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Matrimonial Ads

So you think you know a lot about arranged marriages and I'm sure you have your own, very strong opinion regarding the concept, but I'm not here to educate you, fight with you, or rant. All I want to do is add a little spice to the mix, and tell you about what I consider to be the most interesting part of the whole process - the placing of, and more importantly, the perusing of prospective matrimonial ads from the weekend newspapers.

Yes, its not your average weekend chore, like mowing the lawn or vacuuming, but I think it would make a valuable addition to anyone's weekend, considering the endless hours of amusement to be derived from reading the matrimonial columns.

Matrimonial ads are a uniquely South Asian if not Indian phenomenon. Where social contact is decreasing and time is in short supply, Go-betweens are no longer the only way to initiate dialogue between families regarding marriage. Instead, matrimonial ads serve as a facilitating process for arranged marriages. They are essentially dialogues between families, using the medium of newspapers, where particulars of the individual to be married and the family are detailed, as well as the requirements from prospective partners and their families. I should add that, with the online revolution, the medium has slowly begun to shift from newspapers to the internet, with sites like matrimonials.com or shaadi.com etc providing a new and improved turf. However, matrimonial ads in the weekend newspapers are still an essential part of the process for a large part of the population.

This node should also act as a word of caution to the beginner, who is eager to dive into the process, for there is more to the classified than those four or five lines that meet your eye. Before we go ahead, let me clarify a few terms that are commonly used in these matrimonial ads. The ads fall into two categories: Grooms Wanted and Brides Wanted. Now, those two terms do not require very much in the way of explanation, I believe, so I'll move on. Each ad may be phrased in one of two ways-either listing the attributes required of the party desired, or listing the attributes of the person on whose behalf the ad is being placed. But a balanced matrimonial must contain a little of each, or else, it might easily get passed over, or be deemed as lacking in some quality.

All prospective members of the female sex are referred to as "girl" and likewise, any man on the market is called a "boy". The "boy" could be 54 years old, but if he is featured in a matrimonial ad, it is de rigueur to refer to him as a "boy". I have listed below a few common terms you might come across, as you peruse the matrimonial ads.

  • Alliance: is marriage or the relationship created by marriage between the families of the bride and bridegroom.
  • Issues/Encumbrances: This is a fairly common way of referring to children in Indian English
  • Horoscope: A chart created, in this case, by a pundit, showing relative positions of planets and vedic stars. Horoscopes of the boy and girl are compared by pundits for a good fit.
  • Nakshatra: The 27 fixed stars of Vedic astrology.
  • Gothra: The Gothra name demonstrates the family's traditional style of knowledge acquisition and expertise in ancient theories. Based on the fact that cross breeding of excellent but different species yields better quality, marriage from a family belonging to the same Gothram was and is still avoided amongst most Indian communities.
  • Fair Complexion: is a very important attribute for the girl to possess. The lighter her skin color, the more beautiful she is deemed to be. Other terms used with reference to complexion are Medium, Wheatish, olive.
  • Homely girl: Usually a euphemism for capable in the kitchen, and not career-oriented.
  • Pleasant faced: If the girl is not "beautiful" in the conventional sense, this is a good phrase to use.
  • healthy: There are only two terms regularly used to refer to the girl's physical attributes- either slim or healthy.

There are some ground rules regarding the average matrimonial ad that I should probably go over with you, at this point. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Girl must be younger than boy- preferably 3 to 6 years younger.
  • Girl must be shorter than boy.
  • Girl should be less educated than boy.
  • Girl, if working, should probably earn less than boy.
Hey! I didn't make these rules up, nor did I abide by them...but that's the way the market seems to work and I'm just reading the trend out loud. With some basic vocabulary and ground rules in mind, let us start with the Grooms Wanted section. Here is an average sample.

  • KERALA IYER/ Bengali parents seeks alliance for Daugther, M.A., M.Phil (English), Bharadwajam, Uthiratathi, 1977/155 from Iyer groom, employed with clean habits. Send details/ horoscope. Box No. HBXXXX, THE HINDU, Chennai-600002.
  • In 25 words, they managed to fit a heckuva lot in there. Pretty Impressive, but what exactly have they managed to convey?
    The girl's parents probably had a love match, since one is an Iyer from Kerala and the other parent is a Bengali. Since they seek an Iyer groom, we would have to guess that the girls father is the Kerala Iyer. The daughter is very well educated, probably a little too educated for the average matrimonial, so it is quite likely, that the matrimonial ad is a last resort, as the conventional methods have failed.
    Bharadwajam is the gothra (see above for explanation of Gothra) of her family, and her nakshatra is Uthiratathi. She was born in 1977, and as this is from a very recent newspaper, she is presumably 25 years of age. Her height in cms, and not her weight in lbs, let me assure you, is listed after her year of birth - for height may be listed in cms or inches, but weight, if mentioned at all, is only referred to using qualitative terms, such as slim or healthy.
    Which brings us to the "clean habits", which implies that the groom sought, should ideally be a teetotaller, who does not smoke cigarettes (or anything else), has a regular source of legal income and has not/is not living with other women, especially those of ill-repute.

  • Slim, fair, 30yrs, looks much younger, never married, 5 feet, sweet, homely, caring, responsible,intelligent, Chartered Accountant, well versed in all home-related activities, extremely good cook, exceptionally sincere & dedicated, emotional & sensitive
  • You're wondering why they had to state that she has never been married- well, 30 was considered past marriageable age for a woman, until 6 or 7 years ago, and some people still hold to that norm. They're also concerned that their ad wont get enough attention because of her age, so they hasten to add that the girl looks much younger.
    They state that she is "homely", "well versed in all home-related activities", and an "extremely good cook". They quite desperately want to establish the fact, that despite her professional qualifications, she is a great homemaker. In a matrimonial ad, the woman, oops, the girl, should never appear career-oriented, and should be great at housekeeping and cooking.
    As for her emotional state, she seems a little too fragile to me, but it must be a desirable virtue in an Indian woman, atleast in some communities, or else, they wouldn't have wasted precious ad space mentioning it.

