Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Matrimonial ads reflect prejudices Indians wear on their sleeves

A deadly mix of discrimination and prejudice makes the Matrimonial sections a perfect reflection of today's India

“V fair divorcee boy earning 18 lpa (lakh per annum) wants to marry V beautiful girl".

Yesterday, I discovered the perfect escape from the multiple news reports of rape, persecution, government apathy and Jats asking for their birthright. If you look for it, every newspaper is giving us four to five pages of pure joy—a wonderful mix of entertainment, romance, intrigue, creative writing and stories of hope. Of course, all peppered with a generous sprinkling of discrimination and casteism—so that you don’t feel too removed from the India that gets reported in the news pages.

This is the wonder of the Matrimonials section, which I had all but forgotten about, and rediscovered yesterday in The Times of India and Hindustan Times. It was the most relaxing hour of my newspaper reading day. Because it felt like I was immersed in the anachronistic world that India was back in the 1960s. Where marriage wasn’t a meeting of the minds—or bodies—but of gotra, raashee, dharm and skin colour.

I remember reading the Matrimonials in The Telegraph over a decade ago, when I thought we should find the two merry widows at home—my mother and grandmother—an old doddering husband each. We’d snigger over the descriptions and requirements mentioned, but it seems that nothing has changed. Except, there are fewer requirements for “convent-educated girls".

I’m not turning my nose up at the practice of matrimonials. People want to get married, want their children to get married, want a wife or a daughter-in-law to look after their home, want a husband to pay the bills and keep them company. And sometimes the best way to separate the wheatish from the chaff, is by placing an ad. So if this is how you want to choose the person you will spend the rest of your life with and have children with, good for you.

But what I do judge is what the world of Matrimonial ads says about so many English-speaking, newspaper-reading, seemingly educated, urban Indians. On display on these pages is a world of discrimination which cuts across so many categories. A seeming throwback to mail-order brides set in a Middle Earth-ish world with its own language, nomenclature and indisputably fair tribes of people of marriageable age.

First, the reason the Matrimonials caught my eye is because spread across two pages was what seemed to be a category chart of all the castes of India. Because god forbid, despite it being 2016, that you take a bride or groom from a different caste. Then there are the more evolved. For whom caste is no bar. They only want the community to match. This is followed by the other major segments—remarriage, religion, profession, nationality, language (which only had Bengali as a sub-category under it). And that terribly doomed one—Manglik. Where you must first marry a banana tree to ward off all danger.

Caste though is the one with the most ads under it. Once you’ve made the caste cut or fall under the other segments, there are more boxes to be ticked. From the 500 or so ads I read, you need to match the requirements of salary, marital status, family values, height, weight and fairness before you can take home a bride or groom.

My favourite is: “Beautiful 4’-11"/5’-2" like-minded Manglik/non-Manglik match without dowry for NRI teetotaler fair 5’2" software engineer". This is the stuff that the best marriages are made of. And his discrimination is pretty low—no dowry, just wants a bride who can look up to him.

There was also a groom who was willing to settle for pretty much someone who fit the requirement of being female. Under Religion No Bar, he’d placed an ad for “Fair, h’some, unmarried, well-settled Guju 47/5’8" seeks rich business industrial family girl. Divorcee, widow, disabled, sick. Single mother." He sounded as emancipated and non-judgmental as Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

There’s also a nomenclature and code which I think I’ve cracked. I’less is issueless. Which doesn’t mean that you are tolerant and have no issues with anything. But signifies that while you may have been married before, you don’t have children or encumbrances. Lpa stands for lakh per annum. BHP stands for bio-data, horoscope, picture. PQM stands for professionally qualified match. I still haven’t figured out what Pb means—although it could be pompous bigot. Or SM4. If anyone knows, please mail me.

Also, modesty and privacy are not virtues in the world of Matrimonials. People are described as “Very Handsome, Very Fair, Fair Beautiful As Fairy, Very Beautiful, Cultured, Highly Decent, Hi-Profile", they mention their “huge palatial home", salaries (not all of them impressive) are mentioned in LPA. Neither shame nor humility are friends of these advertisers.

In case you think the Grooms Wanted section is an example of female emancipation, think again. Under the Cosmopolitan segment in the Grooms Wanted section, was: “US-based Hindu, Fair, B’ful Girl, 5’ 9", May-84, Computer Engineer (Vice President–Citibank US) seeks suitable match from US-based boy preferably in NY with Indian background." You can have all the education in the world, gone abroad to work and earn a living in an international bank, but when it comes to marriage, we get back to what our forefathers taught us. Place a matrimonial ad listing your physical attributes first and hope to pick the best of the litter. It makes me want to weep.

There was also the Punjabi family with a “fair, beautiful, simple, good natured girl with mild disability working in Atlanta. Match must be educated, caring, non-smoker. Mild disability and doctor OK". I like that doctor and mild disability were bunged under the same level of qualification.

Just when I thought I’d read it all, under the Cosmopolitan section was “German-origin 67 yrs still young bachelor looking for honest educated woman up to 38 yrs, divorced/ widowed with children, non-slim preferably chubby, willing to start a family". It sounded like he would keep her as bonded labour in a dungeon after she relocated to Germany.

Humour and mocking aside, difficult as it is to do so, there is something deeply worrying about the Matrimonial sections. As I said before, that newspaper-reading, English-speaking, seemingly educated urban Indians and NRIs would still choose brides and grooms on the basis of caste, creed and even skin colour is repulsive. But the matrimonials are symptomatic of what we see around us, in the news every day. It’s a shining example of the prejudices many of us wear on our sleeve or nurture deep within our homes. At least the people placing these ads are honest about what they discriminate against. So kudos to them for that.

As of now, instead of ruing the state of the nation, I’m going to use my creativity and fiction-writing skills and place an ad in the Grooms Wanted section for myself: “PQM groom wanted for 38-yr-old wheatish, almost slim, almost famous, highly educated, soft-spoken, dignified, beautiful, Bengali writer and cook, homely but working girl looking for non-rightwing, eloquent, humorous, grammar-friendly, 5’ 6" or taller, charming, rakish, hygienic, nice smelling, should have no transmittable or communicable diseases, affluent or borderline affluent OK, go-getter, swimmer, preferably employed, non-biz family, with a palatial home if possible or not, non-reader of Chetan Bhagat books, animal-loving, beef-eating, preferably famous, well-groomed groom. Caste, community and religion no bar. IQ should be above 300. Should know how to use cutlery correctly."

After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

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