if all that wasn't enough, "own big bungalow in South Delhi".
What kind of marriage partner was he looking for? The ad was more spare here but still pretty specific. "Slim, really beautiful girl, below 30".
And that's far from exceptional. I was struck by this one as well, placed by a "respected cultured family", as they described themselves. They were seeking an alliance for their "very handsome, tall, fair, engineer son" with an MBA, a Masters in Business Administration, working in a US-based top software company at a salary of $100,000 a year. "Girl", their ad said, "must be tall, beautiful engineer or doctor, not more than 28 years old, from status family". The "boy" would be visiting India this month - when the family obviously hoped an "alliance" would be cemented.
But do such ads succeed in ferreting out the boy or girl of the advertisers' dreams? My first port of call - an agent who handles such ads for the Times of India group. You might say Manoj Randhar would have an interest in claiming that matrimonial ads do bring results, but there's more to it than that. It worked for him. He had failed to find himself a bride by other means, so two years ago his parents put in an ad - a very straightforward and distinctly unelaborate one, Manoj says - describing their son as a professional in advertising looking for a "beautiful, homely girl from a respectable background".
Like many other parents, they expressed a preference for a match within their own caste - though Manoj says he personally doesn't believe in caste. The ad elicited 80 replies - and a wife. Was she beautiful and homely? I am satisfied, Manoj said, with a chuckle. His sister has been another satisfied customer. She found her husband the same way. Manoj says most parents who advertise do so as a "last resort". And he says flowery language doesn't by any means guarantee success.
But when Prince Malik, a Delhi jeweller, was searching for his Princess recently - his line that, and Prince really is his name - he went for the full works. Boxed ad, first in the MBA column: "Wanted: good looking, beautiful, gorgeous girl for very handsome, fair, slim Khatri boy, 26". In his urgency, with brothers already married off, he even dispensed with the conventional discretion of a box number. But when I spoke to him he was despondent. He'd had at least 60 responses. "the phone was ringing like hell", he said .. parents all claiming they had a very beautiful daughter. Out of this, three meetings were arranged - on "neutral" territory in hotel coffee shops with parents in attendance.
The first girl turned out to be 5ft1. Prince Malik is 5ft11. He couldn't see that working. The second meeting was no more successful. "Much too heavy," says Prince. "5ft by 2ft." Girl number three was "Okay" he says - but this time the parents didn't get on.
If you think Prince might be in a mood to give up on arranged marriages and risk a chance encounter, think again. He believes a "love" marriage stands more chance of going wrong - you will know one another so well by the time you marry that after the wedding all you will find in one another is mistakes. He says all sorts of elements can come into determining whether an arranged marriage will work out. Would the fathers enjoy a Scotch together, for example? It all helps, he says. Just as one set of parents being much less well off than the other could be a problem. Prince says even though they were made offers his parents weren't bothered about securing a dowry payment from the family of a prospective bride.
Many Indian families are interested in dowry, and the disputes that can arise over the money or gifts involved lead to a persistent level of dowry killings ... murders of young brides. According to UN estimates, 12 women are killed every day as a result of arguments over dowry. But back to Prince. With no success through the ad, his parents turned elsewhere - to a marriage "broker". No joy there either yet. He's just met the first girl the matchmaker came up with. The poor lass apparently couldn't get her words out fast enough for our demanding suitor. "It took her half a minute to say what anyone could have said in ten seconds", he complained. His father felt this could be corrected but Prince wasn't convinced.
Now an astrologer has told the family Prince hasn't yet reached the age when he will find a marriage partner anyway. He might have save the cost of his box ad.
In one twist to the marriage ads saga that is a tale of our times, it was reported recently that among those who responded to a series of advertisements seeking HIV-positive partners for HIV-positive men were eight prospective brides who thought HIV-positive was an educational qualification.
I can't resist relating the story - apocryphal, I'm sure - of the ad placed in a paper by parents in rural Punjab. "Family seeks homely, convent-educated girl for son. Caste no bar. But must be able to drive tractor. Photo of tractor appreciated."