Now, lets move on to the Brides Wanted section. If you quickly scan the page, you'll notice that these tend to be longer and include more details than the Grooms Wanted section. If you weren't already aware, India is largely a male-dominated society, and here are the men tooting their trumpets, as well as stating quite clearly what qualities they expect in a prospective bride.

  • U.S.A.based, cultured highly affluent business oriented Vaishnav Lohana family invites proposals for their U.S. Citizen son. He is smart, lively, handsome, slim, fair, very pleasant looking, Graduate of Top University in U.S.A., involved into own flourishing Information Technology business. He is 1973 born, 6'2". Alliance sought from "only" slim, pretty, fair, attractive, educated, sweet natured, kind - hearted, family oriented girls hailing from very decent well-settled families. U.S.A. / Bombay / India based exceptionally good girls are invited. Send Horoscope with Colour Photos and other details. Box No. SSXXXX, The Times of India, Bombay-200002.
  • Most Indians still retain a certain fascination for the United States, and many parents would like their daughters to be wedded into US based families. This ad also makes it clear that the boy is a US citizen, which means his wife would immediately be eligible for permanent residence. This definitely makes him a very good catch.
    This prospective groom here, is both "handsome" and "very pleasant looking", and I thought the latter was a prerequisite to the former - Silly me!. But they must be quite proud of his looks because they seek alliances "only" from "slim, pretty, fair, attractive, educated, sweet natured, kind hearted"girls.
    The boy is looking for "family-oriented" girls probably because he lives with his parents or his parents live with him, and the girl has to be amenable to this living situation. And in case, you were wondering, by "exceptionally good girls", they mean ones who meet all the above requirements and more.
    This color photo business had me stumped for a while, until I remembered that in India, any girl, if "fair", i.e light skinned is considered beautiful. It's almost an obsession in India, with fairness beauty product sales continuing at an all time high even today. A Black and White picture can artfully disguise the complexion of even a very dark-skinned woman; Hence the insistence on a color photograph.

  • UK CITIZEN, Tamil Vellalar, Electronic Engineer, 50 years, divorcee invites alliance from women with no encumbrance. Widows/ Divorcees welcome. Caste no bar. Box No. KR43366, THE HINDU, Chennai-600002.
  • Now here's an "open-minded"gentleman, who would actually consider girls who are widows or even god forbid (!) divorcees, and caste is no bar as far as he is concerned. All he asks, is that they have no "encumbrance"...a euphemism for children. Call me a cynic, but basically most ads that read like this are inserted by men, who are above a certain age, and would like to be married, just as long as the girl doesn't flaunt the fact that she is not a virgin.

  • Bombay posh area based, accomplished noble Gujarati family invites proposals for their U.S.A.based - U.S. Citizen son. He is very well - established with lavish lifestyle, having own spacious bunglow & flourishing practice - business. He is goodlooking, smart, very lively, active, dynamic, Oct. 1964 born, 5'7", M.S. in Computer Science (U.S.A.). He is soft - spoken, kind hearted & very intelligent. He is innocent issueless divorcee. Alliance sought from good natured, goodlooking, smart, slim, educated, family loving girls based at U.S.A. / Bombay / India & hailing from cultured Gujarati families. Direct Email address for this particular boy :
  • I'll just go straight for the kicker on this one - Innocent Divorcee . This one gets me every time. The statement they are trying to make here, is that the divorce was not his fault. You could assume from that, that his wife may have cheated on him, but it could also be that the wife didn't concieve a child within the first year of marriage, and that is always assumed to be her fault. On the other hand though, not having a child, despite a previous marriage is enough to make you an innocent divorcee. So any divorcee, who took precautions against concieving Issues/ encumbrances/ children/ watchamacallit, can be claimed as innocent. So this "innocent issueless divorcee" would like to clearly establish that, not only does he not have any kids, the reason the divorce came about, has nothing to do with him.
    At the bottom of the ad, where they listed his online whereabouts, I really had to resist the temptation of sending him a scathing email regarding the matrimonial, but barely managed to restrain myself.
    Side note to the girls: Soft-Spoken and lively, do not go together in a matrimonial ad...because one is meant to indicate the shy type, and the other, the extrovert. If this "boy" has his family so confused about who he really is, are you sure you're up to dealing with that.

I could go on and on, but I think I've said quite a bit on this subject done, so I will stop here. To be perfectly fair, I think other opinions on this subject, such as Everything Arranged Marriage Registry, I never intended to make my parents happy or arranged marriage help to balance things out quite a bit. Since I didn't go to the trouble of making up each of the ads listed in the article, I would like to list my references. Names, quite naturally, have been omitted, but since there are so darn many people in India anyway, I guess the other identifying information, wouldn't really make anyone truly identifiable.

    References:
  • http://www.marwar.com/
  • http://www.falgunimehta.com/
  • http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/classads/
  • http://www.timesclassifieds.com/
One particularly interesting survey on the changes in attitudes regarding the marital search process and matrimonial ads, can be found at http://www.brandingasia.com/columns/mccannerickson5.htm

I would like to thank rischi, m_turner, Gritchka, bindlenix, achan and ascorbic for their valuable feedback and help.

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