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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 15:15 GMT
Love-seeking Indians head online
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Bangalore

Sowmya and Sandeep
Sandeep and Sowmya are very happy with their arranged marriage
India's rapidly growing economy has led to a transformation in the lives of its middle-class - but how well have the country's long-standing traditions stood the pace of change?

The city of Bangalore is India's Silicon Valley, home of the country's booming IT industry and employing hundreds of thousands of young Indian graduates from across the country.

It is one reason why it is also India's most cosmopolitan city, a buzzing metropolis dotted with bars, cafes, trendy restaurants and glitzy shopping malls. But scratch under the surface and you still find traditional India.

Sowmya and Sandeep Kulkarni represent the face of modern India. They are both software professionals, IT graduates in their 20s who, nevertheless, found it natural to get married the traditional way - and have it arranged.

"I don't see any flaw in arranged marriage - it was good enough for my parents and so it is good enough for me," says Sowmya.

Online matches

Like many Indians, Sowmya's parents wanted her married to a groom of their choice - one drawn from the same community of high-caste southern Indian Brahmins.

Savitha
There is no way my family would accept an outsider, and I value them far too much to go against their wishes
Fashion designer Savitha, 26

But while Sowmya was willing to accept a partner from the same community, she wanted to select the partner herself and choose him herself. So she went online and found Sandeep through an Indian matrimonial website.

"We e-mailed each other, exchanged photographs, realised we had a lot in common and that our frequencies matched," she recalls.

She told her parents her internet choice. The parents got in touch, met him and approved the match.

"I was the last person to meet Sandeep - after all my family members had met him," says Sowmya.

With more and more young Indians deciding to emulate Sandeep and Sowmya, it is a boom time for India's online matrimonial services.

One of them is Bharat Matrimony, which operates out of a network of offices across India and even overseas - in North America, the UK and the Middle East.

"At the end of the day, every Indian wants to marry someone from the same community - someone who speaks the same language, eats the same food and shares the same culture," says Murugavel Janakiraman, the founder of the portal.

"We chose to provide a website which addresses these concerns."

The company, and many others like it, provide walk-in centres for young Indian singles, where they are met and guided by counsellors.

Smart and brightly-painted, with rows of desktop computers in little cubicles, they have the appearance of one of India's many call centres.

They also draw a wide range of people, from traditional as well as liberal family backgrounds and from a range of professions.

Secure environment

Fashion designer Savitha, 26, owns a small boutique in Bangalore. Tall and attractive, she has decided to use the online services to find a partner of her choice.

"I come from a very conservative family and it is very important for me to marry someone from the same community," she says.

"There is no way my family would accept an outsider, and I value them far too much to go against their wishes."

NS Murthy
Astrologer NS Murthy's predictions have entered the digital age
At the same time, she is very clear in what she is looking for.

"He has to be supportive, financially sound and a good friend - and he has to be tall and good-looking," she adds, giggling.

She spends the next hour searching the internet, finds as many as 40 matches and zeroes in on three that she would like to contact.

"I find this a very secure environment, one that allows me to express myself freely," she says.

Savitha had also met several prospective grooms the more traditional way - from a line-up of partners picked by her parents and then brought home for tea with the family - but does not like this way of selection.

"It's a very controlled environment; you are so nervous and shy, you can hardly get to know each other," she says.

"This way, I can find out more about him, we can build up a relationship online and I can keep my parents happy."

New thinking

And many other traditional services have also had to change to keep pace.

No Indian wedding can even begin without a visit to the astrologer, who for centuries, read the charts and mapped the planetary alignments to pick the best matches.

Now, even they have had to adapt.

"Many of my clients have very specific requests," says NS Murthy, one of the city's top astrologers.

"Last year, I saw more than 6,000 horoscopes. My clients want to know about the prospects for the future, their prosperity, happiness, the number of children they'll have, and even their sex life.

Increasingly, he says, parents want to know if their daughter is likely to meet a software engineer or some other similarly prestigious profession.

For many young Indians, it is a challenge to adapt to the rapid pace of change while holding on to their traditions.

New challenges in the workplace has thrown up new ways of thinking, modern lifestyles.

But in a country that is still deeply conservative, many are able to find a happy middle ground.


